Fall is almost upon us. Migration is in full swing, and wildlife activity on our refuges is picking up. So, too, is the activity in Washington, D.C., as Congress is back in session and lawmakers are attempting to cram in key legislation before they recess for the mid-term election push.
We’re keeping an eye on legislation impacting the National Wildlife Refuge System, particularly any action on Interior appropriations. It’s unclear that any progress will be made until after the elections; however, we’re hopeful some less contentious legislation will pass before Congress adjourns, including a Senate resolution designating October 12-18 as National Wildlife Refuge Week and another recognizing the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Obama Administration are moving forward with important conservation efforts. This week, Director Dan Ashe and National Wildlife Refuge System Chief Jim Kurth will brief members of Congress on the new Urban Wildlife Refuge Program. This month’s Flyer features the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the first recipient of $1 million in new funding to support its urban refuge program.
The Obama Administration also announced its intent to expand an existing national marine monument around seven remote national wildlife refuges in the central Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument currently covers approximately 83,000 square miles in the south-central Pacific Ocean and is home to some of the most pristine and biodiverse waters in the world. We are in full support of this expansion, and encourage you to sign our letter to the President to voice your support.
Also in this month’s Flyer, you’ll learn more about our work in support of conservation efforts in the Sheldon and Hart national wildlife refuges in Oregon and Nevada. Our conservation team has been working closely with local landowners, partners, and the refuges to find solutions that address declining greater sage-grouse populations.
And finally, we are now taking nominations for our 2015 Refuge System awards. Do you know someone exceptional at your local refuge? The categories are Refuge Manager of the Year, Refuge Employee of the Year, Refuge Friends Group of the Year, and Refuge Volunteer of the year. Read more about how to submit a nomination.
ON THE REFUGE
San Diego: A Mosaic of Landscapes and Challenges
The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex has had quite the month. The complex was the first to be awarded $1 million in additional funding for the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program, Project Leader Andy Yuen received his Refuge Manager of the Year Award, and the complex released its draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge.
The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex is comprised of four refuges: Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge sits just south of Long Beach, CA, and the other three are nestled just above the border of Mexico. Their locations and unique landscapes make for an interesting challenge in wildlife and landscape management. Read more...
Refuge staff at Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge are working closely with landowners in the Tijuana River Valley adjacent to one of Mexico’s major cities, Tijuana, to address pollution. The Tijuana River flows through Mexico and into the United States. A strong seasonal influx of sediment and trash flows in from across the border onto state park and refuge lands. Large sedimentation basins on one tributary capture some of this, but it requires constant effort to prevent large amounts of trash from impacting the refuge.
Closer to San Diego, the refuges are trying to balance the needs of wildlife and the desires of local outdoor recreationists. San Diego is known for its great outdoor recreation opportunities, such as mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. But on the nearby wildlife refuges, these activities have to be carefully managed to ensure protection of endangered species.
The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge protects many listed species including California gnatcatcher, least bell’s vireo, Quino checkerspot butterfly and otay tarplant. While trails exist on the refuge for people to use, some visitors make trails of their own. In particular, mountain bikers enjoy the “off roading” experience on these new unpaved paths, and hikers like to make their own trails to go where they please. To combat this and to protect listed species and other wildlife, the refuge recently released a draft CCP that includes alterations to trails on the Refuge. Alterations include moving and removing some of the trails. The CCP aims at striking a balance between providing trails for the public while also protecting wildlife and their habitats. The CCP has sparked some controversy, but the refuge staff is keeping with the mission of the Refuge System and putting wildlife first. It is a tricky balance, but essential.
Given its proximity to San Diego, the refuge has long had to deal with development pressure. Due to lack of funds, parcels of land within the refuge acquisition boundary were developed before the refuge could purchase them. Nevertheless, some incredible restoration projects have resulted due to the complex’s unique location. California’s largest coastal wetland restoration project south of the San Francisco Bay Area is located on the south portion of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is slowly restoring a series of salt ponds into functioning wetlands to benefit endangered species such as the California least tern and light-footed clapper rail, as well as the many wintering shorebirds that rely on these ponds each winter. Birds began arriving almost the instant the restoration was completed and the tide began to flow back into the area. It is thought that since the area was previously and currently is an active salt works, with almost no public access, it’s isolation greatly benefitted the wildlife.
