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Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

6 Ways to Connect to the Land and Explore National Wildlife Refuges

When you see a sign for a National Wildlife Refuge, what comes to mind? 

Many may not have realized that the National Wildlife Refuge System is a group of over 560 actual places across the country, varying in the type of landscapes, plants, and animals that they protect. 

Huron National Wildlife Refuge

These places are selected and set aside for various reasons, such as for vanishing species, for the complex network of wildlife they support, and even for public use. In fact, our connection to the areas that make up the National Wildlife Refuge System can be as hopeful and healthy for us as they can be for wildlife.

Barred Owl Mike Carlo, USFWS

Refuges offer us an opportunity to connect to wild places near our homes or while we travel. They provide habitat for species, but they also give us an opportunity to take beautiful photographs, to hunt, to fish and to learn more about the world in which we live.

  1. Wildlife Observation - Refuges provide opportunities for activities such as birding and and most of the refuges provide habitat for hundreds of species.

  2. Wildlife Photography - aside from photography tips a number of refuges even have contests for people to enter.

  3. Hunting - A number of refuges allow hunting in order to responsibly manage populations and some refuges were even created for hunting. Recent regulations open up hunting on a number of wildlife refuges for the first time, making the land more accessible to the public.

  4. Fishing - Many wildlife refuges also provide an excellent opportunity to go fishing. With recent changes in regulations, a total of 275 wildlife refuges allow fishing.

  1. Environmental Education - There are educational activities for school and community groups, families and individuals and special events are posted online.

  2. Interpretation: The visitor centers and trails at the wildlife refuges allow people to explore and interpret information about the refuge or take a closer look at wildlife and how they interact in their ecosystem.

All of these activities are meant to help people understand the value of having wild places and the animals they protect.   

-- Danielle Brigida, National Social Media Manager

Please Don't Poke the Sea Otters

Photo by Lilian Carswell, USFWS

We know that recently a video became popular where a sea otter was startled while it was sleeping. While these videos may seem adorable or even harmless they actually present a real problem and set a bad example when it comes to how we interact with wildlife. 

Why is resting so important for otters?

Not equipped with blubber like whales and seals, sea otters must rely on their fur coat and their super-high metabolic rate to stay warm. The average adult sea otter has to actively hunt and eat 20 to 30 percent of its body mass in food each day just to meet its energy requirements. That's why it's incredibly important for otters to conserve their energy - their survival depends on it - so they are often seen resting on their backs on the water's surface.

We ask that you please adhere to the following guidelines for the safety of both people and southern sea otters:

  • Sea otters can be found in nearshore areas along the California, Washington and Alaska coasts. This is including areas of high human activity, such as harbors.

  • Southern sea otters are listed as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act and are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits harassing, hunting, capturing, or killing marine mammals. Approaching a sea otter so closely that it changes its behavior may constitute a violation of this law.

  • Take caution in areas where sea otters are known to be present.  Keep a safe distance from sea otters and other wildlife (if the otter notices you, you are likely too close and should back away). Kayakers should avoid disturbing resting sea otters by keeping a sufficient distance (at least 50 feet away is recommended), pass by parallel to the sea otters rather than pointing directly at them, and keep moving slowly but steadily past them.  

  • Keep pets on a leash on and around docks and harbors, and never allow interactions, even if the animals appear to be playing.

  • Never feed sea otters or other wildlife. Wild animals that are fed can become aggressive.

The sea otter in the video is said to be located in Alaska, which is where 90% of the world's sea otters live.  

‘Soft Releases’ Turning the Tide for the Endangered Wyoming Toad

Wyoming toad
Wyoming toad. Photo by Sara Armstrong/USFWS

Tyler Abbott, Ryan Moehring and Kim Vincent share some good news for the Endangered Wyoming Toad.

The Laramie Plains of south-central Wyoming aren’t exactly what you would call prime amphibian habitat. At an elevation of more than 7,000 feet, the sun beats down ruthlessly on this arid highland. Blazing hot summers yield only to subzero winters. There are few trees for cover and the wind is as relentless as the endless hordes of hungry mosquitos.

