What We Do

Land managers use a wide range of management tools based on the best science available. Some refuges and districts 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. The management tools used are aimed at ensuring a balanced conservation approach where both wildlife and people will benefit.

Management and Conservation

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.

Wetlands on waterfowl production areas are restored and maintained for the benefit of migratory birds and other wildlife. Uplands are restored to grasslands, generally planted with native prairie grasses and forbs to provide nesting habitat.


Wetlands are among the most productive habitats in the world, providing food and habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. They also benefit human communities by filtering sediments and excess nutrients, lessening flood potential and replenishing groundwater supplies. Unfortunately, about half of Wisconsin's wetlands have been lost in the last 200 years, from about 10 million acres to 5 million. The majority of those losses have occurred in the agricultural and developing urban areas of southeastern Wisconsin. Historically, this area closely resembled the landscape known as the prairie pothole region, a major waterfowl production region located within the north central United States. The wetlands within Leopold Wetland Management District are regionally and locally important because they provide some of the best remaining habitat not only for waterfowl but also many other wildlife and plant species.


Tallgrass prairie once covered more than 2 million acres of Wisconsin. These prairies were home to large numbers of grassland birds and other wildlife. The prairies also conserved topsoil by protecting it from wind and water erosion, captured winter snowfalls and released the spring run-off slowly and protected the water quality of rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands. Insect species, many of which are important pollinators or that attack agricultural pests, thrive in diverse grasslands. Unfortunately, today only roughly 10,000 acres of tallgrass prairie remain in Wisconsin, much of it fragmented and heavily degraded. The loss of grasslands has led to serious declines in the populations of many birds that depend on grasslands. The loss has also decreased water quality due to sediment and nutrient runoff and increased use of pesticides. Fortunately, waterfowl production area waterfowl production area
Waterfowl production areas are small natural wetlands and grasslands within the National Wildlife Refuge System that provide breeding, resting and nesting habitat for millions of waterfowl, shorebirds, grassland birds and other wildlife. Virtually all waterfowl production areas are in the Prairie Pothole Region states of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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grasslands continue to provide some of the best and most secure nesting cover for waterfowl, grassland dependent birds and beneficial insect species.

Oak Savanna

Oak savanna is composed primarily of grass groundcover and widely spaced trees, often burr and white oak and was maintained historically by frequent fires. As with wetlands and grasslands, the area of oak savanna in Wisconsin has been greatly reduced. Oak savanna once covered more than 5 million acres, however, today only about 500 acres (.01%) of intact oak savanna remain in the state. Much of the decline in oak savanna is related to the increase in invasive brush species as a result of wildfire suppression. Being a mix of grassland and woodland, there are several bird species that are associated with oak savanna. One of the most recognizable birds of oak savanna is the red-headed woodpecker. Oak savanna on Leopold Wetland Management District is important because it represents a once-dominant habitat that is now one of the most imperiled in the state.

Leopold Wetland Management District relies on a program of habitat restoration and management to continually provide valuable breeding and migration habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds as well as many other species that benefit from these habitats.

Wetland Restoration

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program works one-on-one with private landowners to provide technical and funding assistance to improve fish and wildlife habitats especially those bordering lands adjacent to existing Service lands. Projects may involve scrapes, ditch plugs, drain tile and work to ensure upland buffer areas associated with wetlands continue to protect threatened or endangered species habitat.

Prescribed Burning

District staff use fire, under specific conditions, to control invasive woody brush and trees, rejuvenate native grass and forb plantings, enhance seed production for harvest and reduce plant competition.

Prairie Restoration

Conserving topsoil and enhancing habitat are important components of prairie restoration. To encourage biodiversity, district staff also plant prairie forbs and grasses, which attract pollinators, birds and other species.

Water Management

District staff drain and re-fill wetlands to promote plants that will produce good food for migrating waterfowl. Staff may also create mudflats to provide foraging areas for shorebirds during migration.

Invasive Species Management

Invasive species management involves controlling unwanted or undesired plants using chemicals, prescribed burning, mowing or other tools.


Trapping is a wildlife management tool used on some national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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system lands. 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, refuge system lands that permit trapping as a recreational use may require trappers to obtain a special use permit. Signs are posted at district offices where trapping occurs. Contact the district 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

Waterfowl production areas are open to wildlife-dependent recreation including hunting (deer, upland game and waterfowl), fishing, trapping, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, interpretation, berry and mushroom and nut picking (for personal use only), hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing unless otherwise posted.

Waterfowl production areas are open daily year-round from dawn to dusk, except for night hunting in accordance with state laws and seasons