When thousands of migratory birds arrive at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, they find fresh water in the impoundment ponds, and acres of habitat and wetlands to gather, feed, and rest.
Refuge staff depends upon and utilizes various tools to manage the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for the benefit of wildlife. Management tools used on the refuge include prescribed burning, exotic plant control, moist soil management, farming and water level manipulation.
Bosque del Apache Refuge cooperates with local farmers to grow crops for wintering waterfowl and cranes. Farmers plant alfalfa and corn, harvesting the alfalfa and leaving the corn for wildlife. The refuge staff grows corn, winter wheat, clover, and native plants as additional food, supplements for migrating waterfowl and other wildlife.
The refuge uses gates and dams to flood and drain certain wetlands on seasonal schedules. Lowering water levels in marshes to create moist fields promotes growth of native marsh plants. Marsh management is rotated so that varied habitats are always available. Dry impoundments are disced or burned, then re-flooded, to allow natural marsh plants to grow. When mature marsh conditions are reached, the cycle is repeated. Wildlife foods grown this way include smartweed, millets, chufa, bulrush, and sedges.
Many cottonwood and willow bosques that once lined the Rio Grande have been lost to human developments. Salt cedar or “tamarisk,” originally introduced as an ornamental plant and for erosion control, has taken over vast areas. It is a plant that has very little value to wildlife. Salt cedar is being cleared and areas are being planted with cottonwood, black willow, and understory plants to restore native bosques that are used by wildlife to nest, rest and feed.
Irrigation canals ensure critical water flow. Daily monitoring, mowing, and clearing keeps them functioning. Controlling the water enables refuge staff to manage the habitat. Throughout the refuge, a network of small canals connects different “moist soil units” with the region’s main water supply, which is a 57-mile canal that runs along the river. Each moist-soil unit can be flooded or drained as needed to grow the best mix of wetland plants to feed migrating birds. With wetland plants hearty and thriving, a great diversity of native wildlife — from prowling coyotes to year-round and migratory birds – continue to live in and around the wetlands.