Facebook icon Twitter icon Flicker icon You Tube icon

Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Tiger Stamp Spotlight: Putting Logging Elephants on Patrol in Myanmar

   young elephant on a riverbank with forest in backA baby Asian elephant at an Elephant Protection Unit camp, after enjoying an afternoon bath in the Rakhine Yoma Elephant Range, Myanmar. Photo by Cory Brown/USFWS

How Americans Like You Have Helped Make This Project Possible

Tiger StampProjects such as this one would not be possible without the funding generated from proceeds of sales of the “Save Vanishing Species Stamp,” also known as the “Tiger Stamp.” Through programs administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tiger Stamps have helped fund projects that benefit tigers, sea turtles, great apes, rhinos and elephants in 35 countries. Since 2011, purchases of stamps have generated more than $4.7 million in funding for international conservation projects. Learn more and purchase Tiger Stamps from the U.S. Postal Service. Thank you for your support!

An enormous male Asian elephant with tusks, known as a tusker, breaks through the dense foliage. His mahout, a well-trained elephant handler, guides him deeper into the tropical forest – they’re looking for signs of poacher camps, snares and evidence of illegal logging. They’re followed by two more working elephants and a team of forest rangers in green uniforms. This elephant-ranger partnership, an Elephant Protection Unit,  will spend the next 15 days patrolling deep into the forest of the Rakhine Yoma Elephant Range (RYER) in the western part of Myanmar. The rangers and mahouts will sleep in hammocks, cook over an open fire and collect drinking water from streams. But they’ll use modern GPS units to track their progress, record patrol data and log illegal activities they encounter on patrol. They’ll also monitor wild elephants and other wildlife, intercept poachers, and destroy snares or wildlife traps they encounter.

Myanmar is one of 13 range countries where wild Asian elephants remain and is considered to have the largest remaining available Asian elephant habitat. Myanmar is home to both captive/tame and wild Asian elephants. Historically, captive elephants worked in the timber trade, but a logging moratorium in the country has left these logging elephants with less work. A few of these former logging elephants are now working toward conservation in the RYER. All of Myanmar’s elephants, captive or wild, are protected, and injuring or killing elephants can result in up to seven years in prison.

 Men stand in a horizonal line on a riverbank with elephant and forest on other sideMahouts, park staff and patrol rangers stand in front of a patrol elephant in RYER, Myanmar. Photo by Cory Brown/USFWS

Why these Elephants are Threatened

Wild Asian elephant populations are in decline across their range due to a variety of human-related causes, including habitat loss and fragmentation, conflict with people, and poaching. In Myanmar, there appears to be a recent uptick in poaching – and in a new twist, poached elephants are being targeted for their skin as well as their tusks. While elephant tusks are prized for their ivory, elephant skin is mistakenly believed to carry medicinal value and is used to make jewelry. The elephant skin trade is particularly alarming because elephants of all ages and genders are targeted indiscriminately whereas ivory poaching targets only male tuskers. Between 2010 and 2014, 62 poached elephant carcasses were found. In 2017 alone, 25 individuals were found killed and skinned.

Elephants Protecting Elephants (with a Little Help from their Ranger Friends)

Since 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has helped fund elephant conservation projects in Myanmar’s Rakhine Yoma landscape in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society. One of these projects has provided a GIS-based software that allows forest rangers and park managers to collect, manage, analyze and report on data collected on law enforcement forest patrols.  The software lets park managers target areas in the landscape that are hotspots for poaching or other illegal activities.

It’s working! In RYER, ranger teams have detected and destroyed approximately 25 illegal poaching camps, and have used these data to inform future patrols.

The project has also helped set up the Elephant Protection Units to protect the wild elephants of RYER using the captive elephants. During this project’s most recent phase, several additional logging elephants were transferred to RYER to create additional patrol teams.  This project provides employment to displaced mahouts and their tame working elephants, and allows them to contribute to the protection and conservation of their wild cousins.

 man in doorway of elevated wooden cabin; life vests hang on railing  The project also funds upgrades to ranger stations, including solar panels, communications equipment and a small canoe for accessing remote areas. Photo by Cory Brown/USFWS 

The successes of the patrols benefit not only elephants, but also all of the other wildlife in RYER, such as gaur (Indian bison), banteng (a species of wild cattle), Asiatic jackals and Asiatic bears. As patrols gather more data, they’ll be better able to manage their patrol efforts – focusing on illegal-activity hotspots. Ultimately, the data will enable comparisons between patrol teams, and across sectors, time scales, even countries, and will further improve their efficacy.

