With the holiday season in full swing, we are continuously reminded of the amazing support we receive from you, our wildlife refuge Friends groups, supporters and advocates. The National Wildlife Refuge Association knows we can find you visiting local wildlife refuges, entering our photo contest and sharing your thoughts with us on social media, as well as advocating on Capitol Hill and in your local community to support America’s wildlife refuges.
Throughout the past year, our 40th anniversary, we have mobilized friends and partners to travel to Washington, D.C. to speak up in support of a larger federal investment for wildlife refuges. Thanks to the support and advocacy by Refuge System supporters, we have good news to report on the FY16 spending bill: the Land and Water Conservation Fund was reauthorized for three years with spending set at $450 million, and Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance budget was set at $481 million, a $7.2 million increase over last year’s budget. Overall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget was set at $1.5 billion, an increase of $68 million. Also thanks to your voices, the spending bill did not include a so-called ‘rider’ that would have permitted a road be constructed through a globally important wetland at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
We could not achieve these successes without the support of Refuge Association members and donors. In this giving season, I hope you will remember the Refuge Association and consider making a generous donation. Like the Refuge System itself, the Refuge Association delivers an exponential return for every dollar invested. With your support, we can continue advocating for and conserving the nearly half a billion acres of wildlife and habitat that make up our Refuge System.
From all of us at the National Wildlife Refuge Association, we wish you a joyous holiday season and happy new year. Take some time to visit our refuges this winter and enjoy the many outdoor and indoor events offered!
ON THE REFUGE
Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Minor Outlying Islands
Beyond the abundance of birds found on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, including Wisdom who at 64 years of age is the oldest known banded bird in the wild, this area is also unique due to the changes and challenges of the natural landscape over time.
Midway, located on the far northern end of the Hawaiian archipelago and part of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, is one of the oldest atoll formations in the world. Before permanent human inhabitance, Midway’s islands were likely open, windy and sandy, covered with low-growing vegetation, such as Bunchgrass/Kāwelu and Beach Morning Glory/Pōhuehue. Following the Pacific Commercial Cable Company’s arrival in the early 20th century, the atoll’s plant communities and natural landscape changed dramatically.
From 1906 to 1930, over 8,100 tons of topsoil from Honolulu were imported to the atoll to create vegetable gardens; in addition, numerous species were planted, such as Ironwood, to provide windbreaks and hold sand in place. As a result, immeasurable soil organisms, insects and invasive weeds were inadvertently introduced. So while most of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are characterized by relatively few plant species–most support 23 species on average–more than 250 species of vegetation have been recorded on Midway, the majority of which are non-native and/or invasive.
Midway’s time as a military naval air base, between 1903 and 1998, also altered the landscape. During World War II, the base was bombard by two Japanese destroyers, part of the fleet that had just attacked Pearl Harbor. From June 4 – 6, 1942, the decisive Battle of Midway was fought on the islands and surrounding waters. To clean up from these operations and begin restoring the native landscape, the U.S. Navy’s rehabilitation efforts included removing metal debris and underground fuel tanks, plus adding a native plant nursery and initiating a habitat restoration effort.
Some introduced species have not caused any serious environmental management issues. Others, specifically Golden Crown-Beard and Ironwood, require time intensive efforts, including hand-pulling, mowing and herbicide application, to prevent the invasive vegetation from taking over and causing havoc to the native ecosystem. These invasive species propagate quickly, compete with native plants and destroy crucial breeding habitat for numerous seabirds, including the albatross.
Because of Midway’s complicated natural history and highly altered landscape, habitat management for both flora and fauna alike depends heavily upon invasive species control and outplanting of native plants. Many native species that nearly became locally extinct, including Ilima and Anaunau, have been brought back due to intensive propagation and outplanting efforts by U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) staff and volunteers. Nearly 15 years ago, Midway’s native plant community had dropped to only 12 native species after various other species became extinct on the atoll. Now, after intensive restoration efforts by USFWS staff and volunteers, the number has doubled!
Recently, Friends of Midway Atoll (FOMA) was awarded a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to control invasive golden crownbeard on Midway Atoll. These funds will support a collaborative effort between USFWS, FOMA, Biological Conservation Assistance Program and volunteers to control the invasive plant.
Read more about efforts to restore the natural island habitat and remove Golden crownbeard from Midway Atoll.
