Summer is upon us, and with it comes the excitement of witnessing new life come into being throughout America’s national wildlife refuges. Breeding season is in full swing and whether it’s witnessing wood ducklings taking an inaugural jump or spotting a fawn tucked into the tall grass – we are privileged to experience the wonders of wildlife in some of the most special places on the planet.
This month was a month of celebration: we were thrilled to welcome the 565th national wildlife refuge into the Refuge System: the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area. A celebration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ferry family of Corinne, Utah marked the occasion on June 28 in Brigham City.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, we celebrated the Friends of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, our 2016 Molly Krival Friends Group of the Year at an event held at the refuge’s Discovery Center in Rochert, Minn. Back in Washington, efforts to pass an Interior Appropriations Bill are stalled along with other spending bills, as calls for gun reform in the wake of the Orlando shooting, emergency funding to address the Zika virus, and the urgency to pass debt relief legislation for Puerto Rico have preoccupied Congress and cast doubt on whether they will be able to pass any appropriations bills before the summer recess.
The good news is, it only takes a walk in the woods, or a stroll along a pond or field to be reminded that some of the most important work happening is in nature, and no stalemates in Congress will bring it to a halt. We sincerely hope you take time this summer to get outside and witness the beauty and wonder at your favorite national wildlife refuge.
David Houghton, President
ON THE REFUGE
Bear River Watershed Conservation Area – the Newest Unit in the Refuge System
We are thrilled to welcome the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area as the 565th unit in the National Wildlife Refuge System!
A celebration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ferry family of Corinne, Utah marked the occasion on June 28 in Brigham City. The Ferry Ranch and Farm donated a 30-acre conservation easement that created this newest refuge. This conservation easement is the first to be received by the Service in the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area, which was created in 2013 after a lengthy public outreach and planning effort.
“The Ferry family’s donation embodies the goals of the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area,” said David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “While maintaining ownership of their working ranchland, the Ferrys are permanently protecting its wildlife habitat and watershed protection values for the future. Only through public-private partnerships like this can true landscape-scale conservation be successful.”
The Bear River Watershed Conservation Area authorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire conservation easements, which are a permanent end to certain rights on private lands, in this case the sale of development rights. Through a 2010-2012 public planning process that involved the states of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, the Service prioritized 920,000 acres within the 4.5 million-acre watershed. These are areas of exceptionally high habitat value for wildlife species such as American avocet, white-faced ibis, sagebrush thrasher, greater sage-grouse, and Bonneville cutthroat trout – and include important migratory routes for pronghorn and mule deer. This region is also of continental significance for migratory waterfowl such as Northern pintail and cinnamon teal.
In these prime areas, the Service is now authorized to work in partnership with private landowners to conserve wildlife habitat through conservation easements. Aside from existing refuge units within the watershed, the Service is not authorized to acquire additional fee interest in land. Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming, Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Oxford Slough Waterfowl Production Area in Idaho, and the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah are established refuges within the watershed, and their boundaries are unchanged by the creation of the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area.
“The Ferry Family’s leadership in stepping forward to donate a conservation easement is both generous and bold,” added Houghton. “They are demonstrating an admirable spirit of trust and conservation ethic by entering into a partnership with the federal government. We are very excited to recognize this gift and we hope it’s the first of many partnerships to come that strike a balance between wildlife, water management, and working lands.”
The Service has prioritized the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area as an area worthy of funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). In future years, LWCF funds would allow the Service to purchase conservation easements at fair market value from willing sellers.
The Bear River originates in the Utah’s Uinta Mountains and flows north through the sagebrush steppe and wet meadows of western Wyoming and the Thomas Fork area of Southeastern Idaho, before meeting Bear Lake and turning back southward though Utah’s Cache Valley and through the expansive Bear River delta into the Great Salt Lake. It is the largest surface water source in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, and this region plays a unique role as a meeting point of the Great Basin and the Southern Rockies.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association played a role in the local outreach and planning work to create the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area over the period from 2009-2013, and continues to support requests for funding for conservation easement acquisition. Today’s celebration marks the culmination of many years of collaborative work, and we look forward to many more to come.
If you’d like to see your refuge highlighted, please email Taylor Tench. We’d love to speak with you!
