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A Talk on the Wild Side.

FWS, Kansas City Chiefs Engage Young People at Urban American Outdoors’ Kids Fishing Derby

man in FWS uniform shows young man a device with fish attachedRoderick May, the hatchery manager at Neosho National Fish Hatchery, weighs a catch. 

Urban American Outdoors TV’s (UAO TV) National Urban Kids Fishing Derby Tour stopped in Kansas City, Kansas, on October 8, bringing together the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kansas City Chiefs and others to engage Kansas City youth. 

group shotUrban American Outdoors TV’s National Urban Kids Fishing Derby Tour stopped in Kansas City, Kansas. 

“The purpose of the fishing derby was to teach kids to fish, engage them in healthy outdoor recreation, and introduce them to wildlife conservation and related career opportunities,” said Wayne Hubbard, who cofounded Urban American Outdoors TV with his life partner Candice Price. 

RELATED: More photos of the fishing derby are on UAO TV’s flickr page.

Representing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Hatchery System was Roderick May, the hatchery manager at Neosho National Fish Hatchery in Neosho, Missouri.  

“Everyone benefits when we engage youth in personal, physical and professional development,” May said.  “Teaching kids how to fish and talking with them about conservation is good for kids and everyone else, as today’s kids are the conservationists of tomorrow.” 

man with white floppy hat squats downto chat with angler on riverbankKansas City Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey talks to one of the anglers.

 Representatives of the Kansas City Chiefs football team were also there.

“To be able to come out here and spend time with these kids and members of our community means a lot,” said Brett Veach, general manager for the Kansas City Chiefs. “It’s fun to see our guys out there fishing and giving back, and I’m glad that I was invited to be a part of it.”

Other Chiefs’ executives and players at the fishing derby included President Mark Donovan, defensive end Allen Bailey, safety Eric Berry, wide receiver Gehrig Richard Dieter, quarterback Chad Henne, fullback J.D. Moore and defensive tackle Xavier Williams.

people fish off both sides of dockPeople try their luck at the Urban Fishing Day.

The fishing derby brought out others who support youth development programs in the Kansas City area, including Kids on Campus, Fringe Benefits of Education (FBOE) and Bass Pro Shops. 

A Kansas City Kansas Community College program, Kids on Campus is an eight-week summer camp for youth ages 8 to 18 from the Kansas City metro area.  The program provides hands-on adaptive learning experiences outside the classroom in science, technology, education, arts and math. 

With support from community educators, leaders and professionals, the Kids on Campus program engages approximately 300 youth per year in educational, physical and social activities that empower them with personal awareness, life skills and educational ambitions.

“I didn’t catch anything,” Chiefs GM Veach said, “but we still had some fun.”


Story by Edward Stoker, External Affairs, Headquarters; photos by UAO TV

Embracing and Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

By Jim Kurth, Acting FWS Director

Hispanic and Latino roots in our nation run deep – predating the founding of the United States by centuries. And this rich, vibrant culture has shaped and influenced what it means to be American in myriad ways.

From the food we eat, the music we listen to, and our art, literature and language, every part of American culture is influenced by Hispanic and Latino Americans. Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated in the United States from September 15 to October 15, serves to remind us of the many contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to our nation over the centuries.

This includes the earliest Western settlement in North America at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565, as well as the founding of cities across the Southwest and into California by Spanish settlers. And it continues up to now, with Hispanic and Latino Americans becoming one of our fastest-growing ethnic groups.

Cultural and Demographic Shift

According to the Census Bureau, Latinos currently comprise more than 18 percent of the U.S. population – and in states like California, New Mexico, and Texas, more than 40 percent of the state populations.  Projecting into the future, by 2045, the U.S. population will be 25 percent Latino.

Recognizing this cultural and demographic shift, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working hard to engage Hispanic Americans and help them connect with their natural heritage. Research shows that support for wildlife, public lands and conservation is higher among Hispanic Americans than among any other ethnic group in the nation.

We’re also working to help Hispanic American children explore careers in wildlife conservation – and to recruit young adults from the community to join the Service. Our goal is to create a professional workforce for the future that reflects our nation’s growing diversity and can inspire and engage Americans from all walks of life.

