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A Talk on the Wild Side.

A Talk on the Wild Side Podcast: Taking a Recovery Tour

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A Talk on the Wild Side

white bird sitting on beach   Interior least tern. Photo by USFWS

In case you missed it, it has been a wildly successful season for recovering endangered species! I mean, WOW.  In the past few months alone, six species -- and more just announced -- have reached significant milestones in their journey back from the brink of extinction! They have either fully recovered and have been removed from Endangered Species Act protection, or they’ve made significant enough progress that they are proposed to be removed.  

  fish in someone's hand Foskett speckled dace. Photo by USFWS

The Colorado butterfly plant, Kirtland’s warbler, Running buffalo clover, Foskett speckled dace, Monito gecko and interior least tern are an incredibly diverse group of species including plants, birds, fish and reptiles. Not only is their taxonomy diverse, but they represent a diversity of geographic regions, historic reasons for decline, recovery actions and conservation partnerships.

   lizard on dark dirtMonito gecko. Photo by Jan Zegarra/USFWS

We’re going to take a tour to learn about what happened to cause three of these species to plummet towards extinction – the Foskett speckled dace, Monito gecko and interior least tern – and what brought them back. Join us for a virtual tour as we talk to three biologists about the incredible amount of work and commitment it took to conserve these species with our partners, increase populations and ameliorate threats, and get them on the road to recovery.

Directorate Fellow Madison Fladeland: Working to Help Law Enforcement and More

   woman in prairie with tablet

Directorate Fellows
During the summer of 2019, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Region hosted nine students that participated in the Directorate Resource Assistant Fellows Program (DFP).

FWS partners with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) every summer to manage the DFP, an 11-week, full-time, paid program where students have the opportunity to work on projects that support FWS conservation priorities. Applicants must be pursuing degrees in biological sciences and/or natural resources management. They must also be soon-to-be college graduates or enrolled in a graduate program.

My name is Madison Fladeland, and I grew up in the small town of Hatton, North Dakota. My hobbies include running, walking my dog, reading, trying new foods, and most recently herbalism. I attend Minnesota State University Moorhead and will graduate in December with a B.S. degree in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Originally I was going to school for pre-vet where that was the “cover-all” major. As I took more courses in the biological field, especially ecology, I became very interested in environmental resiliency; i.e. how nature sustains itself, how it corrects itself, how we effect it, etc.

As a kid I was often playing outside; whether I was climbing trees, building forts with my best friend down the road, or trying to rescue baby birds who fell from their nest (I didn’t knock them down).

As an adult, I still enjoy nature. There’s just something about being somewhere beautiful that’s not man-made, whether it’s the rolling hills of the South Dakota prairie or the dramatic expanse of the Rockies.

That’s what lead me to the Directorate Fellowship Program (DFP) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  I had the opportunity to go to Madison, South Dakota, (I didn’t just choose it because of my name) to spend the summer as their DFP. There I have been able experience first-hand conservation work being done on the landscape.

My project involved creating a monitoring tool for law enforcement and managers to use out in the field, which enables them to digitally track non-compliant easements. This tool can be used on land or in the air, and you can map the violation out in the field and fill out all the necessary information and then sync the data. You can then access this information on your tablet, computer or phone. This allows officers to view the violations currently going on in the state and see if the case is open/closed in real time.

What I really enjoyed about being a DFP was having the chance to explore many of the different career paths available in the FWS.  Everyone in the Madison Wetland Management District made me feel welcome and allowed me to participate in activities outside my project that I had an interest in. Even though my internship was geared toward law enforcement, I participated in several other projects at the station, such as Four-Square Mile, Native Prairie Adaptive Management (NPAM) Monitoring and the Neonicotinoid Project run by our station biologist. I was also able to go and visit the Ecological Services office in Pierre, South Dakota, and the Realty Office in Huron. They really made an effort to expose me to the diverse roles FWS employees play in conservation.

My next step is to volunteer at a few locations in the FWS until I graduate in December and start looking for a permanent position. Overall, this summer was very rewarding and I am so grateful I had the chance to participate in the DFP. I would like to thank everyone at the Madison Western Management District office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Student Conservation Association. I appreciate being given this opportunity, and I hope to make the most of it.

