This month, we are relieved to finally see the 41-day occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge come to an end. We’d like to commend the FBI, local law enforcement and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for working together to remove the remaining occupiers without violence. Restoration can now begin, and conservation must continue. Repairing the damage – both physical and emotional – will not be easy, but it is heartening to know how much support exists for Malheur and all of its staff, Friends and volunteers who make it such a beloved wildlife refuge. Read my full statement about the occupation finally concluding.
Speaking of support for America’s wildlife refuges, yesterday we announced our Refuge System Awards. At times like this, it’s wonderful to be reminded of the talent and dedication that exists throughout the Refuge System. These outstanding individuals and groups have gone the extra mile to care for our wildlife refuges. I extend my heartfelt congratulations to this year’s recipients: Keith Weaver, the Paul Kroegel Refuge Manager of the Year; Douglas Head, Refuge Employee of the Year; Ann Humphrey, Refuge Volunteer of the Year; and Friends of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, the Molly Krival Friends Group of the Year.
Also announced this month, the President’s budget request includes $506.6 million for the Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance (O&M) budget. This would be an increase over the current FY16 budget ($481 million). We are pleased with the proposed increase, but feel this amount is still inadequate. The Refuge System is operating with approximately 20 percent less funds than six years ago, when accounting for inflation. The Refuge Association estimates that the Refuge System needs at least $900 million each year in O&M funding but currently receives just about half that amount. Sign up for our action alerts to help the Refuge System attain the funds it needs to operate and care for the lands and waters we love so much.
Thanks for your continuous support of our wildlife refuges–the one in your backyard and those across the nation,
ON THE REFUGE
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
This month, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating its 70th anniversary. We’re taking a look at one way the refuge has changed in response to the growing community and following up on the how the floods of 2015 could affect the refuge in 2016.
Located in north-central Texas, the 12,000 acre Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1946. The once rural surrounding area has grown more urban as the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area expands. People now live much closer to the refuge, which has led to an increase in visitation. These additional visitors are causing the refuge to modify its programs, most notably the educational offerings.
Results of a visitor survey conducted five years ago, show visitors would like to see more environmental education programs offered by the refuge. The refuge currently lacks the funds to hire environmental education staff, but is discussing hiring an educational position to help meet visitor’s requests. “The Friends of Hagerman,” said Rick Cantu, wildlife refuge specialist, “have been instrumental in helping the refuge assess the wants and needs for nature programming.”
Helping Monarch Butterflies
This past summer and fall, the refuge expanded its educational opportunities through a joint partnerships with AmeriCorps and the Student Conservation Association (SCA). A monarch student conservation corps intern worked at the refuge for six months and developed community events to support monarch habitats. This included visiting schools to teach children about the importance of pollinators, instructing local residents on how to build backyard butterfly habitats, coordinating a monarch tagging event and more. All events were well received and one of the monarch tagging event participants commented, “ I haven’t had this much fun since I was a kid!”
In October, the refuge celebrated the grand opening of a new butterfly garden that is also certified as a Monarch Waystation through the Monarch Watch program. Monarch Waystations provide resources to produce successive generations and sustain their migration, such as milkweed.
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is participating in the Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership of federal and state agencies, organizations and academic programs working together to protect monarchs and their habitat. Texas is an important state for monarch migration because it’s situated between the main breeding grounds in the north and the overwintering areas in Mexico. Monarchs normally fly through Texas towards the end of September and by the last week of October, most have flown over into Mexico.
Impact of 2015 Floods
In late January, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge reopened from a December 2015 flood. This was the last of four total floods the refuge experienced in 2015, making it a year full of openings and closings. Waters rose as much as 25 to 30 feet above normal levels. Then, from June to October, there was so little rain that this area was under a drought.
The public was unable to visit their refuge for large portions of last year or participate in activities such as the popular photography safaris, hosted by the Friends group — each flood required a month of clean up once the waters receded. But people were not the only ones impacted by the rising waters. How did this affect the wildlife and vegetation at Hagerman?
Cantu noted the floods displaced wintering waterfowl and migratory birds, but wildlife was able to move to higher ground during the flooding. The effects on vegetation won’t be seen until spring. Seeds from invasive vegetation may have come with the floods, but if any are present they won’t germinate until the warmer spring air arrives.
Now that the refuge is open, plan a visit to Wildlife Drive, hike along the trails and join in the 70th birthday celebration. Hosted by Friends of Hagerman, the February 21 birthday festivities will include a cake, refreshments, a photo slideshow depicting Hagerman throughout the years and a special book for you to share your refuge memories.
Learn more about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge at: fws.gov/refuge/Hagerman.
If you’d like to see your refuge highlighted, please email or call Tracey Adams at (202) 577-3396. We’d love to speak with you!
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
Conservation Leaders Recognized With 2016 Refuge System Awards
This week, the National Wildlife Refuge Association announced the recipients of our 2016 Refuge System Awards. These deserving individuals and Friends group have shown tremendous commitment to our national wildlife refuges.
“The men and women represented among this year’s winners illustrate the dedication employees and volunteers have for wildlife refuges,” said David Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “Their passion inspires us to consider additional ways we can help conserve these special places.”
The annual awards honor the outstanding accomplishments of a refuge manager, refuge employee, refuge volunteer and Friends group. Recognizing the excellence of these individuals and groups not only highlights the 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.
