National wildlife refuges are wonderful, incredible and varied places. The National Wildlife Refuge System stretches from the tropics of the Virgin Islands to the frozen tundra of Alaska, and from the rocky shores of coastal Maine to the white sand beaches of Palmyra Atoll in the South Pacific. With the majesty and diversity of these places, it is easy to forget that refuges are not only special places, but also important conservation strategies to restore and conserve wildlife.
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act on May 17th, let us keep in mind the important role our 561 national wildlife refuges play in recovering endangered and at-risk species. Sachuest Point in Rhode Island winters beautiful harlequin ducks; Blackwater in Maryland helped recover bald eagles; Crystal River in Florida is home to 400 West Indian manatees; Charles M. Russell in Montana hosts one of the rarest mammals on earth – the black-footed ferret; California condors soar over Bitter Creek in California; and Ash Meadows in Nevada has its very own gorgeous sapphire – the endemic and endangered Ash Meadows pupfish. Friends and volunteers make a vital contribution to conserving these species across the System; beaches are monitored for piping plovers and least terns, sea turtle nests are marked and protected, wood stork colonies are counted and conserved, and habitat is protected and maintained by this army of generous people. Refuge biologists mark nests, build nesting platforms, count colonies, reintroduce species, and manage habitat.
Endangered species recovery on refuges is often incentive-based in nature and provides relief to private landowners around the country from regulations. Important collaborative landscape conservation approaches are being carried out with newly established refuges and conservation areas that recover endangered species in an even more aggressive, yet flexible, way. The Crown of the Continent in Montana benefits wide-ranging wolves and grizzly bears; Hart-Sheldon in Oregon and Nevada benefits sage-grouse, pygmy rabbit, and cut-throat trout; new efforts in Texas will benefit the prairie chicken; and Everglades Headwaters benefits Florida panthers, Florida scrub jays, and gopher tortoises. New conservation efforts on the Gulf with the use of Deepwater Horizon mitigation funds could help restore many of the 471 at-risk species in the Southeast. A new refuge in the Northeast is being proposed to recover the New England cottontail, but it will also benefit hundreds of species that require the same kind of early successional habitat. Refuges continue to re-invent themselves to tackle the new conservation issues of the 21st century as guided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Conserving the Future” vision for the Refuge System.
So, whether you are in Hawaii, West Virginia, Alabama, North Dakota, Maine, California or somewhere in between, whether you are a volunteer, visitor or Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employee, you are probably near a national wildlife refuge that celebrates Endangered Species Day all 365 days a year by recovering threatened and endangered wildlife, whether charismatic like a manatee or grizzly bear, or less noticed like a freshwater mussel or salamander. These remarkable places in the greatest system of conservation lands in the world are key to a national strategy to recover endangered species.
See you on a Refuge,
After several years of steady improvement and good news for the federally endangered Florida manatee, the species faced sudden adversity this winter. A record number of this subspecies of the West Indian manatee perished along Florida’s Gulf Coast due to red tide, an irregular algae bloom which releases toxins that enter the manatee’s nervous system and paralyze the animal, preventing it from coming to the surface to breathe and causing it to drown. With more than 200 casualties as a result of red tide on the Gulf Coast and another 80 mysterious deaths near Indian Lagoon on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, nearly 10% of the population has perished. Although biologists have reported that the red tide outbreak is officially over, it’s common to continue to see manatee deaths as the toxins from the algal bloom are absorbed into the sea grass that the manatees are eating.
Unfortunately, red tide is just one of many challenges to manatee health. The April edition of National Geographic Magazine features Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, where warm-water springs attract hundreds of manatees during cold winter months. The National Geographic article highlights the complex balance between conservation, recreation, and economics. A gentle giant, the manatee is a friendly and fascinating ambassador for Florida tourism, and manatee “swim-with” programs bring more than 150,000 people annually from around the world to Florida’s “Nature Coast.” Boaters, kayakers, snorkelers, and party barges often crowd small inlets for manatee viewing. As with all things, moderation is the key, and federal wildlife officials are tasked with striking a balance between ecotourism and education, and harassment of an endangered species. Resting areas and nursery areas, where cows loaf with calves, are cordoned off to allow the animals to retreat, and manatee education is one of the principal activities for refuge staff at Crystal River.
