National Wildlife Refuge Association Home of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) Thu, 21 May 2015 19:14:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Protecting Wildlife Across State and International Borders Tue, 19 May 2015 13:20:20 +0000

Continue reading »]]> What do the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, State Wildlife Grants, and the North American Wetland Conservation Act all have in common? They protect species outside the boundaries of our public lands. Species cross state and international borders, and it’s important that we help protect them wherever they go. The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act helps protect neotropical birds internationally, and State Wildlife Grants and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act aid in the protection of species in the United States outside the borders of our public lands.

Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act:

Painted Bunting at Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge | Christine Flores
Painted Bunting at Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge | Christine Flores

The goals of the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act are to:

  • Perpetuate healthy populations of neotropical migratory birds;
  • Provide financial resources for bird conservation initiatives;
  • Foster international cooperation for such initiatives.

At least 75 percent of the total funding available for grants each fiscal year must, by law, be used to support projects outside the United States. As such, the program has proven to be successful in catalyzing partnerships and capacity building for neotropical migratory bird conservation across the Western Hemisphere.

Successes of the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act:

  • Since 2002, more than $50.1 million in grants have been awarded;
  • Grants have supported 451 projects in 36 countries;
  • Partners have contributed an additional $190.6 million;
  • More than 3.7 million acres of habitat affected.

State Wildlife Grants:

The State Wildlife Grants Program provides federal grant funds for developing and implementing programs that benefit wildlife and their habitats. Priority is placed on projects that benefit Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

Grant funds must be used to address conservation needs such as research, surveys, species and habitat management, and monitoring, identified within a state’s comprehensive wildlife conservation plan/strategy. These funds may also be used to update, revise or modify a state’s strategy.

North American Wetland Conservation Act:

North American Wetland Conservation Act projects are developed by landowners and organizations at the community level, and fuel an effective public-private partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, landowners, and conservation organizations. These projects protect habitats that are vital to the production and survival of continental mallards, northern pintail, other waterfowl, and declining migratory bird species. In turn, these projects benefit the millions of Americans who depends on these species for hunting, birding, and other outdoor pursuits.

From September 1990 through March 2014, approximately 5,000 partners in 2,421 projects have received nearly $1.3 billion in grants. They have contributed another $2.7 billion in matching funds to affect 27.5 million acres of habitat.

To help ensure the protection of species across state and international borders, take action today! Click here to send a message to your Senators today.

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They Lay the Welcome MAT on Our National Wildlife Refuges Thu, 14 May 2015 13:19:13 +0000

Continue reading »]]> RonCole copyRon Cole is the Refuge Association’s Conservation Programs Western Programs Manager. Mr. Cole is working on the Refuge Association’s sagebrush steppe conservation initiatives, with special focus in the Greater Hart-Sheldon region of southeast Oregon and northern Nevada. Ron recently retired after over 31 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working in the National Wildlife Refuge System. His experience includes 7 years as a wildlife biologist and 25 years as a refuge manager and refuge supervisor, most recently at the Klamath Basin Refuge Complex.

You’ve been traveling quite a distance and you finally see that welcoming Blue Goose sign, indicating you have arrived at your National Wildlife Refuge destination. Behind the sign, a flock of geese gently parachutes into a wetland. You and the geese share something in common. This refuge, like hundreds more across the country, provides sanctuary to you both.

You drive the well maintained tour route that leads to a comfortable walkway guiding you to a well-positioned observation deck overlooking a wetland full of birds behind the sign with the blue goose. The geese you watched land earlier are there now, vocal, splashing and content.

They and other fish and wildlife are here because all that they need is here; water, wetlands, trees, shrubs, grains and seeds, prey, cover, sanctuary. It is why they come. It is why they stay. How the habitat got here or who built and maintains it matters not to wild things. What matters is only that this place is here. It is instinctual to come and wild things compulsively obey their instincts.

You come here because you enjoy the wildlife. But have you ever wondered who builds and maintains what it takes to make your visit and that of your winged friends possible? Who builds the roads, canals, water control structures, observation decks, informative signs, visitor centers, walking paths, clean restrooms, benches to relax on, lights that work, and places to properly recycle and dispose of your trash? Someone must be out there every day, managing water levels, grading roads, cleaning restrooms, preparing fields for planting, clearing invasive plants, and making this place welcoming for all – but who?

They are the men and women of the Wage Grade Workforce of our National Wildlife Refuges and Fish Hatcheries, that’s who.

Crew members from L to R in nomination poster photo: Gabriel Martinez - San Luis Valley; Erik Smolik - San Luis Valley; Dewane Mosher - San Luis Valley; Ron Swanson - Seedskadee; Gene Smith - Seedskadee; Skip Palmer - Lee Metcalf | Ron Cole
Crew members from L to R in nomination poster photo: Gabriel Martinez – San Luis Valley; Erik Smolik – San Luis Valley; Dewane Mosher – San Luis Valley; Ron Swanson – Seedskadee; Gene Smith – Seedskadee; Skip Palmer – Lee Metcalf | Ron Cole

Recently, Region 6, the Mountain Prairie Region, held a Wage Grade Workshop at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. This is the first time the region had put together a workshop like this in more than 3 years. I had the good fortune to attend this workshop for a couple of days while visiting Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. About 50-plus men and women from wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries around the region gathered for a week to learn, train, and share experiences.

A highlight of the workshop was nominating some of the important projects that Wage Grade crews had accomplished the past year to be selected for the “Golden Hammer” Award. The nominees were selected because they best exemplified problem solving, innovation, teamwork, safety and mission goals.

The nominees ranged from sustained, individual performances throughout the course of the entire year, to specific projects such as retrofitting equipment to kill invasive plants, replacing large culverts and bridges, or wetland restoration projects as part of the Services Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. All projects nominated showed exceptional teamwork between Fish and Wildlife Service programs.

