What We Do

The National Wildlife Refuge System is a series of lands and waters owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the refuge system. It drives everything we do from the purpose a refuge is established, to the recreational activities offered there, to the resource management tools we use. Selecting the right tools helps us ensure the survival of local plants and animals and helps fulfill the purpose of the refuge.

  • Prescribed fire
  • Water level management
  • Forest management
  • Invasive species management
  • People management
  • Research, inventory and monitoring

Management and Conservation

Refuges use a wide range of land management tools based on the best science available. Some refuges use prescribed fires to mimic natural fires that would have cleared old vegetation from the land helping native plants regenerate and local wildlife to thrive. Other refuges contain wilderness areas where land is largely managed in passively. The management tools used are aimed at ensuring a balanced conservation approach where both wildlife and people will benefit. At this field station our conservation toolbox includes:

Prescribed fire

Fire has always had an important role in forest health. For millennia it has shaped the landscape leading to the current diversity of trees, shrubs and plant life present on the refuge. Historically, lightning-caused fires naturally occurred during dry periods and created the present mix of oak savanna and wetland types. Today, prescribed fire is used to maintain diversity and lower the likelihood of large wildfires.

Water level management

Water levels are managed on refuge pools. Water depths are manipulated to provide a variety of wetland conditions for plants and animals. By raising and lowering these water levels, natural wetland cycles are mimicked.

Forest management

Healthy forests and oak savanna have living and dead trees, also known as snags. Snags are important because:

  • They provide nesting sites for many species, including red-headed woodpeckers, and homes for wildlife
  • As dead trees lose their branches and fall the logs are homes for insects and salamanders
  • They help create new soil as they decay

Invasive species management

An invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

Learn more about invasive species
can be any kind of life (plant, animal, fungus) that does not normally live in the area but starts to spread and becomes abundant. These species have a negative impact on their new environment. The refuge has identified several species which it monitors and treats to slow or stop the spread including Siberian elm, black locust, buckthorn, leafy spurge and spotted and Japanese knapweed.

People management

National wildlife refuges are where wildlife comes first. Every activity that people can participate in on the refuge has to be determined compatible with the reason the refuge was founded. Have you ever wondered why people are not allowed to paddle the refuge’s pools? Limiting access to the pools allows birds like the trumpeter swan and common loon to have an undisturbed place to nest and raise young. Or why the interior of the refuge is open only to the public from September 1 to February 28? Wildlife sanctuary allows wildlife to breed and raise their young free from human disturbance. Overall, we try to strike a balance between human users and undisturbed habitat for wildlife.

Research, inventorying and monitoring

The refuge has a long tradition of hosting a variety of research projects that have assisted in the management of the refuge. We actively engage researchers through our special use permit program.
The refuge participates in several inventory and monitoring programs. These programs help guide wildlife management actions taken by the refuge and its conservation partners. Most wildlife management is conducted by managing habitat. Therefore, the refuge has established several long-term vegetation monitoring plots. Some monitoring programs we take part in guide population-wide wildlife management goals and objectives including fall sandhill crane counts and the U.S. Geological Survey's Breeding Bird Survey.

Most inventory and monitoring data are provided to existing national, regional or state programs. Learn more about the management of the refuge by reviewing the 2005 Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan and the 2021 Habitat Management Plan.

Our Services

Federal Recreation Passes

There is no entrance fee or parking permit required to visit the refuge.

Staff and volunteers are issuing passes Monday through Thursday, 8 am to 4 pm at Refuge Headquarters. Refuge Headquarters is closed on federal holidays. We are experiencing staff shortages, so we recommend that you call ahead to ensure that the office is open. Occasionally, we experience short closures.

For fee-based passes, we can only accept cash or check payment. We cannot accept credit card payment.

Some passes are available for purchase online. To purchase a Senior Annual, Annual, Access, Senior Lifetime, Military Annual or Military Lifetime Pass, visit the U.S. Geological Survey Online Store. You can find more information about these passes and fee areas, order online or plan your trip to federal public lands at Recreation.gov.

Learn more about the passes available:

  • Senior Lifetime Pass ($80)
  • Senior Annual Pass ($20)
  • America the Beautiful Annual Pass ($80)
  • Military Lifetime Pass (Free to veterans. Free to Gold Star families, with completed online voucher)
  • Military Annual Pass (Free to active military and their dependents)
  • Access Pass (Free to individuals with permanent disabilities)
  • Every Kid Outdoors Pass (Free for 4th graders, with completed online voucher)

Passes FAQs

How can I pay for passes?

We can accept only cash or check for passes. Unfortunately, we cannot accept credit card payment.

Making a long trip out to the refuge?

We are experiencing staff shortages, so we recommend that you call ahead to ensure that the office is open. Occasionally, we experience short closures.

Will I get my pass right away?

Yes, you will leave with your pass.

Can I buy or get a pass for my parent, child or friend?

The majority of passes have an eligibility requirement. When you get your pass in-person, the eligible individual physically needs to be present. Because of that, only the annual pass can be gifted.

Kayakers navigating a swamp full of trees and lily pads.

Some 30 national wildlife refuges  charge visitors a nominal entrance fee (generally $3-$5 daily)  to cover road and facility maintenance.  If you are a regular visitor or would like to visit other public lands, you could save by buying an America the Beautiful Federal...

Silhouette of a person walking with a shotgun on the tundra

Some commercial, recreational and research activities are allowed on national wildlife refuges only with a special use permit issued by the local office, and are subject to specific conditions and fees. This permit requirement is meant to ensure that all activities at the federal site are...

Law Enforcement

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers have a wide variety of duties and responsibilities. Officers help visitors understand and obey wildlife protection laws. They work closely with state and local government offices to enforce federal, state and refuge hunting regulations that protect migratory birds and other game species from illegal take and preserve legitimate hunting opportunities.

Laws and Regulations

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1965 under the general authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 (16 U.S.C. 715d). That act states that lands may be acquired “…for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.” The term “inviolate sanctuary”, as interpreted by the agency, means that the refuge will be managed to promote the health and well-being of migratory birds and their habitats.