After a dramatic election, Congress returns this week for the “lame duck” session. It’s unclear what will happen in the closing days of the 113th Congress, but we’re monitoring events closely. In this month’s Inside Washington, we review the election results and discuss the implications for the Refuge System.
Meanwhile, our team has been hard at work on the ground helping refuge staff in the Gulf prepare for RESTORE Act funding opportunities. In Texas, for example, our conservation team is assisting several Texas coastal refuges, including the Chenier Plain refuges, Texas Mid-Coast Complex near Houston, Aransas and Matagorda Islands in the Coastal Bend, and Laguna Atascosa and the South Texas Complex, with planning efforts that will help refuges be ready to move forward with projects as funding becomes available through the RESTORE Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration program.
Up in the Northeast, we interviewed the president of the Friends of Mashpee, who shared how this dynamic group came back from the brink of extinction and is today a thriving Friends group supporting the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge on Cape Cod.
And out west, our board of directors held its fall board meeting at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, one of the System’s crown jewels. Sandhill cranes were arriving daily to the refuge and, as you’ll read in this month’s On the Refuge, Bosque truly is a birder’s paradise that grows in popularity every year.
In our travels we get to meet some incredible Refuge System employees and Friends volunteers. But we also want to hear from you about the talented and inspiring men and women you know who serve our Refuge System. Do you know someone who works on a refuge as a manager, employee, volunteer, or Friends group that goes above and beyond the call of duty? Nominate them for a 2015 Refuge System Award.
Nominations are due November 17. Don’t miss this opportunity to honor someone who puts their heart and soul into this System we love so much.
And remember that Tuesday, December 2 is Giving Tuesday. As an alternative to purchasing “things” on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday puts the focus on giving back to your local community or to charities. We hope you consider the Refuge Association when making your decision of where to place your donation.
Don’t forget to get out and visit a refuge!
ON THE REFUGE
Bosque del Apache – Birder’s Paradise
About 20 minutes before sunrise on a weekday in November, the skies around Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in San Antonio, NM are quiet. The only sounds are the gravel crackling under the weight of our van as we slowly make our way to the edge of a nearby wetland, and the murmur of ducks, geese and cranes – thousands of them – beginning to stir as a hint of light starts to emerge on the horizon.
We quietly file out of the van and join half a dozen other early-morning birders who’ve already set up cameras and scopes, waiting for the big moment. And sure enough, within minutes, it starts – the Fly Out. Wave after wave of geese, ducks and Sandhill cranes lift off the water at once, calling and beating their wings madly as they take the first flight of the morning. By mid-month, the fields and wetlands will be filled with more than 100,000 birds that come here to winter over, or stop through on their way to southern destinations.
This spectacle is what draws thousands of visitors to Bosque del Apache every year, a chance to see enormous flocks of waterfowl, geese, cranes and other birds that are drawn to this oasis in the middle of arid New Mexico. Read more...
“Woods of the Apache”
Bosque del Apache is named for the Native Americans who used to camp along its forested riverbanks. The 57,331-acre refuge sits just outside of San Antonio, New Mexico, and straddles the Rio Grande Valley. The Rio Grande would historically flood seasonally, creating abundant wetlands and providing water for people and wildlife. But as communities grew and diverted water for crops and other uses, water became scarce. Today, water is a precious commodity, and managing it is a primary focus on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Water – a Lifeline for Wildlife
With just eight inches of precipitation each year, Bosque del Apache provides a wetland oasis in what is mostly Chihuahuan Desert. The refuge holds ‘senior water rights,’ which means it should have access to the water it needs; however, with the city of Albuquerque to the north, “We’re at the end of the ditch,” said Refuge Manager Kevin Cobble.
The refuge carefully calculates how much water it will need to adequately irrigate the wetlands each year to replicate historical water patterns that benefit waterfowl and other wildlife that depend on it.
When they are not managing water, the staff is restoring the refuge to its pre-20th century habitat. That means removing large stands of saltcedar that have infested the landscape. Introduced in the United States in the late-1800s, saltcedar likely made its way west as an ornamental plant. But today, it has overtaken many riversides, sucking up precious groundwater. Saltcedar consumes more water than native trees and shrubs, so by eliminating it and restoring the area with native plants, the refuge can better conserve water.
