U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Celebrates
National Wildlife Refuge Week With Continued
Stewardship of our National Treasures
The following is a small sample of just some of the many ongoing activities within the Midwest Region to benefit our National Wildlife Refuge System
Battling the Drought in Indiana
Creating Wetlands for the Crawfish Frogg
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge staff have been studying the crayfish frog and developing conservation strategies to increase population levels since 2004. USFWS photo by Andrew Hoffman
By Andrew Hoffman,
Volunteer Intern, Big Oaks NWR
Dry grasses and clay are odd places to look for frogs – but biologists are walking Indiana’s grasslands in search of them. For the biologists at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, summer droughts may have dramatically changed the landscape, but that has not stopped their efforts to protect the rare crawfish frog.
Crawfish frogs are large, light-colored frogs with ornate blotches marking their bodies. As their name implies, these frogs rely on burrowing crayfish to create the burrows that they occupy throughout the year. Crawfish frog research and management has been a priority for Big Oaks since 2004, when the initial breeding surveys for the elusive amphibians began.
“Crawfish frogs are an indicator of high quality grasslands and perhaps a surrogate species to inform management for other of grassland species,” said Big Oaks Manager Joe Robb.
Though Big Oaks contains 50,000 acres of varied habitat, crawfish frogs can only be found in temporary wetlands. These seasonal ponds are essential habitat for the frogs to reproduce. Even though many of these ponds were lost due to drought, land managers have developed some man-made wetlands to provide much needed habitat this summer.
Despite the inability to dig new ponds on this past military proving ground, biologists enlarged existing wetlands by damming nearby culverts and ditches, effectively flooding the small pools and creating more extensive wetlands that mimic the natural cycles. “Ideally, we would provide the frogs with wetlands that will reliably hold water through much of the summer even in dry years,” explained Robb.
With landscape-level modifications like this, the prospects for crawfish frogs at Big Oaks are promising. Active management and research strategies like these may serve as a model for other ecological systems across the country as managers adapt to a rapidly changing climate.
To learn more about the crawfish frog visit http://amphibiaweb.org/cgi/amphib_query?where-genus=Rana&where-species=areolata
Being Neighborly in Iowa:
Working with Landowners to Conserve the Tallgrass Prairie
Mesic tallgrass prairie provides important breeding, migration and winter habitat for migratory birds and resident wildlife species along the Mississippi River in Iowa. USFWS photo by Alex Galt
By - Alex Galt
Wildlife Biologist, Port Louisa NWR
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners have identified mesic tallgrass prairie and wet meadow habitats as high priority for restoration and enhancement in the Lower Iowa River Habitat Complex. These habitats are located in wetter areas of the tallgrass prairie and are typically dominated by big bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass, prairie cordgrass and sedges. Tallgrass prairie was once the largest ecosystem in the United States, but is now one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet.
This southeastern Iowa complex consists of two divisions of Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge, as well as multiple state and county wildlife management areas, and a variety of conservation easements on privately owned lands. Although much of this land is managed by government conservation agencies, there is a clear need to expand conservation efforts beyond the boundaries of public lands to meet larger scale conservation goals.
To accomplish this task, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working outside of refuge boundaries, with partners and private landowners, through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. This program allows the service to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners who voluntarily restore and enhance fish and wildlife habitat on their properties.
Port Louisa recently partnered with an adjacent landowner through the Partners Program to develop and implement a management plan that would meet the habitat objectives of both the landowner and our agency. Woody vegetation encroachment, especially by willow, is a major management issue in these floodplain systems. Prescribed burning and herbicide application are being used to manage willow on privately owned wetlands and the adjoining mesic tallgrass prairie. This activity mirrors the efforts of the refuge staff right next door and provides high quality habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds that is a limiting habitat type on the landscape.
Learn more about Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge by visiting us online: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/port_louisa/
Mingo National Wildlife Refuge’s Lesser Known Migration
The Cottonmouth snake is a common sighting at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge during fall migration. USFWS photo by Vergial Harp
By Peter Rea, Park Ranger
Mingo National Wildlife Refuge
During National Wildlife Refuge Week visitors to Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri often get to experience two very different types of migration. The first type of migration is the push of migratory birds that utilize the bottomland hardwood forests and marshes of Mingo Refuge as stopover or wintering habitat.
What’s the second type of migration, you ask? Snakes!
Yes, that’s right. Some snakes actually do migrate, just on a much smaller scale than that of migratory birds. At Mingo, snakes will migrate out of the swamps and bottomland habitat up into the bluffs that surround the Mingo Basin and they are doing that right now.
National Wildlife Refuge Week usually marks the peak of this movement, with many of the 22 different species of snakes at Mingo Refuge crossing refuge roads to make their way to wintering dens in the caves and crevices of the surrounding bluffs. During this migration period, snakes are exposed to a number of risks, with one of the greatest being vehicles on the roadways.
In order to assess the number of snake mortalities that occur on refuge roadways and to locate “hot spots,” refuge biologists conduct snake mortality surveys. During these surveys, refuge staff drive established road transects and record all the snakes observed. Each snake encounter is documented including species type, length, sex, age class, and of course, whether they are alive and what their geographic location is within the refuge.
The data collected from these studies gives refuge biologists a better understanding of Mingo Refuge’s snake population and how they are faring in their annual migration. It provides data on whether a species or age class is more susceptible to mortality and it also points out “hot spots” that snakes favor for migration. These locations could lead to future management actions that aim at reducing snake mortality on the refuge. Snakes are an extremely important component of the bottomland habitat at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge and, hopefully, through these studies, we can see a higher migration success rate.
Learn more about Mingo National Wildlife Refuge by visiting us online at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Mingo/
Expanding Piping Plover Habitat at Seney National Wildlife Refuge
An active recovery program in Michigan, aided by many volunteers, has helped the piping plover population steadily increase. USFWS photo by Keenan Adams
By Mark Vaniman,
Refuge Manager, Seney NWR
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently finalized the purchase of 19.85 acres of land at Whitefish Point, in Chippewa County, Mich. The acreage, which includes 1,200-feet of Lake Superior shoreline, is within designated critical habitat for the endangered Great Lakes piping plover and is adjacent to 33-acres that make up the Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.
The gravel beaches, sandy beach dunes and stunted jack-pine dominated forests once slated for development will now be protected as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Whitefish Point is renowned for its concentrations of birds during migration.
Each year thousands of raptors, passerines and waterbirds funnel up to the point to cross Lake Superior. They are followed by hundreds of birders. The bird list for Whitefish Point includes 273 species and the point has been designated as a globally important bird area.
Piping plovers, after a 23-year absence, returned to the point in 2009 and successfully fledged young. Nesting has increased over the past three years and in 2012 four pairs fledged 11 chicks. Plovers have been observed using the newly acquired acres as recently as August 28, 2012. The signing of the deed in late August signaled the end of an effort that began with the Service and partners meeting in Newberry, Mich. more than two years earlier.
The purchase of the land was made possible with funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as a considerable amount of donated funds raised by the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. The efforts of the Service and our partners exemplifies our mission of working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.