Directorate Fellow Nicole Pauley: Studying How Best to Keep Carp Numbers Low

   woman with backpack giving thumbs up at top of mountain


Directorate Fellows
During the summer of 2019, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Region hosted nine students that participated in the Directorate Resource Assistant Fellows Program (DFP).

FWS partners with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) every summer to manage the DFP, an 11-week, full-time, paid program where students have the opportunity to work on projects that support FWS conservation priorities. Applicants must be pursuing degrees in biological sciences and/or natural resources management. They must also be soon-to-be college graduates or enrolled in a graduate program.

Growing up in Nebraska along the Platte River, I was never surrounded by magnificent mountain ranges, sandy beaches or plunging canyons. My love for the outdoors and conservation comes from a childhood exploring the ecosystems of the prairies and creeks of my home state. These adventures, along with family trips to a number of parks and refuges in other states, fueled my interest in biology and wildlife into high school and college. I decided to stay in Nebraska for my undergraduate education, earning a Bachelor of Science in biology with a wildlife biology emphasis from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In August 2018, I started a Master of Science program in geography at Oklahoma State University focusing on the use of geographic information systems and remote sensing in biological studies.

After reading the descriptions of DFP projects from past years, I knew this program would be an amazing opportunity for me. I had worked field jobs for other Department of the Interior agencies before during my undergrad, but had never worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After being selected for a project that combined the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remote sensing techniques, and fisheries research, I was both excited and nervous to start my adventurous summer.

For the past 11 weeks, I have worked on a fisheries enclosure experiment taking place at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon trying to determine the threshold of biomass of common carp at which submerged aquatic vegetation can grow.

Carp are an invasive species that can cause significant damage to aquatic ecosystems. At Malheur, common carp are a significant problem and have been linked to decreases in overall water quality, healthy aquatic vegetation and waterfowl production of Malheur Lake. There have been various attempts at eradication since carp were introduced in the lake in the 1950s, without long-term success.

New methods of removal are being tested, with hopes of reaching low enough carp biomass levels to allow for aquatic vegetation to grow and support/increase waterfowl populations on the lake.

The purpose of the study was to determine this critical biomass level that removal methods must reach. The enclosures in the study were stocked with different weights and age classes of carp and we used UAVs and imagery analysis, in addition to water quality measurements, to quantify changes in the aquatic habitat.

While the project had a number of components to make it all come together, I got to help with nearly all of them. I assisted in setting up and securing all 24 enclosures, taking water quality samples, netting and PIT-tagging carp for stocking, and flying the UAVs to collect imagery of the study site.

Back at the office in Helena, the aspect of the project that I really took the lead on was the processing and analysis of the UAV-collected imagery. I used software to create orthomosaics and analyzed them to determine the percent vegetation cover for each enclosure. More imagery will be collected to continue to monitor the carps’ effects, and others will be able to continue the vegetation analysis using a workflow I created.

I found it rewarding to work on a research project that will have implications for the control of an invasive species and guide refuge management decisions.

I could not have imagined a better DFP experience; I learned so much about the Service and its mission, worked with a number of its dedicated employees, got to explore a new and beautiful part of the country, and grew as a person and as a biologist. While I am uncertain which direction my career will take me, I hope to become part of the USFWS family. I would love the opportunity to integrate more UAV and remote sensing technologies into research completed by the Service to conserve fish, wildlife, and their habitats so that future generations can enjoy them as I have.

National Wildlife Refuges Make Life Better

By Margaret Everson, Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mid-October brings much to savor: crisp air, turning leaves and the sprouting of Halloween goblins on lawns. Here’s something else that belongs on your things-to-celebrate-this-fall list: national wildlife refuges.

This week—National Wildlife Refuge Week — is a great time to reflect on how much we all owe these wondrous lands and waters. It’s worth taking a moment to learn why these are the most important public lands you may never have heard of.

National wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are public lands and waters set aside to conserve wildlife. Since 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt established the first wildlife refuge on Florida’s Pelican Island, refuges have provided vital habitat for thousands of American species — including bald eagles, bison and whooping cranes. By helping protect refuges, we are supporting America’s abundance and diversity of wildlife – biodiversity that’s vital to the nation’s economy and way of life.

