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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Surrogate Woodpecker – What One Biologist Does for Species Recovery!

Robert Allen
Robert Allen of the Arlington Ecological Services East Texas Sub-office installs an artificial nest cavity for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker Photo credit: USFWS

Our Southwest Region's Tom Buckley and Robert Allen tell us about Allen's work as a Surrogate Woodpecker.

Robert Allen, a wildlife biologist at the East Texas Sub-office in Nacogdoches, climbs ladders and builds artificial nest and roost cavities for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker as part of a recovery effort to enhance nesting habitat in the four national forests in east Texas.

Allen builds these artificial cavities to promote population growth because natural cavity excavation commonly takes several years for the woodpecker to complete.

Unlike other woodpecker species, red-cockaded woodpeckers are highly social and cooperative breeders, living in family clusters comprising the breeding pair and helper males (previous year’s offspring).  Most, if not all, red-cockaded woodpeckers in the group have their own cavity, all of which are in live pine clustered in close proximity, hence the term "cluster."

Red-cockaded woodpeckers require open pine woodlands and savannahs with large, old pines for nesting/roosting habitat. Large, old pines are used as cavity trees because the woodpecker excavates completely within the heartwood in order to keep the cavity interior free of the resin the tree produces, which can entrap the birds. Also, old pines are preferred because of the higher incidence of heartwood decay caused by redheart fungus, which makes cavity excavation much easier.


The Secret Lives of Bats

When we listed the Florida bonneted bat as an endangered species last year, we included this line: “At present, no active, natural roost sites are known. All active, known roosts are bat houses.” Well, no longer.

An active roost was found in a tree cavity at Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR) in central Florida.

The discovery of the roost was cool enough, but activity in the roost was captured on video (above). As Larry Williams, our Florida State Supervisor of Ecological Services, says: “The fantastic video makes the find even more exciting.”

The discovery will give biologists a better understanding the species’ roosting habits and habitat preferences, so we can make better management decisions.

The Florida bonneted bat is a non-migratory bat found only in Florida. The population size is not known, but is estimated to be in the low hundreds to low thousands.


Combating Global Wildlife Trafficking is a Top Priority for Service, James Gale

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
James Gale
"There is nothing more satisfying than coming to work every day believing in what you do, and working with folks that feel the same way you do."

James R. Gale is the Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Law Enforcement’s (OLE) Special Operations Division. He works out of the Atlanta, Georgia, Regional Office but is a Headquarters employee. He oversees four OLE programs - the Branch of Training and Inspection, the Digital Evidence Recovery and Technical Support Unit, the Special Investigations Unit and the International Attaché Program – and has been with the Service for more than 22 years.

5 Questions for James       

1. What inspired you to work on this issue?

Combating global wildlife trafficking has been and continues to be a priority for the Office of Law Enforcement.  OLE identified it as a priority in 2005 when we developed our program’s first five-year strategic plan, and we re-emphasized its importance in our 2011-2015 plan.  It is only recently that it has drawn so much international attention, thanks in large part to the Executive Order – Combating Wildlife Trafficking - signed by President Obama in July 2013.  For those of us who have dedicated a majority of our careers to tackling this issue, it is exciting to see our government, and those around the world, place added emphasis on this important issue.

All four OLE programs that I oversee a play significant role in combating wildlife trafficking.

  • Providing training to our foreign counterparts in conducting wildlife-focused criminal investigations,
  • Providing state-of-the-art digital evidence collection and technical investigative equipment support to our agents in the field,
  • Directly conducting complex, large scale criminal investigations of wildlife traffickers, and
  • Providing our expertise at U.S. embassies around the world.  

It’s safe to say that combating global wildlife trafficking is a top priority for OLE’s Special Operations Division.


Leveraging Resources to Recover Tidewater Goby

Tidewater goby
A two-person team enters the Carpinteria Creek Lagoon to seine for goby and other aquatic organisms. Photo Credit: Ashley Spratt/USFWS.

Collaboration and sound science are key to effective landscape-level conservation. Along the California coastline, our folks at the Ventura and Arcata Fish and Wildlife Offices joined forces with the University of California (UC) Santa Barbara and California State Parks recently to host a training session on enhancing restoration efforts for the tidewater goby, a federally endangered fish that lives in waters of coastal lagoons, estuaries and marshes of California.

