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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Impact of UMESC Science: A Tool for Prioritizing Management Units at Morris Wetland Management District

Morris Wetland Management District (WMD) manages 246 separate parcels of National Wildlife Refuge System land called Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA), within an eight county area of western Minnesota. Together, the 246 WPAs encompass over 50,000 acres of land dedicated to wildlife and wildlife dependent public recreation. 

Bruce Freske, USFWS District Manager:  " The Prioritization Tool has performed exactly as we envisioned and has become increasingly useful in the face of significantly reduced budgets and staffing.  USGS was a great partner to work with on this project and we look forward to more collaboration on projects in the future. "


In 2012, Morris WMD developed a habitat management plan (HMP) that clearly identified priority resources for the district, which include waterfowl, grassland birds, threatened and endangered species, tallgrass prairie, and prairie wetlands. The HMP guides management by describing habitat objectives and management strategies that best support those priority resources. However, while Morris WMD is charged with managing a myriad of natural resources over a large geographic area, it does not possess sufficient resources to manage every unit to its full potential. The issue of where to manage given limited resources is the biggest concern Morris WMD faces in implementing the HMP. 

Our team (USFWS and USGS) developed a decision support tool that Morris WMD staff use in tandem with the HMP to make thoughtful and strategic choices about where to spend its limited management resources. The tool is a GIS-based model that incorporates local and landscape scale features to identify which WPAs have the greatest biological potential with respect to priority resources and habitats. The data layers used to build the prioritization model included everything from baseline habitat data collected by district staff, to sophisticated geospatial models developed by USFWS conservation planners. 

The tool provides a score for each WPA. District managers have a good sense of which WPAs are in the top 10 or bottom 10.  However, that still leaves 226 WPAs that Morris staff have to make decisions about managing. The tool helps the staff agree on areas to target for prescribed fire or grazing, as well as which areas will receive less management effort. This effort demonstrates one way that refuge managers, working with partners in USGS, are using science to guide habitat management decisions.

Tools and report are available at: http://www.umesc.usgs.gov/management/dss/morris_wmd.html

Duck pair potential map (USFWS HAPET office).  WPAs with the top 10 mean scores for duck pair potential criterion are labeled

Duck pair potential map (USFWS HAPET office).  WPAs with the top 10 mean scores for duck pair potential criterion are labeled


Effective conservation area given proximity to other permanently protected lands.  WPAs with the top 10 largest effective conservation areas are labeled

Effective conservation area given proximity to other permanently protected lands.  WPAs with the top 10 largest effective conservation areas are labeled


Objective Model Custom Weighting Tool: Allow the user to create their own model results based upon interactively assigning input variable weights

Objective Model Custom Weighting Tool: Allow the user to create their own model results based upon interactively assigning input variable weights



A lone gadwall swimming on the marsh on Pepperton WPA.
A lone gadwall swimming on the marsh on Pepperton WPA.
2010-3 R. Schmiesing 5/11/2009 Photo USFWS

Objective Models and Overall Model Results: Allow the user to create their own model results based upon interactively assigning input variable weights

Maps depicting the relative score of each WPA for each objective model and also the overall WPA prioritization model.  The top ten highest ranked WPAs are labeled in each panel


An aerial photo of the prescribed burn at Kufrin WPA, Big Stone County.

An aerial photo of the prescribed burn at Kufrin WPA, Big Stone County.
2007-20 WAH 11/08/06 Photo USFWS

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Page Last Modified: March 13, 2014