We began 2016 in a place none of us would ever wish to be. The illegal occupation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has been and continues to be a source of stress, frustration and concern. As this ordeal plays out, rest assured that the National Wildlife Refuge Association has the safety and well-being of our colleagues in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the forefront.
As I noted in an open letter earlier this month, we all must contemplate what we as public land stewards can do to address the underlying issues that played a role in creating this standoff. But just as importantly, we must continue to speak up about the great progress that has been made at Malheur and other refuges to resolve conflicts and improve the collaborative spirit of our conservation efforts.
This month, our Refuge Association in Action feature contains more on what we’re doing to #supportrefuges.
With Congress back in session, America’s wildlife refuges face additional uphill battles. We continue to fight for adequate funding for the Refuge System’s operations and maintenance budget, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Now, more than ever, we need your help to advocate for wildlife refuges. If you have not already, please sign up for our Action Alerts so you can lend your voice to our cause.
I want to thank all of the Friends groups that attended our Stand Up for Wildlife Fly-in Jan. 19-21. Dozens of Friends joined us on Capitol Hill to talk with their lawmakers and staffs about the needs and funding challenges facing their specific refuge as well as issues facing entire Refuge System. Read about it in this month’s Refuge Friends Connect feature. After these Refuge Association-sponsored Hill visits, they joined hundreds of other Friends out at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC), where – despite record snow during Winter Storm Jonas – they had a wonderful time learning and connecting during a highly-successful friends training put on by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Hats off to all of the organizers who did not let Snowzilla deter them!
This edition of the Flyer also highlights the wildlife and cultural resources found on Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington State. Ridgefield is a terrific refuge to visit and see thousands of wintering geese flocking there to feed on the nutrient-rich grasses that grow during southwestern Washington’s wet, mild winters.
Our thoughts are with our FWS colleagues, and I do hope to see them – and you – on a refuge soon,
ON THE REFUGE
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington
Near the southwestern border of Washington State, you’ll find Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. This 5,218 acre refuge, containing a mixture of wetlands, grasslands, riparian corridors and forests, lies along a lower section of the Columbia River. Wildlife in these habitats include wintering migratory waterfowl and 23 species of mammals ranging in size from moles to mountain lions.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1965 to provide a winter home for a dusky subspecies of the Canada goose. Visit during the autumn and winter seasons to view thousands of geese in various shades of gray and brown flying overhead, flocking together on walking paths and feeding on the nutrient-rich grasses.
In addition to serving as a winter habitat for six subspecies of Canada geese, Ridgefield is also known for having spectacular concentrations of ducks, swans and other migratory birds resting here during the cold months. Birds are definitely most abundant during autumn and winter, but you can also view some during other times of the year. Songbirds migrate in early spring and the summer breeding season brings goslings and ducklings playing under the watchful eye of their parents. Bald eagles, herons, owls, ducks and sparrows also nest in this section of Washington.
Unlike birds, the mammals species on this refuge are shyer and not as easy to see. But around sunset or sunrise, keep a quiet presence and take a pair of binoculars to spot an endangered Columbia white-tailed deer in the forest, a red fox scampering in the grasses, a coyote hunting food and chipmunks scampering on the ground.
Columbian white-tailed deer have been re-introduced to Ridgefield to support their recovery. Refuge staff is actively working with the Friends of Ridgefield to increase habitat for the deer. Friends and community volunteers are planting native trees and shrubs to provide cover and forage for the deer and other wildlife. Join in the effort on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until March 5, and help them reach their goal of adding 30,000 plants. To date, 345 volunteers have amassed 595 volunteer visits and planted 11,845 plants.
Beyond bird viewing, additional visitor activities include walking trails, an auto tour route and an interpretation center, the Cathlapotle Plankhouse. Built thanks to the help of more than 200 volunteers, the replica plankhouse is modeled after findings from an archaeological sites on the Columbia River. The Plankhouse, open to visitors on weekends in spring and summer, offers the opportunity to learn about the area’s culture and history. Here, refuge staff and special guests hold informational talks, provide hands-on demonstrations and offer children’s activities.
Learn more about Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge at: fws.gov/refuge/Ridgefield.
If you’d like to see your refuge highlighted, please contact Tracey Adams at email@example.com or (202) 577-3396. We’d love to speak with you!
