Nearly 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. It’s an important statistic to consider for the future of conservation, which is why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to put an emphasis on reaching urban residents through its Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative. By meeting people where they are, we hope to inspire more Americans to not only visit and support wildlife refuges, but become lifelong conservationists, regardless of where they live.
Earlier this month, the National Wildlife Refuge Association board of directors held its annual meeting at Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, this month’s “On the Refuge” feature. Tucked away amongst an assortment of car manufacturing plants, power plants, strip malls, and restaurants, this refuge really is a diamond in the rough. Detroit River is a terrific example of an urban refuge that is casting a wide net beyond its boundaries to reach urban dwellers in Metropolitan Detroit.
While we were in Detroit, the Refuge Association celebrated the life and career of a man who has probably done the most for the Refuge System since Theodore Roosevelt. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. was awarded the first ever National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Theodore Roosevelt Lifetime Achievement Award. Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe; Chief of the Refuge System Jim Kurth; Regional Fish and Wildlife Service Director Tom Melius, and several other Service and local Refuge staff and Friends group members were on hand to honor a true conservation hero.
In keeping with our commitment to advocating on behalf of the National Wildlife Refuge System, we recently released our 2014 Legislative Priorities. This document represents the Refuge Association’s top priorities this year, and I hope you’ll take a look and share your thoughts with us.
This time of year, Friends from all over are busy gearing up for the summer tourism season, showcasing the best of their local refuges to visitors and local residents alike. Earlier this month, the Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge hosted a very successful Field Day on the refuge, made possible by a 2013 grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation. Forty-six kids, ages 5-14, spent the day hiking to various stations where they learned about all kinds of outdoor activities.
Now is the perfect time of year to get out and visit your local refuge, be it in the high desert or set against a backdrop of high-rise buildings.
ON THE REFUGE
Driving along West Jefferson Avenue in Trenton, Michigan, you’ll see an assortment of car manufacturing plants, power plants, strip malls, and restaurants. It’s a familiar scene just outside Detroit, America’s car capital. But tucked in along a stretch of road is a construction zone, but not for another industrial plant – this one is restoring nature.
Behind a chain link fence is a meadow, and beyond that, a strip of forest along the Detroit River. Venture into these woods in May and you’re met by the sounds of Spring: warblers, chickadees, and the incessant honking of Canada geese. Welcome to the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association held its May board meeting at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge to learn about the Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative, a program aimed at creating a new presence for wildlife conservation in urban areas. Today, nearly 80 percent of Americans live in or around cities, and kids are growing up less connected to nature than ever before. In order to stay relevant and ensure a future for its conservation mission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is branching out to meet people where they are.
In Detroit, the wildlife refuge is not only becoming a destination for inner city kids, it is helping create outdoor opportunities right in the city itself.
During our trip, we explored the Humbug Marsh Unit of the refuge along the banks of the Detroit River. The location will soon be home to a new visitor’s center that will become a hub of environmental education and nature exploration set in the heart of Metropolitan Detroit. Read more...
“This is becoming a destination of choice,” said Refuge Manager John Hartig, noting plans for a fishing pier near the new visitor’s center and the numerous programs for children and adults that are connecting city residents to fishing, birding and other outdoor activities.
With more than 300 species of birds migrating through the area each year; 113 species of fish, including a population of lake sturgeon; and a designation as a “Wetland of International Importance,” Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is, in fact, a wildlife haven. But more so, it is a model for how the Service is adapting its approach to conservation to meet the needs of a changing American demographic.
Take a stroll along the Detroit RiverWalk, and you’ll see good examples of how the Service is working in partnership with key Detroit stakeholder groups: at Milliken State Park and Harbor, the Service helped create a stretch of wetland that captures storm water from nearby parking lots and filters it before entering the river. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and many partners, including the Service, have turned a once desolate strip of abandoned warehouses into a destination for tourists and residents alike. On a typical Sunday, anglers stand along the railings fishing for perch and walleye, twenty-somethings jog with their dogs, while families with kids enjoy the walking trails featuring native grasses that attract songbirds.
Just across the river is Canada, and this proximity led to Detroit River becoming the first and only international wildlife refuge in the system. Sharing borders with local, state and foreign entities has led to many innovative partnerships.
Hartig and his staff depend greatly on their local Friends group: the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance. As we sat under a new education shelter at Humbug Marsh, Dick Micka, the group’s president, spoke with pride about the group’s efforts to raise money to get it built.
Joann Van Aken is the Alliance’s executive director. She’s been busy preparing for the visitor’s center, where the Alliance will run a new nature shop. When she’s not doing that, she’s helping coordinate tree plantings, promoting the Detroit River Hawk Watch, or organizing a local waterfowl festival or any number of other public programs designed to expose urban Detroit to the wonders of nature right in front of them.
Hartig noted that the refuge and the Alliance have built many strong partnerships with local businesses like Ford, BASF and DTE Energy. In fact, employees at DTE have taken the refuge under their wing, using their heavy equipment to construct an eagle’s nest atop an 80-foot utility pole on Humbug Island. This year, for the first time, the platform has a nesting pair of bald eagles.
Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge truly is a diamond in the rough. It exists in a time and place that has seen more than its fair share of economic turbulence. Yet it offers a ray of hope for Detroit residents and visitors that nature, and all of the positive social, economic, and environmental benefits it brings, are accessible to everyone, no matter where you live.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association is working hard to ensure that all refuges get adequate funding to meet their conservation mission. To learn more about our work, visit www.refugeassociation.org.
