National Wildlife Refuge Association Home of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) Fri, 19 Dec 2014 17:11:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 No More Arctic Antics Wed, 17 Dec 2014 22:03:55 +0000

Continue reading »]]> David Headshot

David Houghton is the President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. He has worked for and in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for over 25 years. David has been involved with the National Wildlife Refuge Association since 2000: as the Regional Representative for Region 5, serving two terms as a board member, working as a consultant, later joining the staff as Vice President for Conservation, and currently serves as President. 

Last winter, many of us in the lower 48 were linked a little closer to the Arctic region, when snowy owls (Bubo scandiacus) were spotted up and down the East Coast, in refuges, airports, shopping centers and even in the middle of Washington, D.C. For many, it was an experience of a lifetime, a rare opportunity to see these regal white birds with bright yellow eyes –and for children, a chance to connect with Harry Potter’s iconic pet.

I recently had another experience of a lifetime when I visited two of Alaska’s national wildlife refuges, Arctic and Izembek. These are magnificent refuges with unique wildlife and habitat, most of it wild and undisturbed by humans.


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge | Steve Chase
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge | Steve Chase

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, at 19.3 million acres and in northeast Alaska, is a vast expanse the size of South Carolina and our largest and most northern refuge.   It has stunning biodiversity — the boreal forest of the Porcupine River uplands, the foothills and slopes of the Brooks Range, the arctic tundra of the coastal plain and lagoons and barrier islands of the Beaufort Sea coast. It currently has eight million acres designated as wilderness.

In much of the refuge, the ground is a permafrost layer that is wet during the summer. From April to mid-August, the sun shines 24 hours so plants grow rapidly, but the growing season is short. Hundreds of species of mosses, grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and other plants are found only there.

The refuge has 45 species of land and marine animals, 36 species of fish and over 200 species of birds from five continents. Birds travel on all four North American migration routes as well as international routes all over the Earth to spend the summer in the refuge, where long days produce an abundance of insects and plants for them and their young. Birds breeding on the refuge have ranges that reach all 50 states and six continents.

Dall sheep abound and black, grizzly and polar bears den in the refuge. Porcupine caribou migrate to the refuge’s coastal plain to have and raise their young.

Spliced by over 160 rivers and streams, the Arctic Refuge has no roads, development or trails. It truly defines the “wild” in “wilderness.” It is “one of Planet Earth’s own works of art,” observed National Park Service biologist Lowell Sumner.


On the Alaska Peninsula lies the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a landscape of mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, rocky cliffs, tundra, wetlands and lagoons. The 150-square mile lagoon’s shallow, brackish waters are home to one of the world’s largest beds of eelgrass which attracts hundreds of thousands of waterfowl. The bulk of the nation’s entire population of Pacific black brant (150,000 birds on average) and Taverner’s Canada geese (55,000) inhabit the lagoon each fall. The entire population of emperor geese (70,000) migrates through in spring and fall. Approximately 23,000 threatened Steller’s eiders molt, rest and feed in Izembek every fall.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge | USFWS
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge | USFWS

Izembek also hosts five species of salmon, wolves, foxes, wolverines, caribou, moose, brown bears, shorebirds, seabirds and 5,400 caribou. Every spring, salmon return to natal streams to spawn. The refuge’s productive waters support harbor seals, sea otters, walruses and threatened Stellar’s sea lions. Gray, minke, killer and humpback whales live in Izembek or pass through. Low-growing plants have evolved to withstand cool temperatures, strong winds, shallow acidic soils and a short growing season.

Izembek is one of the most ecologically unique of our refuges, even though only 315,000 acres in size.

Battles Ahead

As a new Congress convenes in January, we anticipate more challenges to protecting these refuges. For the Arctic, the 30-year-old, unsuccessful industry push to allow oil and gas drilling will likely resurface.

For Izembek, we may see proposed legislation mandating a road through Izembek’s protected wilderness, reversing Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s decision to keep it roadless. The road is unnecessary, would fragment pristine habitat and violate the wilderness designation. I believe much less costly transportation solutions exist for people living in the area, such as a ferry and jetty at Cold Bay, or a Coast Guard helicopter stationed at Cold Bay to transport people in need of emergency transport.

While attacks may be forthcoming, we will continue to fight for legislation to designate the Arctic coastal plain as wilderness. When the 113th Congress adjourned, the Senate bill (S. 1695), introduced by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), had 28 cosponsors. We will also be working for strong comprehensive conservation plans for both refuges.

Why Should We Care

Alaska’s refuges seem very remote to most Americans, but as the snowy owl so dramatically demonstrates, we are connected. Migratory birds that breed and nest in the far reaches of North America have ranges in all 50 states.

