Apr 05, 2013

Important Role of Environmental Education at Refuges

UMR Refuge Ranger Ed LagaceAs the ongoing sequester threatens to close down visitor programs at refuges around the country, it’s important to consider what we could be losing.

The Winona Daily News recently published a profile on Ranger Ed at the Winona district of the Upper Mississippi Natural Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Minnesota.

[Ed] Lagace took his job with the Fish and Wildlife Service six years ago, and since has worked tirelessly to engage children and adults in the Winona area with the environment that surrounds them. In his presentations, he particularly works to encourage children less familiar with the outdoors.

“I enjoy the experience with young people because they are sponges,” Lagace said.

Lagace said he regularly encounters kids he speaks to in classrooms who don’t know a lot about the river and haven’t even been on it.

“If our future generations don’t have a connection to the outside world, they won’t make sound decisions about it for future generations after them,” he said.

So Lagace creates partnerships and networks with area schools and hosts events on the river, like canoeing adventures. This year he’s planning seven trips at different parts of the Mississippi River starting in May. Examples include a trip on birding, and one on invasive plants and species.

The trips are free —attendees are just required to bring water and food.

“My strongest stories involve showing a child nature and seeing the recognition that you’ve lit their soul,” Lagace said.

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Apr 02, 2013

Sewage Leaks into Minnesota Valley NWR

Outdoor News posted details about the 100,000-gallon sewage leak into Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in February.

The leak occurred when a blockage in a pipe caused sewage to back up and overflow into the refuge. The sewage leaked for at least two days, possibly longer.

While much of the solid waste will have been removed, it’s likely liquids seeped into refuge waters, according to Holler (deputy refuge manager). What might be the results? Among the possibilities, she said, are fish kills and increased algae blooms. The possible effects on waterfowl are unknown.

Outcomes are somewhat unpredictable, Holler said, considering “all the things people put in the toilet.”

Holler said Burnsville crews initially removed about six cubic yards of waste from the area – by scraping solids off the ice and snow – and considered the cleanup complete. However, refuge officials inspected the site and decided more could be done. “It’s federal property, and you have to (clean up) to our satisfaction,” she said. “They thought they’d done all they could, and we thought they could do more.”

Refuge officials will continue to monitor the effects of the sewage as the spring and summer progress, Holler said. And they’ll add to their refuge plan how to react should a similar leak occur in the future.

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Apr 02, 2013

Army Corps Adds Over 600 Acres to Delta NWR

WVUE in New Orleans reports that recent dredging work in Louisiana has added over 600 acres to Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

The Corps states as part of its maintenance and operation of the Mississippi River navigational channel, workers dredged the Head of Passes Hopper Dredge Disposal Area…

The dredging operation began in September of 2012. Weeks Marine removed over 8 million cubic yards of material. According to a news release from the Corps, “this material was pumped over 13,000 yards to build a marsh platform at an elevation of +7 feet in Delta National Wildlife Refuge, north of Pass a Loutre.”

The Corps says it has been strategically placing dredged material in the refuge since the late 1990s.

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Apr 02, 2013

Endangered Deer Relocated to Ridgefield NWR

Columbian white-tailed deerThe Reflector in Washington state reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been transferring endangered Columbian white-tailed deer from the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge in Cathlamet to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

The move was made after the USFWS discovered the potential failure of a dike along Steamboat Slough Road in Cathlamet brought on by changing river currents. A geotechnical assessment revealed the dike condition is dangerous and at a high risk of failure.

Managers believe a rupture would flood the refuge with up to six feet of water, threatening the deer living at the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge and setting back recovery efforts for the species, as well as causing an estimated $28 million in potential damages…

Since relocation efforts began on Jan. 29, 22 of the estimated 50 deer have been captured, tagged and released into the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. One deer with a radio collar has been found outside the boundaries of the refuge and four deer, two yearlings and two adult does, have been found deceased though the cause of death has not been disclosed by the USFWS.

“We’re not sure what killed them, but we are investigating it,’ said Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Manager Chris Lapp. “There was no evidence that we saw to indicate it was because of human contact, though.”

Lapp added that the primary concern for the deer’s safety going forward is not how they interact with humans, but with the coyote population in the refuge.

