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Partnerships in the Refuge System: Wichita Mountains

Partnerships between national wildlife refuges and local groups, other government agencies, and various stakeholders are designed to build lasting relationships that benefit conservation. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at some successful partnerships that are helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reach new audiences and achieve critical conservation goals.

Wichita Mountains: an Army of Volunteers

Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is an oasis that offers a dose of nature for tourists and nearby communities, including the soldiers at Fort Sill Army Base. And thanks to the work of Bill Sparks, a retired military officer and member of the Friends of the Wichitas, a strong partnership has emerged that gives Fort Sill soldiers a chance to experience the nearby refuge while also providing the refuge with some excellent volunteers.

On May 13, 2013, the volunteer soldiers and Friends members were on a hike to the top of Sunset Peak in the Charons Garden Wilderness Area.  A couple of them had found Common Mullein near one of the peaks and Sparks took the soldiers in to cut stems.  They removed a little over 1000 plants that day. | Randy Jones
On May 13, 2013, the volunteer soldiers and Friends members were on a hike to the top of Sunset Peak in the Charons Garden Wilderness Area. A couple of them had found Common Mullein near one of the peaks and Sparks took the soldiers in to cut stems. They removed a little over 1000 plants that day. | Randy Jones

Every Saturday, Sparks coordinates soldiers who volunteer to help on various projects at the refuge. Soldiers do everything from fence repair, maintaining fire breaks, trail maintenance, and invasive species control. At the end of their volunteer duties, they hike out in the beautiful backcountry. Friends of the Wichitas provides transportation, lunch, and all necessary tools and equipment they may need.

Removing invasive species is truly a battle and it seems it really does take an army to fight these enemies to Oklahoma’s native plants and wildlife. So far, the volunteer soldiers have removed 82,000 invasive eastern red cedars from the refuge, and an additional 14,000 common mullein, another invasive.

The work is hard, but gives the soldiers a break from their duties at Fort Sill and an opportunity to give back to the local community and make a difference for wildlife. And, each soldier who contributes more than 100 hours of volunteer service receives a “Volunteer Service Ribbon” from the Army. So far more than 80 soldiers have received the ribbon.

The partnership between Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Friends of the Wichitas and Fort Sill has been a terrific success. So far, nearly 800 soldiers have participated in the program, contributing almost 15,000 volunteer hours – an enormous benefit to the refuge.

Tell us about a partnership with your refuge in the comments section.

Permanent link to this article: http://refugeassociation.org/2014/08/partnerships-in-the-refuge-system-wichita-mountains/

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