North of the other three refuges is Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, which is unique in being a 100 percent ‘overlay refuge’ on U.S. Navy land meaning the refuge shares the land with the Navy. The refuge encompasses 923 acres of tidal salt marsh in Anaheim Bay with a small amount of adjacent uplands and is known for it’s population of light-footed clapper rail. Since the refuge is not typically open to the public due to its location on the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, guided tours are offered only on the last Saturday of each month to educate the community about what is happening on the refuge.
The refuges of San Diego National Wildlife Complex each have a unique set of challenges and together provide a wide variety of landscapes that are critical to protect endangered and native species. If the events of August are any indication, this refuge complex will continue to be a model for the entire system.
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
Collaborating to Conserve Oregon and Nevada Sagebrush Steppe
Two of the largest national wildlife refuges in the Lower 48 states, Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (278,000 acres) in Oregon and Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge (575,000 acres) in Nevada, serve as conservation anchor points in the high desert sagebrush steppe of the Northern Great Basin. Linked together by Bureau of Land Management holdings, state lands and private ranches, this big country provides habitat for more than 300 species including pronghorn antelope, pygmy rabbit and the greater sage-grouse.
The Refuge Association is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other agencies, conservation groups including the Friends of Nevada Wilderness and the Oregon Natural Desert Association, local officials, landowners and community members as well as Congressional lawmakers to blend a number of conservation strategies that can strike a balance in this large landscape.
The Sheldon-Hart region is one of the four or five highest density breeding grounds for greater sage-grouse in the nation and hosts relatively stable populations of a bird that is in steady decline elsewhere in the West. With large federal landholdings already, and cooperation with neighboring private landowners, a great opportunity exists to create a collaborative conservation effort that provides a healthy ecosystem for sage-grouse and other sagebrush-dependent species. Read more...
Recognizing this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investing in the Sheldon and Hart refuges as a region of range wide significance, where enhanced conservation may make an important difference in the stability of this once-ubiquitous game bird.
Together we are exploring the use of a variety of voluntary, incentive-based, administrative and regulatory tools to conserve the traditions of the rural west and to protect the future of sage-grouse and other native wildlife and native plant communities of the area.
Multiple threats impact sage-grouse populations and their native landscapes, and the interplay of all of them combined creates the imminent need for conservation measures. Intense and increasingly frequent wildfires, the spread of invasive species, historic overgrazing by livestock and the rapid increase in feral horse and burro populations, and the unchecked expansion of water-hogging juniper forests that now cover the land well beyond their natural boundaries combine to create a complicated mix.
When it comes to bringing sage-grouse back, we hear a lot about improving connectivity, reducing habitat fragmentation, and developing resiliency. The Sheldon NWR and Hart Mountain NAR are positioned perfectly to achieve all three of these. Together, these refuges function as foundational bookends, complementing the large blocks of public lands and critical private lands nearby. These non-refuge lands are in good condition, which is why sage-grouse, pronghorn, and other shrub-steppe obligate species are doing as well as they are. Developing a landscape strategy that implements restoration plans where improvements are needed can set an example of how the problems facing sage-grouse and our rural western way of life can be overcome.
Working together and being respectful of many points of view, we can make the Sheldon-Hart landscape a better place for all that is wild, western, and truly American. That is what strong conservation leadership is all about. As we all know, conservation work is best done when we work Beyond the Boundaries.
Congress is Back in Session
Congress is back for a brief session before the mid-term elections, and we are closely monitoring some key legislation that impacts the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since Congress did not pass all of its appropriations bills before the summer recess, the latest intel is that the House and Senate are likely to pass a Continuing Resolution (“C.R.”) that will continue current levels of government funding until mid December. This means that the Refuge System will continue to be funded at current levels. The House appropriations bill would fund the Refuge System at $476.4 million, and the Senate number is slightly less at $475.4 million for FY15. Read more...
We are also monitoring the progress of two Senate resolutions that highlight the importance of public lands. The first is a resolution introduced by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) to designate October 12-18 as National Wildlife Refuge Week. The second, introduced by Sen. Wyden (D-OR) and Sessions (R-AL), is a resolution to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. We commend these two senators for recognizing the importance of our refuges and wilderness areas.