A Birding and Photography Mecca
Each year, Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge hosts the annual Festival of the Cranes, and each year it gets bigger and bigger. The event draws thousands of birders to the refuge to welcome the annual migration of Sandhill cranes, not to mention snow geese, pintails and many other species of waterfowl and wading birds. It’s one of the largest tourist events in the Refuge System, and raises substantial funds that the Friends group uses to support the refuge.
In addition to the birding opportunities, more and more people are discovering outdoor photography at Bosque. Michael Hanauer, Festival of the Cranes Coordinator, said the popularity of nature photography at the refuge is growing and the festival is attracting more professional and amateur photographers alike who come for the wildlife, scenery and remarkable light.
At sunset, people with all makes and models of camera equipment line the roadside facing west, waiting for the sun to dip behind the mountains, casting an incredible display of yellows, pinks, oranges and blues. Walk into any gift shop in the region, and the landscape artistry appears to get its inspiration from just this view.
While you are guaranteed to see birds at Bosque, if you’re lucky you might also spot a mule deer, bobcat or the occasional mountain lion that also rely on these wetlands.
If you’ve never visited Bosque del Apache, now’s the time to go – the 27th Annual Festival of the Cranes is from Nov. 18-23, and will offer myriad tours, workshops, lectures and hikes in this incredible landscape.
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
The Refuge Association has been assisting Texas coastal refuges, including the Chenier Plain refuges, Texas Mid-Coast Complex near Houston, Aransas and Matagorda Islands in the Coastal Bend, and Laguna Atascosa and the South Texas Complex, with planning efforts that will help refuges be ready to move forward with outstanding restoration and land conservation projects as funding becomes available through the RESTORE Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration program.
The Texas Coast hosts nine national wildlife refuges, from Texas Point and McFaddin on the East Texas Coast to Laguna Atascosa and Bahia Grande on the border with Mexico. These refuges include pristine barrier beaches where sea turtles and piping plovers nest, some of the most extensive salt marsh habitat in Texas for millions of breeding and migrating songbirds and waterfowl, estuaries that provide nursery habitat for shellfish and fin fish that fuel the Gulf Coast commercial fishing economy, and coastal prairies, playas and scrub that are essential to endangered species like ocelots and Aplomado falcons.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including refuges, coastal programs and ecological services, is working in close collaboration with the State of Texas to identify common priorities for landscape-scale conservation investments that will create a natural legacy for Texas. Together with nonprofit organizations like the Refuge Association, Friends Groups, and local governments, the goal is to put funding from the various Gulf of Mexico oil spill mitigation funds to work for the benefit of future generations of Texans and the wildlife they treasure. Read more...
And, Refuge Friends Groups are already springing into action – Friends of the Wildlife Corridor in South Texas recently helped the Conservation Fund and a ranch family to secure a conservation easement on over 7,000 acres near Laguna Atascosa NWR, and the Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island (FAMI) recently hosted a luncheon to highlight whooping crane restoration efforts and renewed community outreach programs near Aransas.
We hope that the results of these combined efforts will be: restored beach habitat for sea turtle nesting, expanded habitat protected for a growing and dispersing whooping crane population, creation of a new corridor of protected land linking Laguna Atascosa and ranchlands to the north to one million acres of coastal protected lands in Mexico to the south, thus supporting the critically endangered ocelot, and reconnecting freshwater rivers and floodplains with coastal estuaries, whether in the north at Salt Bayou near McFaddin or in the south at Bahia Grande. Exciting days lay ahead for the Refuge System on the Gulf Coast – and for Gulf Coast species far and wide.
We at the National Wildlife Refuge Association congratulate the winners of the November 4 elections, and while there will be a change in leadership in the U.S. Senate and possible changes in some leadership positions in the House of Representatives, the implications for our nation’s Refuge System – and wildlife conservation in general – are still unclear.
But while everyone is analyzing the results of the congressional elections, we think it’s important to look at what voters supported in state and local ballot initiatives as an indicator of where they stand on conservation.
According to the Trust for Public Land, nearly $13 billion in conservation measures was approved in state and local ballot initiatives, sending a clear message that conservation is a bipartisan issue that shares strong support nationwide.
Here are a few examples:
- Florida — $18 billion to protect land in the Everglades over 20 years, a set-aside from real estate transaction taxes.
- New Jersey — $2 billion from corporate taxes for land conservation.
- California — $7.5 billion for water infrastructure projects to address the state’s serious drought.
