Earlier this week, we were very pleased to learn that Cynthia Martinez has been named the new Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System! The Refuge Association has a long standing relationship with Ms. Martinez and we have no doubt she will be an excellent Chief.
On the West Coast of the country, Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge also has some great news – they are the next recipients of the additional $1 million in funding as part of the Urban Wildlife Conservation Challenge. Check out this month’s “On the Refuge” feature to learn more about this unique urban wildlife refuge.
Further south in New Mexico is another unique wildlife refuge and Friends group at Valle De Oro National Wildlife Refuge. The Friends group was actually established before the wildlife refuge even existed. This group has wasted no time in getting started. Read our “Refuge Friends Connect” feature to learn more about all that they’ve accomplished in the three short years of existence.
Much further west in the Pacific Ocean lies Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge where Refuge Association Vice President, Anne Truslow, was lucky enough to visit earlier this year as part of our conservation program work.
Here in Washington things are moving full speed ahead. The House and Senate are both preparing funding bills, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission has decided on funding for different projects throughout the System. Check “Inside Washington” for more details.
This time of year, the Refuge Association has all cylinders running to keep wildlife refuges protected, and also keep you informed about all that is happening. We wouldn’t be able to do this without your support. This May, we hope you will consider a donation to the Refuge Association to help us keep doing what we love to do – protect America’s Wildlife Refuges.
See you out on a refuge,
ON THE REFUGE
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, OR
Less than thirty minutes outside of Portland, Oregon, Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge not only a place of refuge for wildlife, it is a landmark in the community of Sherwood. In fact, when Refuge Manager Erin Holmes was applying for the job she said she went to the homepage of the town of Sherwood and the logo boasted, “Home of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.” To Holmes, that spoke volumes about the community’s relationship with the refuge.
In the late 1980s nearby Portland began to expand. Sherwood saw this and quickly realized the town needed to act quickly to preserve some open space. The citizens of Sherwood travelled to Washington, DC and met with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the message that a wildlife refuge was needed in their community. This was happening at the same time that the Service was starting to realize the need to connect its mission to a growing urban audience. With the demand from the community and an interest in connecting city dwellers to its wildlife conservation mission, the Service established the refuge in 1992.
Tualatin River opened to the public in 2006, and since then the refuge has worked with the Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge to establish some incredible visitor services programs. One of the flagship programs is the Puddle Stompers. Rather than resist the large amount of rain in the region, this program embraces it! Geared towards preschoolers, this annual program teaches children and their families about the natural wonders of the refuge. They do crafts, hear stories, and go on guided walks through the refuge trails. The children are also provided with “froggy” rain gear. Puddle Stompers and other events on the refuge are hosted by an outstanding Friends group that won the Refuge Association’s 2014 Refuge Friends Group of the Year Award. Read more...
One of the goals of the visitor services programs is to show people that they can make a difference for wildlife right in their own backyards. The refuge is restoring what was once agricultural land back to a natural state, including a variety of ecosystem types that attract wildlife, and that could be replicated in their own yards, such as creating a pollinator garden, or providing a pond for turtles.
In conjunction with the strong focus on visitor services and with all of the partnerships the refuge has established the community, the Vancouver-Portland Metropolitan Area, including Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, was the recipient of this year’s additional $1 million for the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program Challenge. The Portland-Vancouver National Wildlife Refuges are the second among the nation’s urban National Wildlife Refuges to receive this new award through a nationwide competition, known as the Urban Challenge, the first being the Southern California Urban Wildlife Refuge Project.
The Portland-Vancouver Urban Wildlife Conservation Program is a long-term investment of effort, passion, people, and dollars in the surrounding metropolitan area to ensure that sustainable treatment of our shared natural resources becomes an intrinsic value across the entire community. The wildlife refuges in this area have strong partnerships in the community. The Urban Program they have established will strengthen these relationships and create new programs within the community. Click here to read more about their urban program.
Holmes said she could not be more excited about the new urban program. It’s an opportunity to connect with urban residents in the Portland area who might not otherwise spend much time in the outdoors, and give them an “aha moment” that helps them realize their connection to the natural resources around them. She admits it’s a challenge, but one she is excited to take on.
