My heart goes out to our friends and colleagues in Oklahoma and Texas who have had to endure the wrath of Mother Nature in the last several weeks. As you’ll read in this month’s On the Refuge feature, wildlife refuges in both states are facing huge hurdles in the aftermath of several recent natural disasters.
Down at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, the flooding has begun to clear, but the cleanup is a full time job. Thankfully, an Incident Recovery Team from around the region has been deployed to assist. At Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the Friends are doing their best to inform the community about the state of the wildlife refuge. They are turning to Facebook, the local news, and word of mouth to keep visitors informed. Check out the Refuge Friends Connect feature for more information and how you can help.
Speaking of help, we need all we can get on Capitol Hill right now. The House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees are about to begin their markups of Interior appropriations bills impacting the Refuge System, and they are looking at massive budget cuts. The House needs to find $246 million in savings, and the Senate needs to find $400 million in savings. The targets are the EPA, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Click here to sign up for action alerts and contact your representative to tell them to fund the programs that help the Refuge System!
Finally, read this month’s Refuge Association in Action feature to learn more about our work to protect greater sage-grouse habitat. We’ve been working closely with public and private agencies in support of the “stronghold” approach to greater sage-grouse conservation. The Refuge Association has been active partners on the ground in several key sage-grouse strongholds and is moving to work in other stronghold areas that contain national wildlife refuges. Our support and commitment to this stronghold strategy includes assisting with “boots on the ground” and delivery of conservation.
I hope the weather is cooperating for your outdoor pursuits on America’s national wildlife refuges.
ON THE REFUGE
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is one of the most visited wildlife refuges in the System; it also happens to sit along ‘tornado alley’ in Oklahoma, and recent storms and flooding have had a major impact on the refuge.
When a tornado stormed through the refuge earlier this month, refuge staff was quick to act. Federal Wildlife Officer Matt Belew came to the rescue and evacuated Boy Scouts out of a campground on the refuge just before the tornado arrived, probably saving their lives. Click here to learn more about his heroic act.
Just a week after the destructive tornado swept through, the refuge was inundated with torrential downpours. In just a few hours the refuge received over 7 inches of rain, resulting in flash flooding. This came after 3-4 weeks of unusually wet weather, so most of the landscape was already saturated making the flooding even worse. The flooding occurred so fast that some refuge employees and their families barely had enough time to evacuate their government quarters as floodwaters entered their homes. The families of three employees living on the refuge suffered significant losses due to the flooding. The floods also destroyed or caused extensive damage to the homes of four employees who live off-refuge.
Refuge Manager Tony Booth observed this rapid and massive change in weather. “If this was two months ago, I would be telling you about the four-year drought we have been in and the problems associated with that.”Read more...
After the floodwaters receded from refuge roads, many parts of the refuge had to remain closed due to safety concerns and to allow the refuge to repair damages from the storms and floods. The flash flooding damaged roads, trails and bridges, and left debris all over the refuge.
Refuge employees have spent much of their time making sure the refuge’s wildlife is safe. In addition to the debris found throughout the refuge, flooding destroyed numerous sections of the boundary fence. Refuge staff and fire crews have worked frantically to repair boundary fences destroyed by the floods so that the refuge’s free-roaming bison, Texas longhorns and elk do not escape from the refuge, and to prevent livestock on neighboring private lands from getting onto the refuge.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Incident Command Team has been deployed from all over the region to help with repairs and cleanup efforts. In addition, Booth noted that the local Refuge Friends organization, Friends of the Wichitas, has provided tremendous assistance with flood relief to families impacted by the floods and to the cleanup and repair efforts.
Heavy rains remain in the forecast, but Booth said that with all of the dedicated staff, this will be a challenge they will overcome.
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
At the end of May, the Secretary of the Interior announced the release of 14 final Environmental Impact Statements and proposed Resource Management Plans that address conservation objectives to protect sagebrush steppe landscapes in 11 Western states in the expansive range of the greater sage-grouse.
About 60 percent of core habitat for greater sage-grouse is found on public lands. The completion of these plans by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, in cooperation with states and many stakeholders, is an important milestone that complements extensive sagebrush steppe conservation work undertaken by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and private landowners and land managers across the West.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association has been working in several of these states where national wildlife refuges are also part of the unprecedented collaboration to conserve and restore vibrant and healthy sagebrush steppe habitat for greater sage-grouse and hundreds of other species – including the Sheldon-Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex (NV/OR), the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area (UT, WY, ID), Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge (WY) and Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (MT). Read more...
The Refuge Association has long supported the US Fish and Wildlife’s “stronghold” strategy for greater sage-grouse conservation. Of the approximately 77 million acres of greater sage-grouse habitat, distributed over 11 western states, the Service has identified approximately 23 million acres in six locations as “strongholds” for greater sage-grouse. It is estimated that 75 percent of the greater sage-grouse population occurs in these strongholds.
As a result, durable conservation strategies in the strongholds are essential and achievable – for both conserving the bird and the more than 350 other species for which healthy sagebrush habitats are essential. It also means that special protections, and compromise among stakeholders in relatively few areas can provide disproportionate benefit range-wide. While all priority habitats are important for the future viability of the species, these strongholds hold special significance for conservation. The stronghold strategy helps ensure a secure future for sage-grouse, but the long-term trend of habitat degradation of sage steppe habitat generally must be reversed in order to restore healthy populations of wildlife within the sage-grouse umbrella.