President Proposed Expansion of Marine Monument – Still Time to Voice Your Support
On June 17, 2014, the Obama administration announced its intent to expand an existing marine National Monument around seven remote national wildlife refuges in the central Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument currently covers approximately 83,000 square miles in the south-central Pacific Ocean and is home to some of the most pristine and biodiverse waters in the world. The Administration has the potential to increase protection of U.S. waters in the Pacific Ocean by up to 676,000 square miles, larger than the state of Alaska, and bigger than Texas, California, Montana, and Arizona combined. The result would be the largest network of marine protected area in the world. Read more...
At the center of the expanded monument are seven islands and atolls – all designated national wildlife refuges: Wake Atoll NWR, Johnston Atoll NWR, Baker Island NWR, Howland Island NWR, Kingman Reef NWR, Jarvis Island NWR and Palmyra Atoll NWR. The current National Monument protects the waters surrounding the refuges 50 nautical miles from land – the expansion would protect the waters 200 miles from land.
The expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be of global and regional ecological importance for large predatory fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles. An estimated 14 million seabirds representing 19 species use these areas as feeding and breeding grounds. Five species of protected sea turtles, including the critically endangered leatherback, and 22 species of protected marine mammals use these waters as migratory routes and feeding grounds. Also, remarkably rich coral ecosystems would be protected.
You can help make this happen! The Refuge Association along with many Friends groups and private citizens have already signed a letter to urge the President to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and you can too in our action center.
The letter urges the Obama administration to expand the monument to 200 nautical miles, the full expanse of U.S. jurisdiction in these waters, and make conservation the primary purpose of the monument. The letter urges the Administration to commit resources to adequately staff and manage the expansion as well as the existing Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument created in 2006 by the Bush Administration. We also urge the Obama Administration to create an Inner Agency Task Force led by the Department of the Interior, whose main mission is conservation, that would include agencies within DOI as well as NOAA, U.S. Coast Guard, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and State Department. The Obama Administration’s announcement to expand protection of U.S. waters in the Pacific Ocean is a major step in the right direction, and the first monument he has proposed in the ocean.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
Peer to Peer Coaching Session at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Sixteen Friends groups from Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico traveled to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico September 5 and 6 for the second Friends Peer to Peer coaching session.
These regional events, funded in part by a National Wildlife Refuge Friends Program grant administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, give local Friends groups an opportunity to meet face-to-face to discuss common challenges and learn best practices in running their respective non-profit organizations. Read more...
The two-day session featured several presentations, including one by Cathy Allen, from Creative Option C, LLC, who led a workshop about board development, and Tom Prall, Refuge Association board member and retired insurance professional, who led a session on assessing insurance needs. Joan Patterson from the Refuge Association, also spoke about the benefits of story-telling as a way to engage members, donors and decision-makers.
The groups discussed a variety of issues facing Friends groups, including how to get the local community involved in the local refuge and Friends group; recruiting new board members; fundraising and navigating the new Friends policy released in April. The groups also had an opportunity to share success stories and accomplishments.
“Bringing Friends together helps motivate the group as a whole and really fosters creativity, thinking outside the box, and also sharing ideas with one another,” said Patterson. “The entire group was energized throughout the weekend and everyone went home armed with information to help their Friends group succeed, and help their refuge succeed.”
The event was organized by Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Executive Director Leigh Ann Vandenberg, Regional Friends Coordinator Nancy Brown, Refuge staff all helped make the workshop a success.
Friends groups in attendance included:
- Tishomingo Refuge Ecology and Education Society, OK
- Friends of Muleshoe, TX
- Friends of the Wichitas, OK
- Friends of Anahuac,TX
- Friends of the Bill Williams River & Havasu National Wildlife Refuges, AZ
- Friends of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, TX
- Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge, TX
- Friends of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, NM
- Friends of Neches River, TX
- Friends of Brazoria Wildlife Refuges, TX
- Friends of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX
- Friends of Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, NM
- Friends of Kofa, AZ
- Friends of Attwater Prairie Chicken Wildlife Refuge, TX
- Amigos de la Sevilleta, NM
- Friends of Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge, OK
Friends and Partners Coming to Washington
This week, eight Friends groups are making the rounds on Capitol Hill with a unified message to Congress: provide robust funding for the Refuge System’s operations and maintenance account, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the transportation bill (MAP-21), and pass the Resource Protection Act.
