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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Gone Fishing

Fishing colageUpper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, is an angler’s paradise. The refuge covers more than 240,000 acres and extends 261 river miles in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Photos, clockwise from bottom left, by Pam Steinhaus/USFWS, Stan Bousson, Cindy Samples/USFWS

Anglers are a secretive bunch. They’ll sooner understate the size of a fish they’ve caught than reveal their favorite fishing spot. We, in the National Wildlife Refuge System, are not secretive. We’re proud to say that more than 270 national wildlife refuges provide wonderful fishing spots for everyone. Learn about a handful of these spots from those who know them best in this week’s Refuge System photo essay, Gone Fishing.

Here is a smattering of what the essay includes.

FishingChincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. Photos by USFWS

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia offers Atlantic Ocean surf fishing outside life-guarded beach areas. Tip from ranger Aubrey Hall:

“In the summer, it’s better to hike away from the crowds who will be enjoying sunbathing, surfing etc. Learning to read waves is key, since fish tend to congregate in the sloughs between the shifting sandbars. Waves break on the sandbars themselves, so casting your line where the water is calmer will put your bait in a slough.”

Most common species caught year-round are striped bass and drumfish.

fidhing  a HanfordHanford Reach National Monument, Washington. Top photo by USFWS, bottom by Bruce Hewitt

Hanford Reach National Monument, which includes 51 miles of free-flowing Columbia River in Washington state, is one of eight Mid-Columbia River national wildlife refuges. Trophy bass can be found in side channels and along the river’s rocky shorelines. Fall chinook salmon return every year by the thousands to spawn. Steelhead are found in the cold, clear water; however, all wild steelhead must be released unharmed. White sturgeon are found in the river’s deep holes. Most fishing is from motorboat. Kayak, raft or canoe trips can offer fishing, too. Bank fishing is possible, with bass being the best quarry.

Fly fishing on the Russian River Fly fishing is glorious on the Russian River at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo by Berkley Bedell/USFWS

Gone Fishing is part of the Refuge System’s series of weekly photo essays that highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. A new photo essay is posted on the Refuge System home page each Wednesday. The essays are archived here.

Renowned FWS Ornithologist Chandler Robbins Dies

Chandler Robbins   Robbins banding an albatross at Midway Island in 1966. 

Renowned Service ornithologist Chandler Robbins died March 20. He was 98. Born July 17, 1918, in Boston, Robbins devoted his life to birds, their study and protection.

He graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics and began teaching math and science in Vermont. Robbins then joined the Service in 1945 as a junior biologist at Patuxent Research Refuge, where he engaged in early research on the effects of DDT and had his papers edited by his colleague Rachel Carson.

Service retiree David Klinger remembers: "Several of us from the National Conservation Training Center got together at Patuxent around 2007, about the time of the centennial of Rachel Carson's birth.  We wanted to know what Chan Robbins could tell us about Carson, as well as about his own eventful life.  We were smart enough to know we needed an oral history with this 'grand old man' of ornithology, and, for hours, he didn't disappoint.”

Robbins was also the one who first banded the Laysan albatross named Wisdom in 1956. He re-banded the world’s oldest known banded bird in 2002.

Chandler Robbins   Robbins holds mist-netted bird for a photographer. Photo courtesy USGS

During his 60 years of full-time work at Patuxent (he retired in 2005), Robbins made critical contributions to research on forest fragmentation, bird banding, breeding bird surveys and bird identification. He was a senior author of The Field Guide to Birds of North America, organizer of the North American Breeding Bird Survey and much more.

"Chandler Robbins was the 'dean' of the bird conservation world, one might say," says Jerome Ford, assistant director for Migratory Birds. "His amazing legacy lives on every day in the work of our dedicated Migratory Bird Program employees."

A listing of groups that have honored him, even just through 2005, reads like a who's who of conservation groups. The National Audubon Society named him as one of 100 Champions of Conservation of the 20th Century (read an article on Robbins in Audubon Magazine). In 2000, the American Birding Association established the ABA Chandler Robbins Education/Conservation Award (read an article on Robbins in ABA’s Birding as well as tributes to Robbins ABA collected in 2012).

Chandler Robbins   Robbins uses his binoculars. Photo by Barbara Dowell, courtesy USGS

"What symbolized Chan Robbins most eloquently to me was his worn-out old pair of government binoculars,” Klinger says. “Dented, heavy as lead and beat to hell.  I hope they go into a Fish and Wildlife Service museum some day.  He could have afforded the finest optics in the world, but he was comfortable with what he had.  His acuity of eye and ear exceeded the powers of mere physics.” 

