With the Holiday Season in full swing, we are reminded over and over of the amazing support we receive from wildlife refuge friends, supporters and advocates. The National Wildlife Refuge Association has been able to count on you for support on Capitol Hill, at local refuges, online through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and through the actions you take to support refuges nationwide.
Throughout the past year we have mobilized friends and partners to travel to Washington, D.C. to speak up in support of a larger federal investment refuges. Thanks to the support and advocacy by Refuge System supporters, we secured a 4.5% increase in Refuge System funding. Also thanks to our supporters, the Obama Administration expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to become the largest conservation area in the world.
We could not achieve these successes without the support of Refuge Association members and donors. In this season of giving, I hope you will remember the Refuge Association and please consider making a generous donation. Like the Refuge System itself, the Refuge Association delivers an exponential return for every dollar invested, but we need your support to make it all happen.
From all of us at the National Wildlife Refuge Association, we hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season and don’t forget to go out and visit your local refuge!
ON THE REFUGE
Parker River – A Refuge Balancing Act
Few places still exist along Massachusetts’ coastline where you can experience nature in a near-pristine state, where the Atlantic Ocean laps up against sandy dunes, which make way for maritime forest, shrub land and saltwater marsh – all of which combine to create ideal habitat for everything from harbor seals to shorebirds and waterfowl to foxes, deer and other wildlife.
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1942 to provide feeding, resting, and nesting habitat for migratory birds. Today, the 4,700-acre refuge located just 32 miles north of Boston is used by more than 300 species of resident and migratory birds, as well as mammals, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians.
The refuge sits on Plum Island, a small barrier island off the coast of Newburyport named for the wild plums native to this strip of beach. It’s also the backyard playground to 250,000 annual visitors from throughout New England and elsewhere who come to fish, kayak, hunt, watch wildlife and visit the beach.
Parker River epitomizes the constant balance refuge staff must find between managing a refuge for wildlife first while allowing access for people to enjoy the resource.
Take, for instance, the piping plover. This federally threatened shorebird breeds along Parker River’s 6.5-mile stretch of narrow barrier island beach. To ensure the bird breeds successfully on the refuge, the beach is closed from April 1 through the breeding season, which can last into September. Read more...
“People consider it ‘their beach,’” said Refuge Manager Bill Peterson, noting it has taken strong community relations to educate the public about the refuge’s main mission to conserve wildlife. Friends and refuge volunteers have been instrumental in helping visitors and local residents understand and support the plovers’ needs, and these efforts are resulting in a steady increase in breeding piping plovers at Parker River.
Then there’s the snowy owl.
Last year’s influx of snowy owls along the Atlantic flyway was thrilling for birders, but less so for workers at Logan International Airport in nearby Boston, who were concerned the birds would collide with airplanes.
With the help of Mass Audubon and others, snowy owls found at the airport were trapped and tagged, and released at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. The owls are a big draw for birders and photographers, but it also means careful management to ensure the owl paparazzi doesn’t inadvertently harm the refuge’s sensitive sand and soil.
“People want to get close to get that shot and see those birds,” said Peterson. Refuge staff and volunteers are constantly reminding visitors to stay off the fragile dunes or other areas to avoid indirect damage to wildlife habitat.
Climate Change Impacts at Parker River
Many species depend on marshlands – from waterfowl and migratory birds to fish that use the marsh as a nursery. As sea levels rise, Parker River’s productive marshlands threaten to become open water. Refuge staff continues to study these changes to better understand how the refuge can help wildlife adapt to a changing climate. In the works is the refuge’s new Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), which will take into consideration the latest science and management concerns as it maps out the next 15 years of refuge management.
Photography on the Refuge
Nature photography is a popular and growing activity at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, the place is so photogenic a local photography club was created to harness the interest. The Photographic Society of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge hosts an annual photo contest, workshops and other special events to promote nature photography.
Peterson said the refuge also plans to host a nature film festival this spring. Friends of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge will help sponsor the event to attract people interested in wildlife film and photography.
Parker River enjoys strong community support thanks to the Friends and other supporters who help reinforce the notion that the refuge is not only a wildlife resource, but also a community resource.
“Everyone has the vested interest in the well-being of the refuge,” said Peterson. From fishing to tourism, Parker River is truly a community asset.
If you have a chance to visit, be sure to tour the visitor center and watch the introductory video to learn more about efforts to recover piping plover. Then take advantage of the boardwalk trails that meander through the marsh and check out the large observation tower that overlooks the marshes and offers a great view of the ocean and nearby communities.