- Maine — a $10 million bond to protect water resources and wildlife habitat, half of which will help reconnect fragmented habitat.
- Rhode Island – $53 million in bonds for environmental projects, including coastal resiliency.
- Portland, Oregon; Missoula County, Montana; Bernalillo County, New Mexico; Benton County, Washington; and Larimer County, Colorado — bonds to bolster parks, open space or other public lands.
What the Congressional Elections Mean for America’s Wildlife Refuges
It’s still too early to know what specific issues will become high priority for the next Congress. However, we expect to see action on a few refuge-related bills either in the “lame duck” Congress that convenes Nov. 12, or in the new Congress, including ones to —
- Curtail the executive branch’s existing authority to expand refuges or create new refuges;
- Expand or allow resource extraction, like oil and gas, on public lands;
- Limit agency actions under the Endangered Species Act; and
- Increase the value of the Duck Stamp.
How the New Congress Will Impact the Refuge System
When the 114th Congress convenes in January, Republicans will control the U.S. Senate and continue to lead the House of Representatives. Many observers believe that to move legislation in the next Congress, compromise will be the order of the day. A Presidential veto is a powerful tool and neither chamber has the necessary two-thirds majority votes to over-ride such an action. To govern, the GOP-led Congress and the White House will have to work together.
As of today, in the U.S. Senate, Republicans will hold at least 52 seats and Democrats will hold at least 43 seats, with Independents, who will caucus with Democrats, holding two seats. Virginia and Alaska races are not officially called and Louisiana will go to a run off election on December 6.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans will hold at least 243 seats and Democrats will hold at least 179 seats (13 races have not been called). The majority party sets the agenda of the full House and Senate, the committees and subcommittees. In the 114th Congress, Republicans will chair all committees.
While committee assignments for the next Congress are not yet made, we’re looking closely at who gets selected to lead key committees, since these are the men and women with the most influence in Congress over issues related to the Refuge System.
Here are my predictions about who will control the key committees:
In the Senate
Appropriations Committee – sets spending levels for all federal Departments, including the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is part of the Department of the Interior.
- Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS, may chair the Appropriations Committee.
- Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, will likely be the ranking Democrat.
Interior Appropriations Subcommittee – has jurisdiction over spending for all Interior agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, is expected to chair the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
- Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, will likely be the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.
Environment and Public Works Committee – responsible for legislation addressing the Refuge System, air and water pollution, fisheries and wildlife, toxic substances and waste disposal, among other issues.
- Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, is expected to chair the committee.
- Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, will likely be the ranking Democrat.
Energy and Natural Resources Committee – has jurisdiction over most energy policy and public lands issues; can review Fish and Wildlife Service issues.
- Sen. Murkowski is expected to also chair this committee.
- If Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, is re-elected in a December 6 runoff, she is likely to be the ranking Democrat. Should she lose, the next-highest ranking Democrat on the committee is Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA.
In the House of Representatives:
Appropriations Committee – sets spending levels for all federal Departments, including the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is part of the Department of the Interior.
- Rep. Hal Rogers, R-KY, will continue to chair the Appropriations Committee.
- Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, will continue as the ranking Democrat.
Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior – has jurisdiction over spending for all Interior agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Rep. Ken Calvert, R-CA, is expected to continue to chair the subcommittee on Interior appropriations.
- Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN, will likely be the new ranking Democrat.
Natural Resources Committee – has jurisdiction over wildlife refuges, national parks, and other public lands; fisheries, wildlife, forest reserves, Native Americans and related policies.
- Rep. Rob Bishop, R-UT, is likely to move into the chairmanship.
- Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-AZ, may become the ranking Democrat; although I hear that others including Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-CA, may have interest in the slot.
Transportation and Infrastructure – has jurisdiction over all transportation funding and policy, including programs that fund Refuge System roads, bridges and trails.
- Rep Bill Shuster, R-PA, is expected to continue as chairman.
- Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, is expected to serve as the ranking member.
Your members of Congress need to hear from you on important wildlife refuge issues. If you aren’t already a member of our Refuge Action Network, please click here to sign up now! We’ll send you action alerts when we need you to speak up on behalf.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
Friends Working Together For the Good of the Refuge
The Friends of Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating the successful completion of its new strategic plan, as well as a terrific community event that has helped re-energize a group that almost closed its doors.