NWRA has been working on manatee conservation for a number of years at Crystal River NWR, most recently by facilitating the protection of the 58-acre Three Sisters Springs where manatee cows shelter with their calves. The land surrounding the springs had been slated for development but NWRA led an effort with the Friends of Chassahowitzka NWR Complex that brought together a private landowner, local and national conservation groups, public and private funders, and local, regional, state and federal government agencies. The partners came together to protect and restore a property that can be an open space resource to the City of Crystal River, provide land-based viewing and education about Florida manatees, relieve some boat traffic, and help improve water quality in King’s Bay – an important Gulf Coast fishery. The agreement was considered a win, not only for critically endangered manatees, but also for the tourism economy of Crystal River.
Between increasingly frequent red tide outbreaks, human encroachment, and habitat loss, the endangered Florida manatee faces some rough seas ahead. However, with the aid of passionate people in the FWS and local support groups, we are optimistic that creative ways to increase protection and appreciation for Florida’s charismatic “sea cows” will be found.
Spring Migration: The Mysteries Above
May 11th was International Migratory Bird Day, a day when millions of people worldwide look to the skies above to marvel at the amazing treks of our feathered friends.
Twice a year, hundreds of millions of songbirds traverse planet earth in a well choreographed global migration from breeding to wintering grounds and back again. Flying along avian superhighways called ‘flyways’, migratory birds can make individual trips of up to 60-100 hours. Yet despite this mass movement, most people are not aware of the flight above because birds fly great distances at night – generally taking off 30-45 minutes after sunset and landing just before dawn.
Tracking nocturnal migrations has proven difficult, but new technology is making such data available to the public. BirdCast is one such resource, which aggregates visual sightings, flight calls, and weather surveillance radar data. Each week, BirdCast releases a regional migration forecast for four areas in the United States that typically see the highest concentrations of migrations: West, Great Plains, Upper Midwest and Northeast, and Gulf Coast and South. To see this week’s forecast click here.
Hurricane Sandy Funding Headed to the Field
The Department of the Interior (DOI) recently announced the release of $64.6 million in emergency funding for 55 FWS Hurricane Sandy relief projects. The approved projects include: facilities repair, debris removal, and habitat restoration, among other efforts. At this time, DOI is releasing $ 475.25 million for all Interior agencies, an amount that was appropriated earlier this year by Congress with the passage of the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. A list of all 234 Interior projects that will be funded with this appropriation can be found here.
The remaining $311.45 million of the total funding allocated to DOI for Superstorm Sandy relief will be released in the coming months and go towards mitigation projects that increase coastal resiliency. At this time, $30 million has been given to the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for initial stages of mitigation projects.
Without designated emergency funding, damages incurred on refuges from Sandy would become part of the backlog of unmet Refuge System operations and maintenance needs, already totaling more than $3 billion. While the total cost of damages was no small amount, it could have been much worse had it not been for refuge wetlands and dunes that provided natural protection from the storm surge. We as a nation can use this information as we rebuild to make our coasts more resilient in the future – both for people and for wildlife.