All of the nominees were winners, but only one got to bring home the Golden Hammer. The 2015 winner of the Golden Hammer Award was the crew that worked on the Maintenance Action Team (MAT) at the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex. MAT teams are usually made up of several individuals, often from different field stations that combine their talents and expertise to accomplish large, difficult and complex projects.

This MAT replaced a failing crossing with a new structure in October and November of 2014. Click here to read more about the project.

Really though, how difficult can this work be?  When I was a young man, I worked in our family heavy equipment business. I tried my hand at heavy equipment operation.  There is a reason I became a wildlife biologist and a refuge manager. Operating heavy equipment to safely and efficiently meet the standards required is not easy. Being able to operate equipment, be a plumber, a field engineer, electrician, fabricating welder, and do it all with a passion for natural resource conservation takes a very special individual indeed.

As a refuge employee for over 30 years, I quickly grew to understand who were the most indispensable individuals on a refuge. When the government shutdown occurred a few years back, they identified refuge managers as “mission critical”, but any manager worth their salt knew who the most critical were. The Wage Grade employees of the Fish and Wildlife Service rarely get the thanks or recognition they so richly deserve. They don’t speak out often, nor have a platform from which to speak very loudly when they do. Their work does the talking for them.

And their work needs to be funded. In fiscal year 2016, the National Wildlife Refuge Association requests Congress provide a minimum of $508.2 million for the National Wildlife Refuge System Operations and Maintenance accounts. Much of the work the Wage Grade workforce accomplishes is funded through the O&M budget.

So, the next time you are visiting a wildlife refuge and you see an employee on a tractor, or on a piece of heavy equipment, or cleaning up a restroom, you might have a better understanding of how important and how talented they really are. They probably have on a pair of coveralls, might have some sweat on their brow and dirt on their hands. Don’t be shy, go up and greet them. Most likely they know as much about how the refuge works as anyone else in a refuge uniform. And say thanks. If the blue goose on the sign could speak, that’s what it would do.

Thanks to all the dedicated Wage Grade employees who help make our nation’s wildlife refuges and hatcheries work for fish, wildlife and you every day.



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Transportation and the Refuge System Tue, 12 May 2015 16:07:23 +0000

Continue reading »]]> Congress is currently considering the reauthorization of a major transportation bill that funds federal highways, road improvements and other transportation projects, including roads and infrastructure on public lands such as national wildlife refuges. To help better understand this bill and why it matters for America’s wildlife refuges, here is a quick Q&A with Joan Patterson, the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s resident expert on the bill’s wildlife refuge components:
What is the Federal Surface Transportation Bill (MAP-21)?

WildlifeCrossingMoving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) is a surface transportation bill passed in 2012 that authorized transportation improvements funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among other agencies. The Service Transportation Program supports improved public access to and within Fish and Wildlife Service lands. A robust, safe, accessible, multimodal transportation system is a fundamental component of achieving the Service’s mission.

What is the current status of the reauthorization?

The two-year bill was passed in 2012 and funded through September 2014. Last year, the bill was extended until May 2015. The bill will expire May 31, 2015 and is up for reauthorization.

Does MAP-21 provide funding for infrastructure projects on federal lands? If so, what types of projects are funded?

Yes! Currently, MAP-21 funds $30 million annually to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Transportation Program. MAP-21 provides the following to wildlife refuges:

  • Roads and Parking Lots: Roads provide the most widely used forms of travel to and within Service lands. There are more than 5,400 miles of public use roads and more than 5,000 parking lots within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As of 2012, 60 percent of Service roads were rated in good or better condition. This is a 35 percent improvement from 2002.
  • Bridges: The 300-plus public bridges managed by the Service are an integral part of the public road and trail system that provides access to refuge facilities, auto tour routes, and wildlife observation facilities. In 2002, 45 percent of public access bridges were rated as being in good or better condition; today, thanks to MAP-21, that number has risen to more than 60 percent.
  • Transit and Trails: Transit and trails ensure that lands open to public visitation have adequate access, mobility, and connectivity for all potential users. With more than 2,100 miles of land trails and boardwalks, and an estimated 1,000 miles of water trails, refuges provide important recreational opportunities for visitors.
  • Environmental Improvements: By providing access to refuges and hatcheries, the Service Transportation Program directly supports the agency’s mission to protect fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. The Service has been increasingly working to find creative ways to lessen transportation related effects on wildlife with underpasses and other mitigation features.
  • Planning: The Service’s Transportation Program is committed to helping decisions makers systematically incorporate the most relevant data, information and understanding. The following responsibilities are areas of success within the planning portion of the program: program cohesion, performance management, project selection, guidance, data collection and information dissemination, and meeting federal requirements.

What transportation programs are available for funding public access to federal lands?

  • Federal Lands Transportation Program (FLTP): for general improvements of transportation facilities inside the boundaries U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lands. Click here to learn more.
  • Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP): to improve access to Federal lands on infrastructure owned or maintained by states and local governments. Eighty percent of these funds goes to western states. Federal agencies are not eligible to receive these funds. Click here for more information.
  • Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP): gives states the discretion to provide up to 50 percent of the funds allocated to them to urban areas. Federal agencies are also eligible to receive these funds through statewide competitive processes. Click here to learn more.


What are the strategic goals of the Refuge Transportation Program?

  • Environment: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions; enhance wildlife and aquatic organism passage;
  • Safety: Improve visitor/employee safety and improve entrance features;
  • Asset Management: Complete a nationwide pavement management analysis, reduce backlog;
  • Access, Mobility, and Connectivity: Provide a wider range of mobility options for all users;
  • Visitor Experience: Provide a high quality visitor experience and enhance information sharing;
  • Coordinated Opportunities: Leverage funds through key partnership.