The 2016 Awardees are:
- Dr. Keith Weaver: The Paul Kroegel Refuge Manager of the Year Award
- Douglas M. Head II: Refuge Employee of the Year Award
- Ann Humphrey: Volunteer of the Year Award
- Friends of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge: The Molly Krival Friends Group of the Year Award
February is budget season on Capitol Hill, and we’re pleased with what President Obama recommended in his FY17 budget proposal released on Feb. 9.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
The budget request included a recommendation to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million. Established 51 years ago, the Fund supports land conservation and recreation projects using revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling projects. However, LWCF been underfunded by Congress for years, delaying progress on important conservation projects across the nation.
The President’s budget request also recommends permanent authorization in annual mandatory funding for LWCF programs beginning in 2018. View the project requests for the Refuge System and read more details in our press release.
Refuge System Operations & Maintenance Budget
The Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance budget also got a boost in the President’s budget. The request asks for $506.6 million for the O&M budget, an increase over the current FY16 budget ($481 million).
This increase is a good sign, but still reflects an inadequate amount of what is needed to fully support our wildlife refuges. The Refuge Association estimates that the Refuge System needs at least $900 million each year in O&M funding but currently receives just about half that amount. The Refuge System is operating with approximately 20 percent less funds than six years ago, when accounting for inflation.
Additional Conservation Priorities
Other conservation priorities in the President’s budget include:
- $7.5 million for the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program
- $54 million for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program ($2 million increase)
- $67 million for State Wildlife Grants ($6.4 million increase)
- $35 million for the North American Wetland Conservation Fund (flat)
- $3.9 million for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (flat)
- $11.1 million for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund (flat)
- $13.5 million for the Coastal Program ($100,000 increase)
This is the last budget request of President Obama’s term, and is largely symbolic but sets the tone for what this administration would like to accomplish in its final year. FY17 will begin Oct. 1, 2016, right in the middle of the chaotic election season. Congressional leadership has expressed hopes of passing individual appropriations bills, but more likely is an omnibus bill lumping several funding bills together, or a continuing resolution (CR) funding the government until a new President and Congress take over in January 2017.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
Helping endangered red wolves and sea turtles
Endangered red wolves and sea turtles are being helped thanks to a strong partnership between the Supporters of St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Located just offshore from Florida’s Apalachicola River, St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge is an undeveloped barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. Volunteering to assist with red wolf tracking is a unique opportunity, as the island serves as one of only 40 North American breeding sites for the endangered red wolf. The refuge provides a natural habitat and free roaming semi-wild experience for this endangered species to breed and raise pups.
The Supporters of St. Vincent is responsible for recruiting volunteers, and recently created a volunteer committee to better assist with securing and maintaining volunteers. Throughout the year, volunteers use refuge vehicles to drive designated routes and listen for signals emitted from the wolves’ tracking collars. Tracking duties may take anywhere from an hour to four or more on any given day. Currently, the refuge is home to a male and female breeding pair.
This species almost became extinct as a result of hunting and destruction of its native habitat. The red wolf historically roamed throughout the southeastern United States; today it’s one of the most endangered animals in the world. A population totaling a little as 35 of this species was once estimated, but the red wolf population has since increased to approximately 300 in the wild and captivity.
Supporters of St. Vincent also coordinates volunteers to participate in sea turtle patrols. Loggerheads are the most common, but this area could also support habitat for leatherback, green, hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley turtle nests. Nesting activity is monitored along nine miles of the island’s Gulf beach from May to October 31.
In the early to mid part of the nesting season, volunteers monitor the shoreline for nests. If eggs are discovered, the nest is protected with wire caging to prevent predators such as raccoons and feral pigs from destroying the eggs. The nest is then marked and monitored. Once the eggs hatch, volunteers note how many did and did not hatch. All data collected is then sent to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s marine turtle program.
“The community is proud to have a national wildlife refuge in its backyard and actively engaged in helping species,” noted Nancy Stuart, president of Supporters of St. Vincent.
In addition to providing volunteers, the Supporters of St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge donated funds for the refuge to purchase a special net, which is used to help provide care to the wolves as needed. The Friends group also applies for and has received grants from the Sea Turtle Conservancy and manages the Sea Turtle Adoption Program. All of these funds are used for materials such as cages, stakes and more for turtle patrols.
Red wolf tracking, sea turtle patrol and beach clean-ups are just a few of the numerous volunteer opportunities coordinated by Friends of St. Vincent Island. To learn more and sign up to be a volunteer, go to: stvincentfriends.com.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW Rick Cantu
Rick Cantu is a wildlife refuge specialist at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in Texas
The Refuge is Best Known For: Wintering waterfowl, along with an abundance of bird and wildlife species which can be seen throughout the year.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret: The kayaking opportunities which allow visitors to access and explore portions of the refuge in a manner seldom seen by others.
The Most Interesting Species on the Refuge: The painted bunting, visitors are often surprised to discover the multi-colored species is a common bird on the refuge.
My Favorite Activity on the Refuge: The photo safaris sponsored by our friends group which allow photographers an opportunity to explore the refuge with a group leader in hopes of capturing the amazing wildlife scenes which occur on a daily basis.
The Best Time to Visit the Refuge: Hagerman is well known for the ducks and geese which spend the winter on the refuge but I believe that the spring migration is is just as exciting due to the variety and numbers of bird species seen during this time.
Friends, are you connected?
RefugeFriendsConnect.org is a membership site that is managed by Refuge Association 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:
Feb. 21: Celebrate the 70th birthday of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge (Texas)
Feb. 21 & 22: Explore the mysterious lives of Colorado owls, and learn how to find and identify animal tracks during an indoor/outdoor program at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. (Colo.)
March 6-10: The Annual APPL Convention and Trade Show provides four days of learning experiences and opportunities to build connections with public lands partners. (Wash.)
March 12: Set the alarm early for a sunrise photography expedition at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. (N.C.)
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