The following Refuges and FWS Facilities are now receiving funds for Sandy relief projects:
Archie Carr NWR, FL
Back Bay NWR, VA
Blackwater NWR, MD
Bombay Hook NWR, NJ
Cape May NWR, NJ
Chesapeake Marshland Complex, MD
Chincoteague NWR, VA
Eastern Massachusetts NWR, MA
Eastern Virginia Rivers NWR, VA
Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, NJ
Great Swamp NWR, NJ
Lamar Fish Health & Technology Center, PA
Long Island NWR Complex, NY
MacKay Island NWR, NC
Maine Coastal Islands NWR, ME
Mattamuskeet NWR, NC
Moosehorn NWR, ME
Nashua National Fish Hatchery, NH
National Conservation Training Center, WV
Occoquan Bay NWR, VA
Parker River NWR, MA
Pea Island NWR, NC
Pocosin Lakes NWR, NC
Prime Hook NWR, DE
Rachel Carson NWR, ME
Region 5 Regional Office, MA
Rhode Island NWR Complex, RI
Sachuest Point NWR, RI
Stewart B. McKinney NWR, CT
Wallkill River NWR, NY
White Sulphur Springs NFH, WV
NWRA and Partners Submit Testimony and Advocate for the FY14 Budget
The appropriations season is in full swing in Washington, DC, with debates on budgets and Refuge System policy occurring every day. The National Wildlife Refuge Association and its diverse membership of Refuge Friends, private landowners, and sportsmen have been actively providing written and oral testimony for the budget process as well as coming to Washington to speak with decision-makers from around the nation.
NWRA and the NWRA-led Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), a coalition of 22 member organizations who represent approximately 15 million Americans passionate about wildlife conservation and related recreational opportunities, submitted testimony regarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Refuge System’s FY14 budget to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. The testimonies urged Congress to fund critical programs such as the National Wildlife Refuge System that not only leverage federal dollars, but are also known economic drivers. Specifically, both NWRA and CARE are seeking a budget allocation of $499 million for the Refuge System’s operations and maintenance accounts. NWRA is also seeking $600 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Read the NWRA testimony here and CARE testimony here.
Many Friends groups and others affiliated with NWRA submitted their own testimonies regarding the FY14 budget, including Todd Hallman, a sportsman from Florida; Jim Faulstich, a private landowner from South Dakota who represented the Partners for Conservation; and Dave Stricklan of the Friends of Camas NWR in Idaho. Their powerful messages and personal stories were clear indicators of just how important refuges are to local economies, wildlife, and outdoor recreation opportunities. Read Todd Hallman’s testimony here, Jim Faulstich’s testimony here, and Dave Stricklan’s testimony here. Testimony of other refuge Friends and landowners who submitted testimony in support of Refuge System funding and LWCF can be found here.
NWRA held a Friends Fly-In April 16-17 and a Northern Everglades Alliance Fly-In April 23-25. The private landowners of the NEA met with numerous lawmakers from around the nation to advocate for full funding for LWCF at its authorized level of $900 million. Additionally, the NEA requests that Congress allocate $50 million from LWCF for land and easement acquisitions in the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. Read more about the Northern Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area here.
NWRA Applauds President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request
NWRA applauds President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget for including important conservation priorities including the National Wildlife Refuge System and Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The President’s request includes $499 million for the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance (O&M) accounts; a level that importantly restores the cuts from sequestration and would ensure hunting, fishing and bird and wildlife watching opportunities are not lost to the public. An investment in the nation’s Refuge System is an excellent investment in the American economy. The System and its 45 million annual visitors contribute over $4 billion in economic output and provide more than $32 billion in ecosystem services.
The budget also outlines a path to full and dedicated funding for LWCF, one of the nation’s most powerful land acquisition tools. This is in line with the priorities of Americans – clean air, clean water, places to recreate and keeping working lands working.
“President Obama has provided a budget proposal that keeps the American value of wildlife conservation at its core,” said David Houghton, President of NWRA. “We are particularly heartened by the use of mandatory funds for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the inclusion of the Everglades Headwaters in the request.”
The President’s strong support for collaborative conservation programs through the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative is an integral component of funding for future conservation successes. The NWRA-led Northern Everglades Initiative, which includes the Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area, has become a national example of landscape conservation. The budget request includes $5 million for the Everglades Headwaters, which will provide necessary funds to jump-start the effort to ensure clean water for citizens of South Florida, sustain critical wildlife corridors, and continue a traditional ranching way of life.