Why is transportation funding critical for the Service to advance its mission?

National wildlife refuges are economic engines returning nearly 5 dollars for every one dollar appropriated to run them. They generate $2.4 billion in economic output, and a large portion of that comes from visitation. Without suitable access to a refuge, visitation would decrease significantly, as would the revenue generated by refuges in local communities. The Service’s Transportation Program provides critical access to wildlife refuges allowing for increased visitation and allows refuge employees to better protect America’s wildlife.

If funding is not available through MAP-21, what impact will this have on the Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance Account?

If funding is not available through MAP-21, the projects will either not happen or the funds will come out of the Operations and Maintenance account. This means that funds would be diverted away from restoration projects, visitor services programs, and many other assets to the Refuge System.
Click here to urge Congress to pass a Federal Transportation Bill, MAP-21.

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Cynthia Martinez Appointed New Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System Mon, 11 May 2015 20:30:54 +0000

Continue reading »]]> The National Wildlife Refuge Association applauds the selection of Cynthia Martinez as the new Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Martinez will assume her duties immediately.

“Cynthia embodies what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stands for – hard work, forward thinking, and a dedication to wildlife conservation,” stated David Houghton, President of the Refuge Association. “She has done an incredible job as Deputy Chief of Refuges and we have no doubt she will do an even better job as Chief.”

Cynthia Martinez, Chief of the Refuge System posing with David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association at the Refuge Association's 40th Anniversary Celebration. | Chris Kleponis
Cynthia Martinez, Chief of the Refuge System posing with David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association at the Refuge Association’s 40th Anniversary Celebration. | Chris Kleponis

Martinez served as Deputy Chief of Refuges since 2012, acting as interim Chief following the promotion of James Kurth to Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Prior to serving as Deputy, she was head of the Refuge System’s Division of Visitor Services and Communications from 2010 to 2012. In that capacity, she led the process for developing the Refuge System’s Conserving the Future vision document, which will continue to guide the management and growth of the Refuge System through the next decade.

“Cynthia is a great fit for this position,” said Ashe. “She possesses a diversity of experience working within the Service and National Wildlife Refuge System.  Cynthia also demonstrates the strong leadership and innovation the Service needs as we continue to introduce new generations of Americans to conservation.”

Martinez is a fifth-generation New Mexican whose family has lived in the northern portion of the state since the 1850s. She is the former refuge manager for the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Las Vegas, NV. Desert National Wildlife Refuge is the largest national wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states and the entire Complex of four refuges encompasses more than 1.6 million acres of land.

Martinez began her Service career in the Student Conservation Education Program (SCEP) working as an assistant contaminants specialist in the Phoenix, Arizona Ecological Services Field Office. She went on to become a fishery biologist and assistant field supervisor for the Southern Nevada Field Office.

Martinez earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from New Mexico State University and a Masters of Science in Fisheries and Wildlife Management from the University of Arizona.

Congrats Cynthia!

Click here to read the full press release.

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Birding Community E-Bulletin May Mon, 11 May 2015 19:10:09 +0000

Continue reading »]]> This Birding Community E-bulletin is being distributed to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats.

This issue is sponsored by the producers of superb quality birding binoculars and scopes, Carl Zeiss Sport Optics.

You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (the Refuge Association).



On the morning of Friday, 3 April, Jeremy Ross was birding in the vicinity of Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge, in southwestern Indiana. While driving down a muddy and bumpy dirt road, he spotted a large shorebird land among other resting shorebirds and the bird just didn’t look right. “It was real pretty,” Ross commented. “But with the black and white and orange, I thought, ‘That’s just not normal. I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t normal.’ ”

He was right; it was a Black-tailed Godwit! This was verified when he took a digital photo using his cellphone through his spotting scope.

The Black-tailed Godwit is a Eurasian species, ranging from Iceland and east across Russia. It’s rare but regular in western Alaska, and with a healthy Icelandic population, has also been previously found along the Atlantic coast. In Canada, there are records for Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. (In fact, last month on 29 April, one appeared at the Royal Canadian Legion lawn along the Trans-Canada Highway in Deer Lake, Newfoundland.) Elsewhere along the Atlantic coast, there are records (including multiple years with possible reoccurring individuals) in such states as Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, and North Carolina. There are also reports from such far flung places as Ontario, Vermont, Louisiana, and Texas.

The only reason we have chosen not to highlight Black-tailed Godwit on several previous occasions is because the bird was bested by another, more interesting, rarity at the time. But not this month.

The reason?

Indiana! Who would ever guess that such a species would ever appear so far inland in the U.S.?

This once again proves that almost anything is possible while birding.

The Indiana Black-tailed Godwit was relocated later that same afternoon near the town of Oatsville. It was also observed at other locations in the general area throughout much of the weekend and into Monday, 6 April, although flooding conditions and rain made locating it difficult.

You can read about the discovery here:

And you can access a fine photo of the godwit by Tyler Funk here:


Last month, we reported on some Whooping Crane developments in Louisiana, including the initial nesting of a pair of four-year-old birds:

Unfortunately, after 40 days of incubation, it was determined that the pair, nesting at a private crawfish farm, had infertile eggs. This was their second year of attempted nesting. At the same time, another pair of four-year-old Whooping Cranes started a nest in the White Lake area, but a deluge of rain flooded the nest. That nest had a fertile egg, but it was no longer viable when it was retrieved.

There may be unlikely re-nestings in both cases. (It’s late in the season.) Odds are better, however, next year for these potential parents.

A status update from late last month can be found here:


A pair of Mourning Doves will appear on the 2015 Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp. The artwork was created by W. Allan Hancock of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. The stamp, costing $8.50 (Canadian), became available on 11 April. These stamps are primarily bought by waterfowl hunters to validate their migratory game bird hunting permits. Since 1985, sales of this stamp have generated more than $50 million for Wildlife Habitat Canada’s conservation projects.