National wildlife refuges also offer access to world-class outdoor recreation. Fishing, paddling, hiking, environmental education and wildlife observation are popular activities on many of the system’s 567 refuges. Hunting, carefully regulated to ensure sustainable wildlife populations, is another popular historic use. Under the leadership of President Trump and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, the Department of the Interior (DOI) this year completed the single largest effort to expand fishing and hunting opportunities at refuges, totaling 1.4 million acres that are newly open or expanded for additional opportunities. Three hundred and sixteen refuges now allow fishing and 381 now allow hunting. More than 101 million Americans — 40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older — enjoy wildlife-related recreation, including hunting and fishing.

 bunch of white birds with black wing tipsSnow geese, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico Photo by Diana Robinson

These recreational activities generate tremendous value in our economy, benefiting local communities. National wildlife refuges provide over $7 billion per year in economic output for local economies and support more than 48,000 jobs, according to a recent DOI report.
President Trump understands the significant value that national wildlife refuges provide to local communities and the vital role of these places to protect and conserve wildlife and wildlife habitats. Refuges situated along vulnerable coastlines and rivers help buffer neighboring cities and towns against flooding. During the three days following Hurricane Florence in 2018, Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina took on almost 100 billion gallons of water from the Pee Dee River, sparing some communities from intense flooding. Refuges also help purify our air and water and reduce erosion and risk of wildfire. To support win-win outcomes, refuge staff work with private landowners — 48,000 of them in 2018 — to encourage conservation on neighboring lands.

Finally, refuges boost people’s physical and mental health. How? By hosting family walks, teaching kids to fish and holding birding lessons and other events to get people moving outdoors. They also build bridges and trails to connect nearby communities with green space.

As the country grows increasingly urbanized, the national wildlife refuge system’s 101 urban refuges are partnering with community groups and schools in San Diego, Albuquerque, Houston and many other cities to connect people with nature and increase their access to green space. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia helps residents convert empty lots to pollinator gardens. Many refuges, including Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida and Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, help schools create wildlife-friendly gardens.

National wildlife refuges aren’t hard to find. There’s at least one refuge in every state and every U.S. territory and within an hour’s drive of most major cities. Maybe it’s time you visited one this fall as you give thanks for national wildlife refuges and celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week.

Directorate Fellow Amy Walsh: Future Solicitor Works on Potential Impacts of Development Projects

   woman with backpack outdoors

Hello! My name is Amy Walsh. I am from a suburb outside of Chicago called Crystal Lake. I am a senior at Washington University in St. Louis studying environmental policy and environmental biology. I am also a part of the softball team there. Outside of school and softball, I enjoy working out, spending time with my friends, cooking and being outdoors. I am eager to finish up undergrad and prepare for attending law school as well as a career with the Service. My goal is to become a solicitor for the Department of the Interior so I will be able to support the FWS from the legal perspective.

Directorate Fellows
During the summer of 2019, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Region hosted nine students that participated in the Directorate Resource Assistant Fellows Program (DFP).

FWS partners with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) every summer to manage the DFP, an 11-week, full-time, paid program where students have the opportunity to work on projects that support FWS conservation priorities. Applicants must be pursuing degrees in biological sciences and/or natural resources management. They must also be soon-to-be college graduates or enrolled in a graduate program.

I just finished my DFP fellowship in the Mountain-Prairie Regional Office in Denver, Colorado. My project focused on developing effects pathways and conservation measures for four species: Canada lynx, white-tailed ptarmigan, whitebark pine and Salt Creek tiger beetle, in Effects Pathways Manager (EPM). Essentially, an effect pathway describes the specifics of how a particular development activity effects a given species. FEPM is a database that contains information regarding potential impacts of development projects on listed wildlife with the intent of making Section 7 consultations under the Endangered Species Act more efficient.

I really enjoyed my experience in the DFP program! I was able to explore a variety of FWS branches and be part of unique experiences that enhanced my knowledge of the Service and its goals. I also got to explore other facets of the FWS through stocking greenback cutthroat trout in Herman Gulch, shadowing opportunities, and visiting Leadville National Fish Hatchery and Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. All have contributed to my life-changing experience that has really shaped me and my interest in a career in the Service.

