If you thought politics were getting more and more polarized in Washington and throughout the country, you’d be right. The divide between Democratic and Republican approval levels for President Obama is at an all time high for any president in his third year in office. This is more than just a reflection of the current president – it has been the trend for the past decade. In fact, President George W. Bush continues to hold the record for the largest gap in presidential approval ratings by party, set during his fourth year in office.
This information tells us that the American public is becoming more and more entrenched in their ideologies and rejects presidents of opposing parties only on the basis of their affiliation. The public is increasingly saying ‘no’ to anyone whose voter registration card doesn’t mirror his or her own.
What does this political polarization mean for the future of conservation and environmental policy in America? It means that we need focus in on recent conservation successes to use as models for progress in an increasingly divided political ecosystem.
Across the country there is a growing conservation movement built around bridging ideological differences. Whether this change has been driven by a lack of federal and state conservation funding or is a realization that the only strategies bound for success are those that will appeal to both Democrats and Republicans, this new movement toward partnership and collaboration represents a bright spot in an otherwise cloudy conservation picture – and it is gaining momentum.
Take for instance, the newly established Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area – an enormous victory for the NWRA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Without support from ranchers, hunters, environmentalists and elected officials on both sides of the political aisle, this grand effort to conserve 150,000 acres in Florida’s Kissimmee Basin was unlikely to succeed. Instead, it serves as a creative model for how to conserve wildlife habitat while addressing the needs of many stakeholders.
Meanwhile in Washington, coalitions consisting of environmentalists, sportsmen, outdoor recreationalists and historic preservationists have teamed up in support of conservation programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Their message to Congress is that these programs are important not only to wildlife lovers and tree huggers, but to local communities that reap the economic benefits of outdoor-based and cultural tourism.
This collaborative approach is one that NWRA has successfully advocated for years – through promoting Refuge System funding alongside partners like the NRA and The Wilderness Society; training our 200 refuge Friends group affiliates to communicate effectively with decision-makers of all stripes; and advancing place-based, large landscape conservation strategies – including Everglades Headwaters – that align diverse interests around a common goal.
I’m not excited about the hyper-partisan rhetoric of the approaching election. But I am optimistic that in spite of the growing ideological entrenchment across the country, we’ll find a way to bridge the divide and make conservation an American value, not one predicated on whether you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ on your ballot.
Onward and upward!
The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area – A Major Accomplishment for the Everglades, FWS and NWRA!
On January 18, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, and Senator Bill Nelson (FL-D) announced the establishment of America’s 556th national wildlife refuge, the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. Joined by a group of ranchers, sportsmen and state partners at the Future Farmers of America Training Center in Haines City, FL, the Secretary fielded questions from the audience and discussed the importance of the new refuge as part of the President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.
This announcement marks an exciting milestone not just for the Refuge System and the State of Florida, but also for NWRA. Our team has been working hard to help the Service forge an innovative partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the ranching, agriculture and sporting communities, and federal agencies including USDA and the Department of Defense. As Dan Ashe wisely said, “This day marks the beginning of the hard work ahead.” The refuge and conservation area were established on January 18, with a donation of 10 acres of prairie habitat from The Nature Conservancy. Now, we have the opportunity to make a true conservation partnership work on the ground.
Located just south of Orlando in the Kissimmee River Basin, the Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area includes six focus areas where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is authorized to acquire up to 50,000 acres as national wildlife refuge lands. It also allows the Service to acquire up to another 100,000 acres in conservation easements. These easements, which provide conservation protection but also allow land to stay in private ownership and on the tax roles, will help assure that centuries of land stewardship and love for this land by Florida ranchers and sportsmen can continue into new generations.
As NWRA’s Senior Vice-President for Conservation, David Houghton said in Haines City, “Not only does the Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area secure habitat for more than 30 threatened and endangered species, the new initiative also assures expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on future refuge lands and will help sustain Florida’s ranching economy.”
As many NWRA friends and supporters will recall, the road to establishing the Everglades Headwaters was not a simple stroll. In the face of initial opposition, both NWRA and Friends of several Florida refuges took to the microphone at public meetings and submitted comments in favor of the refuge and conservation area proposal. By reaching across the spectrum to engage all concerned parties, the Service, NWRA and other partners were able to find opportunities for partnership and compromise. The broad public support expressed in Haines City on January 18 illustrated demonstrated a job well done by all.