To achieve these critically important goals, the Service is working with national Hispanic-serving organizations. For example, we partnered with the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) to support Latino Conservation Week (LCW) through communications efforts, but by also placing HAF interns at National Wildlife Refuges across the country.  LCW was established by HAF to recognize and encourage Hispanic participation in outdoor recreation and wildlife conservation.

This month, we invite Americans of all backgrounds to celebrate the contributions of Hispanic Americans to our nation’s rich cultural diversity – and to explore the great outdoors with family and friends.  Together, we can ensure the future of our shared natural heritage for generations to come.

VIDEO: Doves in the Wild

symbol of dove

Sierra Snyder, a summer intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, recently spent the morning at Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland with two Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sisters. It was a new experience for all of them.

Doves in the Wild blogs

Celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day

   hunter with bow and arrow in icy forestWayne Hubbard is the co-founder of Urban American Outdoors.

By Wayne Hubbard; photos by Urban America Outdoors

We all love the outdoors, including those of us that hunt and fish. That is why Urban American Outdoors is pleased to join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many others in celebrating National Hunting and Fishing Day.

girl holding harvested deer as adult kneels next to her

National Hunting and Fishing Day, celebrated in the United States on the fourth Saturday in September, was established by Congress in 1972 to honor hunters and anglers for their role in conserving wildlife and their habitat.

Though other outdoor enthusiasts may not know, hunters and anglers care and contribute significantly to the conservation of wildlife and their habitat. In addition to paying for hunting and fishing licenses, hunters and anglers pay an excise tax on firearms and ammunition, bows and arrows, and rods and reels that generates more than $1.75 billion per year to support the work of state conservation agencies. (At left: Wayne Hubbard, co-founder of Urban American Outdoors.)

My friends at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognize the positive contributions hunters and anglers have on wildlife conservation. The lands and waters they manage not only provide vital habitat for wildlife but also access to outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing.

The Service, which manages a network of 566 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts, welcomes approximately 10 million hunters and anglers each year. Hunting is currently permitted on 340 wildlife refuges and 37 wetland management districts. Fishing is currently permitted on 278 wildlife refuges and 34 wetland management districts. Find your next hunting or fishing spot.

   adult and youth pose with harvested turkeysWayne Hubbard is the co-founder of Urban American Outdoors.

If you do not hunt or fish (yet), I still encourage you to find a refuge near you. Other types of wildlife-dependent recreation you can engage in at refuges include hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, photographing wildlife, and more. More than 100 national wildlife refuges are within an hour drive of most major metropolitan areas.

When engaged in outdoor sports or recreation, know that hunters and anglers stand alongside you in your love for the outdoors and in promoting the conservation of natural resources, including wildlife and their habitat, for the benefit of future generations.

Wayne Hubbard is the co-founder of Urban American Outdoors (UAO), which encourages and facilitates diversity in the outdoors. UAO produces the UAO TV show, the first African-American owned and produced outdoor sport and adventure show in the United States. Aired on TV networks across the country, the syndicated show has received four Emmy nominations and more than 70 broadcast awards. UAO also engages in youth outreach and education through its Urban Kids Fishing Derbies in cities across the country. Earlier this year, Wayne was appointed to serve on the Department of the Interior’s Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council, established to provide advice regarding wildlife and habitat conservation.


This content is presented for informational value only. It is neither authored nor sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We make no claims as to the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information it contains.

Check Out Your Lands on National Public Lands Day

Saturday is packed with potential adventures for all outdoor enthusiasts.

YOUR public lands need you, so why not join with others in the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands?

The 25th annual National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is Saturday, September 22, and it’s a perfect time to connect with YOUR public lands and communities. As an extra incentive, you can visit national wildlife refuges and other federally managed public lands free.  

  children water and look at plannts on a table At Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, the NPLD event is on pollinators. Photo by USFWS

Volunteer or get outside

National wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries across the country are just waiting for you.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia needs your help with its annual beach cleanup.

Saturday is also National Hunting and Fishing Day, which celebrates the important role sports men and -women play in conservation, and Back Bay Refuge has you covered there as well.

After the morning’s cleanup, a local anglers group will talk about surf fishing from the refuge beach.

On the other side of the country, Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery in Washington hosts the Wenatchee River Salmon Festival, one of the first natural resource festivals in the country.

Help out September 29, too

I am working all day this Saturday, you say. Is there anything the next week?

