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.

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 Burns

During both the spring and fall months, refuge crews conduct prescribed burns to achieve a number of habitat-related objectives. Managers set objectives for each unit, such as reducing plant cover, controlling exotic and woody plant species, cycling nutrients, controlling weeds and restoring native prairie. Prescribed fire specialists set prescriptions that define each burn and ensure that management objectives are met in a controlled fashion. Additionally, prescribed burns help to protect our neighbors in the event of a wildfire by reducing hazardous fuel loads next to private property.


Mowing or haying is another technique used to manage grassland areas. This technique is used to control non-native plants and woody vegetation. It also results in a mosaic of habitat heights, which attracts more diverse wildlife. Proper timing of mowing can remove seed heads from problem plants and open areas to light penetration for more desirable, native plant species. Frequent mowing is required on tallgrass prairie restoration projects during the first couple of years, until the native plants are established.

Water Manipulation

Water manipulation at Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge is used as a management technique to provide appropriate habitat for various groups of birds, such as waterfowl, shorebirds and other water birds. Water depths are managed at planned levels by using multiple water control structures on the refuge. Providing a variety of water depths throughout the year provides critical food resources, brood cover and loafing areas for the different life stages of wetland wildlife. Usually, water levels are held low during the winter months to control rough fish populations in the slough. Occasionally, Union Slough is allowed to go almost completely dry; this is not a mistake, but a natural process that occurred historically on prairie wetlands.

Trapping Occurs on this Refuge

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.

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

For a nominal fee, 10-day and 30-day special use permits are required to cut firewood on the refuge. Special use permits are also required for research, media and other work activities on the refuge. Special use permits may be issued for compatible secondary uses upon approval of the refuge manager. Contact the refuge office for application information at 515-928-2523.