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News Archive 2014

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December 2014

Fee-Free Days for 2015

America’s national wildlife refuges and other public lands will offer free admission on these days in 2015:

  • January 19 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • February 14-16 – Presidents’ Day Weekend
  • September 26 – National Public Lands Day
  • October 11 – First Sunday of National Wildlife Refuge Week
  • November 11 – Veterans Day 
The fee holidays are scheduled each year to encourage Americans to visit their public lands and enjoy firsthand the natural and cultural experiences they offer.

“National Wildlife Refuges System is an unparalleled network of public lands dedicated to the conservation of native wildlife and their habitats. This national treasure provides Americans with places to hunt, fish, observe the natural world, and experience the outdoors in many exciting ways,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “If you have never visited a national wildlife refuge before, one of these fee-free days would be the perfect opportunity to see what you’ve been missing.”

There’s at least one national wildlife refuge in every state, and one within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. Find one close to you at http://www.fws.gov/refuges/index.html.

National wildlife refuges also help support local communities, pumping $2.4 billion into the national economy and supporting more than 35,000 jobs, according to a 2013 federal report. More than 46 million people visit refuges every year.

Of the nation’s 562 national wildlife refuges, 464 are open to the public. Of those, only 35 refuges charge an entrance fee, generally ranging from $3 to $5. Admission to the others is free. The entrance fee waiver does not cover concessionaire or license fees for some activities such as hunting, fishing or special tours.

Other federal land management agencies that will offer fee-free days in 2015 are: the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service. Please contact each for details.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Forest Service also participate in the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass and Federal Recreational Lands Pass programs. These passes provide access to more than 2,000 national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, grasslands and other federal lands.

Five passes are available:
  • Free annual pass to current military members and their dependents.
  • Free lifetime pass for people with permanent disabilities.
  • $10 lifetime senior pass for those aged 62 and over.
  • $80 annual pass for the general public.
  • Free annual pass for volunteers who accrue 250 hours and who do not already have a valid interagency pass.
Learn how you can buy a pass at http://store.usgs.gov/pass/index.html.

Reaching Into Cities Will Help Kids, Wildlife
By Dan Ashe
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I was at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in September. I know for most, New Jersey isn’t the first state that comes to mind when wilderness is discussed.

But Great Swamp, 26 miles as the crow flies from Times Square, was the first Department of the Interior designated wilderness. Today, you can hike eight miles of trails across 3,660 acres of wilderness and experience nature in solitude.

Places like Great Swamp Refuge are more than just escapes from the modern world. From John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum near Philadelphia to Bayou Sauvage Refuge in New Orleans, urban refuges are a key part of our conservation strategy: working with partners to engage urban populations in building an inclusive conservation movement.

More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban environments – a shift that has profound implications for the health and well-being of millions of people, especially youth. We’re learning that kids who spend more time in nature are physically healthier, cognitively more advanced and suffer fewer emotional problems.

Today’s children soon will be our nation’s elected officials, business leaders, parents, activists and public servants. What happens when a generation disconnected from the outdoors is in charge of taking care of nature? We must bridge the growing divide between young people and nature.

We can do that by helping kids make personal connections to the outdoors, especially through nature-based recreation and education and, yes, through better use of technology and social media. Childhood memories and experiences shape the values and priorities we apply as citizens and leaders.

We’re looking to use our Urban Wildlife Refuge Program to engage new audiences in metropolitan areas across the country. And we must use technology to keep them engaged.

We are building our newest urban refuge – Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, NM – from the ground up. In August, Secretary Jewell announced the acquisition of the remaining acreage needed to complete the 570-acre refuge, which gives us an unparalleled opportunity to help families engage nature firsthand.

In urban areas where we don’t have a land base, we’ve created 14 Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships to bring us together with community leaders, educators and conservationists. We are working to change how people perceive the outdoors by helping them connect with nature in a fun and culturally relevant way.

By building community support and rethinking where and how we reach families and youth, we can enrich and transform lives. We can nurture the next generation of citizen-conservationists.

November 2014

Reflecting on 50th Anniversary of Wilderness By Jim Kurth, Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act this year, much is being written about wilderness. Some challenge its relevance in a changing world; others wonder if it is an artificial construct of a particular point in our history. I have written about those things myself. But not today.

I love wilderness. My worldview, my faith, my professional life have all been shaped by my experience in wild places.

The first wilderness I experienced was Breton Wilderness. Breton National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana was the second refuge established by Theodore Roosevelt. It is the only national wildlife refuge he established that he actually set foot on. The 40-mile crescent of the Chandeleur Islands is one of the most magical places I have ever seen.

For the bird nations of the Gulf of Mexico, I have always thought that the Chandeleurs must be their capital city. Sandwich, royal and Caspian terns by the tens of thousands, along with black skimmers, lay their eggs on the beach. Magnificent frigatebirds from South America spend our North American summers wintering there. Reddish egrets, night herons, laughing gulls and others lend their voices to the cacophony of this wild place. Sharks plow the waters. What has happened at Breton through sea-level rise, from Hurricane Katrina, from God knows what saddens me. But the eons roll on, and they shape the land. I fear she is dying.

The Seney Wilderness in Michigan is a no man’s land. Its sedge meadows, pine-covered sand islands and patterned bogs at their southernmost range define her. Almost no one goes there. I did. A few deer hunters who want to find a closer connection to the land do. It is a wet place. Most people don’t like exploring wet places. I am still trying to understand why that quiet, wet world mesmerizes me. I rode a bulldozer through her during a wildfire following a stupid and arrogant order that illustrates why we must study and be trained in wilderness stewardship. I hope the scars on the land are not still there, but I know better.

The Arctic Wilderness is the defining place in my professional life. Not just the Mollie Beattie Wilderness, but the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the lands that surround her. I worked hard to protect it as wilderness, I paid a price for those efforts, and I realize that tomorrow’s conservationists will determine whether any of it matters. They will determine whether the opportunity to explore the world that formed us continues to exist.

Our species isn’t far removed from the forces that shaped us. The wild places of our planet that help us to feel small are important to our survival. They make us feel alive in the same way we did in our early evolution. They remind us we are not in control. They evoke humility. They kindle in us what we were at the beginning. They are more than pretty, so much more than fun. They are our primeval past and our evolutionary destiny. A hawk owl on the Firth River told me that a long time ago. There is nothing we do that is more important than our stewardship of wilderness. Some of you will be around to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. I wonder what you will write.

Interior Department, The North Face Join Forces to Protect Public Lands

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Todd Spaletto, president of The North Face, announced a partnership to protect, preserve and celebrate public lands in support of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC).

The North Face committed $250,000 and also launched a campaign as a key component of the initiative featuring a new recording of Woody Guthrie’s iconic anthem, “This Land is Your Land”, by two-time Grammy nominee My Morning Jacket. The song will be available on iTunes with more than half of each download going to the 21CSC as My Morning Jacket donates their portion of proceeds to the initiative. Monies raised will create jobs for youth and returning veterans through 21CSC projects on public lands across the nation.