Click here to learn more about Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
This winter, staff and volunteers at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge counted more than 600,000 active Laysan albatross nests on the 1,400-acre refuge located 1,260 nautical miles from Honolulu. By April, a look across any expanse of Midway’s sandy lawn showed perhaps 100,000 furry chicks resembling Gonzo the Muppet clicking their beaks as parents swooped in to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner of fresh flying fish roe collected from the ocean surface over hundreds of miles of Pacific foraging grounds.
Midway is not only home to this magnificent colony of Laysan albatross, but it also is the “gateway” to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and the series of Remote Pacific National Wildlife Refuges and Marine National Monument that cover over 473 million acres of land and water – the largest marine protected area on Earth. In September 2014, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to expand upon President George W. Bush’s largest conservation legacy by extending the Pacfiic Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 50 to 200 miles offshore from the remote islands and atolls that are U.S. territories of the Pacific.
The Refuge Association is helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region and Refuge and Monument staff to develop outreach and educational materials about the outstanding resources and opportunities in the Pacific, while also working intensively to help the Service identify top management priorities, opportunities to develop efficiencies, and bring private resources to help leverage our public commitment to conserving the largest marine protected area on Earth. Read more...
Laysan albatross numbers have grown by exponents at Midway in recent years, and the birds have returned to other island colonies in the Pacific as well. There are many reasons for this – habitat availability and lead paint remediation from past military uses have made a big difference. But the albatross wouldn’t thrive without the robust, spectacular and diverse marine ecosystem of the Remote Pacific. Midway is nearly the last atoll in the Hawaiian chain, and as such is the northernmost coral atoll in the National Wildlife Refuge System. A barrier reef surrounds the atoll and then drops steeply to cold and deep waters creating a unique diversity of pelagic, reef crest, ocean reef slope, deep reef and lagoon habitats. Nineteen species of breeding seabirds, including large numbers of black-footed albatross, Bonin petrel, white terns, black noddies, and red-tailed tropicbirds rely on the lands and waters surrounding Midway.
Its just ocean out there anyway, right? Well, yes, and that is the point – that remote ocean with coldwater upwellings is a system that supports apex predators like tuna, grouper, sharks, cetaceans, as well as manta rays, turtles and seabirds. The expansion also includes more than 132 seamounts, or underwater mountains and volcanoes, many of which are actively erupting. These places harbor deepwater corals, and an estimated 15 to 44 percent of the species in seamount areas are found nowhere else on earth –with about 10 percent of invertebrate that may be new to science altogether.
The challenges of managing this place of superlatives is equally enormous. Midway has the dubious distinction of also being the most expensive refuge in the System. Though often assumed to be under NOAA’s jurisdiction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service holds primary responsibility for the entire complex of National Monuments and Refuges – yet not one extra dollar has been added to the annual operations budget to support the management of nearly a half-billion acres of management responsibility – and opportunity.
To learn more, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuge/midway_atoll/
Senate and House Appropriations Committees Prepare Funding Bills
Each year, the appropriations season launches in February when the President releases his budget request to Congress. Then the House and Senate review these recommendations and the full House and Senate Appropriations Committees begin work on deciding how much to allocate to each of the federal agencies. The appropriations committees in both chambers break into subcommittees, and each subcommittee is allocated a certain budget figure from budget leaders from which they set spending within their sections of each appropriations bill.
Last week, the House Interior Subcommittee received an FY2016 allocation that was 1% lower than last year, or roughly $250 million less to fund the Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance account, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the many programs that contribute to wildlife conservation, such as North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, Multinational Species Fund, State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, and others. Read more...
Several other agencies are also included in this bill, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Forest Service, but $250 million is a lot of money to find and cut from these programs, particularly since agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service are struggling to maintain refuge lands with current funds.
The Interior appropriations bill is also a popular bill for attaching “riders,” or policy provisions having nothing to do with spending. In effect, Members of Congress use this bill to make policy changes on legislation they know must pass. After all, if Congress fails to approve appropriations bills, the government could shut down. Last year, a rider attached to the Interior appropriations bill restricted the Fish and Wildlife Service from creating new refuge lands or purchasing new federal lands, and we anticipate this could be attached again. Thankfully this did not become law.