Yet this inhospitable land is the unlikely – and last – sanctuary of North America’s most endangered amphibian, the Wyoming toad.

Once abundant on Wyoming’s Laramie Plains, the species experienced an unexplained population crash in the middle 1970s, and the last-remaining wild Wyoming toad population survives in a tiny oasis at Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1993 specifically to protect the small toad. Here the toad lives in isolation—hidden from view in the shortgrass prairie communities within the river basin, in the flood plain, and in the ponds, oxbows, wetland and riparian habitats on the refuge. No good can befall the tiny toad if it wanders too far from this secluded haven.

Visual encounter surveys suggest that in that haven, though, the toad is thriving.


Working to Restore Maine's Penobscot River

Veazie Dam
Breaching of Veazie Dam in 2013. Photo by Meagan Racey/USFWS

Life is gradually returning to the Penobscot River, after 16 years of coordination and committed actions from a diverse group of public and private partners involved in the greatest river restoration project in U.S. history.  The Penobscot is Maine's largest river, and with many lakes and multiple tributaries, it offers important habitat for 11 sea-run (migratory) fish species, including the federally endangered Atlantic salmon.  Historically, the river boasted bountiful fisheries, but populations have dwindled over the last 200 years with the construction of more than 100 dams and other barriers that crippled the river's course, obstructed migratory paths and diminished water quality.  Biologists with our Maine Ecological Services Field Office have worked with a number of public and private partners to address these barriers and reestablish self-sustaining runs of all sea-run fisheries in the watershed, while maintaining important hydropower generation.

Learn more

Urban Conservation Corps an Investment in Youth, Natural Resources

Middle Rio Grande Urban Conservation Corps
The Middle Rio Grande Urban Conservation Corps spent 12 weeks working on outdoors projects around Albuquerque. Photo by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

Dr. Benjamin N. Tuggle
, the Regional Director of our Southwest Region, tells  us about the Middle Rio Grande Urban Conservation Corps, a conservation program to introduce young adults to natural resources. Dr. Tuggle is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Dr Tuggle
Dr. Benjamin N. Tuggle

Every kid should have a creek. I had mine, a little silver rill that spilled through my grandma’s farm in central Georgia. Through the mystical chords of memory I can hear the closing wooden clack of her screen door already five yards behind me as I high-stepped it toward the freedom of the fields and woods. It was as joyful as eating ice cream on a hot day. The world was mine to discover and own then, an open book, the pages yet to be written fifty-some years ago. Discovering turtles and fish and oaks and the brambles, they all made their mark on my future. Knowing nature steered me down a path in biology and toward a career in conservation.

Not every child can have a creek, of course. And in this time when our population is increasingly urbanized, the opportunity for youngsters to fully immerse themselves in nature is becoming increasingly difficult. Couple urbanization with the fact that children typically have a highly regimented schedule and you can quickly see that engagement with the out-of-doors is not always the norm.


Conservation Science is a Vital Part of STEM

Shared via TEDx YouTube site. Read transcript

Jennifer Owen-White’s TEDx presentation presents a powerful message. As the first refuge manager of the new Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she’s made her dream job a reality and her passion for wildlife, learning about our natural world  and conservation science is palpable. The refuge has already had its third birthday and we look forward to many more!

We know there are many others out there looking to break into the conservation field. Here are some tips:

  1. Become a Volunteer: http://www.fws.gov/volunteers/
    Each year, our volunteers help the vitally important work we do to help wildlife and protect the natural world. Learn how you can help a refuge or research near you.

  2. Attend Conservation Events Near You

  3. Give Resources to Students:  We have multiple ways for current students and recent graduates to get involved with our programs. Learn more about our

Jennifer Owen-White shares her love of wildlife with members of the Youth Conservation Corps. Credit: USFWS

Jennifer is an awesome conservation role model for young women (and men alike), and here are hundreds more!