“The coyote numbers are pretty strong in this area and they are predatory to all sorts of deer, so it’s something we’ll be watching,” said Lapp. “If it turns out to be an issue, we’ll already have plans in place for how to protect the white-tails and preserve their numbers.”

In addition to the deer, the Julia Butler Hanson Refuge — where the dike will flood the habitat — also benefits a large variety of wintering birds, a small herd of Roosevelt elk, river otter, various reptiles and amphibians including painted turtles and red-legged frogs, and several pairs of nesting bald eagles and ospreys.

On December 6, 2012, the Wahkiakum County Eagle News reported that

Although technology exists to fix the impending dike breach, there are no funds available for the effort at this time. Plans for a longer-term remedy are under consideration but cannot be completed in time to prevent a potential dike breach this winter.

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Apr 02, 2013

USFWS Funding to States Hit by Sequester

The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel recently reported that while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just issued a record $882 million to states this year for fish, wildlife and recreation projects, the amount would have been $44 million greater if not for the sequester, put in place by Congress.

Due to Congress’ inability to reach a budget deal and the resulting sequester, $44 million has been withheld from the initial 2013 apportionment. The funds can’t be used for other uses, however, and will be available to the states if the sequester is terminated, said Hannibal Bolton, who oversees the program for the USFWS…

The wildlife funds are collected through excise taxes on the sale of shotguns and rifles (11%), ammunition (11%), archery equipment (11%) and handguns (10%). The fish funds are raised from a 10% excise tax on fishing rods, reels and lures as well as a motorboat fuel tax.

The wildlife restoration program, commonly called Pittman-Robertson, has been in place since 1937. The Dingell-Johnson sport fish restoration program was modeled after P-R and has been active since 1950.

The funds have contributed $15.3 billion to U.S. conservation programs.

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Mar 14, 2013

Happy 110th Anniversary to the Refuge System

Thank you to all the staff, volunteers, and supporters of the National Wildlife Refuge System on the 110th anniversary of the creation of the greatest collection of conservation lands in the world. And a special big thanks to all the government workers in the Refuge System who do so much with so little.

Pelican Island NWR
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Mar 06, 2013

“Road to Nowhere” Not Dead Yet

Izembek NWRAs this blog reported on February 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that they oppose a land transfer that would have allowed for the construction of a gravel “Road to Nowhere” through federally designated wilderness in one of the most pristine refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System — Izembek NWR in Alaska — an action that would have not only threatened wildlife at Izembek, but also set a terrible precedent for other designated wilderness areas throughout the country.

But now Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and local King Cove residents are putting pressure on outgoing Department of Interior Secretary Salazar to overrule the USFWS and allow the road. Senator Murkowski is even trying to use the issue to hold up the nomination of the next Interior secretary, Sally Jewell.

Refuge System supporters are urged to write Secretary Salazar and tell him to hold firm on the USFWS’ correct decision to reject the road. If you register for a free account on the National Wildlife Refuge Association website, you can send a message to Salazar using their Refuge Action Network system.

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Mar 06, 2013

Sequestration and the National Wildlife Refuge System

Capitol HillMuch of the media is reporting that the effects of the sequestration are slow to unfold, but make no mistake that the longer Congress keeps the sequester in place, the more painful it will be for our public lands.

From the National Wildlife Refuge Association:

Beginning today, March 1st, the Federal government is set to enact severe budget cuts known as “Sequestration”. The whole idea of the sequester was that it would be so senseless, that Congress would find a way to reduce our deficits and cut spending in thoughtful ways that didn’t gut government programs that are doing wonderful things for the American people.

However, Congress has not come to any bi-partisan decisions and thus, across the board spending cuts will take effect. The cuts are indiscriminate so every budget line in the FWS is cut an equal amount.

The FWS is currently determining exactly what will occur and we will share information as we receive it but here’s what we do know. According to the Department of the Interior, Sequestration will force FWS to:

  • Close or eliminate programs at 128 national wildlife refuges;
  • Discontinue visitor programs at nearly all refuges;
  • Reduce hours of operation for visitor centers, shorten seasons, and possibly close recreational areas when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, and resources;
  • Limit the Service’s ability to sustain a full complement of seasonal employees needed for firefighting, law enforcement, and visitor services at the time when they are preparing for the busy summer season.

