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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Partnerships Powering Conservation

Oxbow Instream and Riparian Restoration project.

Partnerships help bring together the boots on the ground with the technical and financial assistance that makes wildlife habitat conservation happen.

Read about a project in Oregon made possible by partners.

Celebrating and Protecting Salamanders

 Rough-skinned newt
Rough-skinned newt. Photo by Teal Waterstrat/USFWS

One of my editors hates the word iconic. He thinks, correctly, that it is way overused and so diminishes those species that really are iconic. Plus, he says, other words – well-known, celebrated – can be used just fine. This is a story about salamanders, so he needn’t be on the lookout for the I-word.

Even if they aren’t … well, you know … salamanders are quite important.

Salamanders, for instance, are excellent indicators of environmental health.

Their eggs and skin are permeable, like those of all amphibians, which let water and oxygen pass through. This makes them sensitive to water quality, so keeping an eye on salamanders can give us an indication that there is trouble before we might otherwise realize.

Salamanders also play big roles in nature’s food web.

In forests, salamanders help keep insects and other arthropods in balance. Many of their prey, such as ants and termites, are human pests. And by eating arthropods that themselves eat decomposing leaf litter, salamanders reduce the release of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, which is good for the global carbon cycle.

In vernal ponds (temporary pools of water that provide habitat for specific plants and animals), some salamander species are top predators and help control the abundance of aquatic invertebrates and other amphibians.

Of course, salamanders are also prey for many native animals, including various fish, birds and mammals.


“June Hogs” - The Legend of the Super Salmon

June Hogs

Every angler has at least one story about the big one that got away. Fisheries biologist and history buff Dan Magneson has a two-part story on “June Hogs,” an almost-mystical “super salmon” of the Columbia River.


Tune in to Native Trout Conservation

 Nate Wiese  and Jeremy Voeltz
Nate Wiese and Jeremy Voeltz.

Nate Wiese from Mora National Fish Hatchery in New Mexico and Jeremy Voeltz from the Arizona Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office were recently interviewed on Bass Pro Outdoor World Radio. (Sirius XM 147). They discussed their conservation work with Gila trout and Apache trout, two species found only in the Southwest Region.

You can listen to Nate and Jeremy here.  




Ripley's, Sports and the Fish and Wildlife Service

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Mark Chesna
Mark Chesna (right) and a friend at the Green Bay playoff win against Washington last week.

In November, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not comic strip heralded Mark Chesna for having been to 2,930 sporting events. He’s now up to 2,971, and more than half have been during the 18 years he has worked at the Service’s National Conservation Training Center (NCTC).

Mark is the studio manager at NCTC. He works on distance learning  broadcasts, webcasts, pretty much whatever comes out of our studio at NCTC, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

His first event was a baseball game: the first-place Chicago Cubs lost to the third-place St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of a doubleheader on July 6, 1969, in St Louis.

And he has all his ticket stubs, scorecards, scrapbooks and more since then.

Mark says he started keeping track as a kid when his dad took him to games and taught him how to keep score. “I always HAD the scorebooks of all games.”

When he was in college, he suffered an injury that wasn’t too serious but left him with some time on his hands. He combined all his records into one notebook, so he didn’t have to search too hard if he wanted to look up a game. And he has “just kept that up since then.”


U.S., China Share Best Practices for Wetlands Management

Exchange at Ding Darling
Visitor Damon Yeh shared these photos.

Because of China’s large population, it faces many challenges for managing its water resources to restore natural habitats and mitigate damages from floods and landslides. So last month, we hosted a group of Chinese wetlands officials touring protected areas in southern Florida. The goal for this trip was to learn about wetlands restoration, monitoring and management in the United States and provide new ideas for the Chinese on how to manage wetlands in their home country.


The delegation learned how complex wetlands management in Florida is and how many different stakeholders are involved. Working with diverse interest groups is a challenge in both countries, but it is vital. Delegates were also very interested in our education and outreach efforts and hope to implement some of our practices in their protected areas. Both Chinese and U.S. officials agree that educating the public is a critical step in developing effective management practices.

Over the eight-day period, the delegation visited Everglades National Park, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest, Florida Panther Refuge, 10,000 Islands Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve. These public lands are home to countless birds, alligators, manatees, dolphins and many other species. A few of the delegates were lucky enough to see a black bear and its cub.


The Fish and Wildlife Service and China’s State Forestry Administration have conducted many exchanges over the years covering a wide variety of thematic areas. These exchanges are to share best practices and build a mutual understanding of conservation within these two countries. For more information see: http://www.fws.gov/international/wildlife-without-borders/east-asia/us-china-nature-conservation-protocol.html

Good News for Manatees

manatee feeding
Mike Oetker, Deputy Regional Director of the Service’s Southeast Region, feeds a manatee as Jessica Schiffhauer, an assistant animal care supervisor at Miami Seaquarium, looks on. Photo by Ken Warren/USFWS

On a warm and sunny day in South Florida, palm trees swayed as a cool breeze blew in from across Biscayne Bay prompting Mike Oetker to say while looking at sea cows glide along peacefully at Miami Seaquarium: “This setting is right off my bucket list.” 