Aside from work, I have loved being able to explore Denver. I was able to go hiking in a new place every weekend and explore nature in a way that is much different from my experiences in the Midwest. I have also been working at a farmer’s market selling jam. I have enjoyed embracing the Colorado culture and would love the chance to come back. I am very honored and thankful to have had this opportunity through the DFP program!

Canadian Nighthawk (on Way to South America?) is First Bird Detected by Florida Tracking Tower

  bird in someone's handThe common nighthawk that was detected by the Vero Beach Motus tower is tagged and measured in a Canadian lab. Photo courtesy of Elora Grahame

By Ken Warren, South Florida Ecological Services Office 

About 25 days after it was captured and tagged, a common nighthawk migrating from Canada became the first bird detected by a new tracking tower on top of Vero Beach High School in Florida on August 29.

Thanks to the efforts of South Florida Ecological Services Office Supervisory Biologist Tim Breen, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service donated the Motus tower to the School District of Indian River County. 

The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a coordinated system of automated receiver stations, or towers, used to track migratory animals, primarily birds and bats, through terrestrial and coastal environments. The network has more than 350 towers that are currently active across the Western Hemisphere. The tower at Vero Beach High School fills a gap in data collection along the east coast of Florida.

 man on roof with hand on big antenna  The Motus tower is mounted on top of Vero Beach High School by electronics technician Steve Alfano. Photo courtesy of the School District of Indian River County

Robert Michael, of the School District of Indian River County, says: “We think this is great. When Tim (Breen) approached me about installing the antenna and using it for the students to be able to track the birds and learn, we were pretty excited."

This particular nighthawk was captured and tagged on August 4, 2019 in Ontario, Canada, by Elora Grahame, a Ph.D. student from the University of Guelph in Ontario. The nighthawk is an adult male, at least two years old and part of the breeding population at Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve in Muskoka Lakes, Ontario.

“My Ph.D. research focuses on movement ecology for both common nighthawks and eastern whip-poor-wills,” says Grahame. “They’re both secretive species and relatively understudied. I’m researching their breeding ecology and habitat requirements for successful reproduction and migration in order to improve conservation management strategies.”

Grahame says she originally caught this nighthawk at her study site in Ontario in summer 2018. She banded him that year, but unfortunately he didn’t get a tag. This year she was lucky enough to re-capture and tag him.

The Motus system allows Grahame and other researchers to look at factors that influence timing of migration such as weather, wind, temperature, age, sex, etc.

“I had several nighthawks detected in Panama and Colombia last year so it will be exciting to see if this bird gets detected down there this year!” says Grahame. “Based on what we know about the species wintering grounds, he is probably headed for Brazil, maybe northern Argentina.”

   man at lecttern talking to council meetingSupervisory Biologist Tim Breen tells school board members, teachers, students and parents about the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. Photo by Ken Warren/USFWS

Breen is confident that the Motus tower in Vero Beach will be a great educational tool for students and wildlife enthusiasts alike. “I’m looking forward to coordinating with the school district on developing an educational program based on migration data collected by our very own Motus station,” says Breen.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Skipwith Joins Refuge Celebrations

  woman with butterrfly on fingers Deputy Assistant Secretary Skipwith with a tagged monarch at Masonville Cove in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by USFWS

What did you do this weekend? Aurelia Skipwith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior and nominee to lead the Fish and Wildlife Service, was busy celebrating National Public Lands Day and Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day.

  woman looks at bird in man's hand Deputy Assistant Secretary Skipwith visits Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts. Photo by USFWS

Deputy Assistant Secretary Skipwith journeyed to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts on Friday to spend the day in the Monomoy Wilderness for National Public Lands Day. Of course, National Public Lands Day would not be complete without some volunteer work, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Skipwith joined in.

   people on a dock pose for photoDeputy Assistant Secretary Skipwith at the Keepin' it Reel fishing event on the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York. Photo by USFWS

She then joined with folks from Groundwork Hudson Valley, part of the Groundwork-Wallkill Connection Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, at the Keepin' it Reel fishing event on the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York, to celebrate National Public Lands Day and Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day. 

 2 people draw back bows

She also practiced her archey skills.