You’re in luck. Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, for instance, will be tagging monarch butterflies on September 29.

   girl in  wheelbarrow and lots of other volunteersVolunteering at Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Lisa Cox/USFWS

Also on September 29, Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge in California will be working on a native habitat restoration with conservation partner Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach.

You can find hundreds of events on public lands across the country.

Of course, you don’t need an event. It is never a bad time to visit YOUR public lands. National fish hatcheries and national wildlife refuges will do their best to make you feel at home whenever you visit.

RELATED: Find a refuge near you | Find a hatchery near you

Explore the outdoors. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it.

John Davis Answered an Ad for a Volunteer at a Refuge 20 Years Ago. He was Hooked.

 man in blue with FWS volunteerpatch works on posting a  sign  “It has been a privilege to work alongside Dr. Davis, and I hope he continues to volunteer for many, many years to come,” says Scott A. Williams, wetland district manager and federal wildlife officer at Crosby Wetland Management District in North Dakota, one of the places Davis volunteered this past summer.  Photo by USFWS

The National Wildlife Refuge System includes more than 560 refuges, 38 wetland management districts (WMD) and other protected areas. Volunteer John Davis, a self-described “Refuge Rat,” has visited half.

“I have visited 294 national wildlife refuges or wetland management districts, in every region of the FWS except for the Pacific Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” he says. And he has put in lots of work at the more than 20 refuges.

He says his 3,500 or so volunteer hours may not compare to some full-time volunteers, but don’t tell that to the staffs where he has given his time.

“Dr. Davis has as much passion for the National Wildlife Refuge System as any one of its employees,” says Scott A. Williams, wetland district manager and federal wildlife officer at Crosby Wetland Management District in North Dakota, one of the places Davis volunteered this past summer.

   man stands in water up to is hip next to 2 polesDavis helps install a gauge at Lake Zahl National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota. Photo by USFWS

“John cares deeply for the National Wildlife Refuge System and Fort Niobrara NWR is fortunate to have been one of the refuges that benefited from his volunteer service,” says Kathy McPeak, biologist at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

Davis grew up and still lives in upstate New York.  He visited his first refuge when he was 17. “My brother-in-law took me there—Great Swamp [National Wildlife Refuge] in New Jersey—and I have vivid memories of the boardwalks through the swamps.”

But what changed the college teacher into a lifelong volunteer and “Refuge Rat”?

“In 1998, I answered an Internet advertisement looking for a volunteer at Fort Niobrara [National Wildlife Refuge] for a special summer project: a social carrying capacity survey of visitors floating the Niobrara River through the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge,” he remembers.

  man with cowboy hat stands next to big poster/chart on open tailgate of SUV At his first volunteer stint, surveyed visitors floating the Niobrara River through Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

He got the gig, and after spending the summer designing and working on the survey at the refuge in Nebraska, he and his supervisor at the time, Mark Lindvall, reported the results at a Wilderness Science Conference.

“This study and his recommendations … were a great help in assuring a wilderness experience to our visitors,” remembers Lindvall, a retired assistant refuge manager.

   man standing and smiling outdoors

It had a big effect on Davis, too.

“That summer’s experience turned me on to the wonders and the diversity of the NWR System, and I have spent the last 20 years volunteering and occasionally working as a contractor for the Service on projects all across the U.S.”

Davis’ working career teaching physics, math, GIS, ecology, environmental studies and conservation biology in colleges and universities provided him with knowledge that refuges loved to mine, and, he gave that knowledge away freely.

At Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, Davis has worked, as recently as this summer, to help calculate visitor use on the refuge and set up invasive species inventory and monitoring. He   “enthusiastically shares his knowledge of GIS and related technology to obtain quantifiable results,” Refuge Manager Pete Schmidt says.

Data analysis and management, involving his students in the development of a wilderness management plan, easement mapping and numerous GIS projects are just a few of the jobs that took advantage of his career skills.

After his first stint at Fort Niobara, McPeak says, Davis “graciously agreed to help me with additional data analyses/modeling in development of our controversial River Recreation Management Plan and various biological projects over the years. “

Of course, other jobs read like ones many of our volunteers tackle: hand-pulling invasive plants, surveys and counts, sign replacement and fence repair, staffing the visitor center desk, and cleaning back-country toilets.

As you might imagine, Davis has a hard time picking favorites, but some of his memorable volunteer experiences include raptor surveys at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana or wrestling calves for branding during the annual bison roundup at Fort Niobrara.  

