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Director's Corner

Meet Service Director Dan Ashe.

Conservation in Mesoamerica: Connecting People and Wildlife In A Vital Region

Black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra), Lachuá Ecoregion, Guatemala. Credit: ORCONDECO
Black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra), Lachuá Ecoregion, Guatemala. Credit: ORCONDECO

John Muir, one of the founding fathers of conservation in America, understood how interdependent we are with the wildlife and habitat that surrounds us. As he said, “when one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

Nowhere is this more evident than in Mesoamerica, which encompasses the nations of Central America and the vitalland bridge that has linked the wildlife and plants of North and South America for millions of years.

Today, Mesoamerica’s natural landscapes still support incredible biodiversity, critical ecosystem services, and diverse local human populations. Many of the migratory birds we enjoy every summer in our backyards depend on winter habitat found only in Mesoamerica – including the wood thrush, ruby-throated hummingbird, Baltimore oriole, western tanager and indigo bunting.

But these landscapes are increasingly threatened by global conservation challenges like climate change – as well as by poverty, social unrest and political instability across the region.

That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has joined with the Organization of American States to build and strengthen conservation partnerships through the MESOAMERICA 2020 partnership, which just celebrated its first anniversary.


Coalition Helping New England Cottontail Recover

I was privileged to join Secretary Jewell, New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and people and organizations from across New England as we came together today to celebrate a remarkable conservation success. Once headed toward extinction, the New England cottontail is now coming back – thanks to the efforts of this broad coalition.

The effort to conserve the cottontail relies on landowners like Rick and Donna Ambrose who hosted us today in New Hampshire. The Ambroses have cleared about 10 acres, removed invasive plants and planted shrubs to support the cottontail effort on their land. Rick has also helped other landowners with habitat restoration through his excavation business.

Today, Rick and Donna and their neighbors became the first ever landowners to have captive-raised rabbits released on their property.

The cottontail’s remarkable rebound is also a testament to the benefits provided by the Endangered Species Act to both listed and non-listed species, as well as the people and communities sharing the landscape with them, since its passage in 1973.


More Help for Monarchs

Director Dan Ashe watches Hallie tag a monarch. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

I spent much of this morning at beautiful Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge with Senator Amy Klobuchar working on monarch butterfly conservation.  Life is good!

Senator Klobuchar is an exceptional advocate for monarchs in Congress, and it is stirring to hear the passion she has for them.

And as a bonus: We had plenty of kids with us, ready to become monarch scientists and add to our data on the butterfly.

From our Midwest Region: U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Service Director Dan Ashe Boost Monarch Conservation

We’ve been making a lot of noise about it, so by now, I think a lot of people know that time is running out to secure the future of the monarch butterfly, one of North America’s most recognizable wildlife species.

As recently as 1996, the estimated population of monarchs wintering in Mexico topped 1 billion.  This year, the Mexican overwintering population numbered only about 56.5 million butterflies.

Some of the problem has been blamed on timber harvesting in Mexico, climate change and disease – and we must address those factors –  but the accelerating conversion of native prairie habitat in Midwestern states to crop production and livestock grazing has hurt the monarch and other pollinators.


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