2 women in kayak   Deputy Assistant Secretary Skipwith kayaking  at Masonville Cove in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Maryland Port Administration

Finally, Deputy Assistant Secretary Skipwith visited the urban wildlife refuge partnership at Masonville Cove in Baltimore, Maryland.

At Masonville, she did some kayaking, monarch butterfly tagging, and met with partners who are helping nature reach into cities.

Thank you, Deputy Assistant Secretary Skipwith, we hope your sense of wonder got its fill. And we hope everyone was able to take part in these two important celebrations.

Your Public Lands Want You -- to Visit!

   people fishingThe 12th Annual Catch a Smile Senior Fishing Derby at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery. Photo by USFWS

Looking for something awesome to do this weekend? There’s never been a better time to visit your public lands. You can thrill to the heart-pounding excitement of nature, delight in the peace of the outdoors, and work up a sweat as you help make your lands shine.

Saturday is National Hunting and Fishing Day and National Public Lands Day.

Hunters and anglers have long been some of our Nation’s most passionate conservationists. In addition, both groups financially support conservation through an excise tax on hunting, shooting and fishing equipment and boat fuel.  Those funds are administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Program and distributed to the states for conservation projects, many of which provide access for outdoor recreation.  When those funds are combined with the state license and tag sales sportsmen and women pay each year, it constitutes the majority of funding for wildlife conservation in North America.

   man and boy both in camo sit in fieldA father and his son hunt at Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Brett Billings/USFWS

Earlier this year, Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration funds distributed by the Service totaled more than $1 billion for this purpose.

RELATED: Learn More About Hunting and Fishing 

Hunting opportunities are available on 381 units in the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System and fishing on 316. Some lands in the National Fish Hatchery System also offer hunting and/or sport fishing.

For instance, this weekend:

   woman girl and man in reflective vests with bags of trash

National Public Lands Day is your chance to join hundreds of thousands of other volunteers in making your public lands better, whether by picking up trash (at left: last year at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge) or planting trees.

Making this year extra-special: Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge was named a highlighted site by the organization that runs National Public Lands Day.

Since it was established in 2012, Valle de Oro Refuge has been “a refuge established, designed and built by the community for the community.” 

It continues that tradition Saturday with a  Build Your Refuge Day event.

There are many other events around the country. Check with your local refuge or hatchery or visit the National Public Lands Day website to find them.

If that weren’t enough, Sunday is Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day, which recognizes urban national wildlife refuges for enriching the lives of Americans and their communities.  

Many refuges are holding Urban Refuge Day events, such as San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge’s Fun Day on the Bay, on Saturday.

All of these celebrations and events will help you get the most out of the outdoors. But there is never a bad time to visit a National Wildlife Refuge, National Fish Hatchery or any of your public lands any time of year. Check them out!

P.S. National Wildlife Refuge Week is coming up October 13-19, 2019!

Seeing What Lies Beneath the Pacific Ocean

white object with what looks like webbing on inside   Glass sponge. Photo by OET/NautilusLive

Through September 17, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Holly Richards, an External Affairs officer in our Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, is a passenger on the E/V Nautilus, a deep sea exploration vessel as it explores the waters around Baker Island, Howland Island and Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuges in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Before you get too jealous of Holly, consider that Baker Island Refuge, the farthest, is about 1,830 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu and accessible only by ship. Nearby Howland Island, only 1,815 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, also requires a ship journey, although there it did once have a landing strip. In 1937, a runway was built and prepped for Amelia Earhart so she could use Howland Island as a refueling station on her quest to circumnavigate the globe. She and navigator Fred J. Noonan never made it. Johnston Atoll is fewer than 800 nautical miles from Hawaii.

It’s all still very cool, so you can be a little jealous.

   orange spidery things on  white flowery objectsBlack coral and squat lobsters. Photo by OET/NautilusLive

These are some of the most remote islands of the Pacific Ocean, with undersea coral reefs, deep sea mounts, abyssal plains and volcanic features. But don’t think these places aren’t important. 

This part of the ocean represents one of the last frontiers of scientific discovery and exploration in the world and is a safe haven for Central Tropical Pacific biodiversity -- including 28 million seabirds that forage across the vast ocean expanse and nest on the remote island refuges.