“Every refuge,” Davis says, “from the smallest easement refuge to the remote wild refuges of Alaska, has something amazing to offer the casual visitor or the volunteer.” 

He saw one of those amazing somethings when he was volunteering at Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. “I was walking on a trail in an old stream channel, with eroded volcanic rock walls above me on both sides, and I came around a bend to see a golden eagle perched on a rock ledge just about three feet higher than my head,” Davis recalls. “He took off and flew right past me at eye level, practically within arm’s reach.“

   green prarie with potholesOne of Davis’ favorite refuges is Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota. Photo by Sarah Shpak/USFWS

Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota also amazes him and is one of his favorite refuges. He calls it “a particularly beautiful example of the Prairie Pothole Region.”

“In the spring,” he says, “when everything is green and lush, the wetlands are like blue diamonds in an emerald carpet. Everyone thinks of prairie as flat, but as a matter of fact the Prairie Pothole Region is all folds, contours, swells and swales. The light in the evening or morning plays across the landscape emphasizing the shadows and highlighting every topographic feature. It’s breathtaking, especially if you take the time to climb to the viewing platform on the old fire tower, which is still open to the public.”

“Every refuge has some interesting feature, some scenic wonder, a cultural or historical treasure, a wildlife adventure, or a chance for quiet contemplation in the beauty and tranquility of nature,” he says. “Every refuge or Waterfowl Production Area (managed by a WMD) is a national treasure.”

He’s not done giving either.  “I am very proud of having contributed to the operation of the Refuge System, and I look forward to many more years of volunteering.”

   man puts something  unseen atop covered kioskDavis repairs a kiosk at Lake Zahl National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota. Photo by USFWS

This will make Crosby’s Williams happy.

“It has been a privilege to work alongside Dr. Davis,” he says, “and I hope he continues to volunteer for many, many years to come.”

Matt Trott, External Affairs

Curator’s Corner: Wolverines, Zebras and William Finley’s Condor Friend

Wolverines!

   wolverine

I have been previewing conservation films for NCTC’s annual Conservation Film Festival, and I just watched one about wolverines. I heard some very interesting facts about those critters. They are called gulo gulo as their genus and species because they are gluttons. Researchers have been catching them in spring traps baited with beaver meat, and the traps e-mail the biologists when they are sprung. That is pretty handy! Wolverines are often called little doomsday preppers because they hide food for when times are tough. If you just listen and investigate, you can always find out fascinating things about the world of wildlife around us! No wonder the high schoolers in the movie Red Dawn are the wolverines (their school mascot)--they are small, resourceful and prepped for doomsday. In addition to the wolverine film, you can watch more than 30 conservation films from around the world on topics ranging from agriculture to climate change to wildlife. The festival takes place October 12–14 and October 19–21. You can also visit some of the museum. I just wish we had some wolverine paraphernalia in our collection to show you. (Photo by National Park Service)

Zebras and Body Heat, Who Knew?

 2 zebras

We have a really fascinating zebra skin ottoman that visitors love. It was confiscated at the port of entry from South Africa because it is a Hartmann’s Mountain zebra, which is endangered. I wrote about the ottoman before, because the fact that the wildlife inspector could observe and analyze that information never ceases to amaze me. Just from the partial pelt, the inspector could tell it was not the common Burchell’s zebra because it has broader stripes on the hindquarters and no “shadow stripes,” where the stripes fade to gray as they move down the body. No one knows for sure why zebras have stripes. In addition to older theories of camouflage, confusion of predators and disease protection, the newest theory is that it helps them regulate body heat. Light and dark areas heat up at different rates, so the theory goes, and cause micro-breezes to move across the animal’s skin. This idea was sparked by an observation that northern, more equatorial zebras (like the Hartmann’s) have more defined stripes, and the southern, cooler climate zebras have less defined stripes. Whatever the reason for the zebra’s stripes, it’s certainly a cool creature. (Photo of Burchell’s zebra (left) and a Hartmann’s Mountain zebra by Yathin S Krishnappa)

William Finley and His Condor Friend

   man sawing a log as a big bird perches on log watching

One of the great conservationists that influenced the National Wildlife Refuge System was William Lovell Finley, whose body of work was done in Oregon. He was instrumental in the formation of Three Arch Rocks, Klamath and Malheur National Wildlife Refuges. Obviously, William Finley National Wildlife Refuge was named after him. He was a great wildlife photographer, and we have a large collection of glass plate negatives from his prolific career. He was the president of the Oregon Audubon Society in 1906, and he made great strides in protecting the birds of Oregon, including the California condor. One of the best photos of Finley is of him sawing wood, with his trusty pet condor standing on a log next to him. He named the bird General, such a great name! If General was a father, the names Colonel and Captain would have been great for the offspring. He could have had an army of condors.

