As this flyer arrives in your inbox, I hope you are staying warm in this prolonged winter. Many of you are probably aware of the oil spill that occurred in Galveston Bay. As of the time I’m writing this, local authorities are monitoring the impacts on wildlife in the surrounding area. For more information, read our latest blog.
If you’ve been following efforts within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System to place a greater emphasis on reaching the nearly 80 percent of Americans who live in urban areas, you’ll appreciate our latest refuge feature, about the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Denver. This refuge offers an excellent example of an urban refuge in action. Not only is it set up well for visiting school children, teachers, and city dwellers looking for a dose of nature, it is teeming with wildlife – everything from bison to mule deer to bald eagles are in abundance.
While in Denver, the Refuge Association attended the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, one of the top conferences for wildlife professionals in the U.S. Not only did we get to hear the latest on important wildlife policy discussions, we got to visit with many longtime Refuge Association friends.
As always, our Friends have been hard at work helping create great experiences for refuge visitors. Earlier this month, Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge hosted its annual Habitat Day where visitors not only got to tour the refuge, but they were invited to build bird houses for Bluebirds and Wood ducks to provide them additional habitat.
As I write this, several refuge system friends and supporters are planning trips to Washington, D.C. in April for what is known as Public Witness Day on Capitol Hill. Congress is presently debating the FY15 budget, and rest assured the Refuge Association will be pressing for more funding to support operations and maintenance, as well as many other important programs that desperately need more resources. I hope you already are a member of our Refuge Action Network, but if not, please sign up to receive updates on how you can lend your voice in support of our refuges.
With Spring migration well underway, I hope you can make time to witness the spectacular journeys happening all over the country, and especially at your local refuge!
ON THE REFUGE
Fly into the Denver International Airport on a sunny day, and you’ll see the incredible Rocky Mountains in the distance, along with miles of pasture and grasslands. What you may not realize is that part of those pastures and grasslands provide incredible wildlife viewing spots that are literally just outside the airport fence.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge borders the Denver International Airport, and is just 10 miles from downtown Denver, making this 15,000-acre refuge the epitome of an urban refuge.
The refuge is nearly hidden, tucked away behind busy highways that lead to the Denver suburb of Commerce City. But the brown refuge signs will lead you down a long, dusty road to the new visitor’s center, and here’s where the fun begins.
Hop in a car, or take a bus operated by refuge staff, and begin a journey back in time. The newly created Wildlife Drive takes visitors through acres of restored mixed grass prairie, the native grasses that once covered this region of the West. Once a community of about 100-200 homes, the area was taken over by the U.S. government during World War II for use as an Army Depot and weapons arsenal, hence it’s name. Read more...
In 1992, Congress passed a law turning over 15,000 acres to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for use as a wildlife refuge, and after a massive military clean-up of the land and water, the refuge is returning to what it once was – a haven for wildlife.
Within minutes of setting out on the drive, we spotted a dozen of the 70+ head of American bison that roam parts of the refuge. These majestic icons of the West looked right at home, grazing on the restored grasslands. Not far from the herd, two lone coyotes were hopping through the grasses. Just up the road, a prairie dog town stretched along the roadside. Black tailed prairie dogs chattered from their burrows as we slowly drove by. Within about 15 minutes, we’d racked up an impressive 13 different species of wildlife – all without leaving our car.
We encountered dozens of mule deer, white tailed deer, and overhead we saw a kestrel, two red-tailed hawks, and a Bald eagle, not to mention several species of waterfowl resting on one of the several lakes within the refuge.
According to Bruce Hastings, Deputy Project Leader for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Complex, plans are underway to study the feasibility of bringing back other native species: pronghorn, black-footed ferret, and possibly some sharp-tailed grouse and lesser prairie chickens.
What makes this refuge unique, aside from the vast diversity of wildlife, is its ability to exist within close proximity to millions of people. Truly an ‘urban refuge,’ the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is a bastion of environmental education, catering to thousands of school children, scout groups and teachers who come to the refuge to learn and get inspired by nature. The Refuge receives about 300,000 visitors a year, many of whom come to enjoy the 10 miles of hiking trails, or the self-guided Wildlife Drive auto tour. They also recently renovated a contact station so that teachers and students have a dedicated place to learn and explore. The refuge staff also offers bus tours twice weekly for anyone who wants an interpretive experience.
Hastings pointed out one of his favorite spots – a fishing dock for kids. A popular derby is held each year, and volunteers also offer special ‘puff and sip’ fishing for quadriplegics. Witnessing someone with a disability discovering the ability to fish? “You want to talk about a happy camper,” said Hastings.
But the top priority, says Hastings, is restoring the land back to native grasslands, and offering local and visiting refuge guests an opportunity to see and understand how this restoration benefits the incredible diversity of wildlife. If you’re in the Denver area, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is not to be missed!