In “retirement,” Robbins became "Scientist Emeritus" at Patuxent and continued to work at the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

“I got to bird with two true recognized luminaries in the birding world – Roger Tory Peterson and Chandler Robbins, so I guess you can say I've lived a full life,” says Klinger.

Yukon Flats Refuge Links up with Duck Stamp Artist Adam Grimm

   Yukon FlatsYukon Flats Refuge.

With blind luck and ambition, we stumble into some of the best relationships when we least expect it. Heather Bartlett, a wildlife refuge specialist for Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, tells us how they led to the pairing of Adam Grimm, a two-time winner of the prestigious Federal Duck Stamp art competition, and Yukon Flats Refuge. 

Yukon Flats Refuge staff needed an outreach item to exemplify the astounding and tangible connection between it and “sister refuge” San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge in California. They decided to develop a notecard that included a pair of canvasbacks, the primary species that connects Yukon Flats to San Pablo Bay. 

Adam Grimm   Adam Grimm and his Duck Stamp winning art. Photo courtesy of Adam Grimm

As modern young Americans are wont to do when looking for something, Heather headed online. In her online search for canvasback artwork, one particular image quickly rose above the rest. Click. It was the winner of the 2013 Federal Duck Stamp, leaving little wonder as to why it caught Heather’s attention.

Minutes later she was on the phone with Adam Grimm, the award-winning artist. She explained the notecard outreach project and then asked Adam if he would allow us to use his image. Without hesitation, Adam agreed. Then Heather explained the kicker – the image would have to be modified to isolate the hen and drake canvasbacks. Again, Adam agreed without any hesitation and even offered to modify the image for our use. At this point Heather clarified that the refuge could not pay him for the image. That didn’t change Adam’s willingness to help. However, he did explain the effort he put into this one painting, detailing how he spent countless days and nights away from his family travelling to wetlands around the Dakotas, camouflaged in a ghillie suit awaiting incoming waterfowl until he captured the perfect photograph. 

   ghillieAdam in a ghillie suit. Photo courtesy of Adam Grimm

These field experiences of Adam’s sparked an idea in Heather’s mind. Yukon Flats Refuge needed high quality photographs of its landscapes and wildlife to update outreach materials. Adam’s skillset matched the refuge’s needs perfectly. Although Heather couldn’t offer him financial compensation, she could offer him the partnership of a lifetime. By the end of the conversation, Adam had agreed to come to Alaska to work with the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge not once, but twice. 

For his first visit north, Adam was the featured artist and guest speaker at the second annual Art in the Arctic Art Show earlier this month. In the week leading up to the Art in the Arctic Art Show, Adam accompanied refuge staff to capture winter imagery of Yukon Flats Refuge. 

He will return in June to do the same, focusing on waterfowl in their prime breeding plumage. 

Thanks to Adam’s skill, professionalism and generosity, the public will have the chance to experience Yukon Flats Refuge, if not in person, but through the eyes and talents of a professional photographer and artist.

Adventures in Monarch Tagging and Other Offbeat Nature Fun

   bison bonesThere’s nothing to it. Just assemble the bones in the right order, and you get a bison at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado.  Photo by George Ho

Like your nature a bit offbeat? Some upcoming national wildlife refuge events fill the bill. 

It’s not a matter of replacing bird walks and nature tours. Not to worry. Those will never go out of fashion on wildlife refuges.

But sometimes you’re up for something a little different.

Like, say, building a bison. You got that right. There’s nothing to it. Just assemble the bones in the right order, and you get a bison at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado. 

Not your thing? How about digging for selenite crystals at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma?

   monarch with tagAn expert tags a monarch butterfly at a fall monarch festival at a national wildlife refuge. Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas let visitors net butterflies for tagging. Tagged butterflies are released to continue on their route south. Photo by USFWS

Or, say, like netting and tagging monarchs? During their annual monarch festivals, Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas let visitors net butterflies for tagging. Tagged butterflies are released to continue on their route south.

And that’s not all. Howl with the wolves, big on elk antlers, shine your light on a seemingly infinite variety of moths.

A photo essay from the National Wildlife Refuge System lists these and other unusual events on refuges in the months ahead.

Look for a online stories about national wildlife refuges every Wednesday on the Refuge System home page.

Susan Morse, National Wildlife Refuge System communications

Protecting Pelican Island with an Oyster Reef

line of folks passing bags
Workers at the reef site pass bags of shells from the boat and stack them near the mangrove island. Photo by Ken Warren/USFWS

Ken Warren of our South Florida Ecological Services Office tells us about work at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Dozens of people got their feet wet in the Indian River Lagoon in Florida recently while building an oyster reef breakwater. The reef is designed to prevent further erosion of iconic Pelican Island, which has already decreased in size 60 percent from its original 5.5 acres.

