Spring migration in full swing and with bird festivals happening all over the nation, now’s the time to take full advantage of America’s national wildlife refuges.
One fine example of a wildlife refuge with lots to offer this time of year is Virginia’s Rappahannock River National Wildlife Refuge, the focus of our On the Refuge and Friends features this month. Bald eagles abound at this gem, and plenty of great family activities are on the calendar, thanks to an active and dedicated Friends group.
Meanwhile in New England, 761 acres was added to the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Through collaboration between the U.S. and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and the Bear Hill Conservancy Trust, the Mascoma River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge was established. The 761-acre conservation easement in Canaan, New Hampshire was acquired through a combination of funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a donation from the Bear Hill Conservancy Trust.
And, in another success for the Refuge System, President Obama recently sent a recommendation to Congress to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain and other areas as wilderness. And, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed a Record of Decision for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s new Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) which calls on the Service to begin managing the land as a wilderness area. This is the first time since 1974 that a President has sent a refuge wilderness recommendation to Congress.
With days getting longer and warmer, don’t forget about our 40 refuges challenge. To continue the celebration of our 40th anniversary, we challenge you to visit 40 refuges this year! Click here to learn more.
And, to honor our 40th Anniversary, we are unveiling a new, limited edition 40th Anniversary photo book that features 40 of the best photographs from our photo contests over the years. For a limited time, this special photo book can be yours for a donation of $140 or more. Please consider a gift today!
See you on a refuge,
ON THE REFUGE
Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Visit Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge and you are almost guaranteed to see one of the most iconic bird species found in the United States – the bald eagle. But that’s not all. More than 230 species of migratory birds pass through this refuge annually. Established in 1996 and approximately 8,300 acres in size, the refuge is a hidden gem in the rural Northern Neck and Middle Peninsulas of Virginia, offering outstanding wildlife viewing and plenty of activities for visitors.
Bald eagles are an iconic species for our nation both as a symbol of patriotism and also as one of the most successful recovery stories for the Endangered Species Act. With populations decimated by the use of DDT and habitat destruction, bald eagles were almost wiped out. In 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act in an effort to help protect the species from being hunted, but that didn’t solve the entire problem. By 1963, the species was down to just 417 nesting pairs partially due to the continued use of DDT and other pesticides. The banning of DDT in 1972 jump-started the recovery efforts for the bird. Captive breeding programs, reintroduction efforts, law enforcement, and nest site protection all contributed to the bird’s recovery. In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the species from the endangered species list. Read more...
On the Rappahannock River, there are an estimated 219 breeding bald eagle pairs, meaning there are at least 440 bald eagles on the refuge. In 1975, there were less than 10 breeding pairs; this recovery is an incredible success story.
The refuge is managed for grassland breeding bird species and other birds that call grasslands home. To keep the woody vegetation out of these grassy areas, the refuge implements prescribed burns. These burns are a prime example of how the refuge successfully works with several different partners. Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, several local nonprofits, and state agency employees all come together to assist Rappahannock with its prescribed burns. Without the support of these partners, the refuge would not be able to carry out these burns on its own. The prescribed burns allow the native grasses to flourish and welcome species such as the grasshopper sparrow.
Another benefit of the refuge’s important partnerships is an increase in protected lands in the area. The acquisition boundary of the refuge contains about 22,000 acres of land. However, because of the effectiveness of land protection partnerships, about 47,000 acres of land are protected in the surrounding region in conservation easements, land owned by nonprofits such as The Nature Conservancy, and state lands. The refuge works with all of these different groups towards one common goal of conserving lands along the Rappahannock River.
The refuge also partners with these local entities for events held on the refuge. Bird walks, an annual fishing day, and other environmental education events are among some of the activities you can participate in on the refuge. The largest event of the year is the Go Wild festival. This year it will be held on May 17, and will be a fun-filled day packed with activities for all ages. Hosted on the Hutchinson Tract of the refuge, attendees can enjoy a 2.3 mile nature trail, conservation exhibits, tram tours, a binoculars scavenger hunt for children, and birdhouse building. They will also be hosting a guided kayak and canoe tour of Mount Landing Creek. The Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends have taken the lead on planning this incredible event, and it wouldn’t be possible without them.
Click here to learn more about the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, and be sure to pay them a visit if you are in the area! You will not be disappointed.
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
762 Acres Added to Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with help from the National Wildlife Refuge Association, recently established the Mascoma River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Canaan, New Hampshire. The 762-acre conservation easement was acquired through a combination of funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a donation from the landowner, Bear Hill Conservancy Trust.
The Service purchased a conservation easement on 692 acres of the property with $1,059,000 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a donation of land from the Bear Hill Conservancy Trust. The Bear Hill Conservancy Trust was established to conserve the highest priority habitats identified in the State of New Hampshire’s wildlife action plan.
The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge protects nearly 37,000 acres of land within the Connecticut River watershed in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The forests within the new Mascoma River Division provide breeding areas for songbirds and habitat for wide-ranging mammals such as bobcat and black bear. The Mascoma River, a tributary of the Connecticut River, flows through the easterly portion of the property and supports brook trout. Clark Pond, at the south end of the property, is home to common loons and is a popular fishing destination. Read more...
The project is considered a priority by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, and is supported by the local community. The area is home to a healthy population of black bears, and world-renowned bear expert Ben Killiam has been studying black bears at Bear Hill for 30 years.
This project is a wonderful example of collaboration. The Bear Hill Conservancy Trust team had the vision, and have displayed great generosity to conserve this extremely important New Hampshire woodland. Andrew French, Refuge Manager at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge and the staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked very hard to make sure this project was a success.
Senate Budget Carries Harmful Amendments
In late March, the House and Senate each passed budget resolutions outlining their spending plans for the next fiscal year and into the future. These set the tone for the appropriations bills that will become law and future stand alone legislation.
Unfortunately, a few very concerning amendments were considered or added to the Senate budget resolution.
One of the amendments that was adopted would give support and funding for state efforts to take over federal lands. It excluded the sale of National Parks, National Monuments, and National Preserves but left the door open to sell our national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other public lands. Three Republican Senators (Senator Corey Gardner of Colorado, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee) crossed party lines to oppose this amendment but they were ultimately defeated. The amendment passed by a vote of 51-49. Read more...
Another concerning amendment would gradually have removed nearly $400 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) budget and given it to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a sister agency in the Department of Interior. Luckily the amendment did not succeed – but the intent was clear that some lawmakers support severe cuts to the budget of the Service.
Although it’s true that the budget and these amendments are not law, they set a dangerous precedent and certainly set the mood of this Congress about our national wildlife refuges and other public lands – apparently selling our lands to the highest bidder is something this Congress is very willing to consider.
We all need to remind our elected officials that our refuges and other public lands are what sets us aside from other nations – we believe in our public lands and we do not believe they should be sold.
Congress and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Make History by Signing Record of Decision
Earlier this month, President Obama and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made history. Geoffrey Haskett, Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska, signed the Record of Decision for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s new Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) which allows the Service to begin implementation. Following this signing, President Obama sent a formal transmittal to Congress recommending that they pass a wilderness bill designating 12.28 million acres of the Arctic Refuge and its biologically sensitive coastal plain as wilderness. This marks the first time since 1974 that a President has sent a refuge wilderness recommendation to Congress. Read more...
This formal transmittal from the President of the United States is a critical step toward a future Congressional wilderness designation and establishes the Obama Administration’s support for wilderness protection for the refuge. It further reverses the former executive branch position dating from the Reagan Administration position that had supported oil and gas development in the refuge. The next step is for Congress to pass wilderness legislation. Click here to learn more.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
Started in 2004, just a few years after the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established, the Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends is a group of about 170 members with focus, drive, and a great community spirit.
Ann Graziano has been president of the Friends group for 10 years, and she says she’s adopted a management style that gives members the freedom to develop projects that fits their passion, and the refuge’s mission. Case in point: a pollinator garden situated right outside the refuge offices was put together by an enthusiastic Friends member, and it has been a big success. In fact, the local Master Gardeners have a trip planned to see it in May.
Graziano also changed the organization’s fundraising strategy from a membership model to a donor model. She says it was a big risk that has paid off nicely, enabling supporters to stay connected to the group while soliciting donors with more means to offer more financial support. Read more...
That support helps the group with many of its programs and events. Its main event is Go Wild!, a day of wildlife refuge activities for the whole family, including archery, a 2.3 mile nature trail, conservation exhibits, a binoculars scavenger hunt for children, and birdhouse building.
The Friends also host a Junior Duck Stamp Contest Camp in the summer, where participants go out onto the refuge to learn about different ducks and see them in their natural habitat. Each afternoon, the kids come back to the Friends facility and work on their paintings. This week long camp provides an excellent experience for children interested in art and nature, and allows them to enter the Junior Duck Stamp Contest at the end of the camp if they choose to. Click here to learn more about the Junior Duck Stamp Camp.
Click here to learn more about the Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends group and this year’s Go Wild! event on May 17.
Donate Today to Receive a Limited Edition 40th Anniversary Photo Book!
To keep the party going and continue celebrating our 40th anniversary, we are unveiling a new limited edition 40th Anniversary Photo Book. This photo book includes 40 of the best photographs from our photo contests representing the immense variety of wildlife and landscapes throughout the Refuge System.
For a limited time, this special photo book can be yours for a donation of $140 or more to the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW ANDY HOFMANN
Andy Hofmann is the Refuge Manager at the Eastern Virginia Rivers Refuge Complex
The Refuge is Best Known For: Migratory birds and bald eagles.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret: The meandering kayaking tributaries. It’s like you’re on a treasure hunt when you ride through them because you never know what you’re going to see next.
The Most Interesting Species on the Refuge: Bald eagles. I like the bald eagle because when I was younger, it wasn’t a prevalent bird that you’d see in common numbers. The fact that it’s recovered and off the endangered species list is really special.
Your Favorite Activity on the Refuge: Kayaking and exploring with my kids. I like to show them the cool wildlife and plants around the refuge and it’s nice to get out and walk around.
Best Time to Visit the Refuge: Spring and fall are great times if you’re looking at eagles. December and January are also great when the eagles are getting ready to do their courtship and nesting. Sunrise and sunset is beautiful as well.
Friends, are you connected?
RefugeFriendsConnect.org is a membership site that is managed by NWRA and a group of volunteers. If you are a Friends group member or are refuge staff working with Friends you are welcome to join.
Keep an eye out for these upcoming events:
April 22: Earth Day
April 23- 25: Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival, Virginia
April 24: Arbor Day
April 24-27: Balcones Songbird Festival, Texas
April 24- 25: Wings ‘N’ Wetlands Festival, Kansas
May 1-3: South Dakota Birding Festival, South Dakota
May 2- 10: National Travel and Tourism Week
May 7- 10: Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, Alaska
May 8- 17: The Biggest Week in American Birding, Ohio
May 8- 10: Wings Over Muscatatuck, Indiana
May 9: Cache River Nature Fest, Illinois
May 9: Chincoteague International Migratory Bird Day Celebration, Virginia
The National Wildlife Refuge Association is on the cutting edge of wildlife habitat conservation and citizen engagement in the United States. But we need your help to advance our work protecting large landscapes, educating decision-makers in Washington, and mobilizing refuge Friends in support of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Please make a generous donation today!
Flyer Masthead Photo Credit: Kestrel, Wade Dowdy