NWRA also commended the President on the funding request for two other NWRA priorities, the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas and Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge encompassing the entire Connecticut River Watershed in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, with requested amounts of $5 million and $4.6 million respectively for continued collaborative conservation work. These refuges are also the first two designated National Blueways and highlight the Administration’s dedication to protecting our nation’s vital waterways and watersheds.
NWRA urges Congress to support the President’s funding request for the Refuge System, Land and Water Conservation Fund, and other wildlife conservation programs. Congress is expected to take up the President’s budget in May and June and pass a final appropriations bill by September 30.
Senate Confirms Sally Jewell as the Next Secretary of the Interior
The National Wildlife Refuge Association today expressed its strong support for Sally Jewell as the next Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior following the Senate’s confirmation of her nomination last night. Jewell’s appreciation for the outdoors and wildlife as well as her extensive knowledge of the economic benefits of our natural resources will bring a unique perspective in the President’s cabinet.
“We are extremely pleased by the Senate’s confirmation of Sally Jewell to be the 51st Secretary of the Interior and look forward to working closely with her to grow our nation’s commitment to wildlife conservation at a landscape level, in places such as the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and Cache River National Wildlife Refuge.” said David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “She will undoubtedly be an excellent spokesperson for the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative and will continue to bring attention to our nation’s great public lands.”
Jewell has earned national recognition for her management skills of the nearly $2 billion outdoor equipment company, REI. This expertise makes her uniquely qualified to lead an agency with hundreds of millions of acres of lands where Americans recreated.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 560 units of the National Wildlife Refuge System spanning 150 million acres and where the sun literally never sets, with lands from Guam to Puerto Rico, is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Over 40 million annual visitors contribute over $4.2 billion in economic output and over 34,000 jobs from recreation-related spending. National wildlife refuges and their recreational opportunities is part of a growing industry in the United States. Jewell’s leadership at the helm of the Department of Interior comes at a crucial time.
“Sally Jewell has been a leader in the outdoor recreation industry using innovative strategies to protect and restore wildlife habitat throughout the Pacific Northwest and across the country; as Secretary of the Interior, she will have an opportunity to articulate and implement a larger conservation vision for the nation.” said Houghton. “We look forward to working with her to further the goals and mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Refuge System.”
Proposed Road through Wilderness is Unnecessary, Waste of Taxpayers Dollars
The National Wildlife Refuge Association expressed frustration over a deal between Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, which would postpone a final decision on a $75 million proposed road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Alaska. Senator Murkowski had threatened to hold up the confirmation of Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its environmental analysis of the proposal along with a recommendation to reject the road. The Murkowski-Salazar deal traded Ms. Jewell’s confirmation for a re-opening of FWS’s exhaustive analysis, which has already lasted more than three years and cost the agency approximately $3 million to complete.
Despite already receiving $37.5 million in taxpayer funding to create a successful marine hovercraft transport link between the villages of King Cove and Cold Bay and to upgrade their medical clinic, the King Cove community continues to lobby for the road’s construction as a public safety measure. But a 30-year paper trail indicates that the road is really intended to expedite shipments by the local seafood industry. The road, touted as the only safe route for residents of King Cove (pop. 948) to reach an all-weather airport in Cold Bay (pop. 111) during medical emergencies, would cost taxpayers an estimated $75 million. According to Aleutians East Borough’s “In the Loop” newsletter from December 2, 2011, Senator Murkowski herself has told the community of King Cove, “The decades-old push to get the road built between King Cove and the Cold Bay Airport so that we can have greater access for transportation is going to be a critical ingredient in that thriving economic future going out for the next 100 years.” And one local official’s comments at an April 2010 public meeting tell the whole story – that “Peter Pan Seafoods will use [the] road” and that the road will help transport “fresh product.”