Over a span of about six hours, staff and volunteers from several agencies transported (by truck and by boat) about 600 bags of fossilized shells and stacked them around a small mangrove island near Pelican Island proper at the national wildlife refuge that bears its name.

“We expect oyster spat, that is very young oysters, to attach themselves to the reef, but it remains to be seen if they survive to become adults. Regardless, the shell we’re laying today will provide habitat for a variety of oyster community species and will provide a breakwater to protect Pelican Island,” says biologist Patrick Pitts of the Service.

   the siteThe area marked off in yellow is where the reef was constructed. Photo by Ken Warren/USFWS

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was the first land set aside by the federal government for the sake of wildlife in 1903,” says Laura Flynn of Coastal Resources, Inc. (CRI), the company overseeing the work for the Service. “This project is the next phase of more than two decades of work to restore and preserve this important natural resource.”

CRI’s Robin Lewis adds: “This phase of the project is necessary due to the impacts of sea-level rise and boat wakes. We’re working to save the island because it’s where several water bird species roost and nest such as brown pelicans, wood storks and great blue herons...just to name a few.”

shells   These are the types of fossilized shells in the bags. Photo by Ken Warren/USFWS

According to the Nature Conservancy, oyster reefs provide important services to people and nature by:

  • cleaning water – a single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons per day;
  • providing food and habitat for a diversity of plants and animals, including fish, crabs and birds; and
  • serving as natural coastal buffers from boat wakes, sea-level rise and storms.
   loading bags onto boat
Kevin Palmer and Robinson Bazurto load bags of shells onto a boat. Photo by Ken Warren/USFWS

Staff and volunteers from the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge Complex, South Florida Ecological Services Office, Pelican Island Preservation Society (PIPS) and Peninsular Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office worked with CRI to conduct this restoration project.

“Pelican Island is vital habitat for the birds. I’m out here because I want to help save it for them,” says Susan King of PIPS.

The Indian River County Mosquito Control District provided staff and a large shallow-draft pontoon boat that transported the bulk of the shells over water. They also provided and installed the required turbidity curtain around the project area to protect adjacent estuarine habitat during project construction.

“We couldn't have envisioned, planned or executed the project without the help and support of our volunteers, friends, and partners,” says Bill Miller, project leader for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Service, Partner Nations to Wildlife Traffickers: There’s Nowhere to Hide

K9 InspectionA Service Wildlife Inspector and K-9 participate in Operation Thunderbird at the Honolulu international mail facility.

Operation Thunderbird, a global anti-wildlife trafficking initiative, recently turned a bright spotlight on the alarming depth and breadth of the planet’s wildlife poaching problem. In just three weeks, this coordinated international law enforcement effort resulted in the identification of nearly 900 suspects and 1,300 seizures of illicit wildlife products. Many of these were made by our own U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers, demonstrating the significant role our nation plays in both the problem of wildlife trafficking and in implementing the solutions. 

  list of seizures in Operation Thunderbird

More than 60 countries participated including Canada, China, India, Mexico, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and the European Union (EU). The operation highlighted what can be achieved when countries work together to end the illegal wildlife trade.  

  seizures in Operation Thunderbird Photos of enforcement efforts and seizures from Italy, South Sudan, Spain, Ecuador, and Canada

The Service, for its part, not only increased inspection activities and timely reporting of seizure data but also engaged our special agent attachés stationed at U.S. embassies in Beijing, China; Gaborone, Botswana; Lima, Peru; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Bangkok, Thailand. These agents are a relatively new but growing addition to the Service’s arsenal in the fight against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. They provide several unique international collaborative functions including information-sharing; and training and relationship-building in nations that also can play a significant role in the fight, either as wildlife range states or trafficking consumer states.

  seizures in Operation Thunderbird

In the United States, special agents and wildlife inspectors increased pro-active inspection efforts at multiple U.S. ports, such as Honolulu, Hawaii; New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Newark, New Jersey; New Orleans, Louisiana; Portland, Oregon; and the San Ysidro Port of Entry (at the California-Mexico border).

Service agents worked in concert with Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and other government partners to target shipments and investigate those who attempted to smuggle wildlife. They also strengthened cooperation and information-sharing with partner nations. An example of the many successes of the operation, U.S. authorities in California intercepted an ocean container full of illegal shark fins and began transnational investigations with several other countries.

Operation Thunderbird was conceived during the recent 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Efforts such as Operation Thunderbird represent a positive example of international collaboration, with a message to would-be global wildlife traffickers: The world is working together to combat wildlife crime. There is nowhere to hide.