The work in RYER is far from done –  the patrols and software need constant support on the ground, including refresher training for rangers, veterinary care for the elephants, replacement of worn-out gear and equipment, rations for long patrols, and supplemental food for the patrol elephants. Conditions are harsh for the rangers, mahouts, and data analysts and their equipment. The forest is hot, humid and unforgiving. The successes of the patrols can continue only with the support of the Myanmar Forest Department, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife Conservation Society and other important partners. Tiger Stamps help provide that support and let Myanmar’s elephants get by with a little help from their friends.

More Tiger Stamp Spotlights

Doves in the Wild: Trailblazing Zetas Take on National Wildlife Refuges

  group at of Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge  The Zeta Nu Zeta chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority was just one of the chapters to visit Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority

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.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. is a sorority of many firsts. They are the first to charter a chapter in Africa, the first to form auxiliary groups, and the first and only sorority in the National-Pan-Hellenic Council to be constitutionally bound to a fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

Naturally then, Zetas across the country were delighted to go to national wildlife refuges and participate in something different for the first time. Many members had never even heard of a national wildlife refuge, but when it comes to changing the norms and defying stereotypes, Zetas are trailblazers. This May during the Zeta Days at the Refuge initiative, sorority members took national wildlife refuges by storm! 

Bird watching and identification were two of the many new activities that members had the opportunity to participate in. National wildlife refuges are home to many different species of birds. While sorority members ideally favor the dove, they learned that nature consists of many more and unique and fascinating birds. At the Gibraltar Bay unit of Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in Michigan, the Lambda Rho Zeta chapter learned about the birds that migrated to the area and were able to identify them on their tour of the refuge.

Rita M. McGregor of the Zeta Nu Zeta chapter, has been the coordinator for the southeastern Michigan FWS visits for the past two years still enjoys the serenity of the refuge like it’s her first time.

“I’m a nature girl. I love being outdoors. I like looking at wildlife, walking and exploring new areas by looking at the river. It has a calming effect. I enjoyed the lecture given by the park ranger on the different animals that inhabited the refuge,” said McGregor. “I love that we bring children that may not have an opportunity to play outside due to their environment.” Needless to say, it was a new and memorable experience for all members present! 

   screech owlZeta Phi Beta Sorority members learned about screech owls at Patuxent Research Refuge. Photo by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority

Sorority member Harriet Hamilton recalled visiting Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland with the Beta Zeta chapter where she observed and learned the behaviors and special characteristics of the screech owl. “This particular breed is a silent flyer and a very lazy predator,” Hamilton said.

2 children with FWS member   Not only did she learn about bird identification but she also declared Patuxent Refuge as her new favorite place! (Members of the Zeta family with a Service member at Patuxent. Photo by USFWS) 

After discovering that the refuge is less than 20 minutes from her home, it is safe to say that she will be returning soon! Her favorite part about the refuge was the educational resources they provided for youth. “It has a tram that can take you on a tour around the refuge grounds, a movie theater for films about environmental issues and a "make and take "area for children,” Hamilton said. “They also provide opportunities for different school groups during the year, camps during the summer and teacher workshops year around.”

At Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge,  in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, members of the Gamma Alpha Delta Zeta chapter learned about water animals. Zetas then did their part to fight one of the threats facing aquatic wildlife -- pollution -- and cleaned up around the area. Additionally, they were educated on fire safety and how to protect themselves from outdoor elements and animals. Chapter members appreciated the experience, describing it as great and beneficial for the young ladies of the youth auxiliary. Most of the youth chapter members brought to the refuge had never been to one before and did not know what to expect. 

Sorority member Colleen Green had a rich and rewarding experience in the nature photography workshop at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia.“I learned how to photograph the various aspects of plants and how to use the light to capture textures.  This experience helped me to gain a better appreciation for wildlife photography and the skills required to capture a winning picture.” Colleen said.“I would encourage others to take time to explore your local nature areas and to search the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service Website to find out about the community service activities and educational  opportunities they offer.”