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
More than 400 species in the southeastern U.S. have been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Over the past few months, the Refuge Association convened a series of six workshops at refuges across the southeast to discuss and evaluate the role that wildlife refuges play in protecting key habitat for these species. The workshops brought together U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, state and university counterparts, and subject matter experts who are developing new conservation strategies, and identifying potential knowledge gaps.
The information collected at the workshops will help to identify possible conservation management options that could help to conserve the species identified as at-risk. Many species in question are elusive and still somewhat of a mystery. The Phantom Cave crayfish (Procambarus pecki), one of the many species discussed at these workshops, is only known to occur in three caves in the world, one of which is on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Read more...
Wildlife refuges are typically managed to benefit and promote high levels of biodiversity, which in turn plays a critical role in sustaining populations of lesser known species. Simply put, even if land is managed to protect a specific species of bird, the protection of that habitat also conserves many other species.
Beyond the elusive species, the workshops also provided expert insight into the status of higher profile species such as whooping cranes (Grus americana) and swallow-tailed kites (Elanoides forficatus). The hopes of the Refuge Association is the information collected in these workshops will be used as mount to build more discovery on and to inform the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in coming policy decisions.
Omnibus Spending Bill Includes Budget Increase for Refuge System
The House and Senate finally came to agreement last 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. Read more...
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.
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): http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CPRT-113HPRT91668/pdf/CPRT-113HPRT91668.pdf
Managers’ Statement (see in particular pages 2, 9-14 and 59-63)http://rules.house.gov/sites/republicans.rules.house.gov/files/113-1/PDF/113-HR83sa-ES-F.pdf
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
This time of year reminds us to be thankful for what we have but also give back to our community and causes we support. We at the Refuge Association are thankful for so many things, one being the kind and generous donations we receive from our supporters. These donations provide so much support; one specific example is helping us bring Friends to Capitol Hill in support of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
These Hill visits happen throughout the congressional session and play a critical role to ensure that Congress passes legislation that helps the Refuge System and stop legislation that might hurt it. This past year we’ve had Friends submit testimony, come to Washington to testify, and meet with Representatives, Senators and their staffs all to discuss the importance of the Refuge System.
Each Friend that comes to town has a unique story whether they are the president of the Friends group, maybe a retired Service employee, a military veteran, or just an involved citizen who wants to make sure her grandkids will have mud between their toes and a frog in their pocket. These stories are vital in communicating with our elected officials so they understand the benefits of refuges down to the very minute, local detail. They make an enormous difference! Read more...
Your generous donations go directly towards ensuring the protection of the National Wildlife Refuge System and help Friends members connect with each other, their elected officials, and in turn with the Refuge System. These dedicated Friends members wouldn’t be able to share their stories if it weren’t for your help. So thank you so very much for your support, and please consider an additional gift to help more Friends make a difference for their local refuge, and the Refuge System.
Give a Donation to the Refuge Association this Holiday Season
This time of year we at the National Wildlife Refuge Association are reminded of how grateful we are for all of our members and supporters. Your generous donations help us bring Friends to Capitol Hill and advocate in support of the Refuge System, protect species beyond the boundaries of refuges, and support local Friends groups strengthen their non-profit governance, fundraising and advocacy. We wouldn’t be able to accomplish our mission without your help. Please consider a donation to the National Wildlife Refuge Association this holiday season.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW
Frank Drauszewski is the Deputy Refuge Manager at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
The Refuge is Best Known For: Birding. You can see warblers, shorebirds, and lately lots of snowy owls. It’s also well known for its 6.5-mile beach.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret: The juxtaposition of ocean, dunes, shrubs, salt marsh – it’s all right there. You can see everything from the Hellcat Trail, but kayaking is the best way to see the refuge.
The Most Interesting Species on the Refuge: The black skimmer. You don’t see them very often, but they’re there. They’re just really cool to see, with their mouths open skimming the water for fish.
Your Favorite Activity on the Refuge: Kayaking. I like being on the water, at the water level. You can go just about anywhere, and you don’t scare anything.
Best Time to Visit the Refuge: Fall is my favorite because of the fall colors of the trees and marsh grasses. The weather is still good; there are no bugs, few people and great birding.
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:
December 14- January 5: Annual Christmas Bird Count
January 1: New Year’s Day
January 10: Festival of the Cranes at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
January 21-25: Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
January 21-26: Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
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