Monarch Conservation Brick by Brick

monarch by Tom Koerner USFWS

About a year ago, we began publicly talking about the sharp decline in monarch butterfly numbers – the eastern population fell from 1 billion 20 years ago to about 56.5 million this year. And just about seven months ago, we were proud to seed the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund with $1.2 million.

The fund quickly grew, thanks to public and private commitments, and today our Director, Dan Ashe, helped announce the first round of grants from the fund.

The money, more than $3 million and matched by more than $6 million in partner contributions, will support the restoration of up to 33,000 acres of habitat in areas vital to monarch recovery. We’re thrilled the fund will support several of our projects in Missouri along the I-35 Monarch Flyway. Interstate 35 runs from Texas to Minnesota, and monarchs follow the same general route.

Of course, monarchs are getting tons of support, and it’s not just from the usual subjects. All over Mexico, the United States and Canada people are joining together to help one of the world’s most well-known insects in the world, captivated by its beauty and its 3,000-mile migration.

lego monarch
Sean's monarch. Photo courtesy of www.seankenney.com

One of the folks celebrating the monarch and its need for native milkweed is Lego sculptor Sean Kenney.


This Land is Your Land! Get Out and Enjoy It

Students, community volunteers and partners removed invasive plants at Assabet National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, during 2014 National Public Lands Day. Photo by Margie Brenner/USFWS

Saturday is National Public Lands Day (NPLD), the nation's largest volunteer event on public lands. Volunteers will turn out at nearly 50 sites we manage and hundreds of other areas to paint, plant, mulch and clean on lands that belong to all Americans. More than 175,000 volunteers are expected at NPLD sites in all 50 states and Washington, DC.

At Assabet National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, high schoolers came together last NLPD to remove invasive species. If you’re near Assabet this year, they have another invasive-plant pull scheduled for NLPD. Find an event near you, and join the celebration of America’s public lands.

Saturday is also National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Sometimes called the “first conservationists,” sportsmen and -women have played a role in the conservation of the nation’s wildlife resources since the late 19th century. Outdoor sports such as fishing, trapping and hunting  teach people to respect and value nature. They also generate billions of dollars for conservation through the self-imposed taxes of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, license fees and the federal Duck Stamp. Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities on refuges also help stimulate the economy. The Service’s report Banking on Nature shows that refuges pumped $2.4 billion into the economy in 2013 and supported more than 35,000 jobs. More than 47 million people visit refuges every year. Hunting is permitted on 336 wildlife refuges, and fishing on 275.


Island Invaders: A Big Danger for Native Species

Because islands are often isolated, their ecosystems are especially sensitive to invasive species. When an invasive species comes to an island, it may have no predators to stop it from taking a dangerous toll on the native plants and animals there.

Take a look below at Haleakala National Park in Hawaii. Deer and feral livestock outside of an exclusion fence (left) are stripping the native vegetation. Inside the fence (right), the park is a sanctuary for Hawaii’s native plants and animals.

Photo by Don Reeser/NPS

We manage islands on more than 200 national wildlife refuges, and unfortunately, many of these refuges have to deal with invasive species.


Counting Tiny Crocodiles

Surprisingly, crocodile hatchlings don’t bite.

Open Spaces is featuring monthly posts by Student Conservation Association(SCA) interns working to promote, protect and study wildlife on public lands all over the United States. Since 1957, SCA has been connecting young people from all backgrounds with life-changing, career-making conservation service opportunities. Learn how you can get involved at www.thesca.org. Today, Caitlin Sebok, an SCA field technician intern at Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which consists of National Key Deer Refuge, and Great White Heron, Key West, and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuges, checks in.

It’s a typical Tuesday in Key Largo, Florida, at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge for Chari Adames-Smith (a refuge volunteer) and me.  We head out into Barnes Sound in our kayaks to check the trail cameras set up at various American crocodile nesting areas.


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