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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Nongame Birds, Small Mammals, Herptiles, Fishes:
Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 1995-1996

Management Recommendations

Historically, management on the refuge has included tree plantings, fire suppression, haying, predator control, agricultural operations, wetland vegetation planting, and artificial island building (SLNWR narratives 1939-1941).

At present, SLNWR implements somewhat different management strategies: water level manipulations, prescribed burning (both wetlands and uplands), shrub planting, crop cultivation, cooperative farming programs, seeding of native grasslands, grazing, haying, and biological pest control (noxious leafy spurge [Euphorbia esula] control by domestic sheep grazing and Canada thistle [Cirsium arvensis] control by thistle weevils [Ceutrorhynchus litura]) (SLNWR 1990).

SLNWR, with its uplands and interspersion of emergent vegetation and water, now represents a dynamic prairie marsh ecosystem (SLNWR 1990). However, the refuge is also an insular ecosystem surrounded by vast tracts of tilled soil and cultivated agricultural lands.

Active management such as haying and grazing changes the floral community and in turn affects faunal associations. Such practices should be carefully mapped out in advance to provide a mosaic of habitat types and successional patterns for a variety of vertebrate life history needs.

An attempt should be made to reduce encroachment of woody species into idled grasslands. This will provide grassland habitat for several species of nesting birds, small mammals, and herptiles. Tame grassland communities should be managed by burning and/or grazing. These measures mimic natural processes better than other options; however, they should be timed to avoid avian breeding and nesting seasons.

Cultivated agricultural lands benefit nongame wildlife less than do native habitats, especially when biodiversity is a goal. When possible these areas should be reverted to native grasslands to provide habitat for prairie endemic species.

The variety of habitats which enables high species diversity on the refuge is the result of fragmentation of primary habitat types. However, a checkered pattern of habitats prohibits certain endemic populations from inhabiting the refuge. Large, contiguous blocks of single habitat types in a mosaic pattern to meet life history requirements of nongame vertebrates should be provided if conservation or enhancement of biodiversity is a management goal.

Nongame vertebrate populations should be closely and regularly monitored. Monitoring techniques for nongame birds are well standardized. Pitfall traps effectively capture nongame small mammals, requiring little time to place and being useful in different habitats. They may be very nearly permanent installations. Formalin may be a better option than water as a killing solution because it preserves the specimens and requires less frequent monitoring. Pitfall traps will also capture nongame herptiles.

Baseline data collected during this study will facilitate better-informed management of nongame species on SLNWR. However, to further understand species:habitat associations, more research should be conducted on nongame animal responses to management practices.

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