Partnerships are a critical operational component for all of the Department of Interior agencies. For the past several years, the Department of Interior has recognized outstanding partnerships for the various agencies. Each agency requests nominations from their staff and a rigorous ranking and selection process is conducted. This year, there were 14 nominations submitted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees for consideration. Of these, four were ultimately selected to receive the Department of Interior’s Partner in Conservation Award. These projects exemplify the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and demonstrate some of the on-the ground accomplishments that are being completed by the Service and our partners every day.
The following is a summary of the four Service partnerships that received the 2013 Department of Interior’s Partners in Conservation award:
Youth in the California Central Valley are getting down and dirty, literally, for conservation through a partnership between the Center for Land-Based Learning and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This on-going partnership provides youth with the opportunity to make a difference in their local community through wildlife conservation. The Center for Land-Based Learning has 20 years of experience engaging young people in land stewardship through building collaborative partnerships with federal and state agencies, American Indian nations, non-profit organizations, private landowners, universities, high schools, and community volunteers. The Service provides technical training, skills and expertise to the students, as well as financial assistance to support the overall effort. More than 1,000 students, elementary through high school, benefited from this effort in 2013. The partnership introduces students to role models in conservation professions while completing habitat restoration projects in their own local area. Together, both organizations are able to increase the quantity and quality of land restored for federal trust species.
The Center for Land-Based Learning’s Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship (SLEWS) Program is just one example of how the partnership provides opportunities for civic engagement, meaningful learning, and hands-on stewardship. The SLEWS Program engages high school students in a yearlong habitat restoration experience that integrates hands-on conservation with classroom learning. Through a series of field days, students participate in real restoration projects; planting native trees, shrubs and grasses; installing irrigation and wildlife habitat structures; and monitoring plant and wildlife populations. This comprehensive youth program also integrates teambuilding, leadership and science activities into each field day. SLEWS classroom curriculum parallels students’ field experiences with standards-based, in-class lessons. Working directly with Service conservation professionals and community volunteers throughout the year, students develop valuable connections and explore careers. Service staff have participated as mentors for students, restoration planners, and funders of SLEWS restoration projects since 2004.
Students participating in this partnership have improved the habitat on more than 250 acres of land in nearby national wildlife refuges and private lands. In addition, the partnership has reached over 2,500 elementary, junior high and high school students. Teachers also receive training through this partnership and in turn are able to enhance learning experiences for students every year.
The primary partners are the Center for Land-Based Learning and the Service.
Located at the edge of the Texas hill country, the Edwards Aquifer is one of the most biologically diverse aquifers in the world. It’s home to species found nowhere else in the world, including eight species listed under the Endangered Species Act. This prolific aquifer is also the source of the two largest springs in Texas and perhaps the Southwestern US -- San Marcos and the Comal springs – and flows into the Guadalupe River which ultimately provides freshwater inflows to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the wintering home of a flock of whooping cranes.
For over a century, the Edwards Aquifer has provided clean drinking water to the nation’s seventh largest city- San Antonio, as well as providing water for area farming and ranching communities, the rapidly growing cities of New Braunfels and San Marcos, and communities downstream of the springs all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Edwards Aquifer has been recognized as important to Texas’ health and environment for years, and the history of south-central Texas is filled with tales of struggles concerning the aquifer and its resources. Confrontation and legal action over the use and management of aquifer’s resources have been common place since the drought of the 1950’s that caused Comal Springs to cease flowing for the first time in recorded history.
In 2006, the Service initiated a stakeholder-based effort seeking to balance human needs with the recovery of listed species dependent on the spring and river ecosystems associated with the Edwards Aquifer. This followed the early success of a handful of recovery implementation programs established across the western US. The Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program’s Habitat Conservation Plan (EARIP HCP) is the result of a successful consensus based collaborative effort by a diverse group of more than forty groups and individuals from south-central Texas to address the conservation needs of eight listed species and the needs of the communities’ dependent upon the Edwards Aquifer. In January of 2013, the Service approved the EARIPs HCP. The Service and the EARIP are committed to the plan which ensures that the Comal and San Marcos springs will continue to flow and that species such as the fountain darter and Texas blind salamander will survive even if Texas experiences yet another significant drought.
Five of these stakeholder groups agreed to jointly hold the permit and accept lead responsibility for implementing the EARIP. These include the: Edwards Aquifer Authority, the cities of New Braunfels, San Marcos, and San Antonio through the San Antonio Water System, and Texas State University. Other stakeholders including the City of Victoria the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also support the ongoing success of the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Plan partnership.This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. The efforts of the EARIP stakeholders to develop and implement a Plan that balances the needs of both listed and non-listed species with the needs of the community serves as a shining example of how the Act can and does work. The work of those involved in the EARIP will help ensure that millions of Texans continue to have water and the species dependent upon the Aquifer will survive into the future.
The Great Plains Nature Center is an outdoor oasis nestled within the city limits of Wichita, Kansas and has touched millions of youth and adult visitors since opening in 1991. This facility, initially a “one-of a kind” partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and the city of Wichita, has now become a model template for many partnerships between federal, state and local government agencies. The center provides a “one-stop shop” location meeting a wide variety of outdoor recreation and education needs specific to the area.
Visitors to the Center can take advantage of a diverse range of opportunities to learn about and experience the plants and animals of the Great Plains region, as well as other services and programs. The Center features 25 different species of live animals in exhibits, including a 2,200 gallon aquarium stocked with native fish, beautiful dioramas depicting native plants and animals, nature trails on the adjacent Chisholm Park, and wildlife viewing opportunities. In addition, lectures and programs are offered throughout the year and it remains a popular field trip location for area schools.
This successful partnership began in 1988 when the city of Wichita approached the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and encouraged it to partner with the Service to develop a recreational/educational nature center to serve its more than 300,000 residents. The center became a reality with the assistance of Congress for its initial funding. Since that time, the three agencies have worked closely to develop a shared vision for the nature center and its operations. The center now serves as an outdoor educational facility for the city, a regional office for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and an administrative site for the Service. One of the unique characteristics of this facility is that all three cooperating government agencies share equally with the operational expenses, rather than placing an undue burden on only one agency.
As a result of this partnership, millions of Kansas residents and visitors now have the opportunity to experience the fish and wildlife resources and landscape of the Great Plains and leave the facility with a greatly enhanced understanding of that ecosystem.
Tribal youth in northern California and southern Oregon are getting a unique opportunity to combine their tribal ancestral cultural knowledge about the local ecology and resources with the high tech capabilities of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Service, and other federal natural resource agencies. The students in this youth are taking traditional knowledge gathered from discussions with tribal elders and applying it to programs that help advance the restoration and management of native fish populations in the Klamath Basin. This partnership has the promise to result in some of the most advanced approaches to fisheries management in the country and will help prepare tribal youth for future careers in conservation.
The Tribes associated with this program include Quartz Valley Indian reservation, Resighini Rancheria, Klamath Tribes, Karuk Tribe, Yurok Tribe, and Hoopla Valley Tribe. The partnership leverages the contributions of NASA, the Service, as well as the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Forest Service. To date, these agencies have brought their collective resources and expertise with established and emerging technologies and have applied these to this collaborative effort, including remote sensing and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). These technologies hold promise for improving our knowledge base and conservation effectiveness through energy efficient, cost-effective approaches to data collection with less impact on our ecosystems.
As a result of this partnership, tribal youth in the Klamath Basin are being equipped with essential job skills that will allow them to become future conservation leaders while also contributing to the current management of culturally important fish species.
Additional partners are The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Humboldt State University (HSU), Southern Oregon University, and the Oregon Institute of Technology.