We expect the House to release a draft Interior appropriations bill publicly by the end of May or early June, and the Senate is expected to do the same by early July, so now is the time to let decision-makers know how important Refuge System funding is. Please visit our Action Page and send Congress messages on any or all of the issues currently being decided.
Migratory Bird Conservation Commission Approves Wildlife Refuge Expansions
The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission authorizes and approves areas of land and/or water recommended by the Secretary of the Interior for purchase or easement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The commission also sets the price or prices at which such areas may be acquired. Most importantly for conservation, the commission considers the establishment of new waterfowl refuges.
Last week, the commission approved several acquisitions as part of ongoing projects. For example, at Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, an additional 909 acres will be added to the refuge, which will be a total of 286,000 acres. However, the refuge still has 200,000 acres left to acquire within its acquisition boundary. Read more...
If you purchased a Duck Stamp, give yourself a pat on the back because your purchase went into the funding of these great projects. When the Commission met last week it determined the following projects would receive funding:
Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas received boundary approval to add 102,000 acres and received approval to acquire a 909-acre tract. This boundary approval would provide new connections with Bald Knob, Cache River, and White River National Wildlife Refuges, six state wildlife management areas, and two state natural areas which would enhance the Service’s bottomland hardwood conservation and restoration efforts.
Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana received approval to acquire a 383-acre tract. This additional property adjoins current refuge lands and contributes to the goals identified by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Lower Mississippi River Joint Venture of protecting important waterfowl habitat.
Felsenthal and Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuges in Arkansas and Louisiana received approval for an expanded refuge boundary and approval to purchase a 2,244 acre property. These new acquisitions complete the acquisition of the Beanfield Tract in Louisiana and are the first step toward connecting these two wildlife refuges.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas received approval for a boundary addition and approval to purchase 1,778 acres. This addition is adjacent to the refuge and would provide connectivity of habitat for waterfowl and various shorebird species and create a corridor linking the refuge’s main unit with the Bahia Grande unit.
Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina received approval for a boundary expansion and the addition of a 228-acre tract. This tract is very important for wood duck populations and has management potential for wintering waterfowl, including black ducks, Canada geese, tundra swans, pintails, green and blue winged teals, shovelers, gadwalls, and wigeons as well as other migrating shorebirds and wading birds.
San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge in Texas received approval for a boundary addition and approval to purchase a 360 acre tract. This tract is part of a rich and productive wetland complex providing wintering, migrating, and resident habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, neotropical migratory birds, and other wetland dependent wildlife.
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana received approval to renew five 10-year leases on 9,580 acres of State school section lands. These lands are an integral part of the refuge that supports one of the highest densities of breeding lesser scaup in North America and the highest density of breeding trumpeter swans in the tri-state flock (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming).
St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi received approval to renew a five-year lease on 502 acres of State school section lands. This land contains bottomland hardwood and cypress sloughs and is part of a waterfowl sanctuary area. Wintering waterfowl use this tract for feeding, resting, and roosting, and wood ducks use it for feeding and nesting.
If you were considering purchasing a duck stamp, now is your chance!
Click here to learn more about the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, the Federal Duck Stamp, and the Friends of the Duck Stamp.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
The community of Mountain View is a predominantly Hispanic and low income community within the city limits of Albuquerque, NM and is host to a disproportionate share of superfund sites and heavy dirty industry with oil refineries, salvage yards and sewage treatment plants.
In recent years, the community has said no to more dirty industry and has begun to revitalize itself. Meanwhile, excited about the prospect of preserving and protecting land in their community for wildlife and for residents, a group formed Friends of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge three years ago before Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge was even established, and the group has been instrumental in ensuring that the refuge become a reality.
Starting with just a few dedicated community members, the unofficial Friends group’s first task was to gain community support for the wildlife refuge. The idea gained momentum, as did the Friends group’s membership. In only three years, their membership doubled to more than 200, and in 2012 the group became a 501c3 nonprofit.
However, while most people were supportive of establishing a new refuge in Mountain View, they didn’t take action in support. So Ric Watson, the current President of the Friends group, worked with the Trust for Public Land to come up with the idea of passing out postcards for people to sign asking that the refuge be established. The Friends delivered the signed postcards to then Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, and the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to show how much the community supported the establishment of this refuge.
