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SELA Refuges Programs

Habitat Management

Our Habitat Mission

The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Habitat is a combination of environmental factors that provides food, water, cover and space that a living thing needs to survive and reproduce. Habitat types include: coastal and estuarine, rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, wetlands, riparian areas, deserts, grasslands/prairie, forests, coral reefs, marine, perennial snow and ice, and urban.

Photo of a cypress swamp at Mandalay NWR
© Tom Carlisle

Destruction, degradation, and fragmentation of habitat is the driving force behind today's decline in species and bio-diversity. Impacts to habitat can be caused directly by such activities as the clearing of forests to grow crops or build homes, or indirectly, for example, by the introduction of invasive species or increased pollution run-off from yards and fields. It is the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

The primary scientific disciplines that we apply to habitat management are biology, forestry, fire management and fire ecology. To a lesser degree, we and our partners use geology, hydrology, geography and geographic information systems.

To learn more about our fire management programs see our Fire Management page.

Habitat Management Programs

Some examples of our habitat conservation, management and restoration activities include:

• Bottomland hardwood restoration at several refuges.

• Duck box installation.

• Longleaf pine and slash pine forest restoration and nest box insert installation to benefit the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker at Big Branch Marsh NWR.

• The use of prescribed fire to manage forest and marsh habitat.

• Habitat protection and restoration of brown pelican nesting ground habitat at Breton NWR.

• Biological research on the Louisiana black bear at Bayou Teche NWR..

• Sediment control, marsh restoration and creation at Delta NWR.

• Flooding of greentree reservoirs and moist soil units at Atchafalaya NWR.

• Flotant marsh construction and restoration at Mandalay NWR.

• Removal at all the refuges of prolific invasive species like Chinese tallow tree, water paspallum and cogon grass that crowd out native plants.

• Control of feral hogs and non-native wild boars that destroy habitat and compete for food with desirable species at several refuges.

• Control of nutria in freshwater and brackish marsh habitat at several refuges.

• Water level and water quality management in areas where water levels have been altered by dams, flood control levees and diversion structures at several refuges.

• Aquatic vegetation control.

• Oversight of oil and gas development and production within the boundary of several refuges.

• Erosion control along bayous, canals, lakes, ponds and other waterways at several refuges.

• Use of appropriate access restrictions and enforcement of hunting, fishing and trapping regulations at all refuges.

Photo of a pair of black-bellied whistling ducks sitting on top of a duck box at Bayou Sauvage NWR
© Tom Carlisle

Sometimes we enhance marginal habitat with man-made structures like this duck box being occupied by black-bellied whistling ducks at Bayou Sauvage NWR.

We do what we can to protect the fragile beach-dune habitat at Breton NWR. In this case we installed erosion control fencing with the help of several volunteer groups.

Photo of beach restoration at Breton NWR
Credit USFWS

Links to Additional Information

To learn more about the habitat management programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies and partners, see the links below. These web pages will open in a new browser window.

• U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Habitat Portal at

• The National Wildlife Refuge System, Habitat page at

• U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bird Habitat Conservation page at

• U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Wetlands Inventory page at

• U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Invasive Species page at

• U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, Southeast Region Ecological Services Division at

• U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Program page at

• Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Programs page at

• Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Office of Coastal Restoration and Management at

• The U.S. Geological Survey, National Wetlands Research Center at

• The U.S. Geological Survey, Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies at

• The U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Discipline at

• the coastal and wetland Louisiana conservation site at

• Louisiana State University AgCenter, Louisiana Agriculture magazine, article titled "Restoring Freshwater Floating Marsh in Coastal Louisiana.

• The Conservation Fund at

• The Nature Conservancy at

• The Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture, bird conservation

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More Habitat Management Photos

Photo of damage to a red cockaded woodpecker (RCW) nesting tree and a new, replacement RCW next box
© Tom Carlisle

Trees with red-cockaded woodpecker nest box inserts are vulnerable to being broken in high winds. This composite photo shows a tree at Big Branch NWR that was broken by Hurricane Katrina and a nest box insert that was installed to replace it.

Bats eat thousands of insects, so in some locations we install bat boxes to serve as roosts for the bats.

Photo of a bat box on a tall post
© Tom Carlisle

Photo of bare-root longleaf pine seedling
© Tom Carlisle

We plant longleaf pine to help restore the longleaf pine forest habitat. Longleaf pine forests were previously the dominant habitat in the Gulf Coastal Plain. This photo shows a bare-root longleaf pine tree.

This photo show longleaf pine trees that have been planted in storm damaged areas at Bogue Chitto NWR. These areas were cleared of the majority of the damaged trees and underbrush before replanting. We have also planted hardwood trees at Bogue Chitto with the help of some non-governmental organizations.

Photo of longleaf pine seedlings planted at Bogue Chitto NWR after Hurricane Katrina
© Tom Carlisle

Photo of a Chinese tallow tree. An undesirable, non-native and invasive tree species
© Tom Carlisle

The Chinese tallow tree was imported and planted in the southern United States. Unfortunately, the tallow tree is extremely prolific, invasive, produces no food or shelter used by native animal species and it crowds out more valuable trees and shrubs. So we do what we can to remove it from critical habitat on the refuges.

We evaluate the effects of our habitat restoration efforts by studying the restored areas (before and after) for various animal and plant species. This photo shows a system designed to collect (live) amphibians and reptiles. (Frogs, Toads, Salamanders, Lizards, Snakes)

Photo of a small animal live trap used to conduct scientific studies
© Tom Carlisle

Photo of a clapper rail (bird) foraging on the mud flats at Big Branch Marsh NWR
© Tom Carlisle

Habitat that may not be particularly appealing to humans, like mud flats, can be an important part of the habitat of secretive marsh birds like this clapper rail searching for food on the mud flats at Big Branch Marsh NWR.

Barred owls prefer large forested areas as their habit. They frequently nest in the hollow cavity of a hardwood tree. They eat many different animals including mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, large insects and crawfish. This owl was resting in a tree, late in the day.

Photo of a barred owl at rest in a tree, late in the day
© Tom Carlisle

Photo of a mottled duck standing on one foot
© Tom Carlisle

The mottled duck is a year-round resident in Louisiana. They nest in grassy areas of the marsh and forage throughout the marsh and other wetland habitats.

Initial project results show that flotant marsh can be restored via the construction of floating structures that serve as the initial growing platform for marsh vegetation. This project was at Mandalay NWR. The aerial photo shows the general area and the inset shows the structures.

Aerial photo of the flotant marsh project area, including floating structures that support the marsh plantings
Credit USFWS

Photo of lush growth of desirable floating marsh plants, on the floating platforms
Credit USFWS

After one year, the desirable flotant marsh plant growth was very successful. For more information about this project, see the LSU AgCenter link in the "Links to Additional Information," above.

Feral hogs and non-native wild boars cause damage to levees and dikes, uproot vegetation and destroy the habitat of other animals.

Photo of feral hogs at Bayou Sauvage NWR
Credit USFWS

Photo of the rush of salty, muddy, floodwater being pumped out of Bayou Sauvage NWR after Hurricane Katrina
Credit USFWS

Hurricane Katrina flooded Bayou Sauvage NWR with saltwater. Much of this was pumped out of the levee system that protects the refuge. The freshwater marsh is recovering from this saltwater intrusion.

A volunteer from the National Wildlife Federation installs a duck box at Bayou Sauvage NWR.

Photo of an NWF Volunteer using a wrench to attach a new duck box to a post at Bayou Sauvage NWR
© Tom Carlisle

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Last Updated on January 13, 2011