Spring officially begins this Sunday, but in so many parts of the country, spring migration is well underway! Our national wildlife refuges are starting to welcome millions of migrating waterfowl and songbirds, and offer space for wildlife on the move.
Right now you can help select the best place in the United States to go bird watching. Seven wildlife refuges were nominated in this poll sponsored by USA Today. We’d love to see one take the top spot. Make sure to cast your ballot before the poll closes on March 28.
Spring also brings lot of movement on Capitol Hill as appropriations season is in full swing. The House and Senate are in the process of drafting the budget for FY2017. We all want to see in increase in funding for the Refuge System to conserve species and the habitat they depend on for survival. Inside Washington has more information on what budget challenges face the Refuge System and how your voices can help. We know from past experience that your actions do make a difference.
One program we’re advocating additional funds for is the The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The fund is derived from offshore oil and gas drilling proceeds, but has been underfunded by Congress for years. This month’s Flyer highlights what LWCF dollars accomplish and illustrate how vital this program is for wildlife and land conservation. One article features Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas and the other highlights Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.
This month you can also read about how children are learning to fish, in cold and warm weather, thanks to the efforts of Friends of the Upper Mississippi River and Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin.
Enjoy the warmer spring weather, and I’ll see you on a refuge,
David Houghton, President
ON THE REFUGE
Furthering Conservation and Recreation at Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas
What helps keeps a refuge thriving? The community. Cache River National Wildlife Refuge is a prime example of how citizens can be a driving force in helping to conserve nature today and for future generations.
Located in east central Arkansas, the refuge was established in 1986 thanks to a grassroots effort by citizens intent on saving the iconic river from dredging. Today, Cache River National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 72,000 acres over a 65-mile stretch of the Cache River and Bayou deView.
When the wildlife refuge released a proposal to expand its land acquisition authority, it was the public and local partners who requested that even more land be included in the expanded acquisition boundary! The revised plan added 102,000 acres, and was approved in December 2012.
Why acquire additional lands? The Cache River is an important part of the Mississippi River watershed, and it sits amid a landscape that was once part of the largest bottomland hardwood forest in the nation. Today, less than 20% of the forest remains. As the refuge purchases land from willing sellers, it is restoring agricultural lands to their natural state and conserving and enhancing existing bottomland hardwood forests.
The refuge is now in the process of obtaining funds to purchase priority lands. The three primary sources of funding are Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (“Duck Stamp”), the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund (NAWCA). In April, the refuge will learn if it has been selected for a $1 million NAWCA grant. This would provide monies to purchase approximately 500 acres.
Why are people interesting in selling land to become part of Cache River National Wildlife Refuge? One reason is that many of the agricultural lands here are in areas prone to floods, often making them marginal for farming. But the larger reason for such widespread support of expansion is that the public can rapidly see the benefits of the refuge’s restoration efforts. To date, nearly 25,000 acres of marginal croplands have been restored benefit both the environment and the community.
Noticeable wildlife benefits can be seen within two to three years. Wetland areas provide more habitat for scores of waterfowl that winter in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, having migrated south from the prairie potholes of the upper Midwest. Invertebrates and migratory birds, including warblers and sparrows, are among the first to visit restored forest sites. As a grass/shrub plant community develops, Northern bobwhite quail often flourish in these areas and refuge visitors are inspired by their distinctive calls.
The community benefits from more recreational opportunities afforded by the expansion of the refuge. Portions of the river, previously inaccessible because adjacent lands were privately owned, now have boat ramps that allow the public increased opportunities to fish and hunt. Those who sold lands enjoy knowing their legacy will be conserved in perpetuity as they see habitats being restored, wildlife numbers increasing and visitors spending more time on the refuge.
Cache River National Wildlife Refuge includes some of the most intact and least disturbed bottomland hardwood forests in the Mississippi Valley region. These unique and valuable wetlands have been protected by the Ramsar Convention as “Wetlands of International Importance.” The refuge is the most important wintering area for mallards in North America, and up to a half a million waterfowl rest here each winter.
To learn more, visit: fws.gov/cacheriver.
If you’d like to see your refuge highlighted, please email or call Taylor Tench at (772) 532-9940. We’d love to speak with you!
THE REFUGE ASSOCIATION IN ACTION
Conservation Success at the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area
The Refuge Association and an array of partners, including The Nature Conservancy and Audubon Florida are extremely proud of a recent conservation success in Florida.
In February, we announced more than 5,300 acres of critical ranch, farming, wildlife habitat, flood protection area and water storage lands have been added to the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. These lands were protected thanks to the efforts of several recent conservation partnerships formed by Florida ranchers, sportsmen, state and federal agencies and nonprofits.
In Florida, the Refuge Association works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to facilitate multi-agency partnerships and identify high-priority conservation projects to maximize efforts. Additionally, the Refuge Association educates ranchers about the different types of conservation easements, and works with ranchers and sportsman to advocate for state and federal dollars for the region.
The additional lands for Everglades Headwaters were acquired with $12.5 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. This allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to secure 4,214.99 acres in conservation easements and acquire 1,502.26 acres.
Partnerships are crucial to conserving these lands. Each group has their own unique focus and strengths, that when combined, benefit nature and the community more than each group working on their own. In the case of Everglades Headwaters, examples include partners who focused on protecting converted/restored wetlands for wildlife and another set of partners on agricultural easements which are important for food security and water resources.
The recent land acquisitions will protect protect habitat for the state’s iconic wildlife including the highly endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow, the Florida panther, Florida black bear and gopher tortoise. How will this benefit the community? Protecting working lands, like these ranches, is critical to protecting the health of the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee and greater Everglades watersheds.