“This partnership with The North Face and My Morning Jacket is really about inspiring and preparing the next generation of conservation leaders and outdoor stewards,” said Secretary Jewell. “The funding will help put young people and veterans to work restoring and protecting our nation’s land, water and wildlife – whether that’s building trails in national parks or removing invasive species in national wildlife refuges. The 21CSC not only helps meet critical needs on our nation’s public lands, but also provides valuable job training and a connection to the great outdoors that will last these young people a lifetime.

” The campaign features cinematic footage of The North Face global athlete team members and enthusiasts doing what they love – skiing, running, climbing and hiking. The campaign will launch on YouTube beginning October 27 and debut on national TV on November 9 during Sunday Night Football, running through the end of December on several networks. The campaign also will be supported by advertising across digital and social channels starting November 10.

Inspired by the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) is a central component of the Department of the Interior’s youth initiative to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work in the great outdoors.  

The 21CSC has grown since its launch by the Obama Administration in 2010 as part of the America’s Great Outdoors program. Secretary Jewell announced the Department of the Interior’s initiative to expand this youth program through partnerships with the private sector in a National Press Club speech in October 2013. Since then, American Eagle Outfitters, Camelbak, The Campion Foundation, Youth Outdoor Legacy Fund, Coca-Cola Foundation and now The North Face have joined the movement. 

Spot Something Illegal on a Wildlife Refuge? Email or Call

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has established a Turn In Poachers (TIPs) Line to help the public report violations occurring on national wildlife refuges and other Service-managed lands.

People can call 1-844-NWR-TIPS (697-8477) or e-mail NWR_TIPs@fws.gov 24 hours a day. You will be asked for the type of incident as well as the date, place (refuge name or county/state) and approximate time of the incident.

People may leave their name and contact information, which will aid law enforcement in the response and investigation. They also may remain anonymous. Any contact information provided will be used for official purposes only.

Annual Meeting Moved to Saturday

The Annual Meeting of the Members moved to Saturday this year. We offered a hike along the Tsuga Trail at the Erie National Wildlife Headquarters at 3:00 PM which a few members and guests took part in. Later everyone agreed the pot-luck dinner at was delicious.

After dinner Tom Roster, manager at Iroquois NWR, gave an informative presentation about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s new Friends Policy. Then Vicki Muller, manager at Erie NWR, presented the year in review of the Refuge. This included pictures showing how industrious beavers have completely changed the landscape of part of the Trolley Line Trail. Since fighting the beavers has proven to be a loosing battle, helping to reroute the trail around that area will most likely be a project we will be undertaking in 2015. Finally Linda Anderson showed a slide show illustrating the Friends activities of the past year.

The next order of business was the election of the Board of Directors. Douglas Copeland, Sheldon Kauffman, Ann Zurasky and Ronald Leberman were all reelected to another two year term. We would also like to welcome Amanda Kimball who was elected as a new member of the board.

The evening ended with the drawing for door prizes including scented candles, Friends calendars and a deer figurine. We are hoping even more members will participate in the fun next year.

October 2014

From the Director We Must Help Nature Adapt to Climate Change
By Dan Ashe
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The National Climate Assessment released in May puts it bluntly:

Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. Scientists and engineers from around the world have meticulously collected this evidence, using satellites and networks of weather balloons, thermometers, buoys, and other observing systems. Evidence of climate change is also visible in the observed and measured changes in location and behavior of species and functioning of ecosystems. Taken together, this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity.

The scientific debate about whether human-induced climate change is occurring – or whether rising average surface temperatures are disrupting the natural systems that support life on Earth – is over. But two significant questions remain to be answered: How catastrophic will the effects of this disruption be? And what can be done to avert the worst impacts and help wildlife and natural systems cope with those that occur?

These are not easy questions to answer. Fortunately, we still have time to act to sustain the web of life that sustains human population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the scientific, conservation and business communities to prepare for these impacts and ensure forward-thinking and effective conservation of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats. Guided by the President’s Climate Action Plan and the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, we are leading efforts to protect natural resources.

The scale and intensity of climate change impacts pose an enormous challenge.

But there is hope, and we are making progress. Here are a few examples:

  • At Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa, the Service and partners are finding that restoring diverse, native tall-grass prairie vegetation helps protect the soil year-round, slowing overland flow of water. It also helps recharge groundwater and provide important habitat.
  • By planting trees at refuges in the Red River and Lower Mississippi River valleys of Louisiana, the Service and partners are reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and restoring habitat that feeds and shelters songbirds and other wildlife. Similarly, refuges in Texas, Hawaii and Kansas are planting trees to restore habitat and reduce greenhouse gases.
  • Refuge managers in North Carolina and Virginia are helping to restore the natural hydrology of peatland ecosystems, which reduces fire potential and cuts carbon emissions.
  • In California, refuge staff, Coastal Program staff and partners have been working to raise the elevation of former salt marsh areas around Humboldt Bay that have experienced significant subsidence. This project has helped offset the loss of approximately 95 percent of historic salt marsh around the bay, and builds resiliency to climate change and sea-level rise by providing areas for salt marshes to migrate to behind dikes.
  • Biologists and university researchers have been monitoring the ecological impacts of climate change, such as the rising treeline in the mountains and American marten colonization of the lowlands, at Kenai Refuge in Alaska for decades.
  • The Refuge System has worked to reduce its carbon footprint by purchasing hybrid vehicles, constructing low-energy “green” visitor center/headquarters buildings and installing renewable wind and photovoltaic systems.
What happens in the next few decades will have profound implications for society. How we choose to respond here and now – or whether we respond at all – will determine the kind of world in which we and our families live for the foreseeable future, as well as the kind of world we leave to future generations. Everyone has a stake in the outcome of those efforts – and we must succeed.

Proposal to Remove Delmarva Fox Squirrel from Endangered Species List

Thanks to concerted conservation efforts by landowners and other partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel be removed from the Endangered Species List. The proposed rule for delisting is available for public comment until Nov. 24 at www.regulations.gov, under docket no. FWS–R5–ES–2014–0021.

One of the animals on the first list of endangered species nearly a half century ago, the squirrel has recovered across many parts of its historic range.

“The Delmarva fox squirrel is a perfect example of how the Endangered Species Act works not only to pull plants and animals back from the brink of extinction, but it can also provide flexibility to states and private landowners to help with recovery efforts while supporting important economic activity,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in announcing the proposal. Larger than other squirrel species and generally not found in urban areas, the Delmarva fox squirrel ranged throughout the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) Peninsula before experiencing a sharp decline in the mid-20th century due to clearing of forest for agriculture and development, short-rotation timber harvest and over-hunting. With its range reduced more than 90 percent, the squirrel was one of 67 species listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967, the predecessor law of the Endangered Species Act, which was enacted six years later.

More than 80 percent of the squirrel’s habitat is on private land. Since its listing, the squirrel’s range has increased from four to 10 counties in the Delmarva Peninsula. Efforts contributing to recovery include translocation of animals to establish new populations, closing of the targeted hunting season, growth and dispersal of the population, and protection of large forested areas for habitat. 

