I want to begin this monthly letter by noting the passing of one of our community’s most dedicated volunteers and leaders, Molly Krival, who died in Florida February 15 at the age of 88. For those of you who knew Molly, she was a Friend and mentor to many, and she will be sorely missed. You can read about her valuable contribution to conservation in this month’s Flyer.
On a more positive note, we are still reveling in the 4.3% increase in Refuge System funding that was announced last month. This increase will make such a huge difference in our ability to restore and conserve the valuable Refuge lands we all care so deeply about. Collaboration was the name of the game, and it is thanks to so many Friends and partners that we successfully fought for much-needed funding for our refuges. The combined efforts of the Friends of Blackwater NWR, Friends of Patuxent, Friends of the National Wildlife Refuges of Rhode Island, Friends of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex, and the Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge inspired their Senators to understand the importance of each of their refuges and subsequently push to increase the Refuge System budget. Let’s keep the momentum going.
As we think about the future of the Refuge System, it’s clear that urban refuges can and must play a larger role in attracting more diverse supporters. So many would-be refuge supporters who live in cities and suburbs don’t realize the incredible resource right in their backyard. NWRA is excited to help draw more attention to urban refuges, and one fine example is the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, just 15 minutes outside of Las Vegas, NV, that celebrated the opening of a new visitor’s center. Please read about this latest grand opening.
I often wonder why the National Wildlife Refuge System is the best kept secret in America. We have so many “crown jewels” that are just as spectacular as some of our well-known national parks. One such hidden crown jewel lies just nine miles off the coast of Puerto Rico, Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. NWRA’s board of directors visited the refuge this month, and I think you’ll understand why I consider it a jewel when you read about it here.
Which refuges do you think are the crown jewels of the Refuge System? How can we help more Americans discover the beauty and value of these hidden gems? We would love to hear your thoughts. Please post on our Facebook page or comment on any one of our blogs.
Collaboration is key. I’m so grateful for your support of NWRA’s work to improve and enhance the National Wildlife Refuge System. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to go out and visit your local refuge!
ON THE REFUGE
If you’re lucky enough to visit Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll be treated to some of the most pristine beaches in the world, many hidden behind thick mangroves or long, bumpy dirt roads and hiking trails. But when you arrive on the soft sand and touch the warm, turquoise Caribbean water, it’s hard not to think you’ve found your own personal slice of heaven. Part of the NWRA staff and board were lucky enough to enjoy this hidden treasure earlier this month.
The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge sits in a global hotspot of biodiversity, nine miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers it the most ecologically diverse Refuge in the Caribbean. The refuge and its surrounding waters are home to at least four plants and ten animals on the federal Endangered Species List including the Antillean Manatee, the Brown Pelican and four species of sea turtles (Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and the Leatherback). As many as 170 species of resident and migratory birds have been reported on Vieques.
The Refuge is on an island with an infamous past, which makes its management more challenging than most. Read more...
The refuge is currently in transition. The main focus these days is on restoring the subtropical dry forest that once dominated the landscape, and protecting the endangered species that still remain. As the U.S. Navy slowly and methodically cleans up unexploded ordnance and other contamination from years as a military bombing range, the refuge is taking over management of this exquisite island refuge. Each year, more land becomes available for public use, and if the clean up stays on track, it should be completed by 2025.
“This is your land; we’re the custodians,” Refuge Manager Mike Barandiaran often tells local residents.
Despite local resentment at the U.S. Navy, refuge staff said that the Navy’s years of access restrictions are most likely the reason that much of the refuge’s valuable habitats are intact. Refuge Manager Mike Barandiaran noted that scientists recently discovered the second largest population of goetzea elegans, a rare and endangered plant, in the refuge.
Today, 54 percent of the island of Vieques is part of the refuge, and the staff has worked diligently to gain the trust and respect of island residents. It was clear that the refuge staff has built strong relationships in the community after meeting members of several local NGOs, Friends volunteers and other residents, including mayor Victor Emeric at a small reception at the Multiple Use Center in Isabel Segunda during NWRA’s trip.
NWRA’s board got a fantastic tour of the refuge’s sea turtle nesting beaches and hiking trails. At-risk species protection and restoring the island’s subtropical dry forest and wetlands ecosystem is a big job for a staff of just five full time employees, a handful of contractors and a dedicated Friends group. TICATOVE is that Friends group, and they do everything from man a visitor’s station to help with education and outreach, and assist with Refuge administrative and maintenance tasks.
Barandiaran noted that the refuge is doing the best it can to keep up with road and facilities maintenance, visitors services and species protection with a very limited budget.
