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.

At Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the most intensive management takes place on refuge wetlands. The wetlands are disturbed every three to five years to maintain an early successional stage, which allows annual plants to dominate. This management scheme creates more seed-producing vegetation, which provides high-energy food for migrating birds.

Refuge grasslands are managed by mowing and using prescribed fire to prevent the encroachment of trees and brush. These management activities allow for more vibrant native grasslands.

The refuge also has an active visitor services program, which requires management of visitor use facilities and planning visitor programs.

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 passively. The management tools used are aimed at ensuring a balanced conservation approach where both wildlife and people will benefit. At this field station, we manage three main types of habitat in different ways.

Moist soil and marshes

When mud flats are exposed by summer drawdowns of the water level, moist soil plants grow. These plants have the potential to produce high seed yields which serve as an important food source for waterfowl and other wildlife. Waterfowl need a diversity of invertebrates and plant foods from all different wetland types to provide them with a complete diet during fall and spring migration. The refuge has 16 moist soil units, the largest are Swan Lake Marsh and South Pool. These units are drained on a staggered schedule from April through August, and reflooded during the fall or spring.


Since European settlement in North America, only 1% of tallgrass prairie remains. Prairies are a complex mix of grasses, wildflowers and other plants that provide seeds, insects, cover and shelter for a variety of birds, including quail, bitterns, northern harriers, short-eared owls and many songbirds. Most grasslands on the refuge are located on the east side, where there is less flooding. Flood waters can sometimes be harmful to native grasslands. Grasslands are maintained using mowing and prescribed fire, which keep native plants vibrant and prevent the encroachment of trees and brush.


We conduct cropland management on about 800 acres of the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The practice of cropland management provides supplemental food sources for migratory waterfowl, in addition to the many natural foods in refuge wetland units. Croplands are cooperatively farmed by local farmers, and a portion of the crops are left on the refuge as wildlife food. We also use farming to maintain early successional stages in the moist soil units of the refuge. Future land management planning will result in a reduction of cropland on the refuge as those areas are converted to wetland and grassland habitats.

Environmental Assessment for new visitor center and administrative facility

Our Services

Cooperative Agriculture Opportunities at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Sumner, Missouri, has cooperative agriculture opportunities for farming on soybean fields totaling 673 acres for up to five years.

To be considered, applicants must complete and submit the bid form available on the refuge website. Applications must be received by November 9, 2023. Applications may be submitted by email to steve_whitson@fws.gov or in person at Swan Lake NWR 16194 Swan Lake Ave, Sumner, MO, 64681.

Successful applicants will be selected through an open and competitive process. Applications will be scored and ranked using the objective criteria described in the bid form. All applicants will be notified by November 17, 2023.

For more information, please contact Refuge Manager Steve Whitson at steve_whitson@fws.gov.

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. Law enforcement at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge is provided by a refuge officer at Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Columbia, Missouri, available at 573-441-2954.

Laws and Regulations

Permits are required for cutting firewood on the refuge. There are many places where trees and brush need to be removed or thinned to improve wildlife habitat. Contact the refuge office for permit information at 660-856-3323 or SwanLake@fws.gov.

Trapping is a wildlife management tool used on some national wildlife refuges. Trapping may be used to protect endangered and threatened species or migratory birds or to control certain wildlife populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also views trapping as a legitimate recreational and economic activity when there are harvestable surpluses of fur-bearing mammals. Outside of Alaska, refuges that permit trapping as a recreational use may require trappers to obtain a refuge special use permit. Signs are posted on refuges where trapping occurs. Contact the refuge manager for specific regulations.