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
The National Wildlife Refuge Association made a splash at the 79th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Denver this month, with its first-ever booth in the exhibits hall. Christine McGowan, Director of Strategic Communications, attended the conference, and got to mingle with many U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders.
Among the standouts was National Wildlife Refuge System Chief Jim Kurth, who gave a moving plenary speech about the need for the wildlife conservation community to do more to appeal to diverse audiences.
Kurth showed slides of many scenic wildlife refuges, noting that many of them are located in the middle of urban meccas: New York, Chicago, Detroit, Denver. He explained how American demographics are changing, and if we hope to inspire more people to care about and protect wildlife, we must find new ways to reach them where they are. Also in attendance was Refuge Association board member Rebecca Rubin, CEO of Marstel-Day who participated in a panel on women in conservation, which happened to be moderated by former board member and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, Dr. Mamie Parker. Several hundred people attended the conference, and the booth was a hit. Thanks to a generous gift from Orvis, the Refuge Association raffled off two Orvis gift cards, and also gave out rainproof field notebooks, maps of the Refuge System, Refuge Association information and, of course, some very popular candy.
On March 4, 2014 President Obama released his budget request for fiscal year 2015 (FY15). Included were appropriations for the Department of the Interior, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS).
The budget request proposes a funding increase to $476.4 million for the operations and maintenance account for the Refuge System, a 0.9% increase from FY14. Unfortunately this number is still 11% percent less than the highest level of funding, meaning hundreds of positions will remain vacant, thousands of acres of invasive species will remain unchecked, and many priority public use programs will be curtailed. Essentially, the Refuge System is slipping backwards – but advocates nationwide can help! This proposal is just that – a suggestion; Congress ultimately holds the purse strings and has the ability to increase funding. Read more...
Within the budget request, the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to prioritize law enforcement, urban refuges, and habitat management. Some examples of increased funding are:
$2.6 million increase for wildlife & habitat management
$2 million for Challenge Cost Share (a program that allows the Service to work with other partner programs)
$549,000 for Visitor Services
$909,000 for Refuge Law Enforcement
With regard to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the President requested full funding ($900 million). The request was broken down in two parts; the first falls under annual appropriations ($55 m for the Service) and the second falls under the legislative proposal to take LWCF off budget and make the spending mandatory and not subject to appropriations every year ($113.8 m for the Service). For the Fish and Wildlife Service, the breakdown is:
-Total U.S. Fish and Wildlife LWCF request = $168.8 million
-Current Funding request = $55 million (of which, $48.5 million are for projects)
- Cache River NWR (AR): $1.07 million
- San Diego NWR (CA): $5 million
- Everglades Headwaters NWR & CA (FL): $3 million
- St Marks NWR (FL): $6 million
- Okefenokee NWR (GA): $4 million
- Rocky Mountain Front CA (MT): $2 million
- Rappahannock River NWR (VA): $2 million
- Dakota Grasslands CA (ND/SD): $7 million
- Dakota Tallgrass Prairie WMA (ND/SD): $3 million
- Silvio O Conte NFWR (CT/VT/MA/NH): $2 million
-Proposed Funding = $113.8 million
- Innoko NWR (AK): $100,000
- Cache River NWR (AR): $2 million
- Grasslands Wildlife Management Area (CA): $1 million
- San Diego NWR (CA): $6.77 million
- San Joaquin River NWR (CA): $1 million
- Baca NWR (CO): $2.654 million
- Everglades Headwaters NWR & CA (FL): $5 million
- St. Marks NWR (FL): $19.049 million
- Grays Lake NWR (ID): $3.5 million
- Flint Hills Legacy CA (KS): $1 million
- ACE Basin NWR (SC): $2.5 million
- Cape Romain NWR (SC): $2.986 million
- Carolina Sandhills NWR (SC): $1 million
- Santee NWR (SC): $3 million
- Waccamaw NWR (SC): $1.766 million
- Chickasaw NWR (TN): $3 million
- Balcones Canyonlands (TX): $1 million
- Lower Rio Grande NWR (TX): $2 million
- Rappahannock River NWR (VA): $3.56 million
- Ridgefield NWR (WA): $500,000
- Willapa NWR (WA): $1 million
- Bear River CA (ID/UT/WY): $2 million
- Dakota Grasslands CA (ND/SD): $14.5 million (total)
- Dakota Tallgrass Prairie WMA (ND/SD): $3 million
- Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR (IA/MN): $500,000
- Red Rock Lakes NWR (ID/MT): $1 million
- Silvio O. Conte NFWR (VT/NH/CT/MA): $3 million
All in all, this is a very strong budget request for our nation’s wildlife given the budgetary constraints that were agreed to in December under the budget deal. If this proposal is enacted, very little will change on the ground. It is important to take into account that this is a request – the budget must still be approved by Congress.