You can see the squirrel on several national wildlife refuge: Blackwater in Maryland; Chincoteague in Virginia; and Prime Hook in Delaware.

In its 2012 five-year review, the Service followed a rigorous process to assess the Delmarva fox squirrel’s extinction risk: . The review recommended delisting the species because it is no longer in danger of extinction. If the Delmarva fox squirrel is delisted, a monitoring plan would ensure that the squirrel remains secure from extinction.

For more information the Delmarva fox squirrel: Recovery fact sheet: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/recovery.pdf Web site: http://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/EndSppWeb/DFS/index.html

Buy Tiger Stamps at Your Post Office

Americans once again can buy the Save Vanishing Species stamp at post offices and online. Funds help conserve some of the world’s most iconic and threatened species.

The stamp – known as the Tiger Stamp for its image of an Amur tiger cub – works just like a regular postal stamp but sells at a slightly higher price. The additional money goes to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Multinational Species Conservation Funds, helping conservation of elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, great apes and marine turtles.

The stamp was created in 2011, but sale was congressionally mandated for only two years. At the end of 2013, the Post Office pulled the stamp. Congress passed legislation that now guarantees four more years of stamp availability.

The Tiger Stamp has generated more than $2.5 million for international conservation from the sale of 25.5 million stamps. Among the 47 projects in 31 countries supported:

In the Meghalaya state of India, a stamp-funded project is securing remnant community forests by making them community conservation reserves to be locally managed for the benefit of elephants.

In Kambas National Park, Indonesia, a key partnership is decreasing human-elephant conflict at the edge of the park by expanding and securing habitat and vital water needs for elephants within the park.

A landscape approach to conservation of the Cross River gorilla in Cameroon and Nigeria is ensuring the survival of this critically endangered great ape through support for a network of core protected areas and corridors across the Afi Kagwene landscape, managed in collaboration between local communities and governments.

In Mkomazi National Park, Tanzania, and North Luangwa National Park, Zambia, local community education programs are helping reduce the poaching pressure on black rhinos.

The Save Vanishing Species Stamp will be available in U.S. post offices and at USPS.com. To learn more about the Multinational Species Conservation Funds and the Save Vanishing Species Stamp, visit: www.tigerstamp.com.

New York Artist Jennifer Miller Wins 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Contest

Jennifer Miller, of Olean, NY, won the 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. Miller’s acrylic painting of a pair of ruddy ducks will be made into the 2015-2016 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or Duck Stamp, which goes on sale in late June 2015. 

The Federal Duck Stamp sells for $15 and raises about $25 million each year to provide critical funds to conserve and protect wetland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Ron Louque of Charlottesville, VA, placed second with his acrylic painting of a red-breasted merganser. Frank Mittelstadt of Beaver Dam, WI, took third place with his acrylic painting of a Canada goose.

More than 6.5 million acres of waterfowl habitat have been protected by funds provided through the purchase of Duck Stamps. “The Duck Stamp is one of this nation’s most successful conservation efforts,” said Jerome Ford, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Assistant Director for Migratory Birds. “Buying a Duck Stamp is the simplest way to help save our nation’s disappearing wetlands and ensure ducks, geese and thousands of other species of birds and other wildlife don’t lose their homes.”

Waterfowl hunters age 16 and older are required to purchase and carry the current Duck Stamp. Conservationists, stamp collectors and others also may purchase the stamp in support of habitat conservation. A current federal Duck Stamp can be used for free admission to any national wildlife refuge open to the public.

Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from sale of the $15 Duck Stamp goes to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which supports the purchase of migratory bird habitat for inclusion into the National Wildlife Refuge System. You can contribute to conservation by buying Federal Duck Stamps at many national wildlife refuges, the U.S. Postal Service or online at http://www.fws.gov/duckstamps/stamps.htm.

September 2014

Most Junk By Weight!

No, that’s not our new motto but it should be. “Most Junk By Weight - Small Team” was the award won by our Friends of ENWR group when they participated in the 22nd Annual French Creek Clean-Up organized by The French Creek Conservancy held on September 6th. 35,245 pounds of trash was collected from the French Creek watershed that day and it filled 2 trash dumpsters and one metal dumpster. Our contribution was 1600 pounds from the Erie National Wildlife Refuge!

Weigh-ins and a community picnic for volunteers were held Saturday afternoon at Sprague Farm and Brew Works near Venango. Live music was supplied by local bands. The Friends of ENWR was been participating in this clean up for the last few years cleaning along the tributaries on Refuge property. This year was our largest group and our first award. We hope to continue to build on this year’s success in the coming years.

Our French Creek Cleanup Team: Kody Goodge, Jim Bock, Bill McCarthy, Autumn White, Linda Anerson, Vicki Muller, Lisa Helmbreck, and Kathy Palmer. Micheal Vargo not shown. Photo Credit- Michael Vargo

Friends of Erie National Wildlife Refuge 2014 Calendar

A committee has been hard at work on a calendar featuring photos taken on the Erie National Wildlife Refuge. The calendar is going to the printers soon and will be available before the end of the year.

Annual Meeting To Move To Saturday

In order to attract more participation in the Friends of Erie National Wildlife Refuge's Annual Meeting of the Members we are moving the meeting to Saturday, November 8th this year. We plan on a Pot Luck Supper at 5:00pm and then presentations on a review of the year for both the Erie NWR and the Friends group. There will also be an election of members of your board of directors.

New this year for those that would like to come a little earlier and spend time on the refuge will be a walk on the Tsuga Trail starting at 3:00pm. You will be able to see the improvements made to the trail this year as well as get to know some of the other members of the Friends.

August 2014

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Expands Urban Conservation Program
New Projects Will Help Communities, Teach Kids, Restore Ties to Nature

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will partner with communities, corporations and nonprofits to help restore the natural environment and boost opportunities for residents in six cities to connect with nature. Together, the Service and partners expect to direct more than $1.7 million to community-led habitat restoration projects and engage thousands of volunteers in the efforts.

Six national wildlife refuges will play a key part in the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships: Hopper Mountain Refuge in Ventura, CA; Bayou Sauvage Refuge in New Orleans, LA; Rocky Mountain Arsenal Refuge in Denver, CO; John Heinz Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia, PA; Wallkill River Refuge in Sussex, NJ; and Santa Ana Refuge in Alamo, TX. The partnerships will encourage participation in conservation and outdoor recreation in residents’ local communities.

“Thanks to our partners, we are expanding beyond our national wildlife refuges and finding new ways to educate and inspire young people living in urban centers, helping raise a new generation of conservationists with a passion to care for our lands, water and wildlife,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.  

The Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships, part of the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Urban Wildlife Refuge Program, raises awareness and capacities to engage a new and more diverse constituency in meaningful, collaborative ways to nurture an appreciation of wildlife conservation, both on and off urban refuges.

Funding is provided through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program. The program focuses on the stewardship and restoration of coastal, wetland and riparian ecosystems across the country. Projects seek to address water quality issues in priority watersheds.