Learn more about Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge at: fws.gov/refuge/Midway_Atoll/wildlife_and_habitat
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
Our 40th Anniversary Succeses & Milestones
This year marked the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s 40th anniversary. It was full of challenges and milestones that have been many years in the making. We’d like to express our gratitude to you, the members, supporters, partners and activists who make the Refuge Association’s work possible and successful.
Below are a few of the many major accomplishments we’re proud to share. Accomplishments that you helped us achieve include:
- Protecting Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The year began with the culmination of a decade of work when President Obama announced the new management plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, followed by his recommendation to Congress to designate the majority of the refuge as Wilderness. Meanwhile, the Refuge Association and our colleagues won another round in the long-term battle to protect the integrity of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, threatened by construction of a politically-charged road.
- Conserving the largest marine protected area on the planet: 473 million acres of land and water in the Pacific
In 2015, the Refuge Association worked on developing a strategic plan to help guide efficient and effective management, partnerships and funding for this intricate system of coral reefs, islands, atolls, undersea mounts, deep sea canyons and more than 7,000 species, from the microscopic to the magnificent.
- Furthering collaborative partnerships that conserve greater sage-grouse across the West
In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined not to add the greater sage-grouse to the federal endangered species list, citing the promise of collaborative conservation plans across the West.
The decision builds on the Refuge Association’s long-term work to enhance landscape conservation partnerships in key “Sagebrush Strongholds” where refuges play an anchor role in protecting sagebrush habitat not just for sage-grouse, but for pronghorn, mule deer, pygmy rabbit and songbirds.
- Rallying the public and our elected officials to increase their support for our wildlife refuges
During the past year, the Refuge Association initiated a series of regional capacity-building workshops for Refuge Friends Groups. In addition, leading the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), we helped re-invigorate the Refuge Caucus in the House of Representatives bringing new and old champions together. And with Partners for Conservation and the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition, we’ve brought attention to the effectiveness of some of the National Wildlife Refuge System’s important programs.
We cannot do this work without your support. Please consider help us continue doing more great work in 2016 by making your tax-deductible contribution today.
House and Senate lawmakers reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for three years and set FY16 spending at $450 million in the FY16 Interior spending bill that was announced last week, a major boost in LWCF funding.
The Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance budget was set at $481 million, a $7.2 million increase over last year’s budget. Overall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget was set at $1.5 billion, an increase of $68 million.
The spending bill importantly does not include a ‘rider’ that would have allowed the construction of a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and its congressionally designated wilderness in Alaska, an amendment strongly opposed by the National Wildlife Refuge Association and refuge Friends groups nationwide.
Of the $450 million for LWCF, the Refuge System will receive $68.5 million for projects next year. Among the Refuge Association’s LWCF priorities that were funded:
- Recreational access for sportsmen and other users: $2.5 million
- Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge: $4.6 million
- Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge – $2 million
- Bear River Watershed Conservation Area- $2 million
- Dakota Grassland Conservation Area – $6.5 million
- Dakota Tallgrass Prairie Wildlife Management Area – $3 million
The agreement includes $2.5 million for urban wildlife conservation as well as $2.1 million for volunteer partnerships; an increase of $500,000 over the FY15 enacted level, for costs related to ensuring that volunteers, who currently contribute 20 percent of all work done on refuges, maintain a robust presence at wildlife refuges.
The House and Senate passed the legislation on Dec. 17 and 18, and the president signed the bill on Dec. 18. This legislation funds the Refuge System and other Interior agencies for the remainder of FY16.
The bill is not without its faults. Included in the legislation is a provision preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from issuing further rules to place sage-grouse on the Endangered Species Act.
“A spending bill is not the place to create sweeping policies that prevent the Service from following the law under the Endangered Species Act,” Houghton said. However, the bill also included $60 million for the Bureau of Land Management and $3.3 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve greater sage-grouse habitat.
The following is a breakdown of Refuge System related funding levels included in the bill:
- Land and Water Conservation Fund: $68.5 million
- Refuge Fund: $13.2 million
- North American Wetlands Conservation Fund (NAWCA): $35.1 million
- Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program: $51.7 million
- Coastal Grant Program: $13.3 million
- State Wildlife Grants: $60.6 million
- Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund: $3.9 million
- Multinational Species Conservation Fund: $11.1 million
- FWS Construction: $23.7 million
Read our press release for more info.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society Program Teaches City Youth About Their Local Watershed
This year more than 850 San Jose area 5th to 12th grade students left the tangle of car horns, tall buildings and and concrete sidewalks for a different landscape: wetland habitats. Kids from the city learned how their actions at home affect the wildlife, vegetation and living organisms that call the wetland system their home through Living Wetlands. The program, previously called Slow the Flow, was created by San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote public awareness and appreciation of the San Francisco Bay and its natural history, and to conserve and preserve the remaining bay lands, as essential habitat.