You can find more details and an image here:


Over 60 percent of the global population of the Western Sandpiper use the Fraser River Estuary Important Bird Area (IBA) in British Columbia as a critical migratory stopover and refueling location.

This IBA supports global or continentally significant populations of fourteen other bird species, including American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Mallard, Brant, Snow Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Great Blue Heron, Western Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Glaucous-winged Gull, Thayer’s Gull, and Mew Gull.

It was recently discovered that in addition to consuming intertidal invertebrates at the estuary, the Western Sandpipers also feed on a substance known as biofilm, a thin layer of sugars and microbes that grows on the surface of mudflats.

Bird Studies Canada biologists and collaborators have published the paper “Biofilm Consumption and Variable Diet Composition of Western Sandpipers during Migratory Stopover” in PLos ONE. The study revealed that biofilm was consumed throughout the entire Fraser Estuary, and that it is an essential food for Western Sandpipers, making up between a quarter and a half of their diet.

The study highlights the importance of biofilm, a vital resource for migrating shorebirds. And it also highlights the need to carefully monitor IBA habitats and the food therein. After all, what is habitat without food?

To access more details on the Fraser River Estuary IBA read:

For the article in question, visit:

For additional information about IBA programs worldwide, check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at:


We wrote about the California drought and the impact on habitat and birdlife in March 2014:

Since then, if anything, the situation has gotten worse. Last year, California’s Governor Brown called for a voluntary 20 percent reduction in water use by all Californians, but the state failed to meet that goal. (A nine percent reduction was closer to what really happened.) At the start of last month, he moved toward mandatory restrictions. Under new restrictions, the State Water Resources Control Board will enforce a 25 percent water use reduction in every city.

The order, to be launched early this month, will likely impact everyone from golf-course operators and homeowners with backyard pools to restaurant managers serving water and virtually everyone with a standard lawn.

Brown said that the state will provide incentives to help replace 50 million square feet of lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping that uses less water. The state also wants to increase its use of recycled gray water for irrigation.

Many crop farms and other agricultural operations will not be affected, state officials said, because many have been hard hit already. Last year, more than 400,000 acres were not planted as a result of drought. Last year bird-friendly rice lands dropped from about 525,000 acres planted to 420,000 acres, and the same level is expected to be maintained this year, absent some serious rain. (There is concern about the viability of winter flooding of the rice lands, too, as well as a possible corresponding impact on waterbirds.)

Also in the Central Valley, the network of NWRs and state wildlife areas in the state has been particularly hard hit by the drought.

Fish are also threatened. The director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Chuck Bonham, said the agency counted the lowest-ever number of smelt last year and estimated a 95 percent mortality rate in salmon eggs and young fry, suggesting that the winter spawning stock had collapsed. Indeed, associated fish-eating birds may also go hungry.

Waterbirds – especially grebes and waterfowl – in migration and, later in the year, in wintering areas, may concentrate in places where the water remains. This increases the danger of overcrowding, which can lead to outbreaks of diseases such as avian botulism and cholera.

“Avian cholera is spread by secretions from birds,” said Holly Heyser, editor of California Waterfowl magazine. “In wetlands, the bacteria tend to concentrate on the surface, so takeoff, landing, and other disturbances can aerosolize it. When you have intense crowding, then, you have a lot more activity that aerosolizes the bacteria.”

At the same time, millions of trees in the state have died, a situation exacerbated by an infestation of bark beetles feasting on weakened pines year-round, and not just in late summer.

Clearly, there will have to be a lot of rain and snow in California before this situation can be reversed.


There seem to be sage-grouse stories that appear almost monthly in this E-bulletin, and that’s because the decisions for both Gunnison Sage-Grouse and Greater Sage-Grouse are ongoing and contentious. The future of both species is in question. So, here’s the latest report on the Greater Sage-Grouse.

Last month the USFWS determined that the sub-population of this species – what the Service calls a “Distinct Population Segment” (DPS) – in Nevada and California would not be designated as either Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

This Bi-State population – also called the Mono Basin Population – straddles the California-Nevada border, where biologists estimate that between 2,500 and 9,000 of these sage-grouse inhabit about 4.5 million acres of high-desert sagebrush. In October 2013, the Service had proposed listing the Bi-State population as Threatened under the ESA based on significant population declines.

The Service is now withdrawing this proposal in large part because of the success of the Bi-State Action Plan, which has been pursuing serious sage-grouse conservation since the early 2000s.

Here is a summary of the USFWS justification for that decision:

Beyond the Bi-State decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concurrently conducting a separate status review for the Greater Sage-Grouse across its 11-state range. A determination on whether the species requires additional protection is due at the end of September.

Meanwhile, there were efforts on the part of some House members in Congress last month, through a rider on a massive defense spending package, to block activities aimed at conserving populations of the Greater Sage-Grouse.

On a party-line vote, the House Armed Services Committee voted to prohibit the listing of the Greater Sage-Grouse as Endangered for 10 years, and to retroactively block the Bureau of Land Management’s forthcoming land-use plan amendments to tighten sage-grouse protections across BLM lands in the West. This language was added to the National Defense Authorization Act by the committee under the premise that a sage-grouse listing would undermine national security. At the same time the Department of Defense spokesman stated that “we do not believe the listing decision – regardless of the outcome – will affect our mission activities to any great degree.”

The House Armed Services Committee advanced the overall defense spending package to the full House.

We should expect to see more of this sort of obstructionism over sage-grouse conservation in the months to come, especially as the calendar moves closer to the end of September.


A study published online in early April in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that of 7.3 million acres nationwide plowed for crops between 2008 and 2012, 5.7 million had been grassland.

