Happy New Year! 2015 is here and brings new challenges, changes, and hopes for the future. With the 114th Congress now in session, America’s wildlife refuges face some uphill battles. We’re going to be working harder than ever this Congress to ensure adequate funding for Refuge System operations and maintenance. To stay updated on the latest happenings, be sure to sign up for our Refuge Action Network.
This year the Refuge Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be emphasizing the importance of urban wildlife refuges. Our featured wildlife refuge this month is the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, established in the San Francisco Bay Area in the height of the environmental movement in the 60s and 70s by concerned citizens and community members. To this day, it is still beloved by local residents and visitors as a place of refuge.
Another conservation unit beloved by its surrounding community is the Montezuma Wetlands Complex in Seneca Falls, NY. The Friends of the Montezuma Wetlands Complex exemplify the power of Friends and how they can accomplish great things with partners. The Wetlands Complex is comprised of refuge land, state land, and land owned by the Montezuma Audubon Center. This complex is a unique and successful partnership.
The Refuge Association recently paid a visit to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, a place we’ve spent many years helping to protect through strategic appropriation of federal migratory bird and Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. The vision for this incredible refuge is now being realized, as our Director of Conservation Programs, Jared Brandwein, discovered.
As we kick off our 40th anniversary year, we hope you will continue to support us and the Refuge System!
See you on a refuge,
ON THE REFUGE
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge – A Truly Urban Refuge
Arriving at the headquarters of Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, you know you are in a special place. The views, and the building itself, are unique. Tucked into the side of the hill, the refuge headquarters looks out onto protected salt ponds, which also reveal pieces of the refuge’s uncommon history.
Established Resulting From Local Support
Some urban refuges are established, and then the community grows around them. Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is the opposite. In the mid 1960s when the environmental movement was hitting its stride in the San Francisco Bay Area, the community realized the salt ponds’ value to migratory birds and fought to protect them. The refuge is named after the Congressman who established the refuge – Rep. Don Edwards D-CA.
The strong community support has helped advantageous the refuge achieve its conservation goals, and the community has supported the refuge along the way. Dozens of different partners ranging from other federal agencies, nonprofits, and local and state agencies, all work together at the refuge. Read more...
Strong Environmental Education Programs
The strong base of community support has allowed for a successful environmental education program. For several decades, the program’s Yellow Bus Fund has brought area students to the refuge to learn about nature, native wildlife, and the importance of habitat restoration. Students learn by doing – their most recent ongoing project includes assisting with native plant restoration.
The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
The big push for restoration stems from the refuge’s origins – the salt ponds. The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project “is the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast. When complete, the project will restore 15,100 acres of industrial salt ponds to a rich mosaic of tidal wetlands and other habitats.” The project sites overlap with much of the refuge, making the refuge an integral part in the project, and the project an integral part in the health of the refuge. The goals of the project are to:
- Restore and enhance a mix of wetland habitats;
- Provide wildlife-oriented public access and recreation;
- Provide for flood management in the South Bay.
Dump Turned Destination Thanks to Volunteers and Friends
Keeping with the restoration theme, a portion of the refuge started out as essentially a dump, until dozens of volunteers came in to restore it. The Environmental Education Center (EEC) facility in the Alviso Unit of the refuge, located in the South Bay close to San Jose, started out with little to no vegetation; what was there was mostly weeds. Overseen by the EEC Director, the volunteers planted natives, created a butterfly garden, and made the space a place worth visiting. Today there is also a historic salt marsh, a managed pond, and a tidal salt marsh that is being restored nearby. The facility has an additional visitor center and is the location for many citizen science projects. Locals come out to the refuge, go on walks, and catalog what they see to aid in data collection. The Refuge’s Friends group, the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society also plays a key role in supporting the refuge’s volunteer and environmental education programs.
Because of strong local support and partnerships, the refuge has an incredibly strong volunteer base. They often rank in the top 10 refuges in the country for the number of volunteer hours. One of the main reasons is the thousands of hours donated to the native plant nurseries and native plant gardens. Volunteers tend to the plants for use on field trips and also for restoration projects.
The refuge got its start from the community and continues to thrive because of it. With more than 800,000 annual visitors, the majority of them local, the refuge is a well-loved spot by many Bay Area residents.
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
Cache River National Wildlife Refuge is an incredibly important place, particularly in winter for mallard ducks and other waterfowl. The Refuge Association has been working for several years to both expand the refuge, and increase funding for the area. Recently, Director of Conservation Programs Jared Brandwein took his first trip out to the area and was blown away.
Cache River National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Plain, a place known for its rich soil, seasonal flooding, and long, hot growing season. These attributes together make it exceptionally biologically rich and diverse. Its forests and wetlands support hundreds of thousands of wintering mallards and other waterfowl, creating a sportsman’s paradise, and also provide important habitat for declining migratory birds, from warblers to swallow-tailed kites. The bottomlands of the Cache River basin include some of the most intact forests and wetlands remaining in the region. Read more...
The Refuge Association has played an important role in protecting these lands. In order to protect migratory birds at a critical stage in their life cycle, Cache River National Wildlife Refuge needs migratory bird funding as well as funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The Refuge Association has lobbied hard for LWCF funds, and after a number of years of zeroed-out funding, we succeeded in getting LWCF funded in FY12, FY13, FY14, and FY15.
In FY15, the refuge was granted $1 million in LWCF appropriations. We are continuing to push for more migratory bird funds.
The Project Leader for the Central Arkansas Refuges, Keith Weaver, has built an exceptional relationship with the community. When he proposed an 86,000-acre expansion of the refuge boundary, public input urged him to increase it to 102,000 acres, which was approved in January, 2013. Seeing the value in this important region, the Refuge Association helped with the Land Protection Plan, and also helped push the expansion through.
Now that the refuge boundary has been expanded, the refuge is continuously working to acquire land within the boundary. The Refuge Association is assisting in this process to help the refuge secure more funding to make these land acquisitions possible.
Brandwein was impressed by Weaver’s ability to engage with the community, as well as his ability to accomplish restoration and expansion activities with a limited staff. These accomplishments are only the start as the Refuge continues to acquire land and restore more habitat, and the Refuge Association is excited to help make it happen.
What Does the New Congress Mean for Refuges?
The 114th Congress convened on January 6 with new Republican leadership in the Senate and continued Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, as President Barack Obama serves the last two years of his presidency.
So what does this mean for America’s national wildlife refuges?
While issues like immigration, the Islamic State and tax reform are likely to get top-tier attention in the session’s early days, wildlife refuge issues will surface, but how far they will progress is unclear.
With the Senate now controlled by the Republican Party, committees overseeing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget and operations have changed leadership. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, now heads the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and she also heads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
While Murkowski’s effort to move legislation through the Energy and Natural Resources Committee authorizing the Keystone XL Pipeline has dominated the news recently, we expect she will soon turn her attention to longstanding state issues like building a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
We also anticipate the release of a new Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sometime this year. Read more...
Funding Threats; Policy Challenges
We’re going to be working harder than ever this Congress to ensure adequate funding for refuge operations and maintenance. With Congress in a deficit reduction mode, most conservation-related programs will be vulnerable to budget cuts.
We want to make sure the president’s 2016 budget request for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reflects the increased responsibilities he gave the agency in September when he expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. With that expansion, the Service now has management responsibility for more than half a billion acres. We look forward to the release of his budget February 2.
Of course, operations and maintenance is just part of the funding equation for wildlife refuges. Still woefully underfunded, the Refuge System needs increases in a number of areas. We’ll also be pushing to increase funding for fire management; the Land and Water Conservation Fund; Refuge Revenue Sharing and conservation programs, including the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the Coastal Program, state wildlife grants, multi-national species grants, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund.
Transportation is Key
This year, Congress is due to reauthorize a five-year transportation bill that we hope will include $100 million for refuge road infrastructure for the millions of refuge visitors. Reauthorization of current programs is expected to be a Congressional priority and roads, trails and other modes of transportation to and on refuges will be a part of the deliberations. Many past transportation bills have been bipartisan efforts and could again in the 114thCongress.
Some other issues we’re keeping an eye out for:
- Retaining the executive branch’s ability to create new refuges or expand existing ones;
- The Resource Protection Act, a bill to allow the Service to collect compensation from parties that damage or destroy refuge resources;
- Refuge revenue sharing and payment in lieu of taxes, enhancing commitments to localities;
- Reauthorizations including —
- North American Wetlands Conservation Act
- Partners for Fish and Wildlife
- Land and Water Conservation Fund
- Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act
- Refuge System Volunteer Act
We anticipate some ‘unfriendly’ measures as well, and we’ll need all of our activists to help educate Congress on the value of our wildlife refuges. Among the measures we expect to come up, are bills to:
- curtail or eliminate the executive branch’s existing authority to expand refuges or create new refuges, known as “refuge establishment authority”;
- expand or allow resource extraction, like oil and gas, on public lands;
- build more roads on public lands;
- limit agency actions under the Endangered Species Act; and
- investigate executive branch agencies’ practices and programs such as a hearing in November questioning curtailed activities at the Midway Atoll NWR due to budget cuts.
Whatever the Congressional dynamics, conservation advocates should remind Congress that conservation is a priority of the American people, as evidenced by the nearly $13 billion in conservation measures approved in state and local ballot initiatives in November. In efforts to trim federal spending, our already-underfunded refuges should not be blamed for the federal budget deficit or sacrificed to reduce it.
To stay informed about legislative issues confronting America’s national wildlife refuges, join our Refuge Action Network.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
Every Friends group has its own set of challenges. For the Friends of the Montezuma Wetlands Complex, what appears to be a challenge is actually an asset. The Montezuma Wetland Complex isn’t a complex of refuges, it is a partnership between the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, the state of New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the Montezuma Audubon Center.
Chuck Gibson, President of the Friends group, explained that the incredible people working for each agency make the partnership possible. They each have a common goal of protecting the habitat and wildlife in the area which keeps them focused on the task at hand and allows them to effectively work together. Without these remarkable individuals, the cohesive partnership would not be possible.
Because of the number of partners involved, there is also a great deal of community support. In addition to the volunteers of the refuge, many other volunteer groups come to volunteer with the Montezuma Alliance for Restoration of Species and Habitat (MARSH!) including a canoeing club and volunteers from many local colleges. In 2014, the complex welcomed more than 200 volunteers who provided more than 5,000 hours of volunteer work. Read more...
The refuge and complex have an incredible abundance of wildlife. One species of particular interest to visitors are the bald eagles. There are six eagle nests on the refuge alone, with even more on the other lands in the complex. When visitors arrive, the Friends can almost always guarantee that they will see an eagle.
Ducks Unlimited also has a large presence on the complex helping the DEC complete its fourth North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant (NAWCA) in 10 years. Under the grant, Ducks Unlimited assisted the DEC in protecting and restoring 2,325.8 acres of high quality wetlands. In total, thanks to the NAWCA Grants, the DEC has protected more than 5,000 acres of wetland habitat.
Each year, the Friends group hosts the annual “Muckrace,” a 24-hour birding event. Participants break up into teams and try and identify as many birds as possible. In 2014, a record 29 teams registered. This serves as the primary fundraising event for the Friends, and most of the proceeds are returned to the complex. The funds are used where they are needed. In the 18 year history, more than $110,000 has been raised for restoration and protection projects.
Give a Donation to the Refuge Association
Your generous donations help the Refuge Association 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.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW JENNIFER HEROUX
Jennifer Heroux is the Chief of Visitor Services at San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
The Refuge is Best Known For: Its innovative work in habitat restoration, which has led to incredible opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation in one of the country’s most urban environments.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret: We have trails all around the South Bay often just minutes away from major urban developments. In just five minutes from their office or home, a visitor could be in the middle of a salt marsh!
The Most Interesting Species on the Refuge: Right now, the endangered California Ridgway’s Rail (formerly the California Clapper Rail.) When it moves into tidal marsh restoration areas, it’s a cause for celebration.
Your Favorite Activity on the Refuge: I love taking a walk and looking at the views. There’s enough space here for solitude and peace. You need that sometimes when you live in an urban area.
Best Time to Visit the Refuge: Our visitors know there’s something to see and do every season of the year, but we have the greatest bird diversity and density during the fall/spring migration and in the winter for waterfowl.
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:
January 10 – March 20: Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition
January 21 – January 25: Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
January 21 – January 26: Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
January 24: Grand Opening of New Visitor Center at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
February 2: President Obama releases his FY16 budget; Groundhog Day
February 12 – February 15: Winter Wings Bird Festival at Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex
February 13 – February 15: San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Flyway Festival
February 14: Valentine’s Day
February 16: President’s Day
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