Friends of Mashpee is a unique Friends group: it got its start in 1995 when a group of concerned citizens on Cape Cod pushed to establish the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge. Instead of being owned solely by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge is owned and managed by eight different partners – from local indian tribes to state and local governments.
The Service owns just 400 of the 5,800 acres that comprise the refuge, making the cooperation of the eight partners that much more important. The partners meet every three months to discuss projects on the refuge such as habitat work to help the New England cottontail. They take a whole landscape approach and cooperate through a memorandum of understanding allowing all of them to access each others’ parcels for the good of the refuge. As it gets more challenging financially for the Service to purchase land for refuges, Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge is serving as a model for how best to cooperatively manage conservation lands.
The Friends not only played a critical role in establishing the refuge, they also play a large role in fundraising and increasing awareness about the refuge. However, over time board members left and at one point, the Friends of Mashpee came to a standstill and almost closed its doors. Read more...
Re-Energizing the Friends
MaryKay Fox moved to Cape Cod after spending many years enjoying refuges in Minnesota. She became the new President of the Friends of Mashpee, and in the last four years the Friends group has grown significantly and is on the rise. Their most recent annual meeting had the highest attendance ever. Fox strongly believes that the purpose of the Friends is to spread the word about the refuge and get people excited, and that is exactly what they are doing.
A $5,000 grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation has really expedited the growth of the Friends. A large portion of the grant was used for capacity building: buying a computer, building a website, creating a new logo, and producing and printing a brochure. A smaller portion was used for some of the most important things: creating a strategic plan and putting on a community event.
The Friends are finishing up their strategic plan at the end of this week and it is a giant step forward for the motivated group. Not only did they take into account the needs of their own group, but also the needs of all eight partners that are managing the refuge.
The final portion of the grant supported an event to educate the community about pollinators. It was an all day workshop where gardeners, landscapers and university professors learned about the importance of pollinators and got to visit the pollinator garden that the Friends built on the refuge. It was incredible exposure for both the Friends and the refuge. The future looks bright for Friends of Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge.
We’re now accepting award nominations for the 2015 National Wildlife Refuge Association National Wildlife Refuge System Awards. The National Wildlife Refuge System Awards, sponsored by the Refuge Association, honor outstanding accomplishments by refuge managers, refuge employees, volunteers and Friends groups. Recognizing the excellence of these individuals and groups not only highlights the dedication and devotion of those who support the Refuge System, but also raises awareness about the diversity of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the challenges it faces and innovative efforts across the country to meet those challenges. For more information about the awards and how to submit a nomination, click here!
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW BRIAN GREEVES
Brian Greeves is the Water and Farm Manager at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is best known for: Established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover for migratory waterfowl, the refuge is best known for the thousands of sand-hill cranes, geese and other waterfowl that winter here each year.
The refuge’s best-kept secret is: The refuge’s best-kept secret is that its year round beauty. My favorite time of year is spring. The refuge comes alive with the sound of migrating birds, the movements of snakes, lizards and turtles. New growth adds a bright hue to the palette of colors the state of New Mexico is famous for.
The most interesting species on the refuge is: The greater roadrunner. They are voracious predators eating insects, tarantulas, scorpions, mice, small birds, lizards and small snakes. A southwestern specialty, some Pueblo Indian tribes believe that the roadrunner provides protection from evil spirits. I just think they look pretty cool.
My favorite activity on the refuge is: I love to drive the tour loops and walk the nature trails. The exhilaration of walking through golden cottonwoods and willows in the fall as the sand-hill cranes fly inches above the cottonwoods calling to one another, brings me back to another place or time.
The best time to visit the refuge is: Every spring and fall, wave after wave of migrating birds fill the skies. This is the best time to visit and also my favorite. The Annual Festival of the Cranes, November 18-23, 2014 is also a great time to visit. The refuge is at its best with workshops, tours, lectures, hikes and other special activities. Come visit us!
Attention Federal Employees!
Support the Refuge Association through the Combined Federal Campaign
As you know, the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is the annual fund-raising drive conducted by federal employees in their workplace each fall. Please help us make a difference for the Refuge System by checking #10076 on your contribution form. CFC donations help us carry out our mission of protecting refuges by building community support and educating decision-makers about the importance of refuges for wildlife conservation.
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:
November 12: Congress Returns
November 17-18: Friends Fly-In to Washington, D.C.
November 27: Thanksgiving
December 2: Giving Tuesday
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