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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Kids and their 'Ah-ha’ Moments Inspire Heather Rawlings

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Heather Rawlings
Heather takes a water velocity measurement as part of B-Wet! -- an outreach event through the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative and NOAA.

Heather Rawlings is the Partners for Fish and Wildlife biologist at the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Alpena, Michigan, and covers 19 northern counties of the lower peninsula of Michigan.  She works with private landowners to restore habitat on those lands. She focuses on wetland, grassland and river restoration. She also leads the Alpena office’s Children and Nature Program, conducting a lot of outreach to school groups, with a particular emphasis on a test group of third- and fourth-grade students that the office visits once a month and teaches a hands-on science lesson. She also serves on the leadership team for the North-East Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative and Great Lakes STEM (e science, technology, engineering and math) Initiative. She is also a wife and mother to two young boys.

5 Questions for Heather 

1. What inspired you to work with young people?

My parents are both teachers, so I believe I inherited a genetic disposition toward teaching. I have always enjoyed working with young people, and I have always been heavily involved with outreach activities at the Alpena office. I have now started working toward a master’s degree in environmental education, so I will be able to teach at the local community college.

2. What is your favorite part of working with kids? 

Kids inspire me – they ask fantastic questions and are genuinely curious about the natural world. They give me energy, because they get excited about being outside and learning new things.  The thing that keeps me going is the “Ah-ha!” moment kids have when they grasp a concept or find something amazing – their face lights up and you know you have provided them with a moment or item they will remember. 


Where Do You Go to Watch Birds?

Bird watching
Schoolchildren test their binoculars for bird watching at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington. Photo credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Note: The contest is over. Congrats to Bosque del Apache NWR for its third-place finish.

About 47 million people spent time watching birds in 2011. That’s about 20 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older. Spring and fall are some of the best times to see some of their amazing feats of migration. USA Today takes advantage of the fall migration to ask readers to choose their favorite bird-watching spot. National wildlife refuges figure prominently in the nominations.


Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge Opens Accessible Hunting Blind

A hunter takes advantage of the new blind. Photo credit: USFWS

Just 20 miles from the Canadian border, the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge is bordered by the rugged Selkirk Mountains to the west, the Kootenai River, Deep Creek to the east and state lands to the south.  Even in such remote areas as northern Idaho, we are dedicated to finding ways to connect the public with America’s wild places, especially those members of the public who might not have as many opportunities to visit the outdoors. That’s why we built an accessible hunting blind at Kootenai for use by people with disabilities. The response has been awesome.

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Fish -- and Unexpected Moments of Excitement -- Inspire Katrina Mueller

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Katrina Mueller
Katrina introduces a child to fishing. Credit: Sydney West

Katrina Mueller serves as Fisheries Outreach Coordinator in Alaska.  This means working with Field Offices and recognized Fish Habitat Partnerships to tell the public what is being done to conserve fish and their habitats. The breadth of projects and amount of media now available to tell these stories keep her on her toes. She also co-chairs the Alaska Region’s Connecting People with Nature Team and serves on the Polar Bear Recovery Team’s Communication Working Group. She and her family spend most of their free time hunting and fishing and enjoying Alaska's out-of-doors.   

5 Questions for Katrina 

1. What inspired you to work with young people?

Fish inspired me to work with people, including young people. Fish have endlessly interesting adaptations, are a great source of protein, support many thousands of jobs, and are the basis of many people’s ways of living, especially here in Alaska. Despite all this, nearly 40 percent of North American fishes that spend a significant portion of their lives in freshwater are imperiled because of people. Many things—including the fact that fish are largely invisible in their natural habitat—make it increasingly easy for people to be unaware of, or ignore, the plight of fish and the factors causing declines and localized extinctions. I think working with young people to develop a connection with fish (e.g., via fishing, engagement in habitat restoration and through art) is an important investment. 

2. What is your favorite part of working with kids?

My favorite part is the unexpected moments of excitement. We took some urban youth on a fish-focused field trip and the highlight of the trip happened as we pulled into a parking lot that overlooks a rocky beach. To my surprise, these Alaska kids had never put their feet in the ocean. They started screeching in excitement over the crashing waves and using bits of dead seaweed as pretend-mustaches. It wasn’t on our agenda and I think they’ll remember it for a long time.  


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.


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