These impacts alone will have serious impacts to our refuges nationwide. If a refuge depends on seasonal fire crews to reduce fuel loads or conduct seasonal burns, there is a good chance it will not occur. If a refuge depends on seasonal workers, such as biotechs, maintenance crews or environmental education specialists, for help during the summer they will likely not be hired.

In many places, refuges will halt the use of volunteers due to a lack of staff to oversee their work. There is a true chance that the 20% of work done by volunteers on our refuges will be ended or severely curtailed.

This – as bad as it seems – could just be the start. Should Congress also enact further budget cuts for their final FY 2013 budget (as proposed by the House) as well as their FY 2014 budget for next year, the cuts could reach 23% of current funding forcing the FWS to:

  • Close, or eliminate major programs at, 256 national wildlife refuges.
  • Eliminate approximately 400 wildlife management jobs, resulting in severe cutbacks of critical habitat management work such as invasive species control.
  • Eliminate all visitor services jobs, all but ending public access and recreation opportunities, and halting the force of 42,000 volunteers that currently performs 20% of the work done on refuges.
  • Eliminate 80 law enforcement officers, leaving a force of only 164 people to carry out the work that should be done by 845 officers.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association agrees that our federal deficits should be dealt with, but this indiscriminate across the board cut unfairly hurts agencies like the U.S. FWS and its National Wildlife Refuge System. Refuges are economic engines in local communities returning $8 in economic activity for every $1 appropriated to run them. These cuts will cripple our communities at a time when we are just emerging from a severe recession.

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Mar 06, 2013

Rebuilding a Chemical Wasteland

Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWRThe Environmental Magazine had an article in their January/February 2013 issue about how Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, which is northeast of Denver, is trying to recover from its toxic past as a chemical weapons production site, as well as a weapons disposal site.

According to the FWS, a three-pronged approach was needed to deal with the contamination: treating the contaminated groundwater and preventing its spread off-post; excavating and consolidating the contaminated soil; and demolishing hundreds of structures…

Water treatment will continue for a long time, though 1,000 monitoring wells and a water treatment plant have already been closed. “Of the five groundwater-treatment plants we have left, probably two of those will be operating for many, many decades,” [refuge engineer] Scharmann says…

Today, Rocky Mountain Arsenal is transformed. “We’ve done almost all the active remediation,” Scharmann says, adding that “the contamination that remains there needs to be managed long term.”

The EPA will remain engaged, too. “At any site where we leave waste in place even if it’s capped, covered, monitored and secured, we come back every five years and do a review to make sure that remedy remains protective,” says Jennifer Chergo, a spokesperson with the Denver EPA…

But perhaps the biggest attraction at the refuge is the bison, which were reintroduced onto the property in 2007 as part of a federal conservation program. Seventy bison now roam the former arsenal.

“We couldn’t do enough bison tours,” says [refuge director] James. That stuffed bison in the visitor center lobby is popular, too. Adds James: “That’s our photo stop, for sure.”

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Mar 06, 2013

Friends of Lee Metcalf Refuge Donate to Land Trust

The Bitterroot Star reports that the Friends of Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge recently donated $10,000 to the Bitter Root Land Trust, which partners with conservation-minded landowners to help them complete conservation easements on land near the refuge.

“Our partnership with the Friends of Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge has been extremely valuable for farm and ranch landowners in the Stevensville area and to long-term health of agricultural and wildlife habitat resources on private lands near the Refuge,” said Gavin Ricklefs, Executive Director of the Bitter Root Land Trust…

The Friends’ grant ensures the Bitter Root Land Trust will have the resources necessary to work with area landowners interested in conserving their family farm or ranch.

“With this donation, the Friends of the Lee Metcalf Refuge have helped more local families realize their conservation vision for their important ranchlands, said Tori Nobles, Bitter Land Trust President. “The board and staff of the Bitter Root Land Trust are very grateful.”

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Feb 18, 2013

Proposal for Power Lines Near Squaw Creek NWR Prove Controversial

The Examiner in Missouri is reporting that a local plan by Kansas City Power and Light to run power lines as close as two miles from Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge is raising concerns from Ron Bell, the refuge manager, as well as local hunting groups who are economically dependent on waterfowl hunting.