The six national Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships are:

Condor Kids (CA): A pilot education program will teach students in heavily Latino elementary schools in the Fillmore United School District of Ventura County about efforts to recover the endangered California condor. The program also will build their skills in science, technology, engineering and math. Students will make field trips to Hopper Mountain Refuge, a condor nesting area, to meet with recovery biologists, learn about condor monitoring, and look through nest cameras. Partners in the project include the Santa Barbara Zoo and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Wallkill Connection: Fostering Urban River Stewards (NJ/NY): The project will involve youth and adults from a low-income Yonkers, New York, neighborhood in restoring land near public housing along the Saw Mill River. Participants will visit Wallkill River Refuge to learn about riverside restoration; refuge staff will make return visits to Yonkers to lend their expertise. Partners include the Yonkers-based Groundwork Hudson Valley urban environmental nonprofit. Youth participants are from Groundwork’s Green Team (a summer youth employment program).

Habitat Is Where It’s At (LA): Underserved New Orleans students will help restore degraded wetland in Bayou Sauvage Refuge while learning about wetland habitat. Younger students will cultivate and grow marsh grass and trees in schoolyard nurseries. Older students will help with project planning, data collection and biological monitoring to assess restoration success. Partners include the University of New Orleans Coastal Education and Research Facility.

Community Greening and Restoration Project (CO): Working with the community and partners including Environmental Learning for Kids, the Service will help turn a degraded detention pond in an underserved Denver neighborhood into a local park that connects to nearby Rocky Mountain Arsenal Refuge. The park would offer expanded educational programming for youth and families in Montbello and Commerce City.

PSJA, Preserving for Future Generations (TX): The cities of Pharr, San Juan and Alamo will work with Santa Ana Refuge and students and teachers to create natural habitats at three elementary school campuses. At community-led events, students, teachers and parents will learn about the region’s unique Tamaulipan Brushland ecosystem – found only in the four southernmost counties of the state – and about conservation in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship (NESt) (PA): John Heinz Refuge at Tinicum and the National Audubon Society will expand a program that engages Philadelphia residents in conservation through hands-on programming in schools, in neighborhoods and at the refuge. The program includes a native plant propagation program at Fairmount Park and citizen science activities at the refuge. FedEx is a partner in the project.

Culture of Community Anchored in Refuges
By Jim Kurth
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System

I sometimes wonder how many professions can claim to have friends like we do.

I doubt there are “Friends of the IRS” or “Friends of Podiatrists.” Not that those aren’t noble enterprises, but I doubt that they would draw a loyal following.

What is it about our profession that draws people to volunteer their time and offer money to help? Honestly, it really isn’t about us. People care about the wildlife they find at national wildlife refuges. There is a special sense of place that refuges evoke. People experience more than mere “fun” at refuges. They find deeply personal meanings that are essential to self-identity.

You will hear people talk about “the swamp” or “the beach” or “the marsh” as if there were no others. They talk about my refuge with a reverence and a sense of stewardship. Our Friends and volunteers have a personal relationship with these special places and the wild creatures that live here.

I remember a volunteer who was the first treasurer of the Seney Natural History Association, the Friends organization at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Harold Peters was an 86-year-old retired game warden. He came in every day to count the money from the bookstore and deposit it in the local bank. He would recount stories about his career – stories a lot older than I was.

He told me about the time he was on patrol during the second week of deer season when a big snowstorm blew in and his Model A Ford was stuck in the backwoods all winter. He went back in the spring to discover that porcupines had eaten the wooden spokes off of all the wheels.

His stories were the stories of his connection to the place, and he wanted to share those connections with me.

Refuges draw people from local communities together for a common cause. Many times local communities have rich histories with places that are now called national wildlife refuges. The culture of communities is often anchored in a long-standing relationship with the land. Friends groups are special communities that share a strong connection to their refuge and its wildlife.

These two characteristics – a sense of place and a sense of community – are the essential keys to effective stewardship. Conservation is like politics: All effective conservation is local.

Our Friends and volunteers are the essential core of support for effective conservation. Their collective efforts make a huge difference for the National Wildlife Refuge System. And they know how to have fun. They have my thanks and admiration.

Refuge Rangers Fight Myths about Creepy Crawlies and Other Wildlife

It’s not just snakes. Other wild creatures inspire exaggerated fears, too: bats; spiders; birds; fish – yes, fish.

In the course of greeting tens of thousands of visitors a year, rangers on national wildlife refuges bump up against many such bugbears. They know which natural–world denizens invariably make some people flinch or go ewww.

One thing they’ve noticed: Whether it’s because today’s visitors tend to live more indoor lives than past generations or watch too many TV survival shows, fears of nature are flourishing -- in all ages.

“We’re seeing more kids sheltered and afraid,” says Ashley Inslee, a biologist at Bosque del Apache Refuge in New Mexico. “Even college kids interested in conservation haven’t been out hunting, fishing, hiking. They’ve seen TV shows or National Geographic and think being outdoors is cool, but it can be uncomfortable at first.”

Different tactics are called for at Florida’s J.N. “Ding” Darling Refuge, where gators are star attractions. “There should be a natural fear we have of them, and they of us; it’s a good thing to be fearful of a large predator like an alligator,” says supervisory refuge ranger Toni Westland. But she puts visitors’ fears in perspective. “We tell them we’re not going to have alligators jumping out of bushes. It’s safe. But it’s only safe because we respect wild animals and don’t feed them.”

Some visitors want to beat back old fears. Mary Stumpp signed on this winter as a volunteer at crane-filled Bosque del Apache Refuge — an odd choice for someone with a lifelong fear of birds. Her task: using a tractor to mow corn for feeding sandhill cranes. Slowly, she grew accustomed to seeing flocks overhead. Writes Stumpp, “I began to see the cranes not as a threat but as beautiful creatures. To my surprise, I began to care about them…”

To help anxious visitors, refuge staffers share some proven tactics:

Admit fears of their own. Visitors may be surprised to hear refuge staffers aren’t all fearless. Bosque del Apache Refuge’s deputy manager Aaron Mize owns up to a fear of heights and snakes.

Find out what they know. At Patuxent Refuge, staff meets students on familiar turf before a refuge visit, and throws softball questions: “Do you spend any time outside? What’s your favorite animal?” Staff also invites students to confide fears in writing so they are not embarrassed in front of classmates.

Don’t dissemble. To a child nervous about snakes, you might try: ‘There are snakes here, but we almost never see any. That’s because they’re shy, and they can feel the ground tremble, and they go and hide when they hear people coming.’

Educate about feeding a wild animal. Remind people that wildlife loses their fear of humans if regularly fed by visitors. And tell them never to challenge wildlife.

Let kids adjust at their own pace. Let young people decide if they want to touch a live frog or snake. Respect youngsters’ rights to say “no”. Some refuge staff appoint an anxious young visitor to become their assistant for a day.

Show enthusiasm. Students see that you’re not afraid and they respond. When a youngster sees salamanders and turtles and responds, ‘Oh gross,’ that’s your chance to say, ‘No, they’re so cool,” and explain why.

Caption: These kids at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, AZ, are none too sure that they want to get near that snake, harmless as it is. Photo by Andrea Brophy. 