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
Supporting Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge National Wildlife Refuge is an oasis in the high desert landscape of southeastern Oregon. For 108 years, it has been conserved as a place to benefit both wildlife and people. On January 2, the refuge was invaded by a small group of armed extremists. As of this writing on January 27, leaders of the standoff at Malheur were arrested, and one was killed. However, others remain at the refuge, and the standoff is ongoing.
Since this conflict began, the National Wildlife Refuge Association has been working to show our support for the Malheur community, the National Wildlife Refuge System and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We share their frustrations and concerns about the current situation. Like them, we wish to see this conflict resolved peacefully and quickly.
Our actions started with an open letter to the American people about the events at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which highlighted the value of the refuge to those living nearby and how we all benefit from the Refuge System. Refuges are a meeting place for people of all political stripes and walks of life: hunters, anglers, birders, ranchers, hikers, school children, researchers, teachers, photographers – and they are community resources.
We want to increase awareness of the important role wildlife refuges play in our community and to increase support for the Refuge System, a world-class conservation network extending over more than 150 million acres of spectacular lands and waters from the Maine Coast to the Pacific Islands. With the recently expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the Refuge System now manages 573 million acres for conservation.
We’ve also worked hard to convey the economic values refuges provide. For every $1 Congress appropriates to operate refuges, they return on average nearly $5 to local economies in jobs, sales, income and tax revenue. In some communities, wildlife refuges provide an even greater boost to the economy. Malheur NWR is one such economic engine, returning over $7 in the local economy for every $1 appropriated by Congress.
To further assist Malheur and other wildlife refuges gain the resources they need to operate, we’re working with Friends groups and other partners to educate Congress about the value of America’s wildlife refuges. Earlier this month, the Refuge Association hosted a Stand Up for Wildlife Fly-in to educate lawmakers and their staffs about issues facing their local refuges.
Tim Blount, executive director of Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, was among the attendees. He shared his concerns about the Malheur standoff and the impact is has had on the surrounding communities to Oregon’s legislators. He also had the opportunity to talk to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Dan Ashe; Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Cynthia Martinez, and other representatives from the Service and Department of Interior.
Of additional importance for Mr. Blount, was connecting with the other Friends groups in attendance, which represented wildlife refuges in 13 other states.
“I was astounded to see such incredible support for Malheur, a refuge in the ‘middle of nowhere.’ And the Refuge Association’s involvement with promoting and showcasing the value of our refuge means a great deal.”
We’ll continue to monitor and share the latest updates on Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. You can show your support by writing a letter to the editor about the value of wildlife refuges or downloading our #supportrefuges virtual badge to share on your social networks.
As news of the armed occupation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge entered a third week, thirty refuge Friends members from fourteen states – including the Friends of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge – joined together in Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress and their staff, as well as Executive Branch officials.
The meetings, which took place Jan. 19-21 as part of the Refuge Association’s “Stand Up for Wildlife Fly-In,” were intended to educate lawmakers and their staffs about issues facing their local refuges, such how refuges are coping with a 20 percent reduction in funding in the past five years. Friends educated lawmakers about how the loss of staff has resulted in reduced conservation, loss of volunteer opportunities and severe reductions in environmental education for local school children.
Attendees urged their lawmakers to support increased funding for the Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance budget for FY17 as well as the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Friends also spoke to Congressional staff about the specific needs of their own refuge which varies depending on location and purposes. Some refuges need funding for prescribed burns, while others need funds for community outreach. But regardless of location or size, all Friends told the same story: their refuge is hurting and as volunteers and supporters, there’s only so much they can do. This advocacy from Friends groups was especially timely as President Obama will release his FY17 budget on Feb. 9 and Congressional hearings will start very soon after. Stay tuned to our blog that week for details about the budget and what it means for the Refuge System.
Friends members also had the opportunity to talk to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Dan Ashe; Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Cynthia Martinez, and other representatives from the Service and Department of Interior.
Meetings with elected officials, either on Capitol Hill or in the state, are an important way to educate lawmakers about the wildlife refuges in their district. It’s also an important contribution to our democracy that any Friends group can make. For more information on setting up a meeting with your senators or representative, email Joan Patterson, director of grassroots outreach or Caroline Brouwer, director of government affairs.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
Friends Groups Meet with Members of Congress to Educate Them on Wildlife Refuge Issues
Friends groups from around the nation convened on Capitol Hill January 19-21 to attend the Stand Up for Wildlife Fly-in, hosted by the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Face-to-face meetings are the most effective way to educate lawmakers and their staffs.