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
On Friday, May 2 at the TV’s Grand Events near the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, the National Wildlife Refuge Association presented the first Theodore Roosevelt Lifetime Achievement Award to Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.
“Not since President Theodore Roosevelt has there been someone who has made such a mark on the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Refuge Association President David Houghton at the ceremony.
Joining Refuge Association President David Houghton to present the award was Board Chair Stuart Watson, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe, Region 3 Director Tom Melius and Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System Jim Kurth. Many others attended, including staff of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and board members from the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance. Read more...
Dingell was the main architect on the Clean Water Act, he authored the Endangered Species Act, he wrote the National Environmental Policy Act, he authored the Refuge Administration Act of 1966, and sponsored the Refuge Improvement Act in 1997. He also established the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge – the only international wildlife refuge in the nation.
Dingell has made a lasting impact on the health of the entire nation in his nearly 60 years in office. In particular, he was instrumental in protecting and enhancing the National Wildlife Refuge System. His actions were a catalyst to create the National Wildlife Refuge Association in 1975. After witnessing his inspiring legislative accomplishments in the early 1970’s, retired Refuge System managers created the National Wildlife Refuge Association to protect the Refuge System and carry on Dingell’s legacy.
Dingell is one of the greatest conservation heroes our country has ever known. The Refuge System would not be what it is today without his help and support and we cannot thank him enough.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association’s 2014 Legislative Priorities for America’s Wildlife, is now available online.
This report highlights the Refuge Association’s top 10 legislative priorities for 2014 that are aimed at securing a lasting conservation legacy for our children and grandchildren. Our priorities cover critical conservation needs, from increased operational funding for our beleaguered National Wildlife Refuge System, to encouraging conservation partnerships such as those with America’s working lands like ranches and farms that leverage federal funding in support of landscape-level conservation.
We also highlight the need to continue engaging volunteers in the service of wildlife conservation. Volunteers, including the over 230 refuge support “Friends” organizations, are responsible for over 22 percent of work on refuges. This contribution of over 1.4 million hours is valued at $31 million. Read more...
With at least one refuge located in every state and many within an hour’s drive of every metropolitan area, our refuges provide unparalleled opportunities to experience and enjoy the outdoors and America’s diverse wildlife heritage. Refuges are economic engines, providing $4.87 for their local communities for every $1 of federal investment, creating 35,000 jobs, and generating $2.4 billion in economic output.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
Earlier this month, the Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge hosted a very successful Field Day on the refuge, made possible by a 2013 grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation. Forty-six kids, ages 5-14, spent the day hiking to various stations where they learned about all kinds of outdoor activities.
A wildlife rehabilitator/falconer brought in a peregrine falcon for the kids to photograph. They were also encouraged to take photos of animal tracks, scat, plants, etc. The station leaders, one professional and one amateur photographer, gave the kids pointers, and loaned them cameras to try. They all got to take home the camera’s memory card so they could print their images. The kids were encouraged to send their photos to the Friends group for display at Festival of the Cranes this coming November.
Nationally competitive callers, supplemented by the refuge biologist, ran a duck calling station. Learning from the experts, the kids got to match wings, species, and calls to help them identify the different species. When they were done at the station, the children got to keep a duck call that was made from a recycled shotgun shell. Read more...
Lise Spargo, the Friends’ board president, and her husband J.R. Seeger, who contracts with the military teaching field survival techniques, ran the orienteering station. Although their course was not quite as tough as those in the military, the kids got great experience orienteering. As the kids found their way around the course, they got to keep a compass and the rubber ducks they found at the checkpoints.
The archery station was manned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service certified archery teachers, who also happen to be the fire staff at the refuge. Not surprisingly, archery was most kids’ favorite station, but the station leaders were sure to enforce safety practices.
The event wrapped up with a hot dog lunch and a brief talk about ethics on public lands by the refuge’s federal officer, Ben Lanford. Kids got Field Day t-shirts and left tired, but happy.
“This was the best event we’ve had in my nine years here, and I would love to see similar things happening at lots more refuges,” said Leigh Ann Vradenburg, executive director of the Friends group. “I attribute the NEEF Every Day Event grant with jump-starting our thinking about this type of event, and their funding was certainly integral to its success.”
It is amazing what can be accomplished with a little bit of funding, and grants are a fantastic way to make things happen.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW GREG NORWOOD
Detroit International Wildlife Refuge, Detroit, Michigan
The refuge is best known for: Being the only international wildlife refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The designation means many bi-national partnerships for conservation.
The refuge’s best kept secret is: It’s 400 acres of remote islands and shoals. The refuge’s six islands/shoals are hotspots for fish spawning and neotropical bird migration.
The most interesting species on the refuge is: Invasive Phragmites (Phragmites australis). I know no other species that has been the topic at so many dinner tables in the region. Virtually everyone around the refuge is impacted by this plant.
Favorite activity on the refuge is: It’s a tie: observing wildlife and fishing from a canoe.
The best time to visit the refuge is: Anytime in October. Raptors are a big draw. You can see daily passages of over 12,000 turkey vultures and all 15 regularly occurring raptors, hundreds of buteos, and dozens of golden eagles late in the month. We also have some of the best open-water and marsh duck hunting anywhere, not to mention lots of opportunities for deer hunting.
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 22: World Biodiversity Day
May 23: Deadline to submit written testimony to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee (INSTRUCTIONS)
May 26: Memorial Day
June 5: World Environment Day
June 8-14: Great Outdoors Week
June 21: Summer Solstice
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