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A Talk on the Wild Side.

App Will Help Our Southwest Region Tap into Power of Citizen Scientists

 Big horn sheep at Kofa NWR off Refuge Trail Camera

Many national wildlife refuges across the Southwest use trail cameras to capture images of animals in their natural habitat, even elusive species.  The photos are not only fascinating to look at (check out these Wildlife Selfies) but also provide key information to wildlife biologists who track species presence, population sizes and distribution.  The only down side is that the cameras can take millions of pictures.  That’s where you come in.  The app allows anyone, anywhere to sort through the photos to count and identify wildlife species in the picture.  To download the free app go to the App Store on an iPhone and then search for Moniker, the name of the app.  There is even a tutorial to get you started.    

Managing the Needs of People and Wildlife in America's Heartland

whooping crane
A whooping crane at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

We are celebrating the projects and programs our Nebraska Ecological Services Field Office is working on! One key habitat there is the central Platte River.

The shallowness of the central Platte River and flat valley around it makes it an incredibly important area for millions of migratory birds in the central flyway, including  geese, ducks, songbirds and even threatened and endangered species such as piping plovers, interior least terns and whooping cranes. 

RELATED:  Protected Paths: Cross-Continental Journey to Conserve Migratory Birds

Whooping cranes used to number in the tens of thousands across North America, but following English settlement and westward expansion, only an estimated 1,400 survived in 1860.  Habitat loss and overexploitation caused the bird’s demise and the population hit an all-time low of just 15 birds in 1938.  The 15 surviving whooping cranes all belonged to one flock, called the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population that migrated between Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. This flock, which still migrates through central Nebraska every spring and fall, frequently stops on the Platte River, and formed the basis for the ongoing recovery of this endangered species. Currently, this flock remains the only self-sustaining, wild, migratory population of whooping cranes, though conservation efforts have established experimental populations in other parts of the United States. 

Today, biologists estimate that more than 300 whooping cranes are in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population and habitat restoration and protection efforts continue to provide important stopover habitat needed during migration for recovery.  In addition to the whooping crane tracking project, the Nebraska Field Office is working with public and private power companies to avoid and minimize impacts to whooping cranes from industrial and energy development. 

It is no doubt that the whooping crane faces substantial challenges on its road to recovery. But we are committed to working with our partners to ensure that the central Platte River is a safe haven for these majestic birds and an area Nebraskans can be proud of.

Learn more: http://1.usa.gov/1KCrlT5


Partnering with ReGreen Springfield to Engage City Residents in Massachusetts

With 80 percent of Americans living in cities, the urban wildlife conservation program seeks to meet children and families where they live and work so that they can care for nature in their cities and beyond. Photo by USFWS

We joined partners in Springfield, Mass., Monday to designate the Springfield Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, part of a national effort to connect city residents with the outdoors and contribute to wildlife conservation in their communities. Working closely with Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, ReGreen Springfield and other partners will restore urban streams and forests in the Abbey Brook Conservation Area and provide environmental education opportunities for residents to learn about the importance of conserving the Connecticut River Watershed. In addition to the designation, ReGreen Springfield will receive $39,000 through the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant Program to aid these efforts.

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A Winter Walk

A winter walk

The “dog days” of summer may be over, but some are still melting in the heat. Here’s a story for you. Fishery biologist Dan Magneson, the assistant hatchery manager at Quilcene National Fish Hatchery in Washington,recalls a cooler time. 

Wintertime in southern Idaho.

The dashboard lights are brighter than the sky as I pull off the road and switch off the engine.

Unfolding and studying my map under the dome light, I look over an area I’ve been planning to hike and explore since the previous Thanksgiving.

What it amounts to appears to be a high, windswept ridge, located more or less south-southeast of Twin Falls and lying inside the boundaries of the Sawtooth National Forest.

I’d explored the steep slopes beneath the nearly vertical rock face on Thanksgiving Day itself, curious whether or not the mountain mahogany trees that dotted the slopes and far-denser aspen groves sheltered any mule deer.