Attendees shared personal stories to inform lawmakers and their staffers about how federal budget decisions impact individual wildlife refuges and the Refuge System as a whole. Friends also conveyed how valuable these lands are to the local region.
“It’s critical for Friends to update lawmakers about the wildlife refuges in their districts and how these lands and waters benefit the community,” said Joan Patterson, director of grassroots outreach.
Ray Stainfield, president of Friends of Clarks River (Ky.) and Maggie Morgan, a member of the organization, met with their Senators to discuss how Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars could help the refuge complete much needed corridors between the refuge’s different units. Additionally, the Senator’s office helped them coordinate meetings with House members, who then assisted Mr. Stainfield and Ms. Morgan in setting up meetings in their district. The pair was thrilled to receive this amount of support for Kentucky’s only national wildlife refuge.
Maria Sgambati, president-elect of the Friends of Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges (Fla.), wanted to ensure leaders understand the importance of public lands and are sympathetic to conservation of these lands. One reason she loves refuges is because, in addition to being a space for wildlife, they’re also a place of solitude for people. “I feel restored when in a wildlife refuge,” Ms. Sgambati said. Studies have shown that being outdoors can relax the mind. In June 2015, an article in the Atlantic reported “Exposure to nature has been shown repeatedly to reduce stress and boost well-being.”
In addition to benefitting mental health, wildlife refuges also benefit the economic health of a community. Tim Blount, executive director of Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Ore., wanted his state’s lawmakers to hear that loud and clear.
“This refuge is an economic driver, returning over $7 in economic activity for every $1 appropriated by Congress to operate it,” Blount said. (As a whole, refuges return $5 to local communities for every $1 invested.) What accounts for Malheur being above average? “There are very little resources–few hotels, restaurants, businesses, etc–for people to spend money at. Malheur draws people, a majority from 2 to 10 hours away, into this area to hunt, fish and go birding,” said Mr. Blount.
Because armed occupants have taken over Malheur, this economic driver is shut down.
In addition to meetings on Capitol Hill, the fly-in also included trainings, meetings with officials from the Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the opportunity to network with other Friends. After the fly-in, Friends traveled to the Service’s National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia for a Service-sponsored national Friends training.
If you are a Friends group interested in having a positive impact on your local community, click for more information, or email Joan Patterson.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW Eric Anderson
Eric Anderson is a deputy project leader at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington
The Refuge is Best Known For: An urban refuge that affords an excellent opportunity to connect to nature, wildlife and cultural resources.
The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret: Ridgefield is comprised of an island and peninsula surrounded by sloughs of the Columbia River. Paddling either Lake River or Bachelor Slough offers a serene wildlife experience.
The Most Interesting Species on the Refuge: Columbian white-tailed deer have been re-introduced to Ridgefield to support their recovery. They are now frequently observed and photographed on the Refuge. Expansion of their range and increased populations have contributed to the proposed downlisting of this species from Endangered to Threatened.
My Favorite Activity on the Refuge: Tours and surveys of the Refuge’s sandhill crane roosts. During BirdFest, the first weekend of October, special tours are offered to visit the crane roosts. It is a special opportunity to watch a sunrise or sunset amid hundreds of raucous cranes.
The Best Time to Visit the Refuge: Ridgefield is a great birding destination year-round. But November to March probably offers the greatest abundance of wildlife. Visitors can regularly find thousands of Canada and cackling geese, tundra and trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, ducks, egrets, herons and raptors. Those willing to endure the winter rains will have a rewarding outing!
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. 10, 20 and 24: Help plant habitat for Endangered Columbian white-tailed deer at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Wash.)
Feb. 12: Monitor bird populations, make a suet feeder and more at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (N.J.)
Feb. 13: Learn how to watch for eagles, then test your new skills by looking for them with a refuge ranger at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge (Ill.)
Feb. 20: Live animal exhibits, wildlife presentations, nature walks, canoeing, walking tours, and more are part of the 17th Annual Everglades Day at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (Fla.)
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