The Refuge Association is also working working with ranchers and agencies to put together a pilot project that will hopefully serve as a model for other interagency projects. Projects will relay how different groups can leverage resources to ensure the land is conserved in the best way possible.
The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area was formally established in 2012 with a 10-acre donation of land from The Nature Conservancy, in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, ranchers and sportsmen.
Read our press release for more details on the conservation easements established at Everglades Headwaters.
For tourists in Washington, DC this time of year, it may be Cherry Blossom season; but for those of us keeping tabs on Capitol Hill, it is ‘peak appropriations season.’ The House and Senate are in the process of drafting the budget for FY 2017 and are accepting written testimony from organizations and individuals that will help shape the budget. This is an opportunity for all Americans to write to decision-makers about funding priorities. And for Refuge Friends Groups, it’s an ideal time to educate Congress about the value of America’s wildlife refuges.
This year, we are urging Congress to support:
- Appropriating $506.6 million for the National Wildlife Refuge System’s operations and maintenance accounts for FY2017;
- Permanently reauthorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year, and provide $150 million to the National Wildlife Refuge System for conservation easements and refuge in-holdings;
- Appropriating $50 million for the National Wildlife Refuge Fund in FY17 to offsets losses in local government tax revenue because Refuge System lands are tax exempt; and
- Passing a clean appropriation bill free of unrelated policy ‘riders’ such as authorizing a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska
Written testimony demonstrates the support we have for the Refuge System. It is democracy in action, giving organizations and individuals the ability to share their concerns and requests directly with the lawmakers who write the funding bills.
We know from past experience that your testimony does make a difference. For instance, the Refuge System received an additional $500,000 this year to help volunteer efforts specifically because Refuge Friends Group strongly advocated for it.
If you’re interested in submitting testimony to the House House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, the deadline is Wednesday, March 23. View the instructions on the second page of this document.
Testimony for the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies must be submitted by Wednesday, April 20. Download the instructions here (note that the instructions are different).
If you’re not currently involved with a Friends group, but would like to learn more, search our directory to locate one near you.
REFUGE FRIENDS CONNECT
Ice fishing extravaganza
By mid-afternoon the temperature had risen to 25 degrees under a bright sunny sky–ideal weather for the more than 600 people, about half of which were children, attending the seventh annual Kids Ice Fishing Day at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin.
Excited yelps of “I got one” could be heard on the ice, as youngsters reeled in 12- to 16-inch rainbow trout from the pond with a few as large as 18 inches. For some children, this was their first time fishing. “A guarantee to catch a fish makes this event quite popular,” said Ken Visger, a member of the Friends of the Upper Mississippi which co-hosted the event. This year’s crowd was the largest ever to attend the hatchery’s Kids Ice Fishing Day.
The day began at 9 a.m. in a big heated tent where a biologist and ice fishing expert from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) shared ice fishing and ice safety tips. About an hour later, children headed towards the ice with fishing poles and bait provided by the hatchery. The holes were pre-drilled, so children could start catching fish right away.
From about 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Friends members, FWS staff and community volunteers walked the ice to keep the holes clean, offer help, bring more bait and move children to a different spot if they had any trouble catching a trout.
“It’s pretty satisfying to watch kids out on the ice. It feels good to know you’ve helped them gain an appreciation for nature, said Visger. “Kids are coming for fun and they’re having it.” He also noted that the fisheries office is outstanding and committed to helping out and ensuring this day is a success.
After catching a max of three fish, children and their families enjoy a lunch courtesy of the Friends of the Upper Mississippi.
Fish are taken home whole, but next year the Friends will provide a grill and offer to cook the fish as well as teach children and their parents simple ways to clean their catch.
The winter event is one of two annual fishing days. The second, which the Friends also support, is held in late-May.
Learn more about the Friends of the Upper Mississippi and additional ways to get involved at: fumfs.org.
MORE HEADLINES FROM THIS MONTH
GETTING TO KNOW Dr. Keith Weaver
Dr. Keith Weaver is the project leader at the Central Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge Complex. As project leader, Dr. Weaver is responsible for the management of six wildlife refuges — Bald Knob, Big Lake, Cache River, Holla Bend, Logan Cave and Wapanocca. He is the Refuge Association’s 2016 Paul Kroegel Refuge Manager of the year.
Cache National Wildlife Refuge is Best Known For: Its designation as the most important wintering area for mallards in north America and as a “Wetland of National Importance.”
Cache River National Wildlife Refuge’s Best Kept Secret: Its beautiful and extensive brakes with towering ghost-grey trees contrasting with the surrounding black water – some of these trees are well over 1000 years old.
The Most Interesting Species on Cache River National Wildlife Refuge: The northern bobwhite quail, whose whistling calls grace our grasslands and reforestation areas and inspire us to restore these habitats for it and the many migratory birds and other wildlife that flourish in these areas.
My Favorite Activity on Cache River National Wildlife Refuge: Hunting with one of my faithful dogs and savoring all the sights, sounds, and smells of the wild places and marveling at the amazing diversity of animals, plants, and habitats waiting to be discovered.
The Best Time to Visit Cache River National Wildlife Refuge: During the winter months when hundreds of thousands of waterfowl are flocking to the rich bottomlands – it’s truly a wondrous spectacle to witness!
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:
March 10: Discover how each of your five senses can find evidence of spring during a hike at Assabet National Wildlife Refuge (Mass.)
March 24: Go on a guided birding walk at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (Del.)
April 2: Adults and children of all ages can join in the guided family hike at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Okla.)
April 9: See the courtship dance of the male Attwater’s prairie chicken at the Attwater Prairie Chicken Festival (Texas)
April 16: Join Friends of the Dunes for a hike at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Calif.) as part of the annual Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival
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