Previous Curator’s Corner

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.


This article is from the upcomings summer issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

‘Botany Safari’ Uncovers Endangered Chafseed Population

   stalk of a flower with buds

Two or three times a year, Grace Howell, land management specialist for the Alachua Conservation Trust in Florida, and native plant enthusiast, amateur botanist, fire ecology advocate and certified prescribed burn manager, goes on extended explorations of forests and other natural areas, always ready to learn something new. She had never been to Blackwater River State Forest, so this May, she embarked on her self-proclaimed “botany safari,” setting her sights on the forest.

“It was so beautiful and so well-managed—I was blown away! It was a treat to see such vast expanses of well-managed longleaf pine—makes me hopeful—seeing such a large continuous forest.”

Nestled along the western edge of Florida’s panhandle, Blackwater River State Forest is indeed vast, encompassing more than 211,000 acres in the counties of Santa Rosa and Okaloosa. Together with Conecuh National Forest to the north and Eglin Air Force Base to the south, Blackwater River helps to form one of the largest contiguous tracts of the dwindling longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem. Once covering more than 60 million acres in the Southeast, less than 5 percent of the longleaf pine ecosystem’s original acreage now remains.

As the forests began to disappear, so did its associated plants and animals. Species once common in the Southeast were silenced. Or forgotten. Species such as American chaffseed (seen, above left; photo by Alan Cressler)

.

   2 firefighters in a smoky forestFirefighters watch a prescribed burn at Blackwater River State Forest. Photo by Florida Forest Service

When American chaffseed was protected as endangered in 1992, it had disappeared from more than half of its range. A highly fire-adapted species of the longleaf pine ecosystem, it is still imperiled today and continuing to decline. The greatest threats to American chaffseed are fire suppression and destruction or modification of habitat. Limitations on burning activities further imperil the species. Historically, it once ranged from Massachusetts to Louisiana and inland to Kentucky and Tennessee. It is now only known from New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana.

On her botanical mission, Howell got a map of the forest from the visitor center. Staff there pointed out where she could see pitcher plants—one of her target species. As she drove along forest roads, she encountered a beautiful bog where milkweeds and orchids were in bloom—a photographer’s delight. Then something caught her eye—a plant she’d never seen before.

Howell snapped several pictures and continued on her “botany safari.” Back home, she looked through her photos from the trip and realized she’d forgotten about the interesting new plant she had encountered. Howell posted her pictures on the Florida Flora and Ecosystematics Facebook group page to get help with identification. The first one to weigh in was Alan Weakley, noted botanist, author, professor and director of the University of North Carolina’s Herbarium. Howell had found some American chaffseed.

Howell’s find was no ordinary one. She had just helped to discover one of now only three confirmed locations of chaffseed in Florida. In 2008, Florida had 10 known populations. Today, there are only 39 total populations throughout the species’ range.

After the positive identification of chaffseed, botanists from Tall Timbers Research Station and the Florida Forest Service inventoried the site and notified April Punsalan, a botanist in the Service’s South Carolina Ecological Services Field Office and national recovery lead for the species. The site that Howell found had almost 300 plants, which was considered a recovery population.

“Grace’s discovery brings us one step closer to recovering the species since the population occurs on well-managed lands at Blackwater River State Forest,” Punsalan says. “The recovery of imperiled fire-adapted species like American chaffseed depends on us getting fire back on the landscape. This new population is a testament to their hard work at the forest in doing just that.”

   Portrait photo of woman in forest

Despite its declines, American chaffseed has a high potential for recovery. Effective management techniques, such as prescribed fire, and chafseed’s ability to grow in wide-ranging habitats (longleaf pine savannas and flatwoods) can help achieve restoration of chaffseed to the southeastern landscape.