“I think what they have done is put a bunch of power lines suggestions across the map,” Bell said. “The bad news is, the lines run within two miles of the Squaw Creek Refuge where we concentrate a large number of birds. There are a large number of hunting clubs around the refuge this will affect many areas adjacent to our boundary. Waterfowl will be deflected away from these clubs, hurting the local economy.”

Bell fears that this interference will hurt the community’s financial resources and fewer birds will come back to the refuge.

“Even worse,” he said. “We have already had three trumpeter swans this winter killed by hitting power lines. We had 314 trumpeter swans visit this fall and none 10 years ago. We are very protective of these birds.”

Most in the wildlife groups and Mound City community feel the power lines are probably needed, but should be built away from the hunting and refuge center.

Mike Wolfe, veteran Mound City hunter [stated,] “I have three generations of family that comes here every fall from Colorado, New York, Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota and there would be no reason for them to come to Mound City ever again. Move the power line north above Craig, Mo., where there are no concentrations of wetlands or refuge property.”

Residents have been told a decision on the location of the power lines will be made this month.

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Feb 18, 2013

2013 Refuge System Award Winners

The National Wildlife Refuge Association and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have announced the honorees for the prestigious annual National Wildlife Refuge System Awards. The awards honor the Refuge Manager, Refuge Employee, Refuge Volunteer and Friends Group of the Year.

“The Refuge System could not function, let alone be the bright star of conservation in the United States that it is, if it weren’t for dedicated individuals and groups like these,” said David Houghton, NWRA President.

Congratulations to the winners, which are listed below:

Andrew C. French: The Paul Kroegel Refuge Manager of the Year Award
Mr. French has been selected as the recipient of the Paul Kroegel Award for Refuge Manager of the Year for his innovation, leadership, and critical involvement in the nomination and subsequent designation of the Connecticut River Watershed as the first National Blueway. As the Refuge Manager of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and the Stewart B. McKinney and John Hay National Wildlife Refuges, French has demonstrated that these three refuges, which extend from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound, are assets in their local communities as well as within the Connecticut River Watershed. During his 33-year career with the Service, French has demonstrated exemplary success in fostering landscape level conservation, environmental education efforts, and recreation partnerships in action.


Jackie Jacobson: The Employee of the Year Award
Ms. Jacobson will receive the Employee of the Year Award for her outstanding work as the Visitor Center Manager at Audubon NWR in North Dakota. Jacobson’s influence does not end at her refuge, it extends well beyond as a result of the North Dakota Education Team, a statewide institution she established that has reached over 80,000 people through the development of numerous environmental education products. Through her passion for wildlife, dedication to conservation and excellent leadership, communication skills and efficient approach to projects, Jacobson has not only touched the lives of hundreds of young people but she has protected and conserved prairie and wetland habitats for future generations.


Bob Ebeling: The Volunteer of the Year Award
Mr. Ebeling will receive the Volunteer of the Year Award in recognition of the more than 10,000 volunteer-hours he has donated at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah, ranging from using his professional engineering skills to restore habitat and infrastructure on the refuge, to providing visitor services in the Education Center, and countless other invaluable efforts over the past 23 years. Most notably, Ebeling played a key role in the restoration of Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge after it was devastated by the flood of the Great Salt Lake in the mid 1980s. In just 6 months, Ebeling organized and led a group of 50 volunteers to complete the momentous task of restoring the impoundments while simultaneously repairing the 12-mile public auto tour route to allow the refuge to be opened to the public. The total cost of both projects was paid for in full by volunteer donations, including man-hours and financial support.


Friends of Maga Ta-Hophi Waterfowl Production Area: The Friends of the Year Award
The Friends of Maga Ta-Hophi WPA will receive the Friends of the Year Award for their outstanding efforts to increase the name recognition and local and regional support for the Huron Wetland Management District in South Dakota. By offering a diverse array of free outdoor activities and taking special consideration for the needs and interests of the community, the Friends, in just five short years, have developed a year round environmental education program, and contributed to everything from wildlife surveys, maintenance projects and citizen science efforts. Additionally, the Friends strive to connect their local achievements with national efforts by regularly attending classes at the National Conservation Training Center and advocating for the National Wildlife Refuge System in Washington, DC with their South Dakota delegation.


The honorees will be recognized for their accomplishments during the 78th Annual North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Arlington, Virginia on March 28.

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