June 2014

The Erie NWR And The MCA Are Teaming Up This Summer

Nancy Apple and Mike Saletra from the Meadville Council on the Arts will be presenting two classes this summer at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge.

In July will be Gouache Painting Classes. Gouache paint is a water based medium that can be used like watercolor or oils. It is a wonderful medium for nature artist. In this class you will progress from drawing an animal or tree, etc. to doing a canvas painting.

This is a three day class to be held on July 12, 19 and 26. There are separate sessions for youth and adults with the youth classes starting at 11:00 in the morning and continuing until 12:30 in the afternoon. The adult classes follow in the afternoon from 1:00 until 3:00PM.

The cost is $30.00 for youth plus $5.00 for materials and $35.00 for adults plus $5.00 for materials. These fees cover all three sessions.

Nature Photography Classes for ages 8 and up will be held August 16, 23 and 30 from 1:00 until 3:30PM. The cost for all three sessions is $30.00.

Students will take walks along the Refuge's nature observation trails as they learn the basics of photography including perspective, the rule of thirds, composition and photographing weather conditions. Each student must bring their own digital camera, and will be required to have some prints made for discussion in the following class.

Class size for both classes limited to 12. Please call the Refuge at 814-789-3585 as early as possible to register.

Coastal Resilience Grants to Protect Atlantic Coast Residents from Future Storms

As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to make local communities more resilient against future storms, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced $102.7 million in competitive matching grants to support 54 projects along the Atlantic coast. The grants will fund science-based solutions to restore wetlands and other natural areas; better manage stormwater using green infrastructure; and assist states, tribes and local communities in protecting themselves from major storms such as Hurricane Sandy, which devastated much of the East Coast in 2012.

“We are taking the lessons learned from this natural disaster to help local communities strengthen natural barriers between themselves and major storms such as Sandy that can cause major flooding and other damage,” Jewell said. “Together with our partners, we are stabilizing beaches, restoring wetlands, and improving the hydrology of coastal areas, both protecting local residents from the next big storm while creating jobs and restoring habitat for wildlife.”

Projects under the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program will also provide an economic boost, creating hundreds of jobs in local communities. Many of the projects will place special emphasis on engaging and employing youth and veterans.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which is administering the grant program, helped guide the process that led to Interior’s selection of the 54 projects out of 375 proposals.

Interior’s commitment of $100 million was matched with $2.7 million in funding from the U.S. Attorney General’s offices in New Jersey and Delaware, as well as donations from Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The $102.7 million grant commitment was further leveraged by $72 million in grantee partner match, making the entire conservation impact of the grant program more than $175 million.

The majority of the projects are in areas severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy, including 24 projects in New York and New Jersey receiving nearly $50 million.

The projects will restore an estimated 6,634 acres of wetlands and marshes, 225 acres of beach, 364 acres of riparian buffers and 16 miles of streams. The efforts will also open 287 miles of streams to fish passage and restore 147 acres of flood plain. 

A list of the projects announced today under the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program can be online: http://www.doi.gov/news/upload/Hurricane-Sandy-2014-Grants-List.pdf

Bringing Nature to Cities
By Dan Ashe
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I had the privilege to attend the grand opening of the new Desert National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Nevada.

It is a spectacular building, built with revenue generated by the sale of excessed Bureau of Land Management land in the Las Vegas area.

The 11,000-square-foot visitor center features exhibits, two classrooms/meeting rooms, offices and a bookstore. It is also loaded with environmentally friendly design elements, and the refuge is applying for the highest certification for sustainability from the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED Platinum. Desert Refuge is the largest refuge in the lower 48 states, and its visitor center is a short drive for the 600,000 residents of Las Vegas.

In actuality, it isn’t that unusual. Nearly half of our 562 national wildlife refuges are within easy traveling distance of small cities, and more than 100 refuges are within 25 miles of cities with 250,000 or more inhabitants. Today, there is at least one wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. Even in New York’s Times Square, you are only a 35-mile drive from Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Still, we want to do more to reach urban residents and give them better opportunities to experience the wild things and wild places that make our country unique.

We are growing urban wildlife refuge partnerships to bring the ideals and conservation heritage of the Refuge System to the city.

America is urbanizing. Americans are increasingly disconnected from the outdoors. It is hard to get city folk out to refuges, so we’re bringing refuges to them. Think parks, front yards, vacant lots, trails, all kinds of areas that offer stepping stones to the enjoyment of nature. And we’re engaging them with the help of their friends and neighbors.

We’re working with urban conservation partners who bring to us their community expertise, knowledge and relationships. They’ll help us learn and appreciate the diverse perspectives and values of urban communities and adapt our approach accordingly. Hopefully, we’ll help make wild life conservation relevant for those communities.

Last year we set up urban refuge partnerships in Chicago; Houston; Los Angeles; Albuquerque; Baltimore; Seattle; New Haven, CT; and Providence, RI.

We have a long way to go, but what is happening in those eight cities and outside Las Vegas at Desert Refuge gives us an excellent foundation. To learn more about urban wildlife refuge partnerships, go to http://go.usa.gov/ka4R

May 2014

Summer Fest 2014

Always held on the last Saturday of June, the date of this year’s Summer Fest is the 28th. This summer the spotlight is on forests. From 10am until 4pm you can visit displays, play games, make crafts, learn about trees, take guided nature walks, and even earn a prize! Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center will be there all day and Master Falconer, Gary Ratay, will do a talk at 1:00pm.

Help is always appreciated that day. Volunteers are needed to assist with games, crafts, man the information booths, supervise the Silent Auction, or be a “float” or a “runner”. We also offer guided walks through out the day. If you can identify birds, wildflowers, or trees please consider helping on the walks. If you can work that day (or part of the day) call the Erie NWR at 814-789-3585 to volunteer.

We also hold a Silent Auction the day of Summer Fest as our only major fundraiser for the year. We are in need of donations for the auction. New individual items, gift baskets or even a piece of art you are tired of looking at on your wall would all be welcomed. Call the office also if you have anything you can donate.

Friends T-Shirts Available For Order At Summer Fest

Friends members will be able to order T-Shirts with our logo on them. Samples will be at the Summer Fest in June. We will also be including pictures in the next newsletter.

New Friends Policy Brings Clarity

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized its long-awaited Friends Policy, bringing clarity and national consistency to Service partnerships and enabling it to strengthen relationships with Friends organizations. The policy is the first of its kind in the agency’s history. The policy The new policy, organized into four chapters, guides the relationship between the Service, its employees, Friends organizations and volunteers. It clarifies Service employee responsibilities towards Friends organizations; outlines consistent financial and administrative practices for revenue generating operations; and includes a new Friends Partnership Agreement template.

While the policy is straightforward and reflects long-standing Service standards of operation, it may require modifications in the working relationships between wildlife refuges and Friends organizations to ensure that continued operations are within the highest standards of efficiency and ethical conduct.