The Refuge Association has been active partners on the ground in several of these strongholds and is moving to work in other stronghold areas that contain national wildlife refuges. Our support and commitment to this stronghold strategy includes assisting with “boots on the ground” and delivery of conservation.
It is the height of appropriations season and both the House and Senate Interior subcommittees are working furiously on their appropriations bills. These bills will fund the National Wildlife Refuge System, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and many other programs impacting the Refuge System and wildlife conservation for the next fiscal year which starts in October.
The House will begin its process on June 10th with a subcommittee markup and the Senate will follow the week of June 15th.
Unfortunately, sequestration has returned and unless Congress passes a law to remove it, we are looking at budgets significantly lower than current funding. The President has stated that he would veto any appropriations bills that enacts sequestration levels. This will likely result in a budget showdown in late summer/early fall when the fiscal year ends on September 30th.
Under sequestration, the House must find $246 million in savings from this year’s funding levels, and the Senate has to find $400 million. The top targets for these cuts are going to be the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We are also bracing for damaging potential riders including: Read more...
- Building a proposed road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, AK;
- Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, AK;
- Abolishing the ability of the executive branch to create or expand national wildlife refuges;
- Delay of a listing decision on the greater sage-grouse; and
- A portion of Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars directed towards reducing the operations and maintenance backlog.
Many of you have reached out to your congressional delegations to push for funding for Refuge System Operations and Maintenance, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, State Wildlife Grants, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Funds. We greatly appreciate it! Any calls to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are extremely helpful at this time, and could make a huge difference in their decisions during the markups.
Check back to our blog to keep track of the progress of these bills. Click here to sign up for Action Alerts if you want to be alerted when we need your help in support of the Refuge System. Stay tuned to our blog to find out more details about the House and Senate’s proposals as they are released.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
The recent natural disasters in Oklahoma and Texas have impacted not only the wildlife refuge, but also the Friends of the Wichitas and the Friends of Hagerman.
As many of you already know, Oklahoma and Texas received record rainfall in the month of May. Unfortunately for the Friends, the refuge, and visitors, the refuges are either partially or completely closed due to safety concerns.
Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma was hit with two natural disasters back to back: a tornado and then a week later, significant flooding. Many families in the community had large amounts of water in their homes, and other families lost everything. The Friends of the Wichitas have been graciously helping wherever they can.
They have set up a “Flood Relief Donation” button on their website. Click here to donate to families in need. On June 4, Friends of the Wichitas President Jim Stone said that all affected refuge staff are now in (dry) housing, some permanent and some temporary. Adjusters from insurance companies, FEMA, and other agencies are almost finished with their evaluations. Some families had flood insurance, some did not. Read more...
“We have been volunteering time to help in the cleanup efforts on the refuge and in the surrounding area.” Stone said. “Thanks to donations we have been able to purchase some furniture, pay rental deposits and first month’s rents, continue doing laundry for flood victims, continue to purchase gift cards for immediate needs, provide meals for work crews repairing fences and bridges and anything else the refuge needs.” Stone said they even hosted a birthday party for one of the staff members whose family lost everything.
“The get together was good for the Friends and refuge staff,” Stone said. “It allowed everyone to take a short break, step back and get recharged emotionally and physically. There is still a lot to do, but the immediate needs of most of those affected seem to have been taken care of.”
For more information about what the refuge staff is doing, see this month’s “On the Refuge” feature.
The Spring storms are also impacting Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge Manager Kathy Whaley noted that about 80 percent of the refuge is flooded, but the wildlife appears to be fine. Whaley said most species are moving to higher ground, and now the biggest concern is potential loss of habitat due to the flooding. Many areas of the refuge that are under water have not seen this much water since 1990. Many of the tree species do not fare well when submerged for extended periods of time. For a more detailed list of species and how they will handle the flooding, see the Friends of Hagerman June Flyer.
Once the flooding recedes, the refuge will perform a damage assessment and begin the cleanup process. At this time, the roads to and through the refuge are closed.
The Friends of Hagerman are getting quite restless without their place of work, but they have taken on the critical role of informing the public about what is happening on Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. They are communicating via Facebook, local media, and word of mouth. Unfortunately many of the previously scheduled events have been canceled due to the flooding, but they hope to get up and running as soon as possible.
Volunteers will be able to provide additional help with some of the clean-up efforts such as debris and trash removal, and possibly painting signs and photo blinds, etc. Once the water recedes, the refuge will know more about what kind of help will be needed.
For more information about the Friends of Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge click here.
For more information about the Friends of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge click here.
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 TONY BOOTH
Tony Booth is the Refuge Manager at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
The Refuge is Best Known For: The scenery and the wildlife. You can drive through and see free ranging herds of bison and longhorns in a natural setting. There is also an isolated mountain range with the third highest point in the state.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret: The fact that there is designated wilderness on the refuge. It is the only wilderness area in Oklahoma or Texas.
The Most Interesting Species on the Refuge: The most iconic and popular species is the bison.
Your Favorite Activity on the Refuge: I love hiking, and all the activities that are incidental to that – photography and bird watching.
Best Time to Visit the Refuge: Fall maybe October. By then the heat dies down and you can avoid the spring and summer storms. This is also when the elk start to bugle. The Friends do elk bugling tours which are very popular.
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 10 – 14: Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival, ND
June 21: Father’s Day
July 4: Independence 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