Public Witness Day- April 10, 2014
Early next month, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, will again host “Public Witness Day” to allow American citizens from all walks of life and backgrounds the opportunity to request funding for priority programs such as public lands, arts, and Native American issues. It is democracy in action, giving organizations and individuals the ability to speak directly to the lawmakers who write the funding bills for all programs within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as numerous other natural resource agencies. In past years the testimony of Friends made a lasting impact on committee members that led to increases in Refuge System funding. Read more...
Bobby Williamson from the Friends of the Wichitas in Oklahoma, and Randy Streufert from the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges in Virginia have been selected to represent their local Friends group and refuge, and the Refuge System as a whole. Friends, who are often volunteers on refuges, provide a distinct perspectives of the opportunities and threats facing their local refuge and the Refuge System. Terry Mansfield has been selected to speak on behalf of Partners for Conservation. Established in 2008, Partners for Conservation embodies a grassroots movement of private landowners working with agencies, non-profit organizations, and policymakers to collaborate on conservation projects for present and future generations. It represents the voices of 21st century conservation and the collective effort to support working landscapes through voluntary, incentive-based public and private programs.
While only a few are selected to appear in person at Public Witness Day, anyone can submit written testimony, and we highly encourage Friends groups nationwide to submit written testimony. To find out how, please contact Joan Patterson, the Refuge Association’s Director of Grassroots Outreach.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
On March 8th, 2014, visitors came from far and wide to enjoy activities on the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge for the 14th annual Habitat Day! A collaborative effort between the Friends of Crane Meadows, the refuge staff, and many volunteers resulted in a successful event that will be remembered for years to come.
More than 300 guests attended Habitat Day, which featured lots of varied activities. The most popular by far was the construction of wood birdhouses for wood ducks and bluebirds.
With many volunteers there to assist, and the step by step instructions displayed on the wall, the process was very easy for kids and adults alike. Participants had a chance to learn about these birds, their habitats, and behaviors. Once the construction was complete, the guests were free to snowshoe on the refuge, providing a unique view they might not otherwise have had.
The participants were encouraged to take their constructed boxes home so they could be put up on their own property. If the boxes were left behind, some stayed on the refuge and others were sold to help fund the event next year. More than 6,000 boxes have been made over the 14 year period this event has been going on- that is a lot of homes for these birds! Read more...
The boxes are designed for wood ducks and bluebirds. Wood ducks numbers in the region were of concern because of habitat loss due to the lack of old, dead trees with cavities where these ducks nest. Thanks to management efforts, such as the use of artificial nest boxes, the wood duck populations have been restored – biologists believe almost 100,000 wood ducks breed in Minnesota each spring. Bluebirds were also low in numbers due to habitat loss and competition for nesting areas. The Bluebird Recovery Program of the Audubon Society of Minneapolis partnered with the Department of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Program to sponsor workshops, publish educational materials and promote the placement of bluebird houses to bring back this wonderful songbird. Minnesota now has one of the most successful bluebird recovery projects in the nation.
The birdhouses not only provide vital nesting sites for these once endangered birds, they help connect the refuge and Friends with the community. People talk about this event throughout the year. Each bird house is a reminder to the families who built them of the great experiences that were had on the refuge. They also provide an excellent place to view wildlife up close! Birds will be nesting, and baby chicks will be hatching, providing a perfect learning environment for children and hopefully instilling a love for nature and wildlife. Habitat Day has impacts far beyond the event itself.For more information on the event, click HERE. For more information about the Crane Meadows NWR, click HERE. For more information about the Friends of Crane Meadows, click HERE. For more information about Wood Ducks, click HERE. For more information about Bluebirds, click HERE.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW CINDY SOUDERS
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Denver, CO
The Refuge is Best Known For: The resident bison herd that roams the prairie, but also the 60-plus bald eagles that roost here during the winter.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret is: The fact that we have 330 different wildlife species that use the refuge, right outside Denver.
The Most Interesting Species in the Refuge is: The burrowing owl. The refuge is a top breeding location for the species in Colorado.
Favorite Activity in the Refuge is: Hiking the refuge trails. I love photography so taking pictures of wildlife is one of my favorite things to do on the refuge.
The Best Time to Visit the Refuge is: The fall rutting season is very popular for wildlife photographers who apply for special use permits to come out and capture mule deer and whitetail deer putting on their show.
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:
April 10– Public Witness Day & Deadline to Submit Written Testimony to the House Interior Appropriations Subcommitee (INSTRUCTIONS)
April 22- Earth Day
May 10 – International Migratory Bird Day
May 23 – Deadline to submit written testimony to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee (INSTRUCTIONS)
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