These two refuges harbor globally-unique ecosystems. Just think about it: polar bears and caribou cannot migrate to other regions or live just anywhere. Bearberry, a low-growing evergreen that can withstand cold and wind, cannot survive in more temperate regions. Animals and plants like these are adapted to thrive in a harsh environment. And with climate change melting Arctic ice at unprecedented rates, Arctic habitats are shrinking.

Building roads and drilling for oil can bring irreversible changes.   Responding to an oil spill in Arctic conditions would be difficult, if even possible. There is little infrastructure or preparedness to address an emergency oil spill which would be complicated by icy winds and harsh weather. Technology to clean oil off sea ice is limited at best. Arctic plants that grow slowly anyway could struggle to rebound.

In 1960, the Eisenhower administration first recognized the Arctic’s importance and created both refuges. Then, in 1980, Congress and the Carter Administration added lands and designated much of the original range as wilderness.

Alaska is an incredible place with incredible resources that benefit us all. Beyond oil, gas and timber, it’s the place itself that has value. We are working with the Service to identify partnerships with Alaska Natives to boost eco-tourism opportunities that will help diversify Alaska’s economy. Our wildlife refuges and the wilderness they contain are the assets.

Multiple Congresses and successive administrations recognized the unique value of these refuges, enduring wildernesses, irreplaceable treasures, places to experience wildness rarely found elsewhere on the globe. Let’s keep them that way.



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Duck Stamp Signed Into Law Wed, 17 Dec 2014 13:20:44 +0000

Continue reading »]]> Obama has signed two important bills about the Duck Stamp into law! This is a huge victory for America’s wildlife refuges and it would not have happened without the hard work of our advocates!

The winner of the 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Contest is Jennifer Miller of Olean, NY, with her acrylic painting of ruddy ducks.
The winner of the 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Contest is Jennifer Miller of Olean, NY, with her acrylic painting of ruddy ducks.

We’ve been following the progress of the bill to increase the price of the Duck Stamp here and here, but right at the end of the Congressional session, the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2013 passed the Senate teeing it up to also be signed into law as well. The final action on these two bills means we can be assured that the money collected by Duck Stamp fees will go toward on-the-ground conservation! And now we’ll be able to buy the stamps easily online and use the electronic version if we choose to. Thanks to a $10 increase in the price and the ability to use an electronic version of the stamp, more money can be dedicated to conservation.

Laws like this don’t happen by accident. It takes time and dedication by activists like those who belong to our Refuge Action Network. And this support has not gone unnoticed! Here’s what U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe had to say about our efforts on behalf of the Duck Stamp:

“The National Wildlife Refuge System has no better advocates than the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I want to express our enormous gratitude for the Refuge Association’s efforts to help us restore the purchasing power of the Federal Duck Stamp,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “This bipartisan conservation success will benefit wildlife and people for generations to come, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the Refuge Association’s support.”

So thank you to everyone who took action on behalf of the Duck Stamp!

To keep up with all the legislation that affects the National Wildlife Refuge System, join our Refuge Action Network today!

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Winter Activities on National Wildlife Refuges Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:43:42 +0000

Continue reading »]]> Courtesy of the National Wildlife Refuge System:

Make the Season Merry at a National Wildlife Refuge System

Walk in a winter wonderland. Hear sleigh bells ring. Make the season bright at a national wildlife refuge near you. Check out some of the free, family-friendly holiday-season activities that wildlife refuges will host through the New Year. Look here for added listings as the holidays draw closer.

Cut Your Own Christmas Tree

Work off those holiday-season calories by cutting your own tree at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine or Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

  • Moosehorn Refuge lets visitors cut two balsam fir or pine trees per person, starting at the end of November. The trees must be cut to maintain road safety. Pick up a free permit from the refuge office before you cut.
  • Kenai Refuge lets visitors hand-cut one tree per family between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No fees or permits are required. Cutting is restricted to certain areas.

Winter Tram Tour

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, VA

Take a ride on an open-air tram and see the ducks, geese and swans that make the refuge their winter home. Continue into False Cape State Park for a one-mile hike to the Wash Woods cemetery and church site. $8 per person. Reservations are required: 757-426-7128. Dates are:

December 21, 1 to 4:30 p.m.

Winter Sleigh Rides

Sleigh Ride on National Elk Refuge | Lori Iverson, USFWS
Sleigh Ride on National Elk Refuge | Lori Iverson, USFWS

Starting Monday, December 15 — National Elk Refuge, WY

Horse-drawn sleigh rides onto the refuge are a popular winter activity, allowing riders a unique wildlife viewing experience and an incredible opportunity to photograph the elk that winter on the refuge. For details, see: or Sleigh rides will continue through Saturday, April 4, daily except for Christmas.