A few ways the policy affects day-to-day operations are:

  • all Friends organizations must acquire and maintain 501(c)3 status to ensure limits on lobbying;
  • Service employees may not serve on a Friends board of directors;
  • Service volunteers and Service employees may not staff nature stores, which cannot sell items on consignment;
  • Friends fund-raising events on Service property have new restrictions and new financial requirements if they involve solicitation of donations; and
  • Friends may not offer fee-based recreation programs.
Due to the complex nature of Friends partnerships and the need to broadly inform and educate Service managers and Friends members on the policy, each partnership will have until October 4, 2014, to implement changes.

Each Service Regional Office is holding question and answer webinars for both employees and Friends. Implementation resources are available online at http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/friendsPolicy.html. The site includes the policy chapters, the new agreement template, FAQs, a PowerPoint presentation for staff to present with Friends, and a special message from the Service Director Dan Ashe to Friends organizations.

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sign Historic MOU

Leading African-American fraternity Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have joined forces to conserve America’s wildlife in a new way.  The two organizations signed an historic memorandum of understanding, establishing a partnership that will provide new opportunities for urban youth to experience the natural world and promote interest in conservation and the biological sciences.

The initiative commemorates American scientist, botanist and inventor, George Washington Carver, a Sigma member who has inspired generations of youth to pursue careers in science.

“Many Americans find it difficult to experience nature in an increasingly urban America. This has profound implications for the health and well-being of our citizens and the future of our nation,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Sigma – with its rich history of community leadership and deep connection to the legacy of Dr. Carver – is the ideal partner as we work to create meaningful connections between young people and the great outdoors.”

“The over-arching goal of Sigma is to impact the total well-being of the citizens in communities we serve,” shares Jonathan A. Mason, Sr., International President of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. “We are excited for this amazing opportunity to partner with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in engaging our youth through education and physical activity.”

The multi-faceted partnership will engage Sigma members and its Sigma Beta Club male mentoring youth groups to become environmental stewards. Goals include: 1) teaching and engaging youth in outdoor recreation on public lands to promote health through physical activity; 2) promoting the pursuit of biological sciences careers through stewardship and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math); 3) building national, regional and local conservation partnerships; and 4) engaging Sigma as a voice on conservation issues.

About Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. was founded on January 9, 1914, at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The organization has grown to more than 150,000 members serving in nearly 700 chapters globally. The organization has corporate service partnerships with the March of Dimes Foundation and St. Jude’s Children’s Research.

April 2014

“The Lorax”

On Saturday May 31st from 1-3PM, the Erie National Wildlife Refuge will be holding a book reading of Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax." We'll make a craft and talk about the importance of conservation and how we each can help.

This program is FREE, but limited to the first 40 registrants. Please call the refuge headquarters to register: (814)-789-3585.

Friends Walkabout

The Friends are planing to "Walkabout" on the Erie National Wildlife Refuge the first Sunday of each month at 2:00 PM. Friends members will meet at the Refuge headquarters building and then we’ll select a trail to walk. It does not matter if 2 or 3 Friends show up or 20, we plan to have an enjoyable afternoon.

We hope this will prove to be a good way for the Friends to become active on and learn more about the refuge. It will also give us an opportunity to learn more about and from each other. In addition we can act as the eyes for the refuge reporting anything that needs attention.

walk-about noun \'wo?-k?-?bau?t\

1: a short period of wandering bush life engaged in by an Australian aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work --often used in the phrase go walkabout

2: something (as a journey) similar to a walkabout

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Habitat Restoration Programs Create Jobs, Pump Millions into Local Economies

A peer-reviewed analysis finds that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s habitat restoration programs are extraordinary engines for the U.S. economy.

The report, Restoration Returns: The Contribution of Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Coastal Program Projects to Local U.S. Economies, finds that by working with partners Service programs created more than 3,900 jobs in Fiscal Year 2011 and generated a total economic stimulus of $327.6 million.

Each year, the Service completes more than 3,500 public-private partnership habitat restoration projects under the two programs, which leverage government dollars to generate private sector investment that is channeled into local communities.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife program works with willing landowners to improve wildlife habitat. Landowners agree to maintain the projects for at least 10 years, but otherwise retain full control of their land. In Fiscal Year 2011:

  • $18.6 million was invested nationwide through the program, leveraging more than $142 million in private sector contributions, totaling $161 million in restoration spending.
  • When cycled through the economy, the projects generated more than $292 million for local economies, a return of $15.70 for every federal dollar spent.
  • More than 3,500 jobs were created.
The Service’s Coastal Program works with communities and partners to undertake projects that protect and restore vital wildlife habitat. Projects include removing invasive species, replanting salt marsh and sea grasses, and installing living shorelines to prevent erosion. In Fiscal Year 2011:
  • $2.8 million was spent on projects, leveraging more than $16 million from project partners, totaling 19.2 million in project funds.
  • After cycling through the economy, these project funds provided $35.6 million in local economic stimulus, a return of $12.78 for every federal dollar spent.
  • More than 470 jobs were created.
To see the entire report at: www.fws.gov/home/restoration_returns.html

March 2014

Erie NWR and MCA Joining Forces

The Meadville Council on the Arts is planing some outreach classes at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge. Photography classes are being planned for June 7, 14, and 21. Quache painting classes will be July 12,19, and 26. These classes will have a fee and a pre-registration. Watch for more information coming soon.

Wilderness at 50: A Remarkable Concept

Conservationists around the world are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The law represents a half-century-long struggle that began with people like John Muir and culminated with people like Olaus Murie and Howard Zahniser.

Zahniser wrote the first draft in 1956. The journey of the Wilderness Act covers nine years, 65 rewrites and 18 public hearings before being signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Sept. 3, 1964. The Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which today includes 757 Congressionally-designated wilderness areas comprising about 109.5 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico.

“That a society would decide to set aside lands and waters and not actively manage them was a remarkable concept for a country founded on western socioeconomic traditions,” says National Wildlife Refuge System wilderness coordinator Nancy Roeper.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages more than 20 million acres of wilderness in the Refuge System – about one-fifth of all the designated wilderness areas in the nation. There are 75 wilderness areas on 63 refuges in 25 states. The Service is one of four federal agencies with stewardship responsibilities; the others are the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. “

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,” the Wilderness Act states. “An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions …”

Managing designated wilderness requires a light touch and special care. “One of the toughest balancing acts of wilderness management is figuring out how to balance wilderness preservation with other refuge management activities. What action (or non-action) is best for the wilderness resource?  This is a question that I, and refuge managers, struggled with at every single wilderness that I visited,” says Molly McCarter, a 26-year-old 2011-13 Refuge System wilderness fellow. “The idea of wilderness is an inherent part of American culture – wild spaces, existing in their own right, are what make the United States unique among countries. Wilderness preservation is cultural preservation.”

For more about Refuge System wilderness, including a map, fact sheet, blog and short video essay, go to http://www.fws.gov/refuges/whm/wilderness.html

Bringing the Wilderness Magic to Everyone
By Dan Ashe
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Half a century ago, I was 8 years old, but fortunately, some smart and passionate folks were thinking about my future. And yours. They decided that “wild life” is more than individual plants and animals. Places should be set aside and allowed to stay wild and undisturbed by man.