Learn more about the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.
Would you like to see the wild Florida that will be conserved by the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area? Join Florida wildlife photographer and conservationist Carlton Ward, Jr. and filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus on their Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition! Carlton, Elam and their expedition team departed on January 17 from Everglades National Park to walk 1,000 miles in 100 days through the heart of Florida’s wild terrain, until they reach Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. Follow Carlton and his team and see this unique wild country by visiting www.floridawildlifecorridor.org or following the expedition on facebook!
This month, the National Wildlife Refuge Association announced the recipients of the 2012 Refuge System Awards. An impressive array of nominations for Refuge Manager of the Year, Employee of the Year, Volunteer of the Year and Refuge Friends Group of the Year are submitted each year for the prestigious awards program, sponsored by NWRA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). NWRA extends congratulations to the four honorees and to all who were nominated in recognition of their exceptional commitment to wildlife conservation and the National Wildlife Refuge System!
This year’s recipients of Refuge System Awards are as follows:
Charles A. Pelizza has been selected as the recipient of the Paul Kroegel Award for Refuge Manager of the Year. Manager of the Pelican Island NWR Complex, Charlie’s leadership, professionalism and advocacy of conservation contributed significantly to the creation of the Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area earlier this year.
Kathleen O’Brien will receive the Employee of the Year Award. Kate is the wildlife biologist at the Rachel Carson NWR in Maine, where her tireless work with the endangered New England cottontail rabbit and the rare saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow have earned her global recognition.
David Govatski will receive the Volunteer of the Year Award. David has committed himself to a lifetime of public service and has dedicated over 11,000 volunteer-hours at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. A certified silviculturalist, his varied interests encompass migratory birds, endangered plants, and invasive species.
The Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society is being honored as the Friends Group of the Year. This group works closely with refuge staff at the Alligator River and Pea Island NWRs in North Carolina, and is actively involved in engaging current and future wildlife enthusiasts of all ages. The CWRS was a founding partner in the annual Wings over Water Festival, a popular event now in its 15th year running.
The National Wildlife Refuge System Awards, sponsored by NWRA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, honor outstanding accomplishments by refuge managers, employees, volunteers and Friends groups. Recognizing the excellence of these individuals and groups not only highlights the dedication and devotion of those who support the Refuge System, but also raises awareness about the diversity of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the challenges it faces and innovative efforts across the country to meet those challenges.
Read our press release.
With Congress back in session, negotiations over the FY 2013 budget (which will fund the federal government from October 1, 2012 through September 30, 2013) are about to get underway. This process kicks off when the President submits his budget request to Congress, currently scheduled for February 13th. Congress will then review the President’s request and hold hearings with Administration officials to get a better understanding of the President’s priorities.
Starting in March and April, the House of Representatives will begin drafting their appropriations bills. The Senate usually follows shortly thereafter but Capitol Hill insiders tell NWRA that it is unlikely that both chambers will be able to pass their bills before the current Fiscal Year ends in September. This means it is likely federal agencies will operate under a Continuing Resolution, or a “CR”, until after the election.
But regardless of the outcome of the election, massive budget cuts loom on January 1, 2013, when an across the board cut of between 9-10% will be applied to all discretionary programs. This “Sequestration” is the result of Congressional inaction by the deficit reduction Supercommittee and will have a devastating impact on our Refuge System unless Congress acts.
These massive budget cuts will be on top of the $6 million cut to the Refuge System’s “Operations and Maintenance” account that was passed this winter (for a recap, see our December Flyer.) Decision makers are still working on how this will impact local wildlife refuges. Regardless of the outcome, it is certain that there will be fewer resources available to maintain habitat, protect wildlife, and provide top-rate experiences for refuge visitors.
What can you do to safeguard your local refuge?
Join our Refuge Action Network (RAN) today to receive alerts on a host of issues vital to the future of the Refuge System and wildlife conservation in America. If you are a member of a Refuge Friends organization and want to become want to learn more about becoming an advocate for your refuge and the Refuge System as a whole, contact Joan Patterson at email@example.com
The Friends of Savannah Coastal Wildlife Refuges, represented by Dorothy Bambach, testified before the House Natural Resources Committee on December 15th in support of Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. The Friends spoke in defense of keeping the refuge free from development and protected under the management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Losing Harris Neck NWR to development would be an economic, cultural and environmental tragedy” said Bambach in her prepared statement. “It would establish a troubling precedent regarding the sanctity of federal lands held in trust for the millions of citizens who use and enjoy them.”