Howell (seen at right; photo by Shoog McDaniel) continues to say that she is “beyond thrilled” about the discovery. “I’m delighted to know that there are so many people who care deeply and are working hard to protect these and other imperiled species” admits Howell.

With a wealth of wonders to be discovered in the longleaf pine forests of the Southeast, those therapeutic botanical safaris are no plain old walks in the woods. Howell, and other curiosity seekers like her, just might help us find a few more rare species.

JENNIFER KOCHES, External Affairs, Southeast Region


A version of this story appears in the upcoming summer Fish & Wildlife News.

Not Even a Burglary Can Spoil Hunt at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge

   Teen with rifle wearing camo and orange safety vest behind a buck

The festive air that surrounds preparation for a hunt are part and parcel of the ritual. That ritual was crushed for Colin Berg and his son, Preston, when they arrived at their home near Tulsa, Oklahoma, last November to find their entire house ransacked by a burglar.

There is, of course, no good time to be a victim of a crime. But this event was particularly unwelcome; Preston was due at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge early the next morning. 

He had a coveted white-tailed deer tag in a youth hunt—a tag is essentially a license for a type of game. But now his rifle and all the accoutrements of the coming hunt were gone. All of it: from his license and paperwork to his rifle and ammunition. The thieves ransacked the house, and then stole the truck from the garage that was loaded up with all the Bergs would need for the next two days at the national wildlife refuge.

“You feel violated when someone kicks in your front door,” says the senior Berg. “But when bad things happen to you, you find out how many great friends you have out there.” Berg had several offers from friends to take Preston hunting if his dad had to stay behind and tend to matters of the crime. The Bergs got from friends most of what they needed to make the hunt.

Investigating police officers left the Bergs’ home at 1 a.m., and on little shut-eye, the two made the two-hour drive to Salt Plains—but without the check-in paperwork and licensing.

“Shelby Finney, a federal wildlife officer, helped clear up the paperwork and licensing concerns,” says Berg. “The refuge staff was very accommo­dating to get my son checked in; they even loaned us binoculars and some other essential gear, last-minute.”

Says Finney: “We wanted to make sure the young man had a means to hunt following the terrible ordeal. We weren’t going to let anything spoil the hunt—and this was probably one of the more memorable outdoor experiences the young man will ever have considering the circumstances and outcome.”

The refuge’s hunting regulations require a hunter to harvest a doe before taking a buck. Preston did both. After taking a doe on the first day, the young man, 13 years old and seven years a hunter, was able to fill his license—he rattled and grunted up a nice buck (see photo; Courtesy of Colin Berg) for the freezer on day two, and learned more about conservation in the process.

The senior Berg learned something himself. “The hunt was a success on many levels,” he says. “Being outdoors with my son cleansed my mind of the awful event at home. The only thing I got back was my truck, but really what I got in return is faith in humanity.”

CRAIG SPRINGER, External Affairs, Southwest Region


A version of this story appears in the upcoming summer Fish & Wildlife News.

Doves in the Wild: Sierra and her Zeta Sisters Take a Breath of Fresh Air

 

symbol of dove

Sierra Snyder is an intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She is a recent graduate of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, and a proud member of the Gamma Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Doves in the Wild is a blog series providing her perspectives, and those of her Sorority sisters, on conservation and experiencing nature.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” - Walt Disney 

   2 women fishing off a dockZeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. members Kelsey Burks and Sierra Snyder. Photo by USFWS

“Sooo we are going fishing? Ok, …that’s different.” That was one of the messages I received from my sorority sisters Kelsey Burks and Cynthia Ofosu after I invited them to go to Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland with me.

We are all recent graduates of Morgan State University in Baltimore,  and fishing has never been on our to-do list. Just going to a national wildlife refuge did not seem like a priority.

   3 women on a dock, middle one with fishing rodZeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. members Kelsey Burks, Sierra Snyder and Cynthia Ofosu. Photo by USFWS

My time with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had sparked my curiosity about nature and wildlife conservation, so this new experience for all of us would be perfect.

We were definitely trying something “different,” as one of my sisters had said. We usually don’t do things like hiking and fishing. If we are outside together for extended periods of time, we are most likely at a cookout or some sort or outdoor community service. We have never really spent time outside solely to enjoy nature. So this was outside the box for all of us!