Baker is one of the only places in the world where the terrestrial and marine tropical island ecosystems have been restored, conserved and protected. And Howland is one of the last places where the terrestrial and marine tropical island ecosystems are still intact and relatively free of human impacts.  

Johnston Atoll, one of the world’s most isolated atolls, is an oasis for reef and bird life. Green sea turtles feed on the south shore of Johnston Island, one of the highest concentrations of green sea turtles at a non-nesting foraging ground in the Pacific.

Life may have started in the ocean, but given the distances and difficulty of studying the seafloor there is still a lot to discover. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument conserves seven National Wildlife Refuges and over 400,000 square miles of surrounding ocean habitat! 

   pink starSlime star. Photo by OET/NautilusLive

The Nautilus has been underway since August 26 and is currently en route to Johnston Atoll after exploring the water around Baker and Howland. 

The goal of the trip is to collect data that will help us better understand marine habitats, seafloor composition and the geologic history of these areas. The team will conduct seafloor mapping and collect video biological, chemical and geological samples. 

The best part is: You can be there, and you don’t have to worry about seasickness. The Nautilus streams all of their explorations live online to the public.   Check out these pages for more information: 

Saving the Silvery Minnow: An Ongoing Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge Monitoring Project

channel   The Rio Grande at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

By Indu Roychowdhury, Southwest Region

Wearing oversized waders and all but clinging to a flow monitoring pole, I found the task of staying upright in the raging Rio Grande to be surprisingly challenging. A few weeks ago, I accompanied some of the Southwest Region hydrology team on one of their many fieldwork excursions: Following a record dry year, an uncharacteristically full river has called for extra monitoring. These trips to monitor the flow and quality of the river are part of an ongoing habitat restoration project at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, some 50 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each week, the team travels to the refuge and collects data to determine habitat suitability for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.

person standing in water


Dan Shorb, hydrology tech, eyes the Rio Grande. Photo by USFWS  

The Rio Grande silvery minnow is one of the most well-known symbols of New Mexican conservationism; the shimmery little fish is protected by the Endangered Species Act, and requires certain specific habitat conditions to spawn. Two other endangered riparian species, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo, also benefit from river conservation work.

Manmade changes to the river—namely channelization and dam construction—have inhibited the minnow’s natural spawning and migratory conditions. The river lacks the natural floodplains of the past, and as a consequence, the silvery minnow now occupies only 7 percent of its original range. The restoration goal of this project is to create slow-moving backwater channels to flood during the spring and early summer, creating suitable spawning habitat for the minnow.

Silvery minnow prefer slow, shallow water to spawn. To create these conditions, staff at Sevilleta Refuge mechanically removed the invasive salt cedar in the area and began replacing it with native vegetation: namely, Gooding’s willow and cottonwood. The team also lowered the floodplain, connecting it to the river after decades of dryness. These changes not only create the necessary backwater channels, they also increase habitat for the aforementioned endangered birds. The endeavor, by no means a one-time effort, depends on active monitoring of the river—a task the Division of Water Resources has been undertaking on a weekly basis.

This year has been a particularly wet one for the Rio Grande—but what does that mean for silvery minnow if they prefer calmer waters? This project aims to create enough suitable habitat no matter the amount of water in the river. The channels are built in a sloping fashion: Some are quite deep now but become shallow toward the edges. On a low-flow year, every area of the channel may flow at the correct slow-moving rate. There may be a smaller percentage of suitable habitat, but there may still be enough suitable habitat on the edges.

When I spoke with refuge biologist Jon Erz, he emphasized the necessity of water monitoring during this project: “The reason it’s important to do this monitoring is to see how we need to change our management in the different flood regimes,” he said. “We built it, and now we need to see if we’re reaching the necessary acreage.”

  chanel with piles of dirt on bank The Rio Grande at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

Indeed, the success of these types of projects depends on active river monitoring and data collection. This particular task would not be possible without the continuous collaboration of many people and organizations: the Bureau of Reclamation, Santa Fe Stream Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff have all worked toward its completion. As the river changes through the years, our monitoring team will be there through it all—safeguarding the home of the plants and animals inhabiting it.

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