Rivers flow not past, but
through us; tingling,
vibrating, exciting every cell
and fiber in our bodies, making them sing
Naturalist John Muir was referring to
rivers effect on people. But rivers have a
similar effect on national wildlife refuges.
Rivers make fish, wildlife and refuges
sing and glide, too.
Rivers continue to transform and shape
the physical, biological, natural and
cultural landscapes using time, water
and gravity as the fundamental tools,
says Andrew French, manager at Silvio
O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife
Refuge whose acquisition boundary is the
watershed of the first national blueway,
the Connecticut River.
This Focus section touches on a handful
of mighty rivers that are intrinsically tied
to refuges: the Mississippi, the Niobrara,
the Yukon, the Kuskokwim, the Illinois,
the Rio Grande and the nations second
blueway, the White.
Many rivers vital to the National Wildlife
Refuge System are not featured here.
The basin of the 1,200milelong
Columbia River, for instance, spans
seven states and one Canadian province
and sustains more than 25 refuges,
including 10 in or along the river itself.
The Columbia ecosystem is vital to
threatened and endangered species,
such as the Columbia whitetailed deer,
spotted owl, grizzly bear and wolf.
The Tennessee River basinhome to
Wheeler and Tennessee Refuges and
othersis considered by The Nature
Conservancy to be the nations most
biologically diverse river system for
aquatic organisms. It also harbors the
highest number of imperiled species of
any large basin in North America with
57 fish species and 47 mussel species
considered to be atrisk.
The Missouri River basin nourishes
at least two dozen refuges from the
2,341milelong rivers source in the
Rocky Mountains of Montana to its
mouth at the Mississippi River in its
The Colorado, the Ohio, the Bear, the
Klamath, the Sacramento, the San
Joaquin, the Minnesota, the James, the
list goes on.
While rivers are the lifeblood of refuges
ecologically, they are also important
to refuges in other ways. And they are
central to President Obamas threeyearold
Americas Great Outdoors (AGO)
Tamara McCandless, the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service AGO coordinator,
says that rivers are important to AGO
- connect Americans to the outdoors.
(Think of water trails on rivers as
dissimilar as the Bronx and the
- provide recreational opportunities,
often close to home, for the nations 40
million anglers and 24 million paddlers.
- provide vital habitat and migration
corridors for fish and wildlife.
Extinction rates for freshwater species
are five times higher than for terrestrial
species; 69 percent of U.S. freshwater
mussel species are at risk of extinction.
- provide chances for people to improve
their community by participating in
river cleanups, riparian plantings
and river access improvements or
volunteering with a river stewardship
Rivers create opportunities for refuges
to connect with the larger watershed and
a diversity of other partnersmaking
refuges and our mission more relevant,
says French. Using a National Blueways
System approach to our efforts within
the watershed, refuge personnel can
facilitate communication, coordination,
collaboration and leveraging of resources
within the federal family and other
watershed stakeholders from the
conservation, education, recreation and
For the final word on the importance of
rivers to refuges and conservation,
though, let us turn to Japanese naturalist
Tanako Shozo: The care of rivers is not a
question of rivers, but of the human