“We get creative,” he said, smiling.
So if you’re interested in visiting the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, do it now before word spreads too widely about the best kept secret in the Refuge System.
NWRA IN ACTION
On February 21, NWRA joined in celebrating the grand opening of the new Desert National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center at Corn Creek. Located just fifteen minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, the new center is an outstanding resource for the increasingly urbanized community of Las Vegas, and it’s a perfect stepping off point for millions of visitors to discover one of the nation’s most wild and majestic natural landscapes. The beauty of the Mojave Desert and its wildlife – including desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoise and endemic fish found only in desert springs – offer a different kind of “wild life” in Las Vegas.
NWRA President David Houghton joined Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the magnificent new 11,000-square-foot facility and highlight the importance of National Wildlife Refuges in urban areas. NWRA has worked in partnership with Desert NWR for many years through our Beyond the Boundaries Mojave Desert program. NWRA helped to develop the funding proposal that supported the design and construction of the new visitor’s center, with hope that it will attract more people to experience the Desert and offer an entry point into the many magnificent public lands surrounding Las Vegas. Read more...
Desert National Wildlife Range was first established on May 20, 1936 for the protection, enhancement, and maintenance of wildlife resources, and specifically the desert bighorn sheep. At 1.6 million acres, it is the largest national wildlife refuge in the contiguous United States and it encompasses 6 major mountain ranges and unique habitat in this transition zone between the Mojave Desert and the Great Basin. More than 300 bird species, 53 mammals, 35 reptiles and 4 amphibian species can be found at Desert NWR.
NWRA is not only working to protect the Desert NWR, but also the Mojave Desert at large through the Beyond the Boundaries Mojave Desert program. NWRA is working with the Southern Nevada Agency Partnership (SNAP), a consortium of government agencies, to help safeguard the wildlife and habitat of the Mojave Desert in the following ways:
Building a network of visitors centers, trails and other outdoor resources;
Developing a marketing strategy for southern Nevada’s conservation lands and building partnerships with the recreation and tourism industry;
Identifying and developing plans for safeguarding crucial habitats, including corridors and links between protected lands;
Building consensus for a plan that protects vital desert tortoise habitat and also allows renewable energy development to proceed.
Farm Bill Passes: Big Conservation Victory
On February 7, 2014, the latest Farm Bill was signed into law. This far-reaching agriculture policy represents the single largest federal investment in private-lands conservation, as it includes important provisions to assist farmers and ranchers nationwide in putting lands into conservation. Vitally important to expand the conservation footprint of many national wildlife refuges, the programs within the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill are some of the best tools to protect habitats near refuges. It also supports farmers, ranchers, forest owners, food security, natural resources and wildlife habitats, rural communities and the 16 million Americans whose jobs directly depend on the agriculture and forestry industries. Read more...
Included in the new law is a sodsaver provision to reduce incentives for farmers to convert marginal lands to production while still allowing landowners to make their own management decisions. Also included is a provision re-linking conservation compliance to crop insurance premium assistance. For decades, in exchange for a publicly funded safety net, farmers have adopted land management practices that successfully reduced soil erosion and protected wetlands.
The result of this new Farm Bill is real conservation with multiple benefits for every region of America—not the least of these is helping working landowners to stay on the land as stewards of America’s legacy of natural resources.
Sportsmen’s Package of Bills Passes House:
A package of bills intended to provide sportsmen and women increased access for hunting and fishing opportunities passed the House of Representatives in early February. The Sportsmen’s bill includes provisions to use a small percentage of funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to provide increased sportsmen’s access to public lands. Hunting is already allowed on select refuges, so this bill allows for hunting opportunities on other public lands. Since hunting is one of the Big Six priority public uses on refuges, it is already allowed where appropriate.
One negative aspect of the bill concerning to NWRA is the waiving of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements on refuges. This means that it would no longer be a requirement to look at the cumulative environmental impacts of a new hunting or fishing program for example. NWRA will work with Senate leaders to remove this provision as a similar package of bills moves through that body.
On a good note, we had anticipated that a provision to remove the ability of the Fish and Wildlife Service to establish new units of the National Wildlife Refuge System could be added to the bill during floor debate but it was not offered. Unfortunately, we anticipate it will come up this spring.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
The Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge were presented the 2014 Friends Group of the Year award on February 21, 2014 by NWRA’s Director of Grassroots Outreach, Joan Patterson, at the refuge in Sherwood, Oregon. Chief of the Refuge System, Jim Kurth, and Robyn Thorson, Regional Director, were also in attendance.