Their work and passion culminated in the Wilderness Act of 1964. Signed by President Lyndon Johnson, the Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, and established a formal mechanism for designating future wilderness. President Johnson stated, “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”

This year, we are celebrating the act’s 50th anniversary, and with less than 3 percent of the contiguous United States still considered wild, we have a lot of work to do. As human population grows, and humanity consumes more and more to meet its growing needs, wild will become increasingly rare.

I’ve had the good fortune to visit many of our wildest places. One of them is not where you’d expect. Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham, MA, is a wilderness that exists amid a crush of humanity. Have you ever tried to cross the Bourne Bridge onto Cape Cod on a summer weekend? The refuge includes the Monomoy Wilderness. When Congress created the Monomoy Wilderness in 1970, Monomoy was not the kind of pristine wilderness many imagine when they read the Wilderness Act – places where “the imprint of man’s work [is] substantially unnoticeable.” People had left their mark (structures, foundations, roads and more) on the Monomoy Wilderness, some are still evident today.

But it is worth the effort to reach the pristine, which is what refuge manager Dave Brownlie and the National Wildlife Refuge System are doing. Essentially, they are re-wilding this dynamic coastal barrier system and its biodiversity of birds, marine wildlife and coastal habitats.

As important as wilderness areas are to wildlife, they are also essential to us – to clear our heads, to experience what it means to be really outdoors, and to connect with the earth and our natural heritage.

They preserve what Brownlie calls the “Monomoy magic,” the feeling he gets when he visits Monomoy’s southernmost tip. There, amid the wildlife, he says: “Yeah, I’m really in a wilderness now.” You can almost hear the tension fade from his voice as he says it, too.

To ensure that wilderness is not lost to short-term gain or for the latest tourist trap, it’s up to us to convey the value of wilderness – not to the nation in the abstract, but concretely to each and every one of us.

Only then, when everyone can, and does, fully appreciate wilderness, will we be confident that the wild lands and “wild life” we love will be there for our children and grandchildren. So, like those pioneers of wilderness protection, who acted for you and me 50 years ago, you and I now have our date with destiny. We are leading today’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and today’s conservation community. So let’s get out there and make our own version of the Monomoy magic.

February 2014

Upcoming Saturday Programs at the Visitors Center

The Erie National Wildlife Refuge has some programs coming up this Spring and Summer at the Visitors Center, 11296 Wood Duck Lane in Guys Mills.

Saturday, April 12th from 1-3pm you can attend an Egg Education Program. Learn about how baby birds develop inside eggs then make an eggs-cellent craft!

The Lorax Book Reading will be held on Saturday, May 31st from 1-3pm. Make a truffula tree craft and listen to Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

Last but definitely not least is our Annual Summer Fest. Always held on the last Saturday of June, the date this year is the 28th. This summer the spotlight is on forests. From 10am until 4pm you can visit displays, play games, make crafts, learn about trees, and even earn a prize!

All programs are free but limited to the first 40 registrants (Except Summer Fest). To register or get more information call the office at 814-789-3585.

The Refuge System received funding for acquiring land in such key ecosystems as longleaf pine forests like this one at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, SC. Credit: Jack Culpepper/USFWS

More Money, More Conservation
By Jim Kurth
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System

Congress funded the Refuge System at more than $472 million for this fiscal year, 4 percent more than we received last year. And I can’t help but think that’s due in large measure to the support refuge Friends show year-in and year-out.

In the current fiscal climate, a 4 percent budget increase is a huge vote of confidence in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which welcomes more than 47 million visitors to wildlife refuges each year. We are able to welcome those visitors -- who make a measurable economic contribution to communities across the country -- because the nation’s Refuge Friends help us at every turn.

In short, we can’t do our work without their support.

While our current budget is short of fiscal 2010, it restored some of the cuts that came with the across-the-board sequestration, and it means that we won’t have to cut about 400 jobs. Indeed, we think this year’s budget will allow us to do some of the conservation work we’ve had to delay.

For example, we hope to expand effective programs like the Cooperative Recovery Initiative so we can address threats to wildlife species on and around wildlife refuges. We expect to expand the inventory and monitoring initiative that gives us critical information so we can deliver better conservation.

While the budget does not include money for any new visitor centers, we did get funding for a limited number of construction projects on nine refuges. We also got funding for land acquisition projects on such key ecosystems as the Crown of the Continent in Montana, Dakota Grasslands in North and South Dakota, Everglades Headwaters in Florida, and longleaf pine forests in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

This year’s budget hardly puts the Refuge System in a position of significant growth. But every budget is more than dollars and cents; it represents a commitment to a shared vision -- of healthy landscapes and abundant wildlife for those who support the National Wildlife Refuge System.

For more than a century, the Refuge System has been the hidden jewel among public lands. This year’s budget may well signal that national wildlife refuges are coming into the spotlight in the public’s consciousness – and that’s thanks to the work Friends do.

Conserving Coastal Wetlands and Wildlife

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe announced $16.5 million in grants to support 21 critical coastal wetland projects in 12 states and Puerto Rico under the National Coastal Grants Wetlands Conservation Grants Program. The grants will protect habitat for oysters, Steller sea lions, wood storks and more – including substantial restoration on or near national wildlife refuges. The grants are funded through excise taxes paid by anglers and boaters.

Coastal wetlands comprise less than 10 percent of the nation’s land area yet support a significant number of wildlife species, including 75 percent of migratory birds, nearly 80 percent of fish and shellfish, and about half of all threatened and endangered species. Wetlands in coastal watersheds are experiencing a net annual loss of about 80,160 acres.

The complete list of projects funded by the 2014 grant program can be found here.

Projects involving national wildlife refuges include:

  • Protect and restore the estuary near Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge, WA, considered one of the most pristine estuaries in the United States. It is also one of the most productive commercial oyster areas in the U.S. and serves as a stopping point for 100,000 shorebirds during spring migration;
  • Protect wetlands near Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, GA, habitat for the endangered wood stork, swallow-tailed kite and other wildlife;
  • Acquire land near Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, NC, which includes wetlands, peatland pocosin, longleaf pine flatwoods and maritime forest. The new property will be managed as public game land;
  • Acquire an easement on Mount Airy Farm within Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, VA, to permanently protect 170 acres of freshwater marsh, wetland and farmland from development;
  • Protect coastal wetlands and near-shore habitat within Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, AK, for such wildlife as salmonids, Steller sea lions and Steller eider;
  • Restore coastal wetlands and uplands on Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, CA, to saltmarsh and brackish or freshwater marsh. The project will restore habitat for several threatened or endangered fish.

January 2014

Spring Owl Prowl

The Friends of the Erie National Wildlife Refuge will be hosting an Owl Prowl Friday, April 25th. We will be meeting at 6:30pm at the Refuge Headquarters Building near Guys Mills for an educational program on owls and then we will venture out into the woods.

Judy Acker from Audubon Pennsylvania will once again join us for a program on owls found in Pennsylvania. As we prowl the woods on the Refuge we will be using recordings of owl calls to try to get a response from these nocturnal birds. If we are lucky we may hear from a Great Horned or Barred Owl, the most common species of owls known to nest on the Erie National Wildlife Refuge.

