Smoke from controlled burn on Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge

preserving Healthy Wetland Habitats

From snowpack to drought, many factors impact wetland health

Wetlands provide essential habitats for a wide variety of bird species, including sandhill cranes, which rely on these fragile ecosystems for nesting, foraging, and migration. However, wetlands face a range of challenges that threaten not only the health of the ecosystems but also the survival of these bird species and many others.

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Snowpack variability, speed of snowmelt and runoff, drought, and climate change are significant factors that impact the health of wetland habitats, and consequently, the survival of many species that depend on them. Snowpack accumulation during the winter months provides water to wetlands especially along river corridors during the spring and summer, but annual snowpack can vary greatly, affecting the amount of water available to wetlands. Extreme drought has led to unpredictable water availability for wetlands in recent years, further endangering bird species that rely on these habitats.

Conservation groups and land use agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Services who manage our National Wildlife Refuges play an important role in protecting and restoring wetland habitats and the bird species that rely on them. Prescribed burns are another way to help manage and improve wetland habitat health. Prescribed burns can help prevent wildfires and maintain wetland habitat health by removing decadent vegetation, invasive plant species and promoting the growth of native plants that many bird species depend on.

If you visited the Monte Vista or Alamosa National Wildlife Refuges last month, you may have noticed prescribed fire operations in process. While it can be unnerving to watch these burns take place, they are a critical component of maintaining healthy wetland habitats.

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We would like to thank the multiple U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service fire crews that came from throughout the region, the U.S. Air Force Wildland Fire Management, and the Colorado Div. of Fire Prevention & Safety, in assisting the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex with this prescribed burn, and helping make our local wetland habitats better for the cranes and all the other species who rely on them.