“The Friends in partnership with refuge staff have made the refuge a community asset,” said Patterson, adding that the Friends are a “model for the rest of the nation.”
This Friends group truly stands out. Its steadfast dedication to wildlife and habitat was essential to the creation of the refuge and securing funding for land acquisition, restoration, and public use facilities. The Friends have made the refuge a community asset by engaging visitors at the Wildlife Center and on the trails, providing numerous environmental education programs, and conducting outreach programs such as the Tualatin River Bird Festival and photography workshops. Additionally, they address land use practices that threaten the natural resources on the refuge and in the community. There are only six full-time staff members, but the Friends’ 250 volunteers supply enough hours to account for eight-and-a-half more employees. Read more...
Cheryl Hart, President of the Friends group treasures her time volunteering on the refuge stating, “I volunteer in a place where my grandson, growing up in the city, was fascinated by a spider on a bridge structure, just as I had been fascinated with tadpoles and garter snakes, and ladybugs and dragonflies, growing up in a much different time in a much different place.” The refuge is a place for people of all walks of life to enjoy nature, and the Friends group helps make that possible.
Further ensuring the environmental stability of the refuge, The Friends and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center filed a lawsuit against Grabhorn Inc. that operated the Lakeside Reclamation Landfill, an unlined landfill fronting the Tualatin River. Without the lawsuit, the landfill would have closed with little regard to the damage inflicted on the surrounding environment including the refuge. This kind of damage could have included significant pollution, or habitat destruction. The settlement agreement provides significant protection to the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge and its habitat for the foreseeable future. The cleanup of the landfill will prevent contaminates from entering the Tualatin River. Since the refuge is downhill from the landfill, this will protect the water and the floodplain from contamination therefore protecting wildlife, the refuge, and people utilizing the river downstream.
For more information, find the story on Refuge Friends Connect HERE.
THE PASSING OF A GREAT FRIEND, MOLLY KRIVAL
“Molly was a wonderful friend to NWRA, to the Refuge System, to the Ding Darling Wildlife Society, to Friends all over the country, and to wildlife. She was smart, tough, fair and passionate. NWRA and the Friends movement would not be where we are today without Molly – she will be missed profoundly,” said NWRA President David Houghton.
Molly retired as a full Professor Emeritus in 1988 from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She and her husband, Art, then moved to Sanibel, Florida where they became volunteers at the J.N. “Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Because of her outstanding work, she was elected to the board of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society and served as its President for three years. But she didn’t stop there.
Molly was actively involved in the development of the “Friends” movement since the early ‘90’s. She helped develop the first course to train refuge managers to work with Friends, and became a mentor to start Friends groups. For many years she traveled the U.S. and its territories in an effort to help communities form Friends groups for refuges. She also served on the board of directors for the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Her great work and dedication earned her several awards such as the FWS Volunteer of the Year, Special Commendation by the FWS and a series of awards by the J.N. “Ding” Darling Refuge as well as the Golden Spike Award for Outstanding Service to Sanibel Island.
Molly also organized the Association of Friends of Florida Refuges. She helped form the Friends of Midway Atoll NWR and served that board as Vice President. She was also Chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and Chair of the City of Sanibel Wildlife Committee.
Molly was a great human being and a wonderful mentor who strengthened the Friends’ community and made a positive impact on the National Wildlife Refuge System. Often referred to as the “Mother of the Friends movement”, she will be greatly missed.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW SANDRA ORTIZ
Park Ranger and Visitor Service Specialist
Vieques National Wildlife Refuge
The Refuge is Best Known For: The spectacular, secluded beaches.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret is: The exact nesting locations of several species of sea turtles. We’re careful to protect them from disruption or poaching.
The Most Interesting Species in the Refuge is: Sea turtles. Up to four species use the Refuge for nesting, including leatherbacks, hawksbills, greens and loggerheads.
Your Favorite Activity in the Refuge is: Giving talks to people who visit from all over the world. I love inspiring people with our conservation message.
The Best Time to Visit the Refuge is: Anytime! February tends to be the busiest month, but the weather here is great all year round!
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:
March 4– President’s budget to be released
March 13 – Deadline for advocates to request to testify before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee – See Details.
April 10 – Public Witness Day, House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee
April-June – House and Senate Interior Appropriators assemble funding recommendations for U.S. Fish and Wildlife programs including the National Wildlife Refuge System
By September 30– Massive Transportation Reauthorization bill must be completed. Tens of millions of dollars annually to the NWRS are at stake – Congress beginning hearings now
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