Budget projections from the Alaska Statewide Transportation Improvement program from fiscal years 2010-2015 show that the total cost of the road could swell to more than $75 million – more than $2 million per mile. This calculation is based on the actual and projected construction costs of a seventeen-mile road already being built in King Cove which the Izembek road would extend.
“This proposed road is a solution in search of a problem,” said NWRA Vice President of Government Affairs Desiree Sorenson-Groves. “Despite the hovercraft’s 100% success rate in carrying out each of more than 30 medical evacuations, Aleutians East Borough (AEB) officials halted service in 2010, claiming that the vessel wasn’t reliable and that they couldn’t afford its high $1 million annual operational cost. Yet now, AEB is paying more than twice that amount to operate the same ‘unreliable’ craft in another one of its communities for the purpose of transporting seasonal seafood industry workers.”
The proposed road would slice through the ecological heart of the refuge that is vitally important for wildlife and permanently split the refuge’s congressionally-designated wilderness. A number of the species of birds and mammals that use the lagoons, wetlands, tundra, and tidal flats to nest and feed are listed as threatened. A road would destroy wilderness and wetlands, degrade significant habitat, and create serious threats to sensitive bird populations, tundra swans, emperor geese, caribou, sea otters, and brown bears. This unique, world-class habitat attracts hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds annually to the refuge. Nearly the entire population of Pacific black brant stops here during migration, a species important to a subsistence way of life for dozens of villages across northern and western Alaska. The proposed road is not compatible with the purposes of the Izembek refuge.
Read our Izembek NWR “Red Herring Highway,” fact sheet: http://refugeassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/RedHerring_Hwy_Mar13.pdf
Refuge Friends Testify before House Subcommittee on Refuge Bills
On April 25, two refuge Friends members testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oceans, Wildlife and Insular Affairs regarding two bills concerning the Refuge System.
Mary Harper of the Friends of Forsythe NWR in New Jersey testified on the first bill, the Volunteer and Community Partnership Act of 2013 (H.R. 1300), which would reauthorize an important act that encourages the FWS to enter into partnerships and train volunteers, a work force that accounts for 24% of all work done on national wildlife refuges annually and contributes almost 1.6 million hours – the equivalent of 766 full-time employees, which has a dollar value of almost $35 million! Read Mary Harper’s testimony
Ed Graham of the South Eastern Wildlife and Environmental Education Association (SEWEE) in South Carolina testified on the second bill, the National Wildlife Refuge Review Act of 2013 (H.R. 638), which would revoke authority from the FWS to establish new refuges administratively, even though they must go through a rigorous public process to do so. Ninety percent of all refuges have been created using administrative authority – a number that includes action by every president since Theodore Roosevelt. Read Ed Graham’s testimony here.
A third bill, the Refuge System Semipostal Stamp Act of 2013 (H.R. 1384), was also under consideration by the Subcommittee and was strongly supported by both Ms. Harper and Mr. Graham in their testimonies. This critical piece of legislation would create a new semipostal stamp for purchase from the U.S. Postal Service nationwide. Modeled after the successful “Vanishing Species” stamp, which sells for 55 cents and whose proceeds go to help protect species like tigers and rhinos in other countries, this new stamp would help address the operations and maintenance backlog of the National Wildlife Refuge System. CARE provided testimony on this important legislation, stating that “H.R. 1384 offers a simple, voluntary way for the public to support America’s national wildlife refuges at a time when funding is in decline.” Read the full CARE testimony here.
NWRA Hosts Friends ‘Fly-In’
Seventeen Friends groups from 15 states were represented at the 2013 Refuge Friends Fly-In, which brought Refuge Friends to Capitol Hill to advocate for Refuge System funding. Carrying a unified message of robust funding for both the Refuge System and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, participants took to the Hill and met with their representatives from House and Senate offices. Additionally, they had the opportunity to meet with Jim Kurth, Refuge System Chief, and Marcia Pradines, Chief of Visitor Services and Communications for the Refuge System, to discuss Friends-related matters.