Wildlife Extravaganzas at Wildlife Refuges

   snow geese

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico is renowned for its Festival of the Cranes, Nov. 14-17 this year, where you can also see a profusion of snow geese. Photo by Diana Robinson

Since its establishment on March 14, 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has protected and restored a world of wildlife. Today, the Refuge System is the world’s largest network of protected lands and waters. It manages more than 850 million acres, including five marine national monuments, 566 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts.

Every day – somewhere in the United States – people gasp OMG as they see wildlife spectacles on national wildlife refuges. In celebration of the Refuge System’s birthday, the week’s photo essay, Wildlife Extravaganzas at Wildlife Refuges, takes you on an across-the-country journey to beauty and mesmerizing wildlife.  

Forster’s terns at play.You can see flocks of Forster’s terns at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey in spring and fall. Photo by Bill Lynch= 

In the Northeast:  Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, stretching 50 miles along the Atlantic flyway, is aflutter with tens of thousands of birds during spring and fall. A 6,000-acre wilderness is nesting and feeding habitat for the rare piping plover, least tern and black skimmer. Every spring, horseshoe crabs lay their eggs on the beach; ravenous red knots, sandpipers, sanderlings and dunlins to feast on the eggs before continuing their long migration north.

manateeManatees live an average of 60 years. Photo by Keith Ramos/USFWS  

In the Southeast:  You can see manatees year-round at Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.  But in winter the sight is extraordinary: Some 600 of these endangered sea cows congregate in the warm, spring-fed waters of Kings Bay.

bisonFloat the Niobrara National Scenic River to get an eyeful of the refuge’s  plants, habitats and wildlife, including bison. Photo by Phyllis Cooper 

In the Midwest: Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in north-central Nebraska sustains the rich wildlife diversity the land has supported for thousands of years. Fossils from more than 20 mammal species – including the giant bison – have been unearthed here. But it’s the 350-animal bison herd that enthralls. You can get a great view from roads and the overlook, where you can also glimpse the year-round elk herd. 

bald eaglesYou might spot bald and golden eagles, northern harriers, and red-tailed and rough-legged hawks when you visit Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuge Complex in northern California and southern Oregon. Photo by Jack Noller 

In the West:  More than 1,000 bald eagles usually winter at Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuge Complex in northern California and southern Oregon. There you will find the largest concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. The complex is a group of six refuges that offer prime eagle habitat. Take the auto tour routes on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges for second-to-none wildlife viewing.

bears fishingYou can watch sows and cubs fish in summer at Frazer Falls, part of Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo by Lisa Hupp/USFWS

In Alaska: Nothing says “wildlife” like Kodiak brown bears, genetically distinct from mainland brown bears. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 to protect the animal whose name it bears. The refuge’s rich vegetation and plentiful salmon mean the 3,000 bears flourish.

Wildlife Extravaganzas at Wildlife Refuges, is part of the Refuge System’s series of weekly photo essays that highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. A new photo essay is posted on the Refuge System home page each Wednesday. The essays are archived here.

State and Federal Agencies Team up for Tigers


Fighting wildlife trafficking needs federal and state conservation law enforcement agencies. State conservation law enforcement personnel often lack the time and resources to combat illicit online sales of protected wildlife in their state. Likewise, Service special agents require the support of their state and local counterparts when conducting field activities such as undercover operations. In 2014, we worked with Massachusetts on a joint investigation into the online advertisement of tiger claws by a Massachusetts resident.  


Stopping Wildlife Traffickers – The Gift that Keeps on Giving


Wildlife inspectors, says Shelia O’Connor, the Service’s Resident Agent in Charge for Oregon, “provide a real gift to the American public by protecting wildlife for future generations.”

Read about a day of inspections at Portland International Airport.

Going Batty Over Bats!

   father and daughter building bat house
Service employee Mitch Adams and daughter Elouise build a bat house. Photo by USFWS  

Bats need our help. Habitat loss, severe weather and the devastating disease white-nose syndrome are all wreaking havoc on bat populations. Fortunately, there are many ways to help, and recently D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery & Archives in Spearfish, South Dakota, went to bat for bats. 

The “Build a Bat House!” event last month attracted more than 50 people, many of whom were families with children. It kicked off with a very informative presentation by bat biologist Joel Tigner. Tigner conducts bat research and work all over the world. He shared information on bats in general, his international work and bats in South Dakota. South Dakota has 47 types of bats!

Following the presentation, people could help build a bat house or make a bat craft to take home. Parts for the bat houses were pre-cut and stained. Participants worked with volunteers and staff to assemble 16 bat houses. The houses will be installed on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acreage in western South Dakota. Participants could elect to build the bat house for the BLM to use (no cost to the participant), or they could pay $15 to build a bat house to take home with them to install on their personal property. Twelve bat houses were purchased for personal use; four will be put up on BLM land.

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