Researchers found that crop expansion “resulted in substantial transformation of the landscape, including conversion of long-term unimproved grasslands and lands that had not been previously used for agriculture… dating back to the early 1970s.” Corn was the most common crop planted directly on new land, with soybeans close behind.

The authors used much of their data from the Agriculture Department’s cropland data layer, which sources its information via satellite. They looked at all of the continental United States, revealing some interesting results. For example, two-thirds of land conversion occurred outside of the six states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska – where the 2014 farm bill instituted the “Sodsaver” provision (requiring farmers to preserve grasslands in order to be eligible for federal crop insurance subsidies). Real hot spots of grassland conversion included southern Iowa, northern Missouri, the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle region, and western Kansas.

The role of the Renewable Fuel Standards [RFS] came under scrutiny. “The RFS is permitting, rather than preventing, the conversion of these natural ecosystems,” said Tyler Lark, lead author of the article (University of Wisconsin, Madison). “The current monitoring scheme for that type of conversion is left unchecked.”

Is it any wonder that grassland birds are doing so poorly in the United States? Here is evidence of a major source problem, on a grandiose landscape scale.

You can access the full article here:


If the loss of grasslands in the U.S. has you wondering about the role of the Farm Bill as an effective conservation delivery mechanism, there is a recent publication that you should consider accessing. Indeed, the Farm Bill – with its alphabet soup of programs – is the most important tool enacted by Congress for conserving habitat on private lands. And the just-released “2014 Farm Bill Field Guide,” produced by the U.S. Committee of NABCI (North American Bird Conservation Initiative) can help make sense of it all.

What is currently under-appreciated is that the most recently enacted Farm Bill dedicates about $28 billion dollars until 2018 for land and habitat conservation. If you have any interest in saving birds – be they waterfowl, sage-grouse, Northern Bobwhite, prairie-chickens, shorebirds, Golden-winged Warblers, or a variety of grassland sparrows – you will want to look at this handy 58-page guide.

You can find more details and download the guide from here:


Poplar Island, located in the mid-Chesapeake, was once (c.1850) estimated to be 1,140 acres, supporting over 100 human residents and diverse wildlife. Extensive erosion and other processes reduced the island to a mere five acres by 1993.

It has since become a model of environmental restoration, where a creative solution for dredged material (e.g., leading to Baltimore harbor) is resulting in the restoration of this once vanishing island.

Starting in 1994, a team of federal and state environmental agencies, including the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Maryland Port Administration, and Maryland Environmental Service, launched plans to restore the island to its historic size. Today, Poplar Island – through the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project – is a showcase for the beneficial use of dredged material.

Poplar Island and other islands in the Chesapeake Bay historically offered safe, relatively predator-free habitat to many of the bay’s wildlife and bird species, as well as a safe harbor for the bay’s fish and shellfish resources.

For us, the birds are highly attractive, and, depending on the season, the birding fare can include a fine selection of waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and other species. Also, for us, the opportunity to access the island is vital.

For about a dozen years, visitation between March and October has been made available through Maryland Environmental Service. In fact, there are about eight birding trips a year to Poplar Island, or about one or two a month. These involve boat transportation to the island and a bus to circuit the island.

The Poplar Island story is not only important in terms of island restoration using dredge materials, but it is also a birding access experience worthy of emulation. It is one example of potential engagement in the future with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at other bird-attracting dredge operations (e.g., the 40+ Confined Disposal Facilities [CDFs] in the Great Lakes).

See here for Poplar Island background:

and here for some tour information:


If you’ve every agonized over the Hoary Redpoll vs. Common Redpoll identification problem, there are good reasons, and a recently-published article may help explain why.

Published last month in Molecular Ecology, is an article by Nicholas Mason and Scott Taylor showing that Hoary Redpolls and Common Redpolls have no differences across much of their genomes. The two researchers compared DNA from 77 redpolls coming from museums around the world. They found no DNA variation that distinguishes Hoary Redpolls from Common Redpolls. In fact, another redpoll species found in Europe – the Lesser Redpoll – also had similar DNA sequences.

While there is much variation among redpolls in the field – from highly streaked to frosty almost throughout – this does not necessarily mean there are different species. If redpolls had been separate species, then the samples would have mostly fit into two clusters, both by appearance and genetically.

On physical appearance, Mason commented, “We didn’t find distinct characteristics to separate the redpoll types, but rather a continuum, or a progression, of physical traits.” Many redpolls, he said, “were somewhere in the middle.”

The issue is nicely summarized by Gustave Axelson on the informative Cornell Lab of Ornithology blog


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “Celebrate Urban Birds” is running its “Funky Nests in Funky Places” again. Participants are asked to send in photos of nests in “old boots, barbecue grills, motorcycle helmets, traffic signals, rakes, old tires, and who-knows-what.”

Entries can be submitted in categories such as “cutest,” “funniest,” “funkiest,” or “most inconvenient.” This unique educational project has many positive features, and project leader, Karen Purcell, adds, “This contest is a lot of fun but it’s also about really being aware of what’s around you and taking the time to appreciate birds and all of nature.”

The deadline for entries is June 15, and there are a number of fine contest prizes. (If you’re wondering, there are also guidelines on responsible and appropriate behavior around bird nests.)

Here is a full description and the opportunity to browse some fascinating submissions:


If you are engaged in springtime garden and home fix-up activities, it’s time to put window concerns on your checklist of things to consider.

The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), based in Toronto, has initiated some excellent reminders for homeowners looking for suggestions to make their windows bird safe. This particular project was premiered at The Cottage Life trade show in Toronto (27-29 March). And it was extremely well received by attendees at the show.