Christmas Bird Count

Scores of refuges take part each year in this bird census, coordinated by the National Audubon Society. Dates vary. Check Refuge System event listings to see if your nearby refuge is participating, or check the Audubon site. Here are a few examples of participating refuges:

  • December 20, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, MN
  • Join Friends of Sherburne Refuge to count birds on the refuge and in the local area. Meet at refuge headquarters.
  • December 27, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge, MN
  • Take part in a historic seasonal bird count.
  • December 30, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, TX
  • Take part in the 18th annual Trinity River Christmas Bird Count for northern Liberty County. Areas to be counted include the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, Tarkington Prairie and Gaylor Lake. Meet at 7 a.m. at the Valero Gas station located at the intersection of Hwy 105 and Hwy 321, about 6 miles southeast of Cleveland.

Winter is an excellent season to experience nature and see wildlife. Visit your local wildlife refuge for tips on how to identify wildlife tracks in the snow, spot owls and raptors, or other birds wintering over and analyze scat and other signs that wildlife is nearby.

To keep up with what’s happening around America’s wildlife refuges, sign up for The Flyer, our monthly newsletter to keep refuge supporters informed!

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2014 Annual Report Now Available Online! Fri, 12 Dec 2014 21:02:08 +0000

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The National Wildlife Refuge Association’s 2014 Annual Report highlights accomplishments from the last fiscal year. From our Beyond the Boundaries program which focuses on landscape based conservation efforts to building our network of friends and supporters to include much deeper work with private landowners through a new strategic alliance with Partners for Conservation, the Refuge Association is here to support America’s wildlife and wild places through the National Wildlife Refuge System. Click HERE to view the web version of the 2014 Annual Report. Click here if you would like a downloadable PDF version.


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Omnibus Spending Bill Includes Budget Increase for Refuge System Fri, 12 Dec 2014 15:54:00 +0000

Continue reading »]]> The House and Senate finally came to agreement this week on an omnibus-spending package that will fund the vast majority of federal government programs until the end of September, the remainder of FY 2015. Overall, the bill retains status quo funding for most of the Refuge Association’s priorities but includes some good news for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The Fish and Wildlife Service budget will see a $12 million increase. The Refuge System gets a slight increase of $2 million in operations and maintenance funding from last year.

Given the realities of tight budgets and Capitol Hill politics these days, we appreciate these increases. We also know that this would not have been possible without the efforts of many Friends and other refuge supporters who have advocated on behalf of their refuges and the entire Refuge System.

That said, we all recognize the funding levels still fall far short of what the Service and our national wildlife refuges need, a shortfall that will require many priority projects to be deferred.

Here’s how the numbers break down for the Refuge Association’s legislative priorities:

  • Overall funding for refuge operations and maintenance will be $474.2 million, a $2 million increase from last year. The Refuge Association recommended $476.4 million, the President’s budget request;
  • Funding for refuges in the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be $47.5 million, although only $25 million is for refuge specific projects. The Refuge Association had recommended $178.3 million for FY 2015. Funded projects include:
    • San Diego National Wildlife Refuge (CA) – $5 million
    • Dakota Tallgrass Prairie Wildlife Management Area (ND/SD) – $3 million
    • Dakota Grassland Conservation Area (ND/SD) – $7 million
    • Rappahannock National Wildlife Refuge (VA) – $2 million
    • Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area (MT) – $2 million
    • Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge & Conservation Area (FL) – $3 million
    • Cache River National Wildlife Refuge (AR) – $1.071 million
    • Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (CT/MA/NH/VT) – $2 million
  • The National Wildlife Refuge Fund, a fund that contributes to the Refuge Revenue Sharing Program which provides funding to local municipalities in lieu of taxes, was funded at $13.228 million, about $6.8 million less than the $20 million we requested;
  • Funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) is set at $34.145 million, about $855,000 less than the $35 million we’d requested;
  • Partners for Fish and Wildlife will receive flat funding at $52 million; the Refuge Association had requested $75 million;
  • State Wildlife Grants also received flat funding at $58.7 million;
  • Funding for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act was set at $3.66 million, slightly less than the $4 million we requested;
  • Funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Funds was set at $9.061 million;
  • Coastal Programs received $13.2 million, our request; and,
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service Construction account received flat funding of $15.7 million for the following refuge projects:
    • Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge (CA) – $313,000
    • Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge (TX) – $300,000
    • Modoc National Wildlife Refuge (CA) – $2 million
    • Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (CO) – $300,000
    • De Soto National Wildlife Refuge (IA) – $793,000
    • Wallkill River & Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuges (NJ) – $632,000

Left out of the bill was a provision to allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to recoup monetary damages from vandalism, pollution or other harm to refuge property. Each year, millions of dollars end up coming out of general operating expenses to repair or replace damaged property; the Refuge Association had pushed for Congress to give the Service the same authority given to the National Park Service for similar challenges. Language in the fine print does ask the Service to resubmit the request next year.

While we have made some gains in recent years in a difficult environment of stiff competition for federal dollars, the reality on the ground is that the National Wildlife Refuge System has seen a $50 million decline in funding since FY 2010, even though we know that every $1 that Congress appropriates for refuges generates $5 in economic returns.

Mischievous Riders

Unfortunately, the omnibus also includes so-called “riders,” or extraneous, non-funding-related provisions in the bill.

One rider in particular, withholds funding from the Fish and Wildlife Service for any actions to make a decision whether to list the greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act by its September 2015 court-ordered deadline. By withholding funding, Congress is attempting to temporarily delay a listing decision, although the full implications of this funding limitation remain unclear.

This greater sage-grouse is one of the most iconic and imperiled birds in the West.

Decisions on how and whether to protect wildlife under the Endangered Species Act do not belong in a spending bill. But what’s worse, this rider threatens to derail the tireless work happening on the ground by ranchers, sportsmen, conservationists, states and federal agencies to finalize strong conservation plans that protect sage grouse and the western way of life.

The good news is, thanks to the support of refuge Friends groups, we were able to successfully keep a very damaging provision out of the final bill. The Refuge Establishment rider, which would have prohibited the Service from creating new refuges or expanding existing refuges administratively, was stripped due to an outcry from refuge supporters.

More than 90 percent of all refuges have been created administratively by every President since Teddy Roosevelt, yet this rider would have revoked this authority.

When the new Congress convenes in January, we anticipate this and other harmful riders to return as stand-alone bills or again as amendments to appropriations, and we will need your help to ensure we beat them back.

The Refuge Association appreciates the tireless work of thousands of refuge advocates across the U.S. who work daily to save and enhance our country’s precious natural resources.

Stay tuned for the next “chapter.”

Click here for a full copy of the bill text (FWS begins on p. 672):

Managers’ Statement (see in particular pages 2, 9-14 and 59-63)


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Sleigh Rides at the National Elk Refuge Thu, 11 Dec 2014 17:08:56 +0000

Continue reading »]]> The holiday season is full of fun winter activities, especially in the Refuge System. One of the main attractions in the winter are sleigh rides at the National Elk Refuge in beautiful Jackson Hole, WY – what could be more holiday themed than a horse-drawn sleigh ride?

Sleighs stop along the tour to let visitors stand and take photographs of the elk. |Lori Iverson , USFWS
Sleighs stop along the tour to let visitors stand and take photographs of the elk. | Lori Iverson , USFWS

Visitors can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride among a herd of elk numbering in the thousands. The magical Grand Teton Mountains in the background and landscape covered in crisp white snow makes a fantastic experience.

These sleigh rides are available starting December 15 and run through early April. They run daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. even on weekends and holidays except for Christmas. Tickets are sold at the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center located at 532 North Cache Street.

Jackson Hole is a winter wonderland with activities throughout the local area, and also on the refuge! For example, the National Museum of Wildlife Art is something you wouldn’t want to miss. Not only does it showcase some of the best wildlife art in the world, it has stunning views of the refuge. Also on the refuge is an outstanding amount of wildlife! From bison to elk, you’re sure to see some incredible critters.

For more information be sure to visit the National Elk Refuge homepage. Will you be participating in any winter activities on a refuge this season?

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Annual Christmas Bird Count Tue, 09 Dec 2014 20:11:41 +0000

Continue reading »]]> It’s that time of year again! This year marks the 115th Christmas Bird Count. Hosted by Audubon, the annual Christmas Bird Count is the longest running Citizen Science Survey in the world providing critical data on population trends across the nation. Tens of thousands of people participate ranging from experts to novices. Regardless of age or experience level, participants provide valuable data from over 2,300 circles.

Christmas Bird Count at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge |Bob Danley / USFWS
Christmas Bird Count at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge | Bob Danley / USFWS

This year the Christmas Bird Count will run from December 14 through January 5. Families, students, birders, scientists, outdoorsy people, and others who just want something fun to do for the day come armed with their binoculars, bird guides, friends, and checklists to go out on this annual mission.

Participants brave harsh winter conditions in snow, wind, rain, etc to take part in this event. Many of them brave the weather because they understand how important it is for conservation efforts, and because it’s a lot of fun! Refuge Association Director of Communications, Christine McGowan participated for the first time last year, and had an incredible experience.

If providing incredibly valuable data to the conservation community, hanging out with friends, learning new skills, and/or seeing beautiful birds sounds like something you would like, sign up to participate! Christmas Bird Counts are happening all over the country. Even if it is your first time, most groups will welcome you in with open arms.

Do you plan on participating? Do you have a great story from a previous year? Let us know in the comments below!

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Birding Community E-Bulletin December Fri, 05 Dec 2014 16:52:14 +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 (NWRA).



On the morning of 9 November, a dark goose, presumed to be a bean-goose, was observed by Lee Sliman, a volunteer at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the northern Oregon coast. She asked refuge staff and local birders to check out her identification, and they confirmed that the goose that was accompanied by Cackling Geese was, indeed, a Tundra Bean-Goose.

This species is very rare in North America, which is complicated by the 2007 “split” that resulted in separating the former Bean Goose into the Taiga Bean-Goose and the Tundra Bean-Goose. The breeding range of the Tundra Bean-Goose includes the tundra zone north to the Arctic across northern Russia, and the species usually winters from Western Europe to eastern China and Japan. Its historic occurrence in North America has been mainly limited to western Alaska with a couple of odd records, including the Yukon and Quebec.

The Tundra Bean-Goose at Nestucca Bay NWR was seen daily through the end of the month in the company of Cackling Geese and Canada Geese that were also on the refuge. It was regularly observed from the viewing platform or refuge parking lot, but also occasionally seen off the refuge on nearby privately-owned cow-pastures.

Hundreds of birders visited the refuge, from across Oregon, as well as from California, Idaho, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, and even Alaska, to see the rare visitor.

One of the best things about the goose is that it introduced so many birders to the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was only opened to the public in 2008, and it has been relatively unknown until now to the birding public.

To see early photos of the Tundra Bean-Goose taken by Owen Schmidt, see here:

And for a collection of later photos – of the goose and the refuge – see these photos by Jack Williamson:


On the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, a female-plumaged Red-legged Honeycreeper was found by Park Ranger, Ruben Rangel, at Estero Llano Grande State Park in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. There have been several previous observations of this species in the U.S., particularly in Florida. None of these has been accepted due to questions concerning provenance.

At Estero Llano Grande State Park, the honeycreeper was observed by numerous birders for a few days in the area of a water drip in the “tropical zone” of the park, by the resident park-hosts’ RV.

Authorities on the species identified the Red-legged Honeycreeper as an immature bird. The identification of the honeycreeper has not been questioned; the origins of the bird continue to be troublesome, especially since the species has been observed as a cage bird in nearby Mexico. Most cage birds, however, tend to be the more colorful males, not females. Additionally, the natural range of the Red-legged Honeycreeper is not all that far away (c. 250 miles) from Estero Llano Grande. Although the species is somewhat migratory in eastern Mexico… alas, it tends to migrate in the other direction at this season!

Speculation is rampant, but hopefully a pattern of future observations will help answer the questions.

You can view a photo taken by Tiffany Kirsten of the Estero Llano Grande bird here:


In mid-November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its decision to list the Gunnison Sage-Grouse as a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). At least since the recognition of the distinct species status of the bird in 2001, Gunnison Sage-Grouse have been declining across western Colorado and southern Utah. This is due to loss and fragmentation of sagebrush habitat.

The decision will have no impact upon on landowners in Colorado and Utah who have previously entered into “Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances,” or a number of USDA programs; these landowners can continue to implement the practices covered by those programs in the knowledge that they will be consistent with the ESA. How this status for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse will impact oil and gas development in Colorado and Utah is unclear however. (A Threatened listing involves fewer habitat protections and development restrictions than an Endangered designation, which is what was originally proposed in January 2013.) Still, nobody seems to be satisfied. Many conservationists insist the move did not go far enough; many local government, ranching, and development interests claim that it went too far.

Under the listing, the USFWS will designate 1.4 million acres in Colorado and Utah as “critical habitat” for the grouse, which is still a fraction of the species’ historic range. At the same time, the listing could now hamper the voluntary conservation programs among ranchers and others. USFWS officials argued that unfortunately the voluntary efforts to protect the species have not proven to be sufficient.

You can read a thoughtful summary of the situation in High Country News:

And you can review a summary press release from the USFWS here:

Federal officials say their decision to protect dwindling Gunnison Sage-Grouse populations in Colorado and Utah has no bearing on next September’s highly anticipated ruling on the far more widespread Greater Sage-Grouse. Nonetheless, not everyone is so sure.


The California Condor recovery effort in Utah and Arizona has been a cooperative venture among federal, state, and private partners. The partners include The Peregrine Fund, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Recently, these partners have touted some good news. Apparently, the number of California Condors treated for lead exposure from lead-bullet ingestion in Utah and Arizona recently dropped to its lowest level since 2005. Between September of last year, and the start of September of this year, a total of 13 condors were treated for lead poisoning. During the same period the previous year, there were 28 birds treated. The average over five years had been 26 condors per year.

The problem, of course, is that condors can be at risk of death if they ingest carrion that contains lead fragments.

To help the California Condor, the state wildlife agencies in both states have asked hunters in southern Utah and northern Arizona to use non-lead ammunition. In an effort to offset the cost and encourage hunter participation, both agencies have run voluntary programs to provide hunters with a free box of non-lead bullets. The voluntary response from hunters has been significant.

Lynda Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said that she’s cautiously optimistic. She added, “We have between 80 and 90 percent of hunters participating in any given year.”


Jan Dunlap’s latest contribution to her birder-murder-mystery series is Swift Justice (North Star Press). If you like your detective stories hard-boiled, with gritty dialogue, dark characters, irresistible femmes fetales, and a dose of bloody knuckles, you will want to look elsewhere. Swift Justice is a light read, presented with a mix of interesting characters, well-done dead-end clues, and light and often humorous dialogue all presented within the Twin Cities and with a good understanding of the quirky birding culture, both positive and negative.

This is probably the best and most developed work in Dunlap’s series – including A Murder of Crows, Murder on Warbler Weekend, and The Boreal Owl Murder. They all feature Bob White, as detective, high-school guidance counselor, and top-notch Minnesota birder. There are some good laughs in this mystery, as Bob pursues the murderer of a fellow birder (and fellow rare-bird-record committee member) who was killed at the start of a Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union meeting. The mix includes Hmong students who are birders, the effort to preserve an old brewery used by roosting Chimney Swifts in season, nice and not-so-nice birders, and some real-life Twin Cities characters who have important cameo-roles in the mystery.

You could do much worse than to read this book, and it’s fun to see how Dunlap weaves the birds and birding into solving this murder mystery.


Our regular “IBA News” section usually pertains to developments for Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in North America. We sometimes, however, slip into areas of Latin America and the Caribbean where “our” birds spend much of their lives, and where bird conservation is crucial for the survival of these species.

This month, we take the IBA news much farther afield, to Phillip Island, an IBA in Australia, not far from Melbourne. The site accounts for at least 1% of the global population (approximately 450,000 pairs) of Short-tailed Shearwaters, a species which visits the North American Pacific Coast, primarily off Alaska in our summer and farther south during our fall and winter.

In a study in PLOS One in mid-October, researchers reviewed the attraction of human-initiated nighttime lighting to fledgling Short-tailed Shearwaters near their Phillips Island nesting-areas. The mortality was remarkably high, especially that caused by road-and-bridge lights and associated with automobile impacts. This is ironic because the IBA site is also a popular ecotourism destination as a result of nesting Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor).

The good news is that the control of lights and traffic can lessen the mortality of Short-tailed Shearwaters, specifically by turning off bridge lights, restricting speed limits, and displaying warning signals.

You can access the full report here:

And you can find out more about the Phillip Island IBA here:

For additional information about worldwide IBA programs, including those in the U.S., check the National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area program web site at:


Last month, the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in northwest Ohio won the USA Today “10 Best Readers’ Choice” award for the top birdwatching location in the U.S. The Readers’ Choice awards are voted on worldwide, and they are related to a myriad of unrelated topics, including best airport, best American riverfront, best city for sports, and, yes, even best beer town. See the results here:

Anyone familiar with Magee Marsh Wildlife Area knows that the very heart of the site is its famous “boardwalk,” meandering just over 3,000 feet through about 27 acres of moist woodland, which is a veritable migrant magnet on the edge of Lake Erie.

Without the boardwalk, there would be no easy access to the migrant-loving woodlot. And access is what really matters at this popular site.

The boardwalk was finished in April 1989, and it has since put Magee Marsh on the map. An estimated 80,000 visitors are said to visit Magee during spring migration.

The boardwalk is over a quarter century old now, with significant parts in disrepair. Last spring, the Friends of Magee Marsh began a campaign to raise $300,000 to refurbish the boardwalk. This will make it possible to replace the decking and rails, stabilize the tower on the west end of the boardwalk, and make other improvements to ensure continued access.

While there is free access to most state land in Ohio, there is no state funding available for such a project, even though it’s on state property. Without state funding, the money needs to come voluntarily from the public. So far, the Friends are a third of the way to their goal. Of course, if every visitor last spring gave $4, the goal would already have been easily achieved. Now, the Friends of Magee Marsh are continuing to work on individual and corporate fundraising in an attempt to keep the access at Magee open and welcoming.

You can find more details on the ongoing effort here:


On Election Day last month, there were many incredibly successful conservation funding initiatives on the ballot. In fact, voters in 19 states approved over two dozen measures that should dedicate over $29 billion to open space, water protection, wildlife conservation, parks, and trails.

You can read about this victory for wildlife and wild places from this summary from The Nature Conservancy:

or from this chart produced by the Trust for Public Land:

The notable exception in this trend occurred in North Dakota, where Measure 5 was soundly defeated. In October, we reported on this effort to take five percent of the state’s oil and gas extraction tax revenue to protect North Dakota’s water, wildlife, and parks:

Had Measure 5 passed, funding estimates as low as $44 million per year, but as high as $150 million per year, would have been dedicated to these outdoor resources.

There were changes made in the crafting of the “Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks” initiative, specifically changes over the last year to address criticisms over the dollar amount being too high and the effort being an “overreach” by conservation groups. Nonetheless, the onslaught from the fossil fuel industry aided by large farm and ranching interests, was unrelenting.

At the same time, the state’s booming oil rush has led to an unprecedented need for spending on schools, law enforcement, public works, and emergency medical services. While the crafters of Measure 5 took care to explain that other state spending needs would not be adversely impacted, the opponents raised exaggerated alarms to pull voters away from the conservation initiative.

In the process, the state’s Republican governor, Jack Dalrymple, added confusion to the mix by announcing his own plan to spend $30 million more on state parks and add an extra $50 million more for conservation efforts over the next few years. These announcements were also widely seen as undercutting Measure 5, and some key state legislators seemed to be pulled in that direction.

Ultimately, Measure 5 was defeated by a wide margin, with almost 80 percent voting no.

On the one hand, Measure 5 supporters, as articulated by campaign chair, Steve Adair, from Ducks Unlimited, asserted that the entire effort helped to “elevate the conversation” and propelled the governor’s announcement of an alternative. Adair said, “I’m not sure we would have seen the same response out of the governor and legislative leaders without pushing for something big.”

On the other hand, oil and gas interests in the state are on a roll. The industry appears to want to apply growing state revenue to help build the infrastructure they need to maximize a higher return. Last year, the industry tried to roll back the state’s overall extraction tax from 6.5 to 4.5 percent, and industry lobbyists are expected to try again during the next legislative session. Based on the aggressive efforts by the oil and gas industry to discredit Measure 5, its passage could have made their quest for tax breaks far more challenging.

Meanwhile, the natural side of North Dakota suffers. Not only is the state at the center of North America’s “duck factory,” it is also home to Yellow Rails, Black Terns, Marbled Godwits, Sprague’s Pipits, Baird’s, Nelsons, and LeConte’s Sparrows, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs.

This saga is not over. Stay tuned for the next round.


Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine is an extraordinary place. The historic camp goes back to 1936, with original staffers including Roger Tory Peterson, Allan Cruickshank, and Carl Buchheister. Next summer will mark the sixth year since National Audubon resumed management of the famous camp. In the interim, it had been run for about eight years by Maine Audubon.

The 2015 schedule includes some novel innovations, including a session entitled “Breaking into Birding,” with Pete Dunne and others, and “Hands-on Bird Science,” directed by Scott Weidensaul.

It’s not too early to look into the full schedule. Indeed, December is the perfect time to consider next-year’s warm-weather options. See here:


The 115th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is about to begin, scheduled for14 December 2014 to 5 January 2015. The accumulated CBC data through the years, first collected by Frank M. Chapman in 1900, has been remarkable. And all of it will be available on a database accessible to the general public.

The CBC charged for individual participation between 1955 and 2011; this was the funding that helped sustain the program and publish the results for many years. But now, with online access, an annual hardcopy has become unnecessary. In addition, by dropping the individual participant fee, more counts and counters can be attracted.

It still costs National Audubon about $300,000 a year to run this granddaddy of citizen science programs, but the CBC returns can be invaluable. There will be tens of thousands of participants this year, including over 2,000 compilers. Some compilers will make a special effort to solicit funds for the CBC in order to sustain it and keep it free; other compilers may feel awkward in soliciting funds.

In either case, all concerned birdwatchers participating in the CBC should consider sustaining this grand effort through this form to keep the CBCs free in the future:


We were recently reminded that Bob Sargent – remarkable bander, bird educator, and hummingbird aficionado extraordinaire – passed away in early September. It’s not too late to remember Bob’s many contributions.

For about 30 years, Bob, his wife Martha, and an exuberant group of volunteers, assembled on the Alabama coast each spring and fall to band and study birds – especially hummingbirds – with aplomb and enthusiasm.

Bob Sargent’s work helped change the understanding of trans-gulf migration and the status of hummingbirds in the southeastern U.S. His legacy will be difficult to match.

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

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Wildlife Refuges Aiding in Efforts to Slow Climate Change Wed, 03 Dec 2014 14:27:18 +0000

Continue reading »]]> If you’re reading this blog, chances are you appreciate and value the National Wildlife Refuge System and all that it has to offer. We are well aware of the immense benefits to wildlife and habitat that these open spaces provide. What isn’t talked about as often are the benefits refuges have in the efforts to slow global climate change.

Habitat restoration on refuges reduce greenhouse gases through a process called biological carbon sequestration (BCS). Technically BCS is the natural assimilation and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the form of vegetation, soils, woody product, and aquatic environments. Basically it means that natural areas absorb carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere thus reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the air, and slowing the rise in earth’s temperature.

CoverBiological Carbon Sequestration Accomplishment Report

In the 36-page Biological Carbon Sequestration Accomplishments Report 2009-2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlines specific examples throughout the Refuge System where restoration has resulted in increased carbon sequestration. The report highlights how the Service is working with public and private partners at or near refuges to maintain and restore habitat while also reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Through association with the Climate Action Reserve (CAR), the State of California has developed an operational cap-and-trade and compliance carbon offsets program that is starting to provide incentives for BCS projects nationwide. The Service has been working very closely with CAR to help them develop carbon offset project protocols for different types of ecosystems. The report outlines examples of management and research activities on refuges from 2009-2013 that demonstrate how Service-supported BCS activities are helping create and restore habitat while also mitigating greenhouse gases.

Partnership in Lower Mississippi

For example, in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, decades of agricultural clearing has reduced bottomland forest habitat to one fourth of its original size. The Service has been working with partners to acquire and reforest the land with efforts focusing on reforestation. One main partner is The Conservation Fund (TCF) which is vital to the effort through their Go Zero program. This program helps individuals and corporations offset carbon emissions by planting trees. TCF has partnered with the Service to use donations from the Go Zero program to acquire and reforest lands and then later donates or sells the lands to the Service.

Success in Lower Rio Grande Valley

Another example is in the Lower Rio Grande Valley where more than 95 percent of native vegetation has been lost to agricultural and urban development. The South Texas National Wildlife Refuge Complex has led the planting of more than 10,000 acres of Tamaulipan thornscrub with almost 4 million trees and shrubs planted since 1995. The refuge estimates that in 20 years, the project will have sequestered more than 923,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

National wildlife refuges prove time and time again how advantageous they are to the local communities, wildlife, habitat, and so much more. This is just one more example of why refuges are vital and immensely beneficial.

Read the full Refuge Update story here.


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With Broad Support, the U.S. Senate Passes the Duck Stamp Bill Wed, 03 Dec 2014 00:05:04 +0000

Continue reading »]]> At a time when Congress seems mired in a steady state of bickering and gridlock, the U.S. Senate delivered good news today by passing a bipartisan bill to increase the price of the federal Duck Stamp from $15 to $25.

The Duck Stamp is one of most important conservation measures I’ve seen in my 14 years of working on conservation advocacy, impressive both because of the way it works and what it accomplishes.  This is a huge conservation victory for the nation’s refuges and an outstanding example of how Americans of all political stripes value their lands and waters.

Cokeville Meadows Wetland
Cokeville Meadows Wetland | Keith Penner

The price of this popular stamp has not been raised since 1991, 23 years, during a time when the price of land has tripled.  Out of every dollar it generates, 98 cents help acquire habitat.  By buying this stamp, refuge supporters and waterfowl hunters have contributed over $800 million to protect more than six million acres of wetland and grassland habitat in America’s Refuge System since the stamp’s origin in 1934.

Here’s some perspective:  All but two percent of the funds generated by the stamp are used for habitat preservation, so that is $14.70 per stamp at its current price.  Using the acreage figures preserved by the stamps’ revenue in the past, we have calculated that one stamp can buy 1.66 percent of an acre or 725 square feet – that’s about the size of a one bedroom apartment!   That’s a huge accomplishment for one little stamp and just shows what one person can do.

Formally known as the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, the Duck Stamp is one of the most successful conservation programs ever. Period.  It unites millions of conservation advocates, sportsmen and women and others around a common cause – preserving the nation’s wetlands and grasslands.

The Refuge Association commends our elected officials and many advocates across the country for realizing the importance of the Duck Stamp and its longstanding success.  The House of Representatives passed the bill on November 17 so it is now on its way to President Obama for his signature.  We are strongly urging the President to sign this bill.

Conservation-minded Americans are willing to pay for conservation.  This little stamp with the big impact and Congressional action attest to that fact.

And I have to add just one more note – as a native of Iowa, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that an Iowan came up with this amazing program – J.N. “Ding” Darling.  He was a Republican who despite his differences with the New Deal, went to work for President Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, to implement conservation programs at the U.S. Biological Survey, the precursor to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s heartening to know that the bipartisan nature of the Duck Stamp remains evident today – and makes me hopeful for the future of other conservation measures.

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