The Friends then extended their reach to private foundations, companies, organizations, the legislature, and local agencies to increase attention that helped raise funds to purchase the land needed to establish the Refuge. In the end, more than 50 percent of the funds used to purchase the refuge land came from non-federal dollars. Read more...
At 488 acres, Valle De Oro National Wildlife Refuge was established in September of 2012. Another 98 acres were purchased in 2013 and finally the last 82 acres in 2014 for a total of 570 acres.
Friends of Valle de Oro did not stop there. The Friends saw a need to improve access to the refuge, so they worked with Bernalillo County and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to apply for Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) funding for 2nd Street, the road leading to the Refuge in Mountain View. FLAP is a federal program which provides funding for transportation projects accessing public lands.
Some of the key components of the project include pedestrian and the bike trails, improved vehicular access, and increased safety along the roadway. A very dangerous intersection sits along the railroad tracks near the Refuge that has resulted in fatal accidents. The FLAP funding will help fix this intersection to make it safer for drivers and pedestrians alike.
In conjunction with public meetings with the local community, the Friends coordinated the FLAP grant process with help from the University of New Mexico and a Transportation Scholar from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The funding request started out at $3 million and with matching funds grew to be $12.5 million.
The project drew the attention of state and national dignitaries alike, including U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, and county leaders, who all attended an event to announce the FLAP award. They celebrated the Friends’ involvement and the area revitalization this funding will support, creating jobs and making the gateway to the Refuge safe for Mountain View residents and Refuge visitors.
Today, the Friends work hand in hand with Valle De Oro’s only permanent staff, Refuge manager Jennifer Owen-White. Together, they coordinated many events on the Refuge including tours, celebrations, education programs and restoration projects. In 2014, the Refuge hosted more than 3,000 children and 4000 additional visitors, and that number is expected to double in 2015. The Refuge is within a 30 minute drive from nearly 60 percent of New Mexico’s population making it a convenient, fun location for residents to visit. Many children come as part of a school field trip; high school students work on science projects on the Refuge, and others come for a weekend visit.
Because the Refuge has been so popular and the visitation has been so high, the Friends are stretched for funding – the Refuge doesn’t even have a bathroom yet, so the Friends rent out port-a-potties for each event. To help raise more funds beyond grants and membership dues to continue to provide for the visitors and increase services, the Friends held their first Golden Gala fundraiser earlier this month. Their goal was to raise $17,000, and in the end, the event netted more than $20,000.
The Friends of Valle De Oro is a prime example of what can be accomplished with strong community support, an excited membership, and hardworking driven board members and leaders.
If you are a Friends group interested in having a positive impact like this on your local community, click here for more information. Or contact Joan Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ERIN HOLMES
Erin Holmes is the Project Leader at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuges Complex
The Refuge is Best Known For: Being an Urban Refuge with a high quality visitor services program and an amazing Friends group.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret: The photo blind trail that spurs off of the main year round trail. It meanders through one of my favorite places in the forest among big firs and cedar trees covered in lush green moss. It is very peaceful and you can see owls and other birds. I always feel like I have stepped back in time when I am on this trail.
The Most Interesting Species on the Refuge: Rough-skinned newts inhabit our creeks and forest. They are a type of salamander that spend their adults lives on land but return to water to breed. They are really interesting in their appearance, which is reddish-brown and with skin that appears bumpy or ‘rough.’ I also find them interesting because of their defense mechanism: their skin produces a powerful neurotoxin – similar to a pufferfish! So they are fun to look at but you definitely don’t want to touch one.
Your Favorite Activity on the Refuge: Taking a walk on the trails and meeting our visitors. I love to see people enjoying the wonderful sights and sounds of this place.
Best Time to Visit the Refuge: Morning and late afternoon are the best times to see wildlife. Late afternoon is a great time in the fall to watch the thousands of geese begin to stage for their migration, and our peak waterfowl migration time is around Thanksgiving.
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:
May 8-17: The Biggest Week in American Birding, OH
May 14-16: Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival, WI
May 14-17: Festival of the Birds at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, MN
May 14-17: Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival, AK
May 14-18: Great Salt Lake Bird Festival, UT
May 22-25: Down East Spring Birding Festival, ME
May 25: Memorial Day
June 6: National Trails 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