While some Friends in attendance were veterans of Hill visits, many were new to the experience. With the help of a citizen advocacy training session led by Desiree Sorenson-Groves, NWRA Vice-President of Government Affairs, and Joan Patterson, Director of Grassroots Outreach, Friends were brought up to speed on how to successfully conduct a constituent meeting.
The Friends’ two main asks for FY14 were: fund the National Wildlife Refuge System’s operations and maintenance accounts at $499 million and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million. With a strong ask coupled with compelling personal stories of the importance of refuges to local communities, the Friends had a powerful message.
“The opportunity to share our stories with our lawmakers how valuable refuges are to our communities, quality of life and overall economy, clearly had an impact. I believe they truly listened to our concerns,” said John McCabe of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society. “Thank you to the NWRA team for coordinating the Capitol Hill Fly-In. It is clear our elected officials respond to their constituents, particularly when the time is taken to fly in to visit with them.”
Friends are integral to the future and past successes of increasing funding for the Refuge System. In the current budget climate, Friends are more important than ever. Thank you to all those in attendance.
Friend’s Groups represented at the 2013 Fly-In:
“Ding”Darling Wildlife Society, FL
Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, TX
Friends of Bon Secour NWR, AL
Friends of the Wichitas, OK
Okefenokee Wildlife League, GA
Friends of Refuge Headwaters, MN
Friends of the Tualatin River NWR, OR
San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society, CA
Friends of Maine’s Seabird Islands, ME
Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR, NM
Friends of Blackwater NWR, MD
Friends of Silvio O. Conte NF&WR, CT
Friends of Desert NWR Complex, NV
Friends of Las Vegas NWR, NM
Friends of Camas NWR, ID
Friends of Patuxent Research Refuge, MD
Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, VA
Friends join RefugeFriendsConnect
Friends connecting with each other to share ideas and best practices creates exceptional organizations that have the passion and skills to support the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System. RefugeFriendsConnect is a membership site that is managed by the National Wildlife Refuge Association and a group of volunteers. If you are a member of a Friends group or refuge staff working with Friends you are welcome to join. Go to RefugeFriendsConnect.org and click on Apply for Membership. You will be emailed a password within one business day so you can start using the site and access these materials.
Questions? Contact Joan Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org
NWRA Joins 1% for the Planet
NWRA has become a new nonprofit partner of 1% for the Planet, an alliance of more than 1,380 member companies in 43 countries that give one percent of revenues to environmental causes. Started in 2002 by Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, 1% for the Planet is a growing global movement. Each day, more than one new business joins the 1% for the Planet alliance, thereby fueling the nonprofit network through annual contributions, which totaled more than $22 million in 2010.
NWRA is now eligible to receive donations from 1% member companies, placing the Refuge Association among a diverse, global network of environmental organizations. More than 2,300 nonprofits worldwide are included in the 1% network, and more than $70 million has been funneled to its nonprofit partners to date. “The intent of 1% for the Planet is to help fund these diverse environmental organizations so that collectively they can be a more powerful force in solving the world’s problems,” said Yvon Chouinard, founder of 1% for the Planet.
Learn more about 1% for the Planet and how you can participate here.
Did You Know?
Fifty-nine national wildlife refuges have been created to help endangered or imperiled species. View the list. Bitter Creek NWR, Castle Rock NWR, and Hopper Mountain NWR in California were created to provide habitat for the California Condor.
SUPPORT THE NWRA!
The National Wildlife Refuge Association is on the cutting edge of wildlife habitat conservation and citizen engagement in the United States. But we need your help to advance our work protecting large landscapes, educating decision-makers in Washington, and mobilizing refuge Friends in support of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Please make a generous donation today!
Flyer Masthead Photo Credit: Kestrel, Wade Dowdy