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.
The Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuges provide migrating Canada geese with what they need to survive during the fall and winter and make the trek back to Alaska in the spring. To prepare for the spring flight and subsequent nesting period, geese need food, water, and sanctuary. All of these items are provided on the Willamette Valley Refuges where thousands of geese spend the winter.
Management and Conservation
Managing For Geese
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.
1. Habitat Management
The Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex (NWRC) has an active prescribed burning program. The objectives of these burns are to restore and maintain native prairies and oak savannas, enhance populations of threatened and endangered species, improve food crops for Canada geese, and reduce the risks for severe wildfire. Most burning takes place in the late summer or early fall.
Through cooperative agreements with local farmers, refuge fields are planted to grow ryegrass, fescue, corn and pasture mixes. These crops are the preferred food for wintering Canada geese. During the winter months thousands of geese feed on the crops planted by farmers. These farming operations help reduce off-refuge crop damage by migratory birds.
Control of non-native, invasive weeds is an important management operation. Weeds present the single most significant threat to native plant communities and rare species. The refuge uses a combination of mowing, burning, slashing, hand pulling and herbicides to keep weeds in check.
Throughout the refuges, former croplands are in different stages of being restored to native habitats. This process, which takes a number of years, includes clean-up of the fields of weeds and residual crops, site preparation for planting of native species and maintenance of the developing habitats.
The refuges are actively restoring both wetland and upland prairies and are working to enhance existing prairies that have been invaded by shrubs and small trees. The woody vegetation is cut and piled off-site where it is burned. Most treatment areas are selected to provide benefits to threatened and endangered plant species.
Seasonally flooded wetlands require continual management to produce plants favored by waterfowl and other water-birds. Water levels are usually “stage-flooded” in the fall and winter using water control structures that allow variable levels. This helps maximize the food availability for migrating waterfowl. Managed levels are also important in the spring to prevent the establishment of undesirable non-native plants, like reed canary-grass. In the summer, most managed impoundments are dry, a natural cycle that native plants have adapted to.
Oak Habitat Restoration
The suppression of fire following European settlement in the Willamette Valley has dramatically altered oak woodlands and savanna. The refuge complex is selectively restoring these areas by removing invading Douglas fir trees that will eventually overtop and shade out the oaks. In addition, oak trees and shrubs are thinned in order to maintain an open grassland understory. Management of these sites is accomplished in concert with adjacent prairie habitats and benefits rare species.
2. Managing For Geese
Under cooperative agreements with local farmers, fields are planted in the spring with nutritious grasses preferred by geese, such as ryegrass, fescue, corn and pasture mixes. Farmers are responsible for all maintenance and care of the crop during the growing season and in the summer they benefit from the harvest of these Refuge fields. The baled hay is generally used as feed for livestock, and once the farmers have harvested, the remaining stubs of grass are left to grow again.
In early fall these stubs start to green up as the fall rains provide necessary water to jumpstart their second growth. As the crops grow the geese are returning to the Refuge where they begin to appear in large numbers on the Refuge fields. Exhausted from their long flight south, the geese can then replenish their energy reserves on these nutritious greens.
By providing the geese with high quality food, the amount of off-Refuge crop depredation is reduced, thus benefiting not only the birds, but also the surrounding private lands.
The Willamette Valley was once a vast wetland during the winter months due to flooding of the Willamette River and its tributaries. Since European settlement, dams have been built and fields have been drained and tiled for crop production. The number of wetlands and wet prairies in the Valley have dramatically declined, resulting in smaller areas suitable for the geese.
Geese need water for resting and foraging habitat. The Willamette Valley Refuges have wetlands and wet prairies that provide both food and resting areas for wintering geese. Many Refuge wetlands occur naturally, while dikes and levees impound water to create others.
Seasonally flooded wetlands require continual management to produce plants favored by wintering waterfowl. Water levels are usually “stage-flooded” in the fall and winter using water control structures that allow for variable water levels. This helps maximize the food availability for migrating waterfowl including Canada geese.
Water levels are also important in the spring to prevent the establishment of undesirable non-native plants. In the summer, most impoundments are dry--a natural cycle that native plants have adapted to.
Wintering waterfowl start to arrive on the Willamette Valley Refuges in early fall and stay until early spring. During this time the Refuges close the interior sections to public use to provide undisturbed habitat for the wintering waterfowl.
By resting in undisturbed areas on the refuges, wintering geese replenish their energy reserves required for migrating and nesting. The birds are able to browse Refuge fields, and forage and rest in the wetlands without being disturbed. This undisturbed sanctuary also makes the Refuge preferable to the geese than surrounding private lands, which serves to further prevent unwanted crop depredation.
3. Hunt Program
Deer hunting is allowed at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge and the Snag Boat Bend Unit each year, per Refuge and State hunting regulations. Check our website in May for the upcoming Fall and Winter deer hunt information, details and maps. Click here for the 2023 Deer Hunt information at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. For Snag Boat Bend Deer Hunt information for 2023, click this link.
Elk hunting is only allowed at William L. Finely National Wildlife Refuge for two months each year (~Sept and Oct). Only antlerless elk may be harvested. In order to hunt on the Refuge you must be awarded a special Refuge elk hunt permit in addition to a current Oregon hunting license and valid state-issued elk tag. Check our website each May for that year's elk hunt details. Applications for the limited Refuge-issued elk permits are usually due in early July (July 1st in 2022).
There is a youth waterfowl hunt weekend each Fall at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge. See the Baskett Slough NWR website for more details. At Snag Boat Bend, waterfowl hunting is allowed for part of the year, per State waterfowl regulations. Click here for the 2023 Snag Boat Bend Hunt information.
4. Conservation Planning
The Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex manages a variety of native habitats: wet prairie, oak savanna, upland prairie, mixed forest, oak woodland and hardwood Comprehensive Conservation Plan. forest. Decisions on the habitats we provide, the wildlife they support, and how we manage them were part of the development of our CCP, or
Beyond the 10,000+ Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex acres, the Private Lands Program works to conserve native habitats on private lands. Creating, restoring and maintaining native Willamette Valley habitats up and down the Valley - whether it be on a Willamette Valley Conservation Study. or private parcel - is what we work hard to achieve for wildlife and the American people. Read more about our conservation efforts in the
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is embarking on an exciting plan that will help preserve key conservation areas in the middle and southern sections of the Willamette Valley. The Service developed a Land Protection Plan, which created the Willamette Valley Conservation Area (WVCA).
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 (LE) is essential to virtually every aspect of wildlife conservation. Refuge Law Enforcement not only plays a big role in protecting wildlife, but also works to promote awareness of wildlife laws and protection through collaboration with refuge Visitor Services staff.
Law enforcement issues should be referred to the deputy refuge manager or refuge manager.