They sure did. Through my binoculars, each buck I spotted had an impressive rack, and each also sported an impressive harem of does. And I found them just about everywhere, although they were far, far beyond the capabilities of my camera.

And so after a full day of slipping and slogging along those slopes, I returned to my truck bone-tired, but content.

The plateau on top, however, remained unconquered despite two attempts to reach it. It was just too steep and too slippery, too risky to try when all alone. I decided I would get a map and return if there seemed a less dangerous route.

As it turned out, there was. But it would require a hike of a few miles down the canyon adjacent to the plateau and then a long climb up to the plateau itself. But at least the slope, although still very steep, looked passable.

I don insulated coveralls, pull on my boots and climb out of my pickup truck. Fresh snow – very light and powdery, like down – covers the whole world, lending a muffled quality to what little sound I hear. Although the hills still cover the dawn, I can see swirls of salmon and gray on the eastern horizon.

I am lucky in that there is a popular trail through the bottom of this canyon. Along its fairly level length, I’ll be able to make good time. The lichen-freckled, columnar rock formations that guard the edge of the plateau jut upward above the snowy slope like molars along a sun-bleached jawbone. They continue stretching toward the horizon until they disappear from view around a distant bend.

I trudge onward as the sunrise strengthens and begins bathing the landscape in a pinkish wash; I take this as a warning, because the sun will soon be rising over the hills ahead and right into my eyes. When it finally does, I keep my squint fixed just a few yards ahead, attempting to diminish the annoying glare.

At last I arrive at the point I’ll begin my climb to the plateau. Not yet snow-blind, I gratefully begin my ascent.

Before long, I’m leaning forward in an attempt to keep my balance as I wallow up through the snow, grabbing sagebrush and pulling myself along on the increasingly steep slope. The climb is lengthened by the fact I’m continually stopping for the combined purposes of catching my breath and cooling off. During these short breaks I distract myself from the discomfort by admiring the scenery. A pair of dipping, croaking ravens flap their way along the ridge; a friend remarked that ravens remind him of going hunting and I have to agree. Small hummocks, with their relatively sparse snow cover to begin with (thanks to the winds) have melted off and exposed the underlying cheatgrass and Oregon grape. A breeze stirs the loose snow from a pine bough, momentarily filling the air with a shower of sparkles.


'Wow, What an Adventure'

Okefenokee Wilderness
Canoeing in the wilderness. Photo by Joy Campbell

Recreation.gov invites you to “Explore Your America.”

It provides information on things to do at National Wildlife Refuges, national parks, forests, monuments and other public lands. It also enables you to plan a trip, helps you make reservations and more.

And it recently highlighted Okefenokee Wilderness in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia.

Spotlight: Okefenokee Wilderness

Secrets of the Lower Great Lakes: The Search for Lake Sturgeon


Lake sturgeon nearly disappeared from the Great Lakes 100 years ago. Discovering the secrets of their biology to help recover the species is a group effort.

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Getting the Word Out about the Plight of African Vultures

Like Asian vultures, African vulture populations are dropping but not always for the same reasons. Darcy Ogada, Assistant Director of Africa Programs for The Peregrine Fund, explains.

African vultures
A jackal and waiting vultures at the carcass. Photo by S. Kapila

Parked amongst the warthogs on the plains of Laikipia in northern Kenya, my trapping partner, Simon Thomsett, and I wait. We wait for the large shadows to drift across the plains. Each shadow, a vulture attracted by a fresh carcass  that, unbeknownst to them, we’ve laced with nooses. Slowly and spectacularly they converge from the sky onto what must surely appear as a dot amidst a vast plain. They begin dropping from the sky with wings pumping furiously to cushion the impact. Once on the ground, they gather like 6-year-olds chasing a soccer ball. They egg each other toward the carcass. Who will be the first?