Friends from SEWEE Association, Rapahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends, Friends of Nisqually NWR, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, Friends of Tualatin River NWR, Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuge, and Okefenokee Wildlife League are meeting with their congressional delegations.
These refuge advocates participated in a citizen advocacy training session lead by the Refuge Association’s Desiree Sorenson-Groves, Vice-President of Government Affairs, and Joan Patterson, Director of Grassroots Outreach.
Robust funding for the Refuge System operations and maintenance budget is a top priority for refuge advocates. The Refuge System manages 150 million acres on its annual operations and maintenance budget, which presently averages less than $3.15 per acre. The Refuge System cannot fulfill its obligations without increases in maintenance and operations funds.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is also a key tool for protecting the integrity of the Refuge System. LWCF is the primary source of funding for land and conservation easement acquisition by federal land agencies. This fund just celebrated it’s 50th anniversary where we were reminded of its importance and successes. Read more...
Friends are also lobbying for more robust funding within the the transportation bill (MAP-21). The Refuge System needs to maintain and improve roads, trails, and other transportation infrastructure on its lands to accommodate 46.5 million annual visitors. The transportation bill will fund projects that support jobs, increase safety and access on refuges, and reduce vehicular collisions with wildlife with appropriate crossings and signage.
Finally, the Resource Protection Act is of vital importance since it will allow refuges to seek and obtain compensation from responsible parties who injure refuge resources, whether through vandalism, encroachment, or chemical spills. Currently, fines levied for most types of damage to refuge resources go to the general treasury. These funds can only be made available to the Service to repair or replace those resources with further congressional action. The Resource Protection Act would give the Refuge System the same authority to seek damages as other agencies such as the National Park Service.
When members of Congress hear directly from their constituents about how these policies and funds impact them and their area directly, it makes a big difference. We appreciate these Friends members for taking time out of their busy schedules to make this important trip.
Learn more about specific legislation impacting the Refuge System by reading the Refuge Association’s 2014 Legislative Priorities for America’s Wildlife.
Tigers for Tigers is Also Coming to Washington
Friends aren’t the only constituents that can make a difference, students make a big difference as well! Members from three chapters of the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition will also be on the Hill this week, as well as meeting with members of the Administration. This motivated group of students will be advocating against the poaching crisis and will seek appropriate funding to support international endangered species. They will be thanking Senator Portman for being instrumental in advocating for the Save Vanishing Species Stamp. The stamp allows the American public and tiger mascot fans to take part in raising additional funding to support international wildlife through USFWS. This trip is a great opportunity for students to gain real-world experience, connect to conservation professionals and work together to save their mascot.
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 SLADER BUCK
Deputy Project Leader
The San Diego National Wildlife Refuges Complex is best known for: I would have to say for the protection of the gnatcatcher, least tern, and other endangered species. Also we are starting to become more well known for being an urban refuge.
The Complex’s best-kept secret is: An amazing amount of beautiful land is readily accessible to the urban and suburban population. There’s a real beauty in getting out in the coastal scrub and riparian areas.
The most interesting species on the Complex is: It’s hard to say because people have their own biases although I really like the wintering shorebirds that come in.
Favorite activity on the Complex is: Hiking! Oh, I love to hike. I love to walk down the refuge and experience it and all its beauty.
The best time to visit the Complex is: My favorite month is November. I absolutely love Southern California in late Fall. Crisp air and beautiful sunsets make it a great time to get out on the refuge.
We need your help!
Does your Refuge or Friends group partner with an outside group such as branches of the military, Native American tribes, other nonprofits, etc? We want to hear about it! Please email email@example.com to share your story.
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:
September 19: Federal Duck Stamp Contest begins
September 22-25: Private Lands Partners Days
September 27: National Public Lands Day
September 27: National Fishing and Hunting Day
September 28: World Rivers Day
October 6: World Habitat Day
October 12-18: National Wildlife Refuge Week
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