Starting in 1999, the Living Wetlands program (previously called Slow the Flow) began offering field trips, interpretive programs, events and classroom presentations. In its infancy, the program consisted of one dedicated part-time staff member, providing outreach through four separate interpretive programs, a special event, a summer day-camp, classroom presentations and field trips. Today, the program has grown to include 15 unique interpretive programs, two to three special events a year, a summer camp, and field trips and classroom presentations for schools, community partners and non-profit organizations. Currently, one program coordinator, two associates, a site supervisor from USFWS and numerous volunteers support the program.
The program’s goal is to increase public awareness about watersheds and water conservation. Integrated field trips, aimed at 5th to 12th grade students, are the most popular aspect of the program. The field trips combine a visit to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge with a follow up classroom presentation conducted by staff from the Society. All of the offerings are free of cost to qualifying participants.
Field trips include a habitat walk when students first visit the refuge. During the second trip, elementary and middle school students conduct a water runoff experiment. They receive various materials to assess which are best at absorbing runoff. High schoolers also go outside for their second visit, however their project is to assess the wetland health by testing the water quality.
In the classroom, project leaders help students bridge the connection between how their actions at home affect the local watershed. Aja Yee, Living Wetlands program coordinator, recently visited a school where she had a class play a water conservation board game that is similar to Candy Land. Students are also given a map–a paper map, not an interactive computer map–and asked to place stickers indicating the location of the local wastewater treatment plant, the watershed their school is in and the closest creek. Using a map provides students with a sense of space and helps deepen their understanding of how the concrete world and living world connect.
What do students think of the program?
“Thank you so much for teaching us about wildlife and water. I learned a lot more than I knew before. Also, thank you for even showing us a model and all the activities. I can’t wait for my little sister to come to this field trip. Again we had fun learning.” –Eliana, student at Los Gatos Christian School
A great endorsement!
The Living Wetlands program is a partnership of the City of San Jose, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society. The program seeks to raise public awareness about watersheds and water conservation in relation to the salt marshes at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
For more information about San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society and their Living Wetlands program visit: sfbws.com.
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 Meg Duhr-Schultz
The Refuge is Best Known For: It’s wildlife and history, which are currently best embodied in Midway’s most famous resident, Wisdom the Laysan albatross. At a minimum of 64 years of age and still hatching and raising chicks, she could very well have been a chick during the historic World War II Battle of Midway in June 1942.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret: We support globally significant populations of several other seabird species besides albatrosses, including what are likely the largest Bonin petrel and white tern colonies in the world.
The Most Interesting Species on the Refuge: It’s a tie between the Bonin petrel and the Hawaiian monk seal.
My Favorite Activity on the Refuge: Watching the sunset from the top of a dune and taking in the spectacle of our nightly “bird-nado,” when hundreds of thousands of Bonin petrels return from their day at sea to their underground nests. The skies literally darken from the sheer volume of petrels.
The Best Time to Visit the Refuge: Any time of the year! Out in the Pacific Islands there is no “off-season.” Not only do we have a year-round growing season and resident marine mammals, but supporting breeding populations of 17 tropical seabird species means that this place is bustling with wildlife activity every day of the year.
Midway is currently closed to visitation. The refuge hopes visitor services operations will reopen in the future. In the meantime, visit Midway’s spectacular resources through Google Streetview or take a virtual tour of the historic Sand Island.
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:
Now to April 8: Count birds as part of Project FeederWatch (nationwide)
Dec. 29 to 30: Hibernate, Migrate or Insulate: A Wildlife Winter Survival Guide camp with hands-on activities for students at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge (Idaho)
Dec. 29: National Audubon Society’s 116th Annual Christmas Bird Count at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (Va.)
To find more refuges participating in this Dec. 14 to Jan. 4 event visit: audubon.org/conservation/join-christmas-bird-count
Dec. 30 through March: If you’re an experienced surveyor, help out with the winter raptor survey, at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (N.Y.)
Jan. 2: Join a refuge ranger for a morning of eagle watching at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge (Ill.)
Jan. 10: Children can mold and sculpt clay to create art depicting the winter habitat at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Calif.)
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