The brochure can be downloaded from the FLAP web-site in both English and French versions:

It’s also available here (English) directly:


Finally, we have a short Google story from Silicon Valley.

The corporate headquarters of Google, Inc., is located in Mountain View, Santa Clara County, California, near San Jose. At the headquarters – often called “Googleplex” or inexplicably called “the campus”- accommodations have been made to protect their nesting egrets. Egrets are now nesting on the property, the third consecutive year this has happened. (Last year there were 36 Great Egret nests and 41 Snowy Egret nests.) Road closure, the halt of grass-mowing, and other moves are all intended to protect the egrets. Public talks are also planned, starting this month. These moves with Google are in cooperation with bird conservationists, the city, and local citizens.

You can find out more here, from the San Jose Mercury-News:

– – – – – – – – –

You can access all the past E-bulletins on the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) website:

If you wish to distribute or reproduce all or parts of any of the monthly Birding Community E-bulletins, we simply request that you mention the source of any material used. (Include a URL for the E-bulletin archives, if possible.)

If you have any friends or co-workers who want to get onto the monthly E-bulletin mailing list, have them contact either:

Wayne R. Petersen, Director
Massachusetts Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program
Mass Audubon
Paul J. Baicich
Great Birding Projects

We never lend or sell our E-bulletin recipient list.

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Migratory Bird Conservation Commission Authorizes Refuge Expansions Fri, 08 May 2015 13:30:09 +0000

Continue reading »]]> Did you buy a Federal Duck Stamp this year? Are you planning to? Ninety-eight cents for every dollar spent on this important stamp are used for conservation on wildlife refuges. Last week, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission decided exactly where those funds would go. And if you purchased a Duck Stamp, you had a hand in these acquisitions.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (Commission) authorizes and approves areas of land and/or water recommended by the Secretary of the Interior for purchase or easement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also fix the price or prices at which such areas may be acquired. Most importantly for conservation, the Commission considers the establishment of new waterfowl refuges.

Many of the projects approved last week are ongoing acquisitions. For example, at Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, an additional 909 acres will be added to the refuge, which will be a total of 286,000 acres. Unfortunately there are about 200,000 acres are left to acquire within the acquisition boundary.

And at Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, the current proposal added 288 acres to the refuge, leaving 466 remaining to be acquired out of a total of 9,022. Some of these wildlife refuges are nearly complete, but many other acquisitions have a long way to go to reach their approved boundaries.

When the Commission met last week they determined the following projects would receive funding:

Great Blue Heron at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge | Mark B Bartosik
Great Blue Heron at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge | Mark B Bartosik

Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas received boundary approval to add 102,000 acres and received approval to acquire a 909-acre tract. This boundary approval would provide new connections with Bald Knob, Cache River, and White River National Wildlife Refuges, six state wildlife management areas, and two state natural areas which would enhance the Service’s bottomland hardwood conservation and restoration efforts.

Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana received approval to acquire a 383-acre tract. This additional property adjoins current refuge lands and contributes to the goals identified by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Lower Mississippi River Joint Venture of protecting important waterfowl habitat.

Felsenthal and Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuges in Arkansas and Louisiana received approval for an expanded refuge boundary and approval to purchase a 2,244 acre property. These new acquisitions complete the acquisition of the Beanfield Tract in Louisiana and are the first step toward connecting these two wildlife refuges.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas received approval for a boundary addition and approval to purchase 1,778 acres. This addition is adjacent to the refuge and would provide connectivity of habitat for waterfowl and various shorebird species and create a corridor linking the refuge’s main unit with the Bahia Grande unit.

Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina received approval for a boundary expansion and the addition of a 228-acre tract. This tract is very important for wood duck populations and has management potential for wintering waterfowl, including black ducks, Canada geese, tundra swans, pintails, green and blue winged teals, shovelers, gadwalls, and wigeons as well as other migrating shorebirds and wading birds.

San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge in Texas received approval for a boundary addition and approval to purchase a 360 acre tract. This tract is part of a rich and productive wetland complex providing wintering, migrating, and resident habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, neotropical migratory birds, and other wetland dependent wildlife.

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana received approval to renew five 10-year leases on 9,580 acres of State school section lands. These lands are an integral part of the refuge that supports one of the highest densities of breeding lesser scaup in North America and the highest density of breeding trumpeter swans in the tri-state flock (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming).

St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi received approval to renew a five-year lease on 502 acres of State school section lands. This land contains bottomland hardwood and cypress sloughs and is part of a waterfowl sanctuary area. Wintering waterfowl use this tract for feeding, resting, and roosting, and wood ducks use it for feeding and nesting.

If you purchased a Duck Stamp, give yourself a pat on the back because your purchase went into the funding of these great projects. If you were considering purchasing one, now is your chance!
Click here to learn more about the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission and the Federal Duck Stamp.

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What is Your Favorite Wildlife Refuge to Visit? Thu, 07 May 2015 17:17:07 +0000

Continue reading »]]> From the splashing bright blue waters on the shores of Hawaii, to the dry beautiful desert in Nevada, there is something for everyone in the Refuge System. So, in honor of National Travel and Tourism Week, we thought we’d take another look at USA Today’s list of Ten Best National Wildlife Refuges. Below are the Top 10 wildlife refuges selected by USA Today readers. What would you choose as your favorite wildlife refuge?

Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma


A herd of bison take their calves out to graze near Elk Mountain at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge | Justin Morris
A herd of bison take their calves out to graze near Elk Mountain at Wichita Mountains NWR | Justin Morris

Surrounded by two rugged granite rock mountain ranges, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for the wildlife found in the plains. More than 50 mammal, 240 bird, 64 reptile and amphibian, 36 fish, and 806 plant species call this land home. One of the more iconic species in the region is the American bison totalling about 650 individuals on the wildlife refuge. To preserve the cultural and historical legacy of the area, the refuge is also home to a herd of Texas longhorn cattle.

J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida


Yellow-crowned Night Heron with breakfast crab on J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge | Michael Dougherty
Yellow-crowned Night Heron with breakfast crab on J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling NWR | Michael Dougherty

Located on Sanibel Island in Florida, J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most visited wildlife refuges in the System. Many people associate the bright roseate spoonbills with the refuge, but it also home to mangrove cuckoo, yellow-crowned night herons, manatees, sea turtles, alligators, dolphins, frogs, and many other different species. Visitors can catch a glimpse of these species on the 4-mile Wildlife Drive, trails, a new educational boardwalk, and from the visitor center. Visitors can also rent kayaks, trams, board, and paddleboards.

Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Maine


Atlantic puffins at Maine Coastal Islands NWR | USFWS
Atlantic puffins at Maine Coastal Islands NWR | USFWS

Main Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge contains more than 55 offshore islands and four coastal parcels, totalling more than 8,200 acres spanning more than 250 miles of the Maine coastline. The refuge is made up of unforested islands, coastal salt marshes, and upland mature forests of spruce and fir. Many different birds call this refuge home including Atlantic puffins, roseate terns, greater black-backed gulls, great cormorants, and many more.

Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, Puerto Rico


Vieques National Wildlife Refuge Beach | USFWS
Vieques National Wildlife Refuge Beach | USFWS

Containing beaches, coastal lagoons, mangrove wetlands, and upland forest areas, Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is a  beautiful sight to see. The wildlife refuge preserves the legacy of the native prehistoric Taino culture and of the sugarcane growing era. In the surrounding crystal blue waters, visitors can spot four species of sea turtles and the federally endangered Caribbean West Indian manatee.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas


Whooping Crane at Aransas NWR | Sandy Seth
Whooping Crane at Aransas NWR | Sandy Seth

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is a standout conservation success story. Only 15 whooping cranes were in the wild in 1941. The bird became an emblem of alarm and concern for all endangered and threatened species. Aransas then became a focal point in the effort to recover these beautiful birds. Today, there are more than 300 birds in the area. In addition to the whooping cranes, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, reddish egrets, alligators, and coyotes also call this refuge home. Visitors can enjoy this wildlife refuge on trails, overlooks, a fishing pier, and a 40 ft observation tower.

Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont


Connecticut River over Cattails | Lisa Densmore
Connecticut River over Cattails | Lisa Densmore

Spanning across four states, Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge include nine divisions representing a huge variety of habitats and wildlife species for visitors to explore. The wildlife refuge is also home to nine federally listed species including the Canada lynx, dwarf wedgemussel, Puritan tiger beetle, New England cottontail, American eel, northeastern bulrush, and shortnose sturgeon. It is the only wildlife refuge of its kind to encompass an entire watershed – the Connecticut River watershed. In fact, it was recently expanded!


Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan


Sunrise over ponds at Seney NWR | Kenneth Waller
Sunrise over ponds at Seney NWR | Kenneth Waller

Seney National Wildlife Refuge is a restoration success story. Once a land that was heavily logged, burned, ditched, drained, and cultivated, is now teeming with migratory birds and other wildlife. In fact, it is one of the most important stops for migratory birds including raptors, passerines, and water birds. This wildlife refuge is also known as a Globally Important Bird Area.

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware


Snow geese at Bombay Hook NWR | Gerry Abbott
Snow geese at Bombay Hook NWR | Gerry Abbott

One of the largest remaining expanses of tidal salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region is protected by Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Established as a link in the chain of wildlife refuges extending from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, it is primarily a breeding ground for migrating birds and other wildlife. Because of this habitat and its importance, it is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and a Globally Important Bird Area attracting birders from all over the world.


Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaii


Kileuea Point with light house in the distance | USFWS
Kileuea Point with light house in the distance | USFWS

Affectionately known as “Kilauea Light” because of the lighthouse, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is nothing short of spectacular. With sheer cliffs, bright blue ocean waters, and some of the largest populations of nesting seabirds, it’s a place you don’t want to miss. It’s also home to Hawaii’s endangered state bird, the nene along with Hawaiian monk seals and spinner dolphins.


Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland


Bald Eagle at Blackwater NWR | Donald E Brown
Bald Eagle at Blackwater NWR | Donald E Brown

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge has an incredible amount of plant and animal diversity due to its three different habitats – marsh, shallow water, and forest. It has also been designated as an Internationally Important Birding Area and a Wetland of International Importance. Due to the diversity and importance of habitat, it has been nicknamed the “Everglades of the North”. Visitors can enjoy the diversity of flora and fauna on a paved wildlife drive, hiking trails, paddling trails, and on a bike route.

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Protecting Multinational Species Tue, 05 May 2015 13:47:43 +0000

Continue reading »]]> Elephants, Tigers and Rhinos, Oh My.

Have you ever seen a tiger in the wild? How about an elephant? If not, would you ever want to? If we do not act now to protect these iconic species, you might not ever get the chance.

Tiger skins | Sean Carnell
Tiger skins | Sean Carnell

Did you know…

  • Ivory poachers have killed more than 100,000 African elephants since 2012. In Cameroon, poachers used grenades to slaughter over 300 elephants in one day.
  • During 2014, 1215 rhinos were killed in South Africa–that’s one every 8 hours! Rhino horns sell for more than $50,000 per kilo. Overall, illegal wildlife trafficking generates more than $19 billion per year, ranking alongside illegal drugs, small arms, and human trafficking as one of the world’s top criminal activities.
  • The leading causes of tiger population declines are habitat loss, poaching, prey depletion, and disease. A tiger needs to eat about 50 deer-sized prey each year, meaning habitat loss affects all species from predator to prey.