The size of the group will be limited so pre-registration is a must. Call the Refuge at 814-789-3585 to reserve your spot on the Owl Prowl. This is a "Rain or Shine" event and if the weather is bad enough we will be offering the indoor program only. However, please dress for the weather, wear suitable footwear for hiking in the woods and bring a flashlight.

Refuge Law Enforcement: “Coolest Job You Can Have”

Federal wildlife officer Jon Beyer talks to an angler at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. Beyer, now at Audubon Refuge and Wetland Management District in North Dakota, is one of 111 dual-function officers. (Photo by Keith Penner)

Since the days more than a century ago when first refuge manager/game warden Paul Kroegel was patrolling the waters surrounding what is now Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, law enforcement has been fundamental to conservation in the United States.

Over the decades, refuge law enforcement officers have had different titles, have moved away from dual-function roles, have endured staffing shortages and have reported to different agencies within what is now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But their mission has remained essentially the same: To keep national wildlife refuges safe for wildlife that inhabit them and the people who visit them.

The current title, since a 2012 overhaul, is federal wildlife officer. And it’s “the coolest job you can have,” says Jim Hall, chief of the Division of Refuge Law Enforcement since 2010. “From tagging grizzly bears on the Alaska tundra to checking deer hunters in Mississippi to checking duck hunters in Louisiana; up in the early morning with the beautiful sunrises and marvelous sunsets that you see by being out there every day. It is absolutely the coolest job anyone can ever hold.”

In recent years, the division can point to many accomplishments. It has spearheaded the establishment of the Service Honor Guard, updated the Refuge System law enforcement badge, reclassified of the federal wildlife officer title and position description; clarified numerous policies, including one on taser use; and revised federal wildlife officer vehicle standards and design. Still, inadequate staffing remains a prime concern.

“We need to add full-time officers,” Hall says. “We’re at the lowest staffing level for law enforcement that we’ve been at in decades. We’ve lost a considerable amount of our dual-function officers to retirement and relinquishment of their credentials, and we critically need to add full-time positions to replace those.”

In the mid-1990s, Hall says, the Refuge System had 685 dual-function officers – officers who served simultaneously as a refuge manager or biologist. In 2002, a Department of the Interior secretarial directive mandated reduced dependency on dual-function officers. So today there are 111 dual-function officers and 281 full-time officer positions (34 of which are vacant or have an officer in rigorous training, which takes almost a year). That’s a total of 392 federal wildlife officers.

By way of comparison, Hall says, the state of Florida alone has about 600 conservation officers. Wisconsin has the lowest annual conservation officer-to-hunter/angler ratio among the 50 states: 1 to about 12,000. The Refuge System is doubly lower than that: 1 officer for about 24,000 hunters/anglers.

In 2004, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) figured the Refuge System should have 845 full-time officers based on visitation, miles of road and trails, known crime on refuges, endangered species enforcement, and more. The IACP is using updated statistics to develop a new risk-based deployment model for every unit of the Refuge System. It expected to be completed soon.

Law Enforcement Work Is Central to Our Mission
by Jim Kurth
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System

I have often wondered what it was like back in the early 1900s for Paul Kroegel to grab his 10 gauge shotgun, jump in his boat and try to chase market hunters away from the nesting colonies at Pelican Island. It was a dangerous thing to do. His love for the birds and his anger at their destruction must have made for some tense encounters with the bad guys.

We sure have come a long way since Paul Kroegel’s time. We have come a long way in professionalizing our law enforcement program during my career.

I was one of the last refuge officers who received a badge and a gun before I went to any training. When I reported for duty at Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in 1979, the people in charge gave me a government ID card, turned it over and stamped it with “the authority to enforce laws administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service.” They gave me a Smith & Wesson Model 66 stainless steel .357 magnum revolver, handcuffs and leather gear.

I did law enforcement patrols with no training for months before a slot in a nine-week police training course opened at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. During that training, I realized just how clueless I had been and how dangerous it was to have untrained people conducting law enforcement efforts.

I enjoyed law enforcement work, especially the game warden part of it. I served as an officer working on refuges in Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Rhode Island. I witnessed appalling disregard for wildlife laws. I caught some bad guys. I had my life threatened. Perhaps most important, I learned how central our law enforcement work is to our conservation mission. I saw how critical it is to provide safe places for our employees and visitors.

Today’s federal wildlife officers working on refuges bring forward a tradition of service that is more than 100 years old. They are an elite force with the best training in the business (it now takes almost a year to fully train an officer). They have increased professionalism, safety and conservation far beyond anything I could have dreamed of during my years in the field.

The work is still dangerous, and these men and women serve with great courage and distinction. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

Fee Free Days at Wildlife Refuges, Other Federal Public Lands

Seeing wildlife conservation in action just gained even more appeal. America’s national wildlife refuges will offer free admission to visitors on these days in 2014:

  • January 20: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 15-17: Presidents’ Day weekend
  • September 27: National Public Lands Day
  • October 12: The first day of National Wildlife Refuge Week
  • November 11: Veterans Day
National wildlife refuges protect many iconic species, such as alligators and bison, whooping cranes, moose and puffins. And they do it on awe-inducing landscapes that range from Oregon’s rocky cliffs to Texas lagoons, from Maine wilderness to woods and fields inside the city of Philadelphia. There’s at least one national wildlife refuge in every state. For more information about wildlife refuges: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/

You can plan a refuge visit around a bird festival, wildlife tour or other special event listed on individual refuge web sites or on a national special events calendar: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/SpecialEvents/FWS_SpecialEvents_Search.cfm

Of the nation’s 562 national wildlife refuges, 460 are open to the public. Of those, only 35 refuges charge an entrance fee, generally ranging from $3 to $5. Admission to the others is free. The entrance fee waiver does not cover concessionaire or license fees for some activities such as hunting, fishing or special tours.

Other federal land management agencies that will offer fee-free days in 2014 are: the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), U.S. Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers. Check web sites for details.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, BLM, BOR and the Forest Service also participate in the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass and Federal Recreational Lands Pass program. These passes provide access to more than 2,000 national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, grasslands and other federal lands. Four passes are available:
  • free annual pass to military members and their dependents
  • free lifetime pass for people with permanent disabilities
  • $10 lifetime pass for those aged 62 and older
  • $80 annual pass for the general public

    Learn how you can buy a pass here: http://store.usgs.gov/pass/index.html

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Upcoming Events
News Headlines

The Friends Win Award At The 2016 French Creek Watershed Cleanup

The Friends of Erie National Wildlife Refuge team for the 24th Annual French Creek Cleanup won the "Most Weight (non-Corporate) Medium Team Award"...

Our Inaugural Issue of Digital Refuge Update
By Cynthia Martinez
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System...

The Next Generation to Care for Wildlife

Juan “Tony” Elizondo, a high school teacher in Houston, and Corrin Omowunmi, a Student Conservation Association coordinator at a Philadelphia-area national wildlife refuge, share a passion for environmental awareness, wildlife conservation and connecting young people with nature...