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At Our Forensics Lab, Pepper Trail Fights Wildlife Trafficking

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Pepper Trail
FWS forensic ornithologist Pepper Trail compares evidence items to samples from the Lab's standards reference collection to confirm species identification. Photo credit: USFWS

Pepper Trail is a senior forensic scientist and ornithologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Oregon.  The lab is the world’s foremost facility dedicated to solving crimes against wildlife. And it provides wildlife-related crime laboratory services to wildlife law enforcement officers at federal, state and international levels, so criminals can be successfully prosecuted

5 Questions for Pepper

1. What inspired you to work on this issue?

I’ve always been fascinated by birds, and wanted to be an ornithologist ever since I found out that such a thing was possible.  I received my Ph.D. in ornithology from Cornell for field studies in South America, and have since carried out bird observations on all seven continents.  My postdoctoral work at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco gave me experience working with museum specimens to explore the evolution of plumage and other anatomical characters.  Although I never expected to have a career in law enforcement, my combination of field and museum work with birds from all over the world proved to be excellent preparation for forensic ornithology. My travels also impressed upon me the critical threats facing the world’s wildlife, motivating me to find work that contributes to conservation – so my position at the Forensics Lab is a perfect fit. 


Protected Paths: Cross-Continental Journey to Conserve Migratory Birds

Protected Paths
Pintails are early visitors to the boreal forest. Photo credit: J Kelly/USFWS


Rachel Penrod, of our Migratory Bird Program, follows birds from the far, far north to the far, far south and tells us how the Service is helping them.

Imagine for a moment you are standing on soft ground beneath the outstretched branches of tall green conifers. In each direction you look, the forest seems to go on endlessly, but you can hear the soft gurgle of a stream nearby. The forest is at once extremely peaceful and bursting with birdsong and other sounds of wildlife. When you look up, the trees seem to press against the sky, asserting strength and a guardianship over their inhabitants.

This is the boreal forest, which spans the globe across the northern regions of Russia, Scandinavia, Canada and Alaska, and in North America, covers 1.5 billion acres from interior Alaska across Canada to the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the largest intact forests on the planet, this massive expanse of woodlands is naturally broken within its reaches by only one element—water. River basins, flood plains, bogs and other wetlands can be found pocketed among the trees, making this unique and massive forest one of the most important habitats for breeding birds in the Western Hemisphere.


Celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week

People take advantage of Havasu National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. Photo credit: USFWS

Next week, we invite you to celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week (October 12-18) with a visit to a national wildlife refuge. The National Wildlife Refuge System protects more than 150 million acres of land and water from the Caribbean to the Pacific, Maine to Alaska. There is at least one national wildlife refuge in every state.

While there, you can fish, hunt, hike or just immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature. As if you needed another good reason to share in America’s natural heritage, Sunday, October 12, is a fee-free day. Admission fees at wildlife refuges are waived on that day.  

So many options, not sure where to start? USATODAY.com offers a look at some standout refuges, or you can use our handy refuge locater to find a refuge near you. Our calendar also shows some of the events taking place for Refuge Week. It’s your land, America, take joy in it!

Strong After Sandy

Red knots

Beach restoration at Delaware Bay restored critical habitat for horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds such as the imperiled rufa red knot.  Photo Credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Tom Sturm of our Northeast Region filed this report on our Hurricane Sandy restoration and resiliency projects for the next issue of Fish & Wildlife News. We're giving you an early read.

By strengthening natural defenses, the Service and partners help wildlife and coastal communities better withstand future storms.


Five beach restoration efforts on Delaware Bay brought back to life one of the most crucial habitats for migratory birds on the East Coast. The beaches, badly eroded by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, will likely face continuing challenges from future storms, sea-level rise and ongoing shoreline development. To bolster the depleted landscape at Moores Beach, trucks brought in more than 70 loads of sand daily.  All told, the multiple contractors working at Moores, Reeds, Kimbles, Cooks and Pierces Point beaches would deposit 45,000 tons of sand by the time the restoration project wrapped up in April.

“This sand is critical for horseshoe crab spawning,” says New Jersey Field Office biologist Eric Schrading. “If you don’t have it, they won’t be able to reproduce, won’t have any sand to dig into. In the end, if you don’t have horseshoe crabs laying eggs then there’s nothing for the shorebirds to feed on.”


Introducing…Wildlife Selfies!

A black bear stands in water to cool off. Photo credit: USFWS

Wildlife selfies? Yes, that’s right!  Our Southwest Region has a brand new interactive webpage that you will find both captivating and educational.   Taken from automatic cameras that many national wildlife refuges set up to help count, track and identify wildlife, these amazing photos capture a variety of species in their rarest form.  From a mother black bear with her cubs to golden eagles splashing in a watering hole, you will see wildlife from a whole new perspective!  

Wildlife Selfies!

Outsmarting My Disability: From Struggling Student to Conservation Educator

Dan Spencer
Dan with an Elwha Chinook.

“If someone had told me that someday I’d become a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conservation scientist and educator, I would have told them they were crazy,” writes biologist Dan Spencer. He knew he had a learning disability as far back as second grade. But it wasn’t until college that he learned that he had tremendous potential, he just had to use new ways to unlock it. As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, let’s remember people like Dan, who has much to teach us about conservation, and life.


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