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
Florida Friends Learn About Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; Learn Valuable Communication Skills
When you study bird migration maps, it’s clear that what happens at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge doesn’t stay there. Millions of migratory birds that we enjoy in the lower 48 states breed in the Arctic. And that was one of many powerful messages that Friends from across Florida received during special communications training on the Arctic Refuge June 3-4.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association, with support from the Wilburforce Foundation and Resource Media, presented the second of two special communication skills workshops for Friends Groups focused on America’s wildest refuge, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
About 30 leaders from Friends Groups throughout South and Central Florida met up on Friday June 3 at J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge for a special presentation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Jim Kurth. Kurth was once refuge manager at the Arctic Refuge, and told stories about some of his incredible wildlife experiences, as well as many important friendships with local Alaska natives during his tenure at the refuge.
The group also heard from David Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska Refuges, David Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and Paul Tritiak, Ding Darling Refuge Manager. The speakers emphasized the importance of the Arctic Refuge to the Refuge System, and the important role Refuge Friends Groups can play in helping protect this valuable resource.
The following day, the group met at the Ding Darling visitor center for a day-long communications training presented by Resource Media.
The communications training covered several key communications skills – developing a message, creating a communications plan, identifying your audience, and best practices for working with the media and using social media to reach your target audiences. While the training used the Arctic Refuge as the subject, the skills were applicable to virtually any local refuge issue or campaign.
Looking forward, we hope to incorporate key elements of these trainings into future workshops offered to Refuge Friends Groups. If this sounds like it would be of interest to your friends group, please contact Desiree Sorenson-Groves at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Appropriations Bills Loaded with Riders – Future Unclear
With just over two weeks before summer recess, Congress had hoped to vote on several spending bills before they adjourn on July 15 – including the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies spending bills, which fund the National Wildlife Refuge System.
However, calls for gun reform in the wake of the Orlando shooting, emergency funding to address the Zika virus, and the urgency to pass debt relief legislation for Puerto Rico have preoccupied Congress and cast doubt on whether they will be able to pass any appropriations bills before the summer recess, although the House at least has expressed their intent to try to do so.
When they return on September 6th they will only have four weeks before the end of the fiscal year. Hill insiders anticipate that they will likely be forced to pass a continuing resolution (CR), providing them with a few additional weeks to move the funding decisions past the elections.
The House FY17 Interior Appropriations bill funds the Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance budget at $485 million, an approximately $3.5 million increase from FY16. While only a slight boost, these funds are vital to ensure the continued protection of America’s wildlife and to support the wildlife-dependent recreation national wildlife refuges offer to all Americans. The Senate bill would only provide a $1 million increase to the System.
Yet even if Congress were not preoccupied with interparty squabbling over gun reform and Zika funding, passing the appropriations bills would still be a long shot. Both the House and Senate bills are laden with damaging environmental riders that have many Democrats staunchly opposed to the legislation.
For instance, both Senate and House versions would roll back the historic, landscape-scale sage-grouse conservation plans established by the Department of the Interior last year. Federal and state agencies worked together along with ranchers, private landowners, environmental groups, and other stakeholders to establish sage-grouse conservation plans throughout ten western states. This landmark conservation effort lead to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determination that the sage-grouse does not require listing under the Endangered Species Act.
If the Interior spending bills pass as-written, years of planning could be rendered worthless. The Senate bill prevents the Secretary of the Interior from using any funds to write or issue a rule on the sage-grouse, while the House bill prohibits enacting any federal sage-grouse management plans in states that have their own management plan. Both the House and Senate bills prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from reevaluating their decision not to list the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The Senate Interior appropriations bill also contains alarming language targeting Alaska’s national wildlife refuges, including authorizing the construction of a road through designated wilderness across fragile wetlands in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. For several years, some in Congress have pushed for a road through the refuge to link the towns of Cold Bay and King Cove.
The wilderness area of the refuge is home to 98% of the Pacific black brant population and is a RAMSAR wetland site of international importance. De-designating wilderness to construct a road that would remain impassable much of the year would set a dangerous precedent and threaten all of America’s wilderness areas without solving the local transportation needs.
Alaska Hunting Regulations
In addition to the Izembek language, another Senate rider would enable the state of Alaska to undermine the management authority of the FWS on national wildlife refuges by authorizing destructive predator control measures. If enacted, this rider would allow baiting brown bears, hunting wolves and coyotes – even the pups – at their den sites, and aerial gunning of bears on Alaskan national wildlife refuges.
