• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation
The Refuge is currently working to incorporate climate change considerations into their Comprehensive Conservation Plan.

Project Area

Henslow's sparrow calling
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) encompasses 50,000 acres in 3 counties (Jefferson, Jennings, and Ripley) in southeastern Indiana on the former Jefferson Proving Ground (JPG), a munitions testing facility. The Army established Jefferson Proving Ground in 1940 as an ordnance testing installation and closed in 1995. Beginning in 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managed the wildlife resources of JPG. Big Oaks NWR was established in June 2000 as an “overlay” NWR through a 25-year real estate permit from the U.S. Army. As an overlay refuge, the Army retains ownership and the Fish and Wildlife Service manages the property as Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.

The mission of the Refuge is to preserve, conserve, and restore biodiversity and biological integrity for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans. Big Oaks Refuge provides food and shelter for a wide variety of plant and animal species. More than 200 species of birds and 46 species of mammals are found on the refuge. Stream corridors and forested areas on Big Oaks Refuge provide excellent habitat for the federally endangered Indiana bat and federally threatened northern long-eared bat, and both species use the refuge for summer foraging, roosting, and for rearing young. More than 400 pairs of state-endangered Henslow’s sparrows are estimated to breed in the large grasslands of Big Oaks NWR. The refuge has been designated as a “Globally Important Bird Area” because of its value to Henslow’s sparrows and other migratory birds. Bald eagles nest on the refuge and golden eagles also winter on the refuge.

Management Goals

Grassland landscape photo

The Refuge has begun work on its Comprehensive Conservation Plan, or CCP. The purpose of a CCP is to specify a management direction for the refuge for the next 15 years. The goals, objectives, and strategies for improving refuge conditions—including the types of habitat we will provide, partnership opportunities, and management actions needed to achieve desired conditions – are described in the CCP. The Service’s preferred alternative for managing the refuge and its effects on the human environment, are described in the CCP as well.

Climate Change Impacts

Climate change impacts to southern Indiana are summarized in the Central Hardwoods Ecosystem Assessment and Synthesis (Brandt et al. 2014). Key impacts include:
warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons (especially warmer winter lows)
more extremely hot days
wetter springs followed by more prolonged summer droughts
more frequent heavy precipitation events
changes in hydrology, including increased risks for flash floods
greater risk of wildfire
increase in new and existing invasive plant species
Increased risk and spread of various diseases and insect pests
shifts in habitat suitability for many of the dominant tree species, with generally more northern species projected to decline and southern species projected to increase
shifts in habitat suitability for many focal bird species

Challenges and Opportunities

Climate change will present challenges and opportunities for accomplishing the management objectives of this project. The refuge is still evaluating specific challanges and opportunities as they relate to the CCP.

Adaptation Actions

Project participants used the Adaptation Workbook to develop several adaptation actions for this project. These adaptation options are still being evaluated as part of the CCP process.


Monitoring questions will be developed at a later phase in the planning process.

Next Steps

Information from this exercise will be incorporated into the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Refuge.

Learn More

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Early-successional habitat
Wildlife habitat

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