Mike, Deputy Regional Director of our Southeast Region, was at the Seaquarium on January 7 for a news conference to announce that the Service proposes downlisting West Indian manatees from “endangered” to “threatened.”  The event was held right at the edge of the pool where rescued manatees are rehabilitated and/or kept if they can’t be returned to the wild. 

As the manatees swam by, Mike delivered the good news saying, “The Fish and Wildlife Service recently completed our review of the manatee’s status and based on the best available scientific information we believe the manatee is no longer in danger of extinction.” 

He added, “This action we’re announcing today, really in our view, demonstrates the successes of how the Endangered Species Act can and does work…and is making waterways safer and cleaner in Florida.” 


Working with Tribes in the Southwest

Dr. Benjamin Tuggle signs the statement with the Gila River Indian Community. The tribe's Governor Stephen R. Lewis is at left. Photo by Joe Early/USFWS

Our mission is to “Work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.” Earlier this month Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Regional Director of our Southwest Region, and Governor Stephen R. Lewis, of the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) signed a Statement of Relationship to work together.

In the statement, the fifth one signed with tribes within the Southwest Region, we agree to maintain a strong government-to-government relationship toward the co-management of mutual conservation goals.

The statement formalizes a dynamic working relationship between the tribe, a sovereign nation, and the Service to “develop and promote communication and understanding to mutual goals of ecosystem conservation on GRIC's lands and promote self-management and control of GRIC's land, natural resources and wildlife." 


Sparky the Survivor - Lightning Won't Stop This Bison

Sparky the Bison
Sparky the bison at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge by Karen Viste-Sparkman/USFWS. Interested in sharing Sparky's story? Feel free to use Sparky's photo with credit to Karen Viste-Sparkman/USFWS. You can download the original file from Flickr. If you have questions, please contact Tina Shaw.

Can you imagine being struck by lightning? Sparky, a bison at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa knows exactly what it’s like! Sparky was struck in 2013, and is doing surprisingly well. We recently checked in with Wildlife Biologist Karen Viste-Sparkman to learn more about Sparky’s amazing story.

Sparky joined the herd at Neal Smith in 2006 after being transferred from the National Bison Range in Montana. As you may have guessed, Sparky earned his name after the lightning strike and is the only bison that has been struck at the refuge - although it does occasionally happen across the country.

Karen does regular checks on the bison to watch for signs of illness and check body condition. During a survey in late July 2013, she noticed a bull standing by himself. When she took a closer look through her binoculars, she noticed that Sparky looked bloody. This wasn't entirely surprising because bison bulls will often fight during the mating season and July tends to be a prime time for injuries. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that Sparky had been burned over a large area. His hump was missing hair and there was a large lump on his hind leg, which must have been the exit wound, meaning Sparky was lying down at the time of the strike.

Sparky was thin after the strike and wasn't expected to live long. Since a lightning strike is something that could easily occur in wild bison anywhere, the refuge let nature take its course. There are no natural predators in the bison area, so injured bison are monitored regularly and euthanized if they're unable to eat or walk. Sparky was standing when his injuries were discovered, which was a promising sign. Karen kept checking on Sparky and was able to watch his wounds slowly heal. With a limp, Sparky kept walking.

At 11 years old and about 1,600 pounds, Sparky is a bit thinner than the rest of the bison, but he still stands strong. Before being struck, Sparky fathered three calves. Genetic testing will tell us if he successfully reproduced after the strike, but we're hoping that he does because he's one tough bison!

If you ever find yourself near Des Moines, stop by Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and see if you can spot Sparky. He tends to spend his time just like other bulls - hanging out in small groups or enjoying some quiet time alone.

-- Courtney Celley, Public Affairs Specialist, Midwest Region


California Condor AC-4 Returns to the Wild After 30 Years

California condor AC-4 soars above Hudson Ranch, which would later become Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Photo taken on September 22, 1982 by USFWS.

In 1985,we first saw Marty McFly zooming Back to the Future to make sure he and his family didn’t disappear. 

Also in 1985, our biologists were capturing California condors in an effort to make sure the species didn’t disappear. Between 1983 and 1987, the Service-led California Condor Recovery Program captured 22 California condors --  were only ones left in the wild anywhere on Earth. The goal was to breed the birds in captivity and release them back into the wild.

MORE: Find photos and video interviews

On August 7, 1985, our biologists captured 5-year-old male California condor AC-4 at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Kern County, California. AC-4 turned out to be integral to the recovery of the California condor population. He successfully sired 30 chicks that have been released into the wild population -- the third most productive sire in the program. He was also part of the pair that produced the first egg and first chick from wild birds in captivity in 1988.

Fast forward to December 29, 2015, 35-year-old AC-4, re-branded as California condor number 20, was released in the same area where he was captured. He is one of four remaining condors of the original 22 birds brought into captivity in the 1980s.  Condors can live to 60.


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