Despite their slight hesitation, they agreed to meet me on Saturday morning for a day of nature-filled fun!

   woman looks into water

We started our day by fishing at Cache Lake (at left: Sierra Snyder). After a brief tutorial and coming to terms with touching live slimy worms, we cast our fishing rods in hopes of catching a fish. After the first few failed attempts, we finally got it down and we were casting pretty far!

It turns out, though, that the fish in Cache Lake are intelligent! They were playing us like a game. They knew how to eat the bait off the hooks without getting caught. They would swim away quickly and we would pull up hooks absent of bait and fish. Even after trying to switch up our strategy and use smaller hooks for the smaller fish, they still outsmarted us. Time after time they got free meals off our hooks. We learned that much of fishing is a waiting game.

While we stood by hoping to pull up a fish, we couldn't help but notice the feeling of tranquility that came with being at the lake. The fresh air, the breeze, the stillness of the water with the occasional ripples from the life that lies beneath the surface, it was beautifully serene. It felt like a break from the busy and stressful life of a college graduate; it was a breath of fresh air -- literally. So much so that we want to organize a trip there for  the rest of our  sisters initiated along with us; it's the perfect getaway. Teaching the rest of them to fish would be an interesting and amusing bonding activity. Unfortunately, we didn't catch any fish but we still gained a lot from the experience. We learned something completely new and are excited to bring the rest of our sisters and show them what we learned.

   owl sitting on gloved hand

After a quick snack, we headed inside to the visitor center to learn about screech owls (at right). We all agreed that the owl was cute and led an interesting life, but honestly, I have a small fear of birds. Nothing too irrational, but when they fly over the top of me the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up and I get chills down my spine. My relationship with birds hasn’t been the same since a bird pooped in my hair. My sorority sister Kelsey, on the other hand, LOVES animals. She has two gigantic dogs and she is always stopping to look at animals or pet other people’s dogs. So I knew she would love this. I was concerned about me, birds usually make me nervous. Nevertheless, today was about stepping outside of comfort zones and creating new experiences, so I took a deep breath and went for it.

We learned that these owls actually led a privileged life in the wild. They can easily camouflage among trees, making it easy to swoop in and snatch their prey with their long sharp talons. It is a very adorable bird but still can be a ferocious predator. At first, I was a little apprehensive to be around a bird, but it actually melted my heart! Its big eyes and its calm demeanor was different from any bird I’ve ever encountered. I was even comfortable enough to snap some close-up pictures.

   3 women and handler holding owlZeta mebers Cynthia Ofosu, Sierra Snyder and Kelsey Burks with a screech owl and its handler. Photo by USFWS

The final activity of the day would be the tram ride. The tram took us on a tour of the refuge and was the cherry on top of our day at Patuxent. It was so refreshing to just ride through the woods and embrace the nature we so often forget. The different trees, plants, and flowers it was like a ride through a magnificent garden. Riding through the woods showed my sisters and I the beauty in a habitat that is mostly untouched by man. We can get so preoccupied with the routine of our everyday lives, that we forget to sit back and marvel at the natural beauty around us.

We so often take it for granted but it’s about more than enjoying nature and admiring its beauty. It’s about ensuring that wild places continue to exist into the future so that your children and their children can have the same connections with nature that we have, inspiring them to continue to conserve nature for more generations to come. It's about doing your part for the environment and setting an example for others. Nature conservation is a group effort.

It is also important to realize that if we don’t do our part in conserving our environment, we will lose it. It is important for everyone to contribute and encourage others to do their part. Visiting a wildlife refuge is a start. After our girls trip to the refuge, my sisters and I have gained such a greater appreciation for wildlife and the natural habitats around us. We didn’t know we would enjoy the activities at the refuge so much, or that we would find the stillness of nature so captivating. But now that we do know we are glad that we took that step outside our box.

“There’s something about this place that I find so alluring,” Cynthia said. “I want to make this my new spot, whenever I need a break from reality or to clear my mind. This is a gem.”

This internship has helped me realize how I have been ignoring this planet’s natural beauty. After seven weeks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, my appreciation for the natural habitats around us grown has significantly. Not only are they all around us but they are easily accessible and free of charge.

After just one visit to a refuge, that initial reluctance that we felt to engage in nature is gone. Visiting the refuge inspired us to encourage others to go as well! The lessons that I have learned here I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

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