Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Wet Meadow Habitat Study

About This Project

Wetland experts from the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center (ORBIC), that state's member of the NatureServe Network, ran field surveys to collect detailed floristic data and environmental settings of wetland habitats.

NatureServe and Oregon ecologists also conducted an assessment of the condition or health status of the wetland habitats. This type of ecological integrity assessment helps determine if a habitat is functioning fully, or is in some way in need of management attention. We look for answers to a variety of questions. Example questions include: Is a patch of habitat large enough to support all expected species? Are there any noxious weeds present or super abundant? Is the soil in good shape or is there too much erosion or compaction? Is the amount and timing of water in wetlands supportive or lacking? Are management activities such as grazing or mowing conducive to conservation of the habitat’s full suite of species it supports? Does the surrounding landscape provide buffers and corridors for wildlife movement?

Based on the findings we give each habitat a grade of A for excellent health, B for good health, C for fair and D for poor condition. Results indicate that 80% of samples of wet meadow habitat are in excellent to good (A/B) condition, and 20% of the samples are in fair/poor (C/D) condition, mainly due to the presence of invasive species.

Goal

This project was designed to classify and describe what various wet meadow plant communities occur within the southern portion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

We focused our field efforts on one of the most intact habitats on the refuge, the wet meadow habitat. Goals of this field research were to:

  • Classify and describe the various types of wet meadow plant communities found within wetland habitats on the refuge.
  • Coordinate that resulting classification with existing Oregon and U.S. National Vegetation Classification units.
  • Determine the current condition status of the wet meadow habitat using NatureServe’s approach to Ecological Integrity Assessments.

Significance

An up-to-date, accurate and standardized vegetation map is a useful tool for land management. This map will be used not only to understand current amount and locations of various habitats, but also to target and prioritize research projects and management activities.

Using U.S. National Vegetation Classification standard units shows how important this refuge is in protecting specific western habitats and allows managers to “roll up” the same habitats across refuges throughout the region and nationwide, so individual refuge assessments can lead to regional and national assessments. An important part of this project is the crosswalk of the many wildlife habitat names USFWS uses to standard National Vegetation Classification units. Using standard classification units allows for comparisons with other mapped areas across the region and the nation, which tells us how well we are protecting and conserving the biodiversity at local, regional and national scales.