US Fish & Wildlife Service



Date of this Version



Published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1-4, (2009)


The Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District is often asked the question “If your job is to manage for wildlife, why are you grazing the vegetation? There is nothing left for wildlife!”

It is believed that historically, grazing of Rainwater Basin wetlands by large herds, especially during dry conditions was a driving force in keeping wetland vegetation in an early successional state. Likewise, it is commonly observed that the lack of disturbance by animals, fire, or mechanical means will cause wetland vegetation to shift from annual, early successional plants to perennial, late successional plants such as cattail and river bulrush.

Historical accounts describe how Native Americans set prairie fires to attract bison to graze on the new growth of vegetation following fire. Patch grazing today demonstrates both bison and cattle preference for recently burned over non-burned grasslands.

Since wild fires and free-roaming bison no longer maintain the wetland vegetation, some type of modern day management has to be done to mimic the process. Management is now done using prescribed burning followed by intense livestock grazing.