These predator control policies would directly prevent the FWS from carrying out their mission to conserve and protect all species on national wildlife refuges and disrupt predator-prey relationships that would result in catastrophic impacts to the natural ecological health and diversity of Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.
While these are only a handful of the environmental riders attached to the Interior spending bills, all would have devastating impacts to the National Wildlife Refuge System. You can take action today and urge Congress to adopt the House Refuge Operations and Maintenance numbers for FY17, a small but much needed $3.5 million increase, and reject all damaging environmental riders on the FY17 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bills by clicking here.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
Friends of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge Receive 2016 Molly Krival Friends Group of the Year Award
Each year, the National Wildlife Refuge Association is proud to sponsor the Refuge System Awards. We are always impressed by the caliber of submissions we receive and we truly enjoy getting to honor the women and men whose outstanding work or volunteerism is worthy of national recognition.
While we announce the awards early in the year, we try to schedule award ceremonies at local refuges so that the recipients can be fêted by their peers and families at the national wildlife refuge that captures their passion.Read more...
So it was with great pleasure that we traveled to Rochert, Minn. to honor the Friends of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, the 2016 Molly Krival Friends Group of the Year. The award, named to honor the late Molly Krival – a pioneer in the Refuge Friends Group movement, was presented at a reception at the refuge visitor center.
“The Friends of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge was the driving force behind the refuge’s incredible Discovery Center that serves as the hub for refuge environmental education programs, citizen science training, and conservation planning,” said National Wildlife Refuge Association President David Houghton. “The refuge is so very lucky to have such a successful Friends Group helping make wildlife conservation an integrated thread in the fabric of the entire community.”
The Friends of Tamarac developed from a group focused in on the local refuge to an organization with a broader awareness and greater appreciation of the Refuge System’s mission. The group regularly incorporates Refuge System national priorities, such as migratory birds and monarch butterflies, into local events and outreach strategies.
According to Refuge Manager Neil Powers, “Our Friends have become masters in the art of connecting people with nature. Their efforts have assisted in building lasting partnerships with area schools that have increased participation in environmental education programs to nearly 3,000 students annually.”
The group’s most impressive undertaking so far has been its campaign to build the Tamarac Discovery Center. Friends of Tamarac achieved their ambitious goal through careful planning, which included feasibility studies, recruitment of key board members and strategic fundraising. Upon completion, this $800,000 environmental education center was donated to the refuge. Friends of Tamarac’s work is paving a path for other Friends groups interested in providing visitor facilities for their local unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The Friends of Tamarac is particularly passionate about connecting people and nature. From leading interpretive workshops on the refuge flora and fauna for families to weekly nature explorations for youth through the summer months, this Friends group has been instrumental in expanding the refuge’s ability to provide family oriented outdoor experiences. Outreach to the White Earth Reservation community, adjacent to the refuge, includes Tamarac Whispers, a radio show airing on the local tribal station, now in its third year of production by the Friends and refuge staff.
Several Friends of Tamarac board members have participated in national and regional workshops, bringing back with them a contagious enthusiasm for the national mission and a fuller understanding of national issues. They regularly communicate with other Friends groups to share information, and gain insight on membership recruitment and outreach methods.
Friends of Tamarac also provides financial support to the refuge. In the past year, the Friends of Tamarac has worked with the biological staff to win three different habitat improvement grants totaling nearly $70,000. The group has also funded stipends for interns and regularly provides computers and internet access to interns and volunteers. This has made a tremendous impact on this rural refuge’s ability to recruit more volunteers and interns.
We are currently planning additional award ceremonies for our other 2016 winners.
For more information about each of the 2016 National Wildlife Refuge System Award recipients, visit: refugeassociation.org/awardwinners.
Keep an eye out for these upcoming events:
July 9: Learn how to identify birds by their size, shape, and color at the Upper Mississippi River NFWR’s Bird Watching for Beginners event (WI)
July 12: Join the Friends of Rydell and Glacial Ridge Refuges for a free screening of the film Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh at the Rydell NWR Visitors Center (MN)
July 14: Come out and join the Audubon NWR for Blue Goose Day where you will have the chance to shoot air rifles, bows and arrows, build a screech owl nest box, and build your very own ice fishing pole (ND)
July 23: Celebrate National Moth Week with Trinity River NWR at their fourth annual Moth Night Out event to see and photograph some of the 700 species of moths found at the refuge (TX)
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