Harris Neck NWR is located on the Georgia coast, about 20 miles south of Savannah. The refuge is home to bobcat, white-tailed deer, bald eagle, wood stork, painted bunting and swallowtail butterfly. It is designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society and is a site on Georgia’s Colonial Coast Birding Trail.
The December 15th hearing was held to shed light on a longstanding dispute between the Federal Government and descendents of former landowners who claim that land now part of the refuge was unfairly acquired by the government during World War II for use as an airfield. After the war, the land was transferred to McIntosh County before being acquired by the Department of the Interior in 1962 to be managed as a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Following the hearing, questions about the circumstances surrounding the original transfer of the land and payment on the part of the military remained, leaving the issue unresolved. The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that all laws were followed to their knowledge, and currently doesn’t have the authority to divest the biologically important wildlife refuge.
Bambach’s testimony reiterated the important economic role the refuge plays in the local community. The 2,700-acre wildlife refuge sees between 85,000 – 90,000 visitors each year.
The four refuges that make up the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Desert Complex)—Desert, Pahranagat, Ash Meadows and Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuges (NWR)—sprawl across a vast and diverse Nevada landscape, a reality that presents some major challenges for the refuge Friends group.
Covering 1.6 million acres, the Desert NWR is the largest refuge in the lower 48 states, and shares 700,000 acres with a Defense Department facility that includes the Nellis Test and Training Range, which means that parts of the refuge have restricted roads and airspace.
“One of the main functions of Desert NWR is to maintain habitat for the Desert Bighorn Sheep” says Mike Dandridge, President of the Friends of the Desert NWR Complex, a group Dandridge founded with other volunteers in 2009.
The 116-acre Moapa Valley NWR is tiny in area, but huge in importance as the only home to the endangered Moapa dace, a fish that lives in 95-degree water in a 50-75-yard stretch of a stream on the refuge.
The 24,448-acre Ash Meadows NWR is “the Galapagos Islands of the U.S.,” Dandridge says. “It is home to 24 endemic species including four fish and one plant listed as endangered. People come from all over the world to study them.”
Pahranagat NWR’s 5,380 wetland acres are a critical stop for migrating birds along the Pacific Flyway. Pahranagat NWR to the north of Desert NWR and Ash Meadows NWR to the south are separated by 5 mountain ranges and a drive of several hours.
Although most members of the Friends group live mostly in and around Las Vegas, there is also a core group at Ash Meadows, so building an effective Refuge Friends organization has required some creative use of communications technology. “Creating a cohesive Friends group with the logistical challenges of these distant refuges is a big job,” Dandridge says. But it’s happening thanks to a new quarterly newsletter, use of online surveys to allow members to provide comments and share ideas, and a Google Docs website that allows Friends group members, volunteers, and board members to connect. Group meetings are held at the Desert Complex headquarters in Las Vegas, but are accessible to all via a toll-free telephone number that allows people at remote locations to dial in.
“The folks at NWRA and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges made helpful suggestions about using technology to connect widely dispersed members and refuge staff,” Dandridge notes. “For one of our meetings, we uploaded a PowerPoint presentation to our conference room in Las Vegas while scientists talked about endemic species via conference phone from Ash Meadows.”
Despite the challenges of its far-flung refuge complex, the Friends accomplish a great deal. Recent projects have included a “Carp Rodeo” at Pahranagat. “The goal was to ‘catch and don’t you dare release’ as many invasive carp from the upper lake as possible,” Dandridge reports. The Friends also put up posts and cable to block access to restricted areas on the Desert NWR, removed obstacles that get in the way of bighorn sheep, and cut cattails in the arsenic-laden, 95-degree water to allow streams to flow freely through Ash Meadows, completed plantings and trail building at Corn Creek in preparation for the building of the Visitors Center and Interpretative Trails.
“For 2012 we are preparing for a new partnership with a local car dealership where we are negotiating to get a 15 person high clearance vehicle to transport people to our far flung refuges and beyond. Because transportation is one of our biggest needs” according to Dandridge and “we do whatever it takes to see the needs of the refuge.”
The iconic “Blue Goose” sign that demarcates the boundaries of national wildlife refuges made its first appearance at Upper Souris NWR in North Dakota around the year 1934. The design was originally created by the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling.