Summer is officially here, but the Refuge Association is having anything but lazy days. This month’s Flyer truly sums up the work we’re all doing together to protect the world’s largest conservation network – the National Wildlife Refuge System. Our legislative activities have kicked into high gear, and as this email hits your inbox, representatives from six Friends groups are on their way to Capitol Hill to lobby for more refuge funding and protect the Refuge System against efforts to derail its mission.
We’re also ramping up efforts around MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century). As Congress gears up to re-authorize the next transportation bill, it’s important to understand the needs that refuges have to build and maintain roads, bridges and trails that visitors depend on.
But we all know that the true work of refuges happens far beyond the Beltway, and there may be no better place to see and experience the power of a wildlife refuge than in Alaska. The Refuge Association’s conservation team recently toured Togiak, Arctic, and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges to get a first-hand look at the challenges some of our Alaska refuges face, and start discussing ways that we can help.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, we took a tour of a much smaller, but also impressive refuge that is exemplifying the kind of management that leads to an abundance of wildlife we all seek to achieve. Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont is known as a stopover for more than 20,000 migrating waterfowl each fall, as well as dozens of songbirds traveling between breeding grounds in Canada and southern wintering spots. As of this year, the refuge is also the central component of a new Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
As a non-profit, the Refuge Association is always looking for new ways to raise money to support our goals. I’m excited that we are now registered with AmazonSmile which creates a simple, direct way for you, our readers, to help support us. When you make a purchase through AmazonSmile, a portion of the purchase price goes directly to helping us conserve America’s wildlife refuges and the wildlife they protect.
Happy Summer Solstice, and be sure to get out and enjoy your local refuge!
ON THE REFUGE
Discovering Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge
Tucked away in the northwest corner of Vermont along the Canadian border of Lake Champlain is a relatively small national wildlife refuge that is making a big international impact.
Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge is known as a stopover for more than 20,000 migrating waterfowl each fall, as well as dozens of songbirds traveling between breeding grounds in Canada and southern wintering areas. As of this year, the refuge is also the central component of a new Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
The convention establishes international guidelines for wise use practices around wetlands and is designed as a voluntary effort to improve wetlands management globally.
The first such site in Vermont, the Missisquoi Delta and Bay Wetlands joins 35 other designated sites in the U.S. and over 2,000 around the world. Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge is the 20th national wildlife refuge to be designated under the Ramsar Convention. Read more...
Ken Sturm, Refuge Manager, said applying for the designation was a team effort with colleagues at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department who recognized the area’s unique qualities. The designation doesn’t really impact management of the refuge, Sturm said, but it does put Missisquoi on the map as a model for wetlands protection, alongside some larger sites such as the Everglades and San Francisco Bay.
“We’re now recognized on that same scale,” Sturm said.
One of the unique aspects of Missisquoi is the Maquam Bog, the largest bog in Vermont and one of the largest ombrotrophic bogs in New England. Maquam bog harbors a rare pitch pine plant community, the only example of this natural community type in Vermont. Other important aspects include the Missisquoi River’s bird’s foot delta that feeds into Missisquoi Bay and the state’s largest intact silver maple floodplain forest – all amounting to high quality wildlife habitat.
Visitors to Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge will find a multitude of outdoor recreation options, from hiking, canoeing and birding to hunting and fishing. Take a walk along a grassland trail, and you’ll likely spot nesting bobolinks. Hike a little further to a boardwalk overlooking the Stephen J. Young Marsh and you’ll get an excellent view of an osprey nest full of action, as well as several other species of songbirds, beaver and other wildlife.
The Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge host monthly bird monitoring walks at the refuge. For more than four years, birders have gathered data on the presence of birds, their abundance, and changes in populations. The information is entered into the Vermont e-Bird database, which is stored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. So far, Missisquoi birders have recorded 133 species at the refuge.
A bird banding research display in the visitor’s center shows the changes in bird populations since the refuge was established in 1943. Back then, 46 percent of the waterfowl banded at the refuge were black ducks. Today, only one percent of the banded birds are black ducks, and more than a third are mallards.
Another new dynamic occurring at Missisquoi is the recent arrival of bald eagles. Bald eagles are still listed as endangered in Vermont, and Missisquoi reports two of the state’s 16-18 nesting pair. This is great news for eagles; however, the local great blue heron population may be less enthused. Since the eagles began nesting at the refuge, what was once Vermont’s single largest great blue heron rookery has disbanded into a few smaller nesting sites, and biologists at the refuge suspect the eagles may be the cause of this disruption.
The refuge is a mecca for birders and waterfowlers in the fall, as thousands of migrating ducks and geese stop over on their journeys south. It appears Missisquoi has been a popular destination for quite some time. Sturm said archeologists have discovered evidence on the refuge of human populations dating back 7,000 years. Researchers have found remains of native Abenaki villages, as well as remains from European settler homesteads.
Today, the refuge focuses on offering education and inspiration to modern-day visitors, about 80,000 per year. From Junior Waterfowl Hunter Training to celebrations around International Migratory Bird Day and fishing and boating events, Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge has something for everyone.
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
Alaska has the most land protected by the National Wildlife Refuge System of any state and it is also home to two of the largest refuges in the system: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Alaska refuges also face unique challenges such as species adaptations and range shift limitations due to climate change, and predator control/wildlife management practices.
Recently, part of the Refuge Association staff traveled to Alaska to learn about the challenges facing the State’s refuges, get a taste of the awe-inspiring beauty of these places and to see the incredible species they protect: musk ox, grizzly bear, caribou, dahl sheep and rainbow trout.
The team started in Fairbanks, where they met with Northern Alaska Environmental Center’s Pam Miller and Fran Mauer as well as staff from Arctic and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges, and the Fairbanks Ecological Services Office.
The tour continued to Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge to see first-hand the impacts of climate change. With climate change exhibiting greater influence in Alaska than in other parts of the nation, it was easy to see permafrost melting and how this is altering the hydrology and soils of nearby wetlands. Refuge employees said native wildlife species are having trouble adjusting to the rapidly changing climate. Unlike wildlife in southern areas that can move northward to cooler temperatures, Alaska species are running out of space to shift their ranges.Read more...
Next up was Fort Yukon, a native village. Refuge staff are working hard to improve relationships with the native tribes there by learning more about native practices and values and educating local residents about the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
The team then moved on to one of the largest refuges in the system: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and enjoyed breath-taking views of the Brooks Range. The Arctic refuge also contains the largest area of designated Wilderness within the National Wildlife Refuge System, “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” [The Wilderness Act, 1964].
Back in Fairbanks, the team met with the Friends of Alaska Refuges to talk about the challenges they face, and also participated in a video teleconference with representatives from all of the Alaska refuges to get them better acquainted with the Refuge Association.
The group’s next leg was to Togiak National Wildlife Refuge where they were joined by Geoffrey Haskett, Regional Director for Region 7, and Togiak National Wildlife Refuge employees. They got a special treat when fisheries biologist Mark Lisac processed some fresh King Salmon that his wife caught.
On the final leg of the trip, the conservation team met with Nils Warnock, the Executive Director, and Jim Adams, the Policy Director, of Alaska Audubon. Later, they met with Karla Dutton, Alaska Director, and Claire Colegrove, Alaska Representative of Defenders of Wildlife. They discussed how Defenders is working to improve their communications with the local communities regarding Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s wildlife management practices. The issues these practices raise are similar on other Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.
Alaska’s refuges showcase not only the spectacular beauty of the refuge system, but they also are on the front lines of many of the toughest conservation challenges that refuges face. The Refuge Association was honored to meet so many dedicated Alaska Refuge staff and supporters, and we’re eager to find ways to help them succeed.
While Congress isn’t exactly moving at Warp Speed this spring and summer, and most Hill insiders don’t anticipate major movement on any large decisions before the November elections, a few of the Refuge Association’s top priorities are moving forward, including funding bills for the Refuge System and other conservation programs, and the Transportation bill, which provides funding for important refuge road projects.
Refuge System Funding
The House and Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittees are both hard at work drafting their bills for Fiscal Year 2015. A proposed House bill could be released in early to mid July with the Senate following soon thereafter. Because of anticipated controversial riders to the House bill in particular, Hill insiders caution that the bills may not actually make it to the floor for final passage, but will likely be voted on only at the subcommittee level. The most likely scenario is that the proposals from both chambers get reconciled in an omnibus appropriations bill that passes in September or after the November elections. Read more...
Budget constraints by both chambers are still creating the likelihood of either cuts or minimal increases to most programs. Unfortunately, the Refuge System is already operating at about 20% less than in it did in 2010, which has drastic implications nationwide. For instance, from FY10-FY13, the Refuge System experienced the following dramatic declines:
- 77% fewer wetland acres restored
- 60% fewer acres of non-native plants restored
- 15.5% decrease in the number of research studies
- 8.6% decrease in the number of volunteers because staff was unable to oversee their efforts.
Without adequate funding, the Refuge System simply cannot meet its most basic wildlife management goals and objectives. But at least part of the challenges facing our nation’s wildlife can be solved with your help!
Transportation bill (MAP-21)
Refuge System roads, trails and transit programs are funded in the multi-year transportation bill (also known at MAP-21)– the very same bill that funds our nation’s highways and bridges. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service depends on transportation funding to provide safe access to and within refuges for 46.5 million annual visitors. The funding also allows staff, volunteers, and partners to protect, conserve, and restore habitat and wildlife populations. The current bill expires on September 30th but even more dire is the anticipated depletion of funds in the Highway Trust Fund (funded by the gasoline tax) sometime this summer, which could leave important projects in your community in the lurch.
Both the House and Senate are creating versions of the very large and complex transportation bill, but a final version is unlikely before September 30th. Most likely, a short-term extension will be passed before Congress adjourns for the August recess to ensure highway projects keep going during the busiest time for road construction. A final bill would likely be considered in November, after the election.
Hill insiders report that a provision to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for one year could be added to the short-term extension. This is similar to a provision debated during the lasttransportation reauthorization bill in 2012 where unfortunately, it was deleted in a conference committee.
The Refuge System’s transportation program has an annual need of at least $100 million, but has been receiving only $30 million. The Refuge Association is working hard to ensure Congress includes funding for the Refuge System in the transportation bill – both for roads, trails and transit projects but also for the LWCF.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
This week, members from six Friends groups are in Washington, D.C. for a Protecting America’s Wildlife fly-in. The group will take to the Hill and meet with House and Senate lawmakers carrying a unified message in support of our refuges. Specifically, they will call for robust funding for the Refuge System’s operations and maintenance account, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the transportation bill (MAP-21); as well as passage of the Resource Protection Act, and opposition to the Refuge Establishment Authority Act.
Friends from Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Association, Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Friends of the Wichitas, International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society will visit with members of their congressional delegations. Some Friends are veterans of Hill visits, while others are new to the experience. Thanks to the help of a citizen advocacy training session lead by Desiree Sorenson-Groves, Vice-President of Government Affairs, and Joan Patterson, Director of Grassroots Outreach, the Friends were briefed on legislative issues and given training on how to conduct a successful constituent meeting. Read more...
One of the main issues Friends are lobbying for is robust funding for the Refuge System Operations and Maintenance Budget. The Refuge System manages 150 million acres on its annual Operations and Maintenance budget, which presently averages less than $3.15 per acre. The Refuge System cannot fulfill its obligations without increases in maintenance and operations funds.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is also a key tool for protecting the integrity of the Refuge System. LWCF is the primary source of funding for land and conservation easement acquisition by federal land agencies.
Friends are also lobbying for more robust funding within the the transportation bill (MAP-21). The Refuge System needs to maintain and improve roads, trails, and other transportation infrastructure on its lands to accommodate 46.5 million annual visitors. The transportation bill will fund projects that support jobs, increase safety and access on refuges, and reduce vehicular collisions with wildlife with appropriate crossings and signage.
The Resource Protection Act is of vital importance since it will allow refuges to seek and obtain compensation from responsible parties who injure refuge resources, whether through vandalism, encroachment, or chemical spills. Currently, fines levied for most types of damage to refuge resources go to the general treasury. These funds can only be made available to the Service to repair or replace those resources with further congressional action. The Resource Protection Act would give the Refuge System the same authority to seek damages as other agencies such as the National Park Service.
Finally, the Friends also urged Congress to allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to retain refuge establishment authority. Currently, national wildlife refuges are created through a combination of science-based planning and an extensive stakeholder engagement process. Recent congressional proposals would move the refuge creation process to Washington, D.C. and thus introduce national politics into what has been a locally-led process.
When members of Congress hear directly from their constituents about how these policies and funds impact them and their area directly, it makes a big difference. We appreciate these Friends members for taking time out of their busy schedules to make this important trip.
Learn more about specific legislation impacting the Refuge System by reading the Refuge Association’s Legislative Priorities for America’s Wildlife.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW KEN STURM
Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, Swanton, Vermont
The refuge is best known for: Ducks if you’re a waterfowl hunter; the great blue heron rookery if you’re a birder.
The refuge’s best kept secret is: Maquam Bog, the largest bog in Vermont and home to many unique plant species, such as the state threatened Virginia chain fern.
The most interesting species on the refuge is: The black tern. Missisquoi is the only place in Vermont where they are found breeding, thanks to the refuge’s prime wetlands habitat.
Favorite activity on the refuge is: I love to get into a boat and travel into the wetlands. The best way to really appreciate the refuge is by boat.
The best time to visit the refuge is: September and October during fall migration. The waterfowl and the autumn foliage are spectacular.
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:
June 23-25: Friends in Washington, D.C. for a Protecting America’s Wildlife Fly-In
June 24: Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement releases “America’s National Wildlife Refuges: Home for Wildlife, Haven for Wildlife Enthusiasts,” which warns that spending cuts to refuges will spell trouble for local communities.
June 27: Federal Duck Stamp first day of sale
July 4: Independence Day
July 29: International Tiger 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