African and Asian elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, gibbons, orangutans and marine turtles are only some of the important species protected by the Multinational Species Conservation Fund.

All of these charismatic creatures are threatened or endangered. Poaching, habitat loss, and human disturbance is proving to be detrimental, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is doing what it can to protect them.

What does this have to do with wildlife refuges you might ask? Wildlife species know no international boundaries, and therefore conservation must happen on a global scale to ensure populations survive. And many international wildlife agencies look to the National Wildlife Refuge System as the world leader in wildlife and fish conservation. The Service’s Wildlife Without Borders Program and Multinational Species Conservation Funds together support global partnerships to protect marine turtles, tigers, rhinos, great apes, elephants, and other iconic species. These programs are particularly important as wildlife face a poaching crisis that is leading species such as rhinos to the brink of extinction.

Can you imagine a world without elephants, tigers and rhinos? Neither can we, which is why we encourage you to urge your member of Congress to support the Multinational Species Conservation Funds and the Wildlife Trafficking Enforcement Act which imposes stricter enforcement of wildlife trafficking laws.

Click here to take action!

For more information about tiger conservation, visit the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition homepage here. 

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Looking Back: Growth of the Organization Fri, 01 May 2015 16:03:23 +0000

Continue reading »]]> To celebrate our 40th anniversary this year, we are publishing a “Looking Back” series of blogs. Each edition will feature a different person who was involved with the organization at different stages over our 40 year history. For our second edition, we are featuring lifetime member, Jim Hubert. Click here to read the first edition with Ed Crozier.

Jim Hubert is a lifetime member of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. He’s been with us since our beginnings in 1975, and has seen our organization’s evolution over the years, from scrappy start-up to “quite the professional organization.”

Back in 1975, Hubert was working in the Washington, D.C. office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During a recent phone interview, Hubert recalled those first years.

One of the first Blue Goose Flyers printed in July 1982
One of the first Blue Goose Flyers printed in July 1982

According to Hubert, the Refuge Association began as more of a “back door” organization with just a few members trying to support the National Wildlife Refuge System. Few people knew the organization. Back then, Hubert recalled, it wasn’t popular among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administration for employees to be members of the Refuge Association, some of whom saw the Refuge Association as a threat. At the time, the National Wildlife Refuge System was not the Service’s top priority and many employees were not used to having an outside group advocate for it.

But, Hubert said, over time the Service hierarchy got more comfortable with the idea of a non-profit advocating for the Refuge System, and realized they too could take part in helping lift refuges. And with time, the Refuge Association’s reputation grew. Today, it is recognized as a leader in the conservation field.

Hubert also noted that the Refuge Association’s mission goes beyond just the Refuge System and really supports the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While Hubert said that he personally still would like to see the National Wildlife Refuge System become it’s own agency separate from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, saying he thinks this autonomy would be a huge benefit to the Refuge System, he also recognizes that the Refuge Association has built a strong, trusting relationship with the agency which has benefited us all.

As for the future? Hubert expects the Refuge Association’s growth to continue.

“Forrest Carpenter (the Refuge Association’s first president) would be proud of being essential to the organization getting started and would be proud of the fact that it has become so significant in general conservation matters and also in the support of the Refuge System,” Hubert said, adding that he hopes to see the organization expand its advocacy on behalf of the wide array of management and environmental issues facing the Refuge System.


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Private Landowners Aiding in Protection of Everglades Wed, 29 Apr 2015 14:50:41 +0000

Continue reading »]]> The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program brings together the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private landowners to create public private partnerships for the benefit of wildlife conservation. A key example of this is happening in the Florida Everglades Headwaters.

President Obama recently visited the Everglades to speak about climate change and how important this special ecosystem is.

Florida Grasshopper Sparrow | Mary Peterson, USFWS
Florida Grasshopper Sparrow | Mary Peterson, USFWS

There is a long history of private landowners in the area sing the lands for cattle ranching. Florida panthers and other endangered species also call this region home. Thankfully, the ranchers understand the value of conserving important habitat and are taking action to do just that by voluntarily applying for fee-title acquisition or conservation easements in the Everglades Headwaters area.

The endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow is one species that has greatly benefited from these public private partnerships.

David “Lefty” Durando is one specific landowner who has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage his land to ensure the protection of the Florida grasshopper sparrow. Durando has been working with the Service to restore native dry-prairie habitat for the Florida grasshopper sparrow on his 12,000 acre Okeechobee Ranch. Secretary of the Interior , Sally Jewell visited the Durando Ranch in January of 2014 to see the great work that is happening there and show her support for Everglades conservation.

Secretary Sally Jewell with Bud Adams, Lefty Durando, David Houghton, and LeAnn Adams (from left to right) | Vince Lamb
Secretary Sally Jewell with Bud Adams, Lefty Durando, David Houghton, and LeAnn Adams (from left to right) | Vince Lamb

This specific habitat type, native dry-prairie, has been reduced to less than 15 percent within its historic range – 75 percent of that is found on private land. The Florida grasshopper sparrow requires this habitat; today, only two small viable populations are known to exist – as of 2011, there are less than 150 birds in the wild. Restoring this critical habitat on both private and public lands is seen as the best strategy to increase the endangered bird’s viability.

The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area was established in 2012 to further protect this important habitat. The refuge currently consists of 450 acres but has the potential to be 150,000 acres.

The main focus of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area Initiative is to purchase conservation easements on ranching and agricultural land. The easements will both protect important habitat for endangered species like the Florida grasshopper sparrow, but also keep working lands working to protect the Florida ranching way of life.

The Service is educating other landowners about Florida grasshopper sparrow habitat needs. The Service educates the landowners about different management techniques to enhance the habitat for the endangered bird.

Click here to read the full story on Refuge Update.


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