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A Talk on the Wild Side.

5 Things you Need to Know About Wetlands

World Wetlands Day occurs each year on February 2 to highlight the importance of wetlands to animals and people around the globe.  It celebrates the day the Ramsar Wetlands Convention was signed in 1971 (the Convention celebrated its 40th Anniversary last year).  The Wetlands Convention promotes the conservation and wise use of wetlands through international cooperation. Today, 1,994 Ramsar sites covering more than 474 million acres have been designated as Wetlands of International Importance.

ChincoteagueChincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

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Putting a Stamp on Conservation

The Federal Duck Stamp.  To be honest, before I started working here, I really didn’t know much about it.  Maybe you’re like me, and you don’t know there’s a national art contest to create the new Duck Stamp each year.   If you’re an artist, you may want to consider creating something for the contest.  While time might be running a little thin to submit something this year (entries must be postmarked by midnight on August 15th), maybe you’ll consider entering next year.

2011 Duck StampCurrent Duck Stamp, Artist: James Hautman

What’s the purpose of the Duck Stamp, though?  Of course art contests can be fun, but here’s what it is all about.  Aside from being required for hunting waterfowl, the Duck Stamp serves as a very important conservation tool.  Ninety-eight cents of every dollar generated from Duck Stamps goes directly to buy or lease wetlands for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System, making the Duck Stamp one of the best dollar-for-dollar investments in the future of America’s wetlands.

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Teddy Roosevelt and the History of the National Wildlife Refuge System

Today, there are 553 refuges across the country, with at least one in every state, providing safety to more than 250 threatened or endangered plants and animals.  Have you ever wondered how we got there?

President Roosevelt, known for his love of nature and wildlife established Pelican Island as our first national refuge in 1903.  Though he didn’t know it at the time, Roosevelt had set the nation on the path to building the largest national Refuge System in the world. 

Throughout his presidency, refuges were established around the country, and by the time he left office in 1909, he had declared 53 refuges in 17 states and three territories.

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Arkansas: Warming Trends Changing the Hunt for Waterfowl

Birds in flight at Bald Knob

Pintail and wigeon ducks on the move at Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Arkansas. Photo credit: Jim Daniel.

A 2005 newspaper article gave Dr. James Bednarz the idea to look for a possible link between climate change and duck migration.

In the article, someone suggested climate change was already reducing duck hunting opportunities in Arkansas, a state known for its premier waterfowl hunting.

“I thought it was pretty farfetched,” Bednarz recalled recently.

But the hypothesis presented an interesting research project. After diving into 50 years worth of duck data, Bednarz, a professor of Wildlife Ecology at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, says he’s now convinced climate change -- including warmer temperatures, more ice-free days and changes in precipitation -- is causing fewer ducks to migrate south for the winter.

“The analysis definitely demonstrates that change is happening right now,” Bednarz said. “If [climate change] continues, waterfowl hunting in places where we’ve traditionally done it will seriously diminish. I think it will be a big cost to our heritage and our wildlife.”

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New Jersey: Biologists Utilizing New Tools to Mitigate the Impact of Climate Change

Biologists standing on grass with a cityscape behind them

Refuge biologists head to the field at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to study ways to manage marsh habitats in the face of climate change. The refuge hosted a workshop in 2010 so biologists from Northeastern national wildlife refuges could learn how to manage salt marshes to adapt to climate change. Photo: Bill Butcher, USFWS. 

Photo iconPhotos: View photos of E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Flickr

Video iconVideo: Watch a video about the climate change assessment tool

Edwin. B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey, is among the first wildlife refuges in the country to complete the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Shorebird Habitat, which not only measures how vulnerable a habitat is to the effects of climate change, but also enables managers to consider how to sustain such habitats.  The assessment looks at a range of stressors, including sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of storms, and changes in precipitation and temperature.  

The assessment shows that climate change threats at Forsythe Refuge will be magnified over time, with much higher risk in 2100 as compared to 2025.  Potential risks include sea level rise inundating habitats, storms destroying beaches and dunes, erosion of tidal creek banks, ocean acidification affecting invertebrates that birds feed on, and heavy rainfall causing greater runoff of pollutants into tidal flats.

Refuge staff is using the assessment results to develop a habitat management plan.

Forsythe Refuge mainly consists of tidal salt meadow and marsh. Tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds, wading birds, ducks and geese use the refuge in the spring and fall to rest and eat the rich food resources. Other birds remain through the summer to nest and raise their young. 

Nesting habitats for American oystercatcher and piping plover, as well as stopover habitat for red knot during its lengthy fall migration are particularly vulnerable. 

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Virginia: Researchers use high-tech tools to predict and plan for sea level rise at Chincoteague

Beach and a fence

The Service is using sophisticated technology and models to make sea-level rise predictions at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The information can help managers understand potential changes to salt marshes and other key habitat. Photo: Greg Knadle/USFWS.

The 14,000 acres of pristine beaches, dunes, maritime forest and salt and freshwater marshes that comprise Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge at the southern end of Assateague Island in Virginia are a haven for wildlife, plants and people, who come to fish, crab and watch spectacular wildlife. But like most coastal areas, rising sea level due to a changing climate poses a major threat.

“Comparing older maps of the refuge and the town of Chincoteague with newer maps tells a distinct story,” said Lou Hinds, Chincoteague refuge manager. “The land mass is shrinking and sea level rise is the main culprit.”  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several partners took to the skies to get a more precise understanding of the topography of the refuge’s salt marshes to help predict the impact of salt water intrusion on plants and animals and how the landscape will evolve over time.

In partnership with NASA, the Service used LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) equipped aircraft to map some of the most environmentally sensitive areas on and surrounding the refuge. The Nature Conservancy conducted its own independent LIDAR flights over the area as well. LIDAR uses pulses of light to map at high resolution the physical features of a landscape.  

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Maryland: Restoring Native Forests Helps Animals Adapt at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Marshland

There are many reasons why the marshes have been disappearing. Nature has had a hand, including erosion from wind and waves, more frequent powerful storm surges, land subsidence and – now we know-- sea level rise. Photo: USFWS.

It takes less than three hours to drive from the nation’s capital to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  But the bald eagles, abundant waterfowl and fish that are a world away from Capitol Hill are losing ground to the widening Blackwater River and rising sea level in the Chesapeake Bay.

People have been partly responsible for the marshes’ disappearance: by introducing nutria, voracious grass-eating rodents; and by building roads, bridges, canals and ditches that have affected water flow over time.

Nature has had a hand, including erosion from wind and waves, more frequent powerful storm surges, land subsidence and – now we know – sea level rise.

Blackwater Refuge Manager Suzanne Baird has an arsenal of tools that she and her staff, along with conservation partners, may use to protect refuge lands as a coastal haven for fish and wildlife along the Chesapeake Bay. Some measures to counteract marsh loss include creating new marsh, controlling invasive species, and pumping in soil to bolster marsh areas.

The simple act of planting trees creates wooded areas or corridors for animals to roam as the marshes continue to shrink. Blackwater Refuge has lost about 5,000 acres of marshland since the 1940s. Moreover, tree-planting also fights a central cause of climate change: the build-up of greenhouse gases.

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South Dakota: No Ducking Climate Change Impacts to Prairie Pothole Wetlands

A northern shovler takes flight off water

Northern shovelers take flight at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota.  Prairie Pothole wetlands are at risk from a number of factors. Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS.

Photo iconPhotos: South Dakota Photoset on Flickr

Video iconVideo: Embedded in story after "More"

The mallard feeding at the local park.  The flock of northern shovelers passing overhead.  The nesting pair of blue-winged teal.  All are common ducks and all depend on the rich habitat of North America’s wetlands – habitat that may be affected by climate change.

The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) - named for its many glacial depressions, commonly referred to as potholes - is seasonally home to many wetland bird species.  The region is often referred to as North America’s “duck factory” because the potholes support more than 50 percent of the continent’s breeding waterfowl. South Dakota contains a large portion of the remaining wetlands in the PPR, which contribute significantly to annual production of wetland birds, including migratory waterfowl.

As European settlers moved into the PPR, more than half of its potholes were lost. Subsequent generations drained potholes at a rapid rate to create fields fit for agriculture.  The once plentiful prairie wetlands declined in number.

The establishment of many national wildlife refuges since the 1930s, and waterfowl production areas (WPAs) since the 1960s, has helped to preserve habitat as many of the PPR’s wetlands were drained.

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) works with partners like Ducks Unlimited to protect vital waterfowl habitat in the PPR by purchasing permanent easements from willing landowners protecting covered wetlands in perpetuity from draining, filling, or burning.

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Oregon: Preparing for Change on the North Pacific Coast

A long-billed curlew walking in water
A long-billed curlew. The Service is working with the National Wildlife Federation and state and federal partners to assess climate change impacts in marine and coastal environments in Oregon and the North Pacific region. The information will help resource managers take action to safeguard species and habitats in the region. Photo: USFWS.

Coastal and marine environments in Oregon and throughout the North Pacific region are rich in natural wealth, scenic beauty and quality of life. They are also among the first places being affected by climate change and other environmental stressors.

The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute in its 2010 Oregon Climate Assessment Report reported that observed and projected effects include loss of coastal wetlands; changes in the abundance and distribution of wildlife, including salmon; increased coastal erosion and flooding from increasing sea levels and wave heights; and impacts to ocean ecosystems from increased temperatures and acidity of seawater. The report emphasized that these changes are already happening and that Oregon needs to prepare and plan for how to adapt both human and natural communities to these changes.

Estuaries all along the West Coast have been greatly affected during the past 100 years by diking, draining and conversion to agriculture or development, says Roy Lowe, refuge manager for the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. This activity eliminated vast tidal marshes and swamps. For instance, the Coquille River estuary, where Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge is located, has suffered a 95 percent loss of the tidal marsh and 93 percent loss of forested wetlands. Lowe says these habitats directly support juvenile salmon and steelhead, waterfowl, wading birds and many other species. In addition, the wetlands also dampen flood and storm effects, trap sediment, sequester carbon and provide essential detritus and nutrients to the lower estuaries and ocean.

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Texas: In Face of Climate Change, Coast Is Not Clear for Whooping Cranes

Two whooping cranes seem to be dancing across water as they take flight

A pair of whooping cranes skim over tidal marsh habitat at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Photo is for USFWS use only.

Video iconMultimedia: Video on YouTube; Podcast

Even though a record-breaking 281 whooping cranes wintered this past season at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas, climate change is a major concern for the charismatic endangered species.

The primary threat to the cranes’ survival, according to Aransas Refuge manager Dan Alonso, is rapidly disappearing coastal habitat. Most of the habitat is being devoured by burgeoning real estate development along the Gulf of Mexico, but climate change is exacerbating the problem. A secondary concern related to climate change is the prospect of prolonged drought, which would reduce the flow of freshwater and leave marsh habitat unacceptably saline for cranes.

The Aransas Refuge population – the only natural flock of whooping cranes in North America – nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada in spring and summer. From early fall to December, the cranes migrate in small groups to the Texas refuge. In early spring, they rush 2,500 miles back up to Canada in 15-16 days.

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