Collectively, they move a bit closer. From across the plain a jackal runs at full speed, having been alerted to a free meal by the descending vultures. The jackal stakes his claim. He doesn’t mind that he’s a freeloader; the only thing that matters in his world is that he’s bigger and fiercer than all the rest. He eats and eats some more, his stomach noticeably bulging. Satiated, he circles round the carcass, still reluctant to give his leftovers to the vultures. The vultures don’t mind; in this game, patience is their middle name. The jackal moves on and the vultures move in, not one-by-one, but one-by-one-by-sixty. The melee begins, the carcass grows to becomes a solid mass of individually moving parts. Their brown backs pumping with effort is all we see.


Rare Bird Sighting at J.N "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

You’re looking at what may prove to be the rarest bird seen this year on Sanibel Island, Florida. The masked booby is a large, 32-inch, sea bird which is found in the Pacific Ocean and in offshore waters of the Caribbean. This masked booby was seen and photographed by France Paulsen on J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, this past week. 

Masked Booby
Masked Booby by France Paulsen

The bird was seen on the beach about a half mile west of the Tarpon Bay beach access on Sanibel Island. The masked booby is rarely spotted in the U.S (with a few breeding in Dry Tortugas, Florida) but can be spotted at sea off the Atlantic states. 

Masked Booby - Spotted at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Masked Booby by France Paulsen

Many are speculating that rough weather and the recent storms are what's causing some rare birds like this one to visit the refuge. While this may be true, no matter the season there is always something to watch and observe. 

"Even though it's hot here at the refuge, there's always something to see. Try to plan your visit around low tide for optimal wildlife viewing. Even though the bird population is diminished comparative to their numbers in the winter, we are seeing manatees mating and dolphins jumping!"

 --Toni Westland, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Ranger

Read more about the masked booby sighting here by France Paulsen. 

Three Cheers for the Amazing Asian Vulture

 Asian vulture
Vultures gather for a meal. Photo by Himalayan Nature

In 2012, we funded the establishment of a vulture restaurant in Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in Nepal. 

Vulture restaurants don’t serve vulture, they serve carcasses to vultures, and they are an important way to help recover vultures – in Asia, IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, classifies four species as Critically Endangered. 

This is largely due to a drug given to livestock.

 In Asian countries, people give diclofenac, a drug similar to aspirin or ibuprofen, to livestock to ease arthritic pain.

But vultures are hyper-sensitive to diclofenac. When they feed on livestock carcasses that had received the drug when they were alive, vultures die. And vulture population numbers have tumbled drastically since the drug came into use. 

IUCN says that the white-rumped vulture was at one time called “possibly the most abundant large bird of prey in the world,” adding that its overall population “almost certainly numbered several million individuals.” But since the mid-1990s, IUCN says, “it has suffered a catastrophic decline (over 99%) across the Indian subcontinent,” and IUCN puts the total population now at less than 15,000.

Similar declines have also hit the long-billed vulture, the slender-billed vulture and the red-headed vulture.

There is good news. Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan have passed laws to eliminate veterinary use of diclofenac, although it remains easily available in many areas, and diclofenac meant for humans is often given to animals.


Another Century of Limitless Opportunities

We are dedicated to helping develop a new generation of conservation professionals – one that reflects the increasing diversity of America itself. And our partnership with Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., will help us engage more Americans in a meaningful way. Dr. Mario Brown, International Coordinator of Sigma Beta Clubs, the fraternity’s youth auxiliary, talked about the partnership, which turned 1 in April, in the summer issue of Fish & Wildlife News.

tree planting

The Service and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., plant trees to commemorate their partnership at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans. Photo by Tom MacKenzie/USFWS

On May 19, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took an important step in our partnership to engage urban youth in outdoor recreation and STEM education, that is, learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  

We established a local relationship at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans that will stand as the model for increasing our broader partnership efforts.

With a model in place, let’s now challenge ourselves to  put it to good use.


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