It is important to expose our youth to a wide range of activities to diversify their interests. Maybe a child would have an interest in something like wildlife photography if they had a chance to learn about it. It is 2018 and we are still working toward African-Americans having representation in every field and aspect of life. It is important to show our youth that they can accomplish anything that they put their mind to and the color of their skin does not determine what they do or where they will end up in life.

 Zeta Phi Beta Sorority members and their youth auxiliaries took a step out of their comfort zone and into the wild! So many were able to partake in so many new experiences and make memories at national wildlife refuges. From learning the different types of flowers and birds to identifying animals and going on scavenger hunts, it’s safe to say that the members will be returning for some more natural fun! One can take inspiration from these "finer women" enthusiastic about making strides in exposing minority youth to nature and the great outdoors.

More Doves in the Wild

Doves in the Wild: Time to Take Our Seat at the Conservation Table

 Group of people with nets  Dr. Mary Breaux Wright, past international president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. looks at what they netted in a pond at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, along with fellow Sorority members and their families. Photo by Stephanie Martinez/USFWS

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 providing her perspectives, and those of her Sorority sisters, on conservation and experiencing nature.

Nature, Wildlife and the Great Outdoors. Many people hear these words come out as Dirt, Bugs and Wild Animals. I know that’s what many of you are thinking because that’s what I thought before interning at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I don’t like getting dirty (especially my shoes).  I have a low tolerance for bugs and I fear wild animals. However after working here, I see things differently, and I’m going to tell you why you should, too. 

Not having a relationship with nature and wildlife is a longstanding problem in the black community. Traditionally, black folks are not known as “outdoorsy” people. This attitude can be linked to our history in this country. Yes, black people have equal rights, but we are still fighting the lasting effects of an era of legalized racism. Now that we have the freedom to visit public lands and engage in nature conservation, why are we not jumping at the opportunity?

A survey by the National Park Service reported that 96 percent of their visitors are white. While it is disappointing to hear that people of color are not accessing and enjoying public lands, there is some rationale behind this statistic.

 MLK speaking with flag background

The year 1964 was a significant one  for the black community because of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The same year the Wilderness Act became law, protecting designated lands from human disturbance. It’s understandable if blacks were slightly apathetic to the advancements of nature and wildlife conservation during that time. Even though the Civil Rights Act was passed, blacks still had a long way to go. Discrimination was still alive and well, it was just deemed illegal.

Fast forward 54 years and our nation's race relations are still not great but have improved tremendously. It is now time for people of color to become more involved in the outdoors and wildlife conservation. We must work toward dispelling the stereotype that blacks are not interested in the outdoors and encourage others to visit public lands. We need to diversify every aspect of America and make our presence known.

We do this not just for us but for future generations. Nature does provide a beautiful and refreshing change of scenery, and it sustains us with clean air and water. But in many ways, conservation is  about our future generations. The decisions being made now about nature conservation will directly affect our children and their children.

Just as our ancestors fought to give us a better life, each of us must fight for our descendants to be exposed to something many of us weren't. Teach them to appreciate the natural beauty of our country and how to help conserve the life that grows from it.  People of color fought hard for a seat at the table. Now it's time we make the most of it.

More Doves in the Wild

Reintroduced Last Week, Miami Blue Butterflies Are Already Mating

 2 Miami blue butterflies   on a plant

Groups work on restoring two federally endangered butterflies—Schaus’ swallowtails and Miami blues—to three state parks in the Florida Keys. 

By Ken Warren, External Affairs, Southeast Region=

Not only are Miami blue butterflies—recently emerged from their chrysalises—flitting around Long Key State Park in the Florida Keys, they’re also mating.

Just this week staff and volunteers from the Florida Museum of Natural History documented approximately 21 adult Miami blues, including four mating pairs and one female laying eggs. They also found eggs on host plants at Long Key. (At left, Miami blues mating at Long Key. Photo by Sarah Cabrera/Florida Museum of Natural History.)

Reintroduction Starts

   brown, white and orange butterfly on white flowersAdult Schaus' swallowtail butterfly. Photo by Jaret Daniels/Florida Museum of Natural History

It all got started last week when several volunteers, biologists and researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History/University of Florida, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started the work of reintroducing two federally endangered butterflies—Schaus’ swallowtails and Miami blues—to three state parks in the Florida Keys.

   blue-gloved hands Show caterpillar on plant

Among the crew-members were museum staffers Jaret Daniels and Kristin Rossetti.

Rossetti couldn’t believe her eyes after watching a voracious eater: “I just put him on the leaf and he’s already eating! These little critters are hungry!”

“Yeah, they’re essentially eating machines,” chimed in Daniels.

Those “little critters” and “eating machines” were Schaus’ swallowtail caterpillars placed on wild lime trees at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. (At right, Schaus’ swallowtail caterpillar. Photo by Ken Warren/USWS.)

On July 23, approximately 300 Schaus’ swallowtail caterpillars were released at John Pennekamp Park and Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park.

   2 people in teal T-shirts kneel over and work on small white tubes Matt Standridge and Kristin Rossetti prepare Miami blue pupae in protective containers for reintroduction. Photo by Geena Hill

The next day, about 150 Miami blue butterfly chrysalises were placed on Long Key State Park. These tiny chrysalises—about the size of a small aspirin—were distributed in specially designed “predator proof” plastic chambers that should enhance survivability and allow the butterflies to emerge into the habitat naturally. The early results suggest the chambers are working.

“These releases are allowing us to experimentally determine which life stages (caterpillar or chrysalis) and protocols are most successful for augmenting or reintroducing populations of endangered butterflies in South Florida,” said Daniels, associate professor of entomology at the University of Florida and director of the museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.

Butterfly Decline

   3 men—2 with bright blue gloves, one with caterpillar on hand—before a leafy treeJaret Daniels, Paul Rice and Mark Salvato place Schaus' swallowtail caterpillars into a wild lime tree. Photo by Ken Warren/USWS

Both species are currently restricted solely to extreme South Florida and represent some of the most critically imperiled insects in North America. This collaborative recovery effort is intended to help reverse decades of population declines by bolstering wild numbers and expanding areas currently occupied by these unique creatures.

A few years ago, scientists and butterfly enthusiasts were preparing obituaries for these butterflies. While they’re still considered critically endangered species, things are looking up for these rare insects.

There were only four Schaus’ swallowtail butterflies observed in the wild in 2012. Collaborative conservation (including habitat restoration, captive rearing and earlier reintroductions) and some natural rebounding has put them in a much better situation.

“This past year we observed several hundred Schaus’ across Key Largo and on Biscayne National Park. We’re hopeful that the reintroductions we’re doing will continue to boost those numbers,” said Daniels.

   butterfly on yellow flower; top side of wing is blue; bottom is whit, brown, black Adult Miami blue butterfly. Photo by Jaret Daniels/Florida Museum of Natural History

In 2011 things were so bad for Miami blue butterflies that the Service issued an emergency listing to protect them. The emerge ncy listing was followed up in 2012 when the Service formally announced the listing of the Miami blues as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

Service biologist Mark Salvato said extremely low population numbers put these butterflies back on the radar and pushed partners to work harder to bring them back from the brink. “This has really been the most concerted effort I’ve seen since we did the emergency action,” he said.

‘Significant Progress’

Paul Rice, manager of John Pennekamp Park, said, “Our parks are some of the larger parcels of land, with lots of green space, plenty of host plants ... ideal for these releases. We want to do our part to help save these butterflies.”

The Schaus’ caterpillars have started pupating. Some will emerge from their chrysalises later this summer and others could emerge next spring. As previously noted, the Miami blue butterflies are emerging and already mating. The release sites are in for intensive post-release monitoring. “We’ll have good data, showing the success, hopefully, of this effort,” said Daniels.

Daniels added that this latest round of reintroductions will continue over the next several months. He believes that although these butterflies are currently on a positive trajectory, they’re a long way from declaring success. “We want to make sure that over the next several years we have persistent, viable and increasing populations. At this point we can say we’re making significant progress.”

Keeping Sea Otters Wild: Kayakers, Paddlers and Boaters Can Help

People using coastal waters play a vital role in giving sea otters the space they need to live and raise their young

Serenity in the slough video

Recently, an online video went viral showing a southern sea otter jumping into a kayak in coastal California. Most of us are thrilled at the prospect of being close to a beautiful wild animal, and videos like these may seem adorable and harmless. But did you know they can actually hurt sea otters? That’s because they encourage other people to seek out similar interactions. While aww-inspiring for sea otter lovers, too-close encounters like this could have unintended and tragic consequences for both sea otters and people.

   gathering of sea otters in waterSea otters interact in the mostly male "bachelor" raft in coastal California. Photo by Lilian Carswell/USFWS

Most of the time, sea otters will try to ignore or avoid people, but in areas where they’ve become used to high levels of human activity, they will sometimes approach boats or kayaks. Every time a sea otter is allowed to climb onto a boat or kayak, the behavior is reinforced, meaning it’s even more likely to happen again. A sea otter that loses its wildness will quickly become bold, potentially aggressive and possibly dangerous. Sea otters are related to wolverines, so it’s no surprise that they have a powerful bite, which they use to crack open clams and other invertebrates that they collect from the slough bottoms. A sea otter that has lost its natural fear of humans may have to be removed from the wild. This outcome is tragic, but the good news is that it’s preventable.

What to do

   kayakers paddling past ottersTo avoid disturbing resting sea otters, kayakers should stay at least five kayak-lengths away, which is about 20 meters or 60 feet, remain parallel to the animal(s) instead of pointing directly toward them, and keep moving slowly but steadily past them. Photo by Lilian Carswell/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Sea Otter Savvy ask that you follow these simple tips to keep yourself safe and sea otters wild:

  • If you are in an area where sea otters are known to be present, keep a safe distance. If the sea otter notices you, you are too close and should immediately back away.
  • To avoid disturbing sea otters, kayakers, paddle-boarders, boaters and other recreational users of coastal waters should stay at least five kayak-lengths away—about 20 meters or 60 feet—remain parallel to the animal(s) instead of pointing directly toward them, and keep moving slowly but steadily past the animals.
  • If a sea otter approaches your boat or kayak, the best and safest thing to do is to paddle away. Not only will you keep a safe distance—and encourage the sea otter to do the same—you’ll also increase your stability in the water. Having a 60-pound wild animal climb onto your stationary kayak could tip you into the water.
  • If paddling away does not discourage the sea otter and it attempts to climb onto your kayak, use your paddle to block access.
  • otter on back in water   A southern sea otter settles down to rest in a small patch of Egregia (feather boa kelp) near the north jetty in Moss Landing. Just like people, sea otters need copious amounts of rest to build energy to find food and raise their young. Photo by Lilian Carswell/USFWS
  • Never try to pet a wild sea otter, or push or grab it with your hands.
  • If you’re on shore with your dog or another pet, keep your animal on a leash and never allow interactions, even if the animals appear to be playing.
  • Never feed sea otters or other wildlife. Wild animals that are fed can become aggressive.
  • Southern sea otters are listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act and are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits harassing, hunting, capturing or killing marine mammals. Approaching a sea otter so closely that it changes its behavior may constitute a violation of this law.
  • Be a good sea otter steward off the water. Recognize that videos and photos of habituated behavior may promote similarly inappropriate and dangerous interactions with wildlife in the future.

Your behavior can help protect and save sea otters!

   warning sign showing drawing of kayaker getting bitten by an otterSigns at Moss Landing Harbor in California encourage paddlers, kayakers and boaters to keep a safe distance from southern sea otters with this catchy limerick. Photo courtesy of Sea Otter Savvy

Check out our latest feature story, “Serenity in the slough: Sea otters lure the world to tiny coastal town,” which highlights how boaters, kayakers, paddleboarders  and others play a vital role in giving sea otters the space they need to live and raise their young. 

Learn more about Sea Otter Savvy, an educational program offering an organized and long-term approach to address human-caused disturbance to these remarkably charismatic and unique animals that once teetered on the edge of extinction. Sea Otter Savvy’s advisory panel includes staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Monterey Bay Aquarium. Complete viewing guidelines can be found here.

Let’s enjoy the recovery of sea otters – from a safe distance!

Cash in the Grass: How Partnerships Conserve Declining Songbirds in Montana

bird flying above grassland   A McCown’s longspur. Photo by WCS

Even for wildlife, money talks; or more accurately for America’s fastest declining group of species, it sings. So when $600,000 goes into the hands of eastern Montana ranchers to enhance and restore grassland habitats for their feathered neighbors, it’s a local investment that will yield regional and national benefits long into the future.

Species of grassland birds such as the Baird’s sparrow, chestnut-collared longspur, McCown’s longspur, and Sprague’s pitpit are experiencing steep population declines. They rely on grasslands like the ones found in Montana and North Dakota to breed and raise their young, then they migrate as far south as Texas and Mexico to spend the winter.

Marisa Sather is a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. She earned her PhD from the University of Montana in 2015 and is regarded by her community as the local authority on grassland birds. “What makes these birds special is not only the steepness of their population declines, which is disproportionate to other species, but also their restricted breeding and geographic ranges overall,” she says. “They only breed in the Northern Great Plains, whereas other species like the grasshopper sparrow occur across the Lower 48.”

Grasslands not only provide habitat for birds, they also provide forage for cattle. In Montana, approximately 63 percent of grassland habitats are privately owned. Here, families have worked as farmers and ranchers for generations, providing for themselves as well as the rest of us by supplying the food we consume. Across Phillips, Blaine, and Valley counties, approximately one in five employed people work in agriculture.

Leo Barthelmess is one of those people. A Montana native and third generation cattle rancher, Leo and his neighbors founded the Rancher’s Stewardship Alliance, a grassroots organization that pursues collaborative solutions to ranching and wildlife conservation concerns.  “There had always been wildlife on our ranch and so it was an interest of mine. Everything we’ve done [with Rancher’s Stewardship Alliance] has been built upon the principle that we can get more done together than separately,” he says.

For years, many of Leo’s ranching neighbors have participated in federal programs designed to benefit wildlife and boost agriculture, such as the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). For periods of 10 to 15 years, enrolled farmers receive a yearly rental payment in return for removing environmentally sensitive lands from agricultural production, supporting growth of native plants, and re-establishing land cover to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.

bird in grassland singing   A chestnut-collared longspur. Photo by Rick Bohn

However, as Marisa points out, the program is not a permanent solution for everyone. CRP contracts can’t be renewed. “In the next three years, a lot of these CRP contracts will expire, affecting hundreds of thousands of acres across Montana and North Dakota. That’s concerning because if you’re a landowner whose contract is expiring with no chance to renew, that’s annual income that you’re losing, and you have a decision to make.”

That decision can put the livelihoods of people and wildlife seemingly at odds.

“A lot of the CRP owners are elderly and they don’t have any viable alternative other than to sell the property to a neighboring farm that would need to plow it up again in order to farm more acres,” Leo explains. “Farming through economies of scale is one of the few ways to make money.”

Unsurprisingly, losing potential wildlife habitat to cropland doesn’t help the plight of the grassland songbird. So the Rancher’s Stewardship Alliance and their partners put in a grant application with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). NFWF accepted their application and awarded funds to help address two of the major financial hurdles associated with converting the expiring CRP cropland to rangeland: building fences and installing water sources.

   pool of water with pumpOne of the water tanks installed on previously enrolled CRP lands. A wildlife escape ramp was added after installation. Photo by USFWS

Well-timed grazing can be used as a land management tool to benefit songbirds by addressing an overabundance of non-native grasses. Species like crested wheatgrass grow in dense patches, decreasing the quality of songbird habitat by outcompeting native grasses. When the wheatgrass is intentionally grazed heavily early in the season, native grasses have a better chance at flourishing later on.

This is the second time the Rancher’s Stewardship Alliance has been awarded a NFWF grant, and Leo has already seen the benefits of the investment.

“We finished the fence last summer and the wetland last spring. We’ve had a lot of snow this winter and a massive amount of water coming through the drainage. The fence is still standing and the wetlands are full of water, so I’m really looking forward to having a better water source, which gives us a better ability to manage our grass in a sensitive livestock and wildlife area,” Leo says.

smiling woman holds bird

“The benefit to this approach is that you can make small investments in something like a fence and leverage that to affect conservation at a landscape scale,” Marisa (at right, during tagging of a Baird’s sparrow). “You’re not having to buy acres; the landowner is already managing them. All you need to do is support them staying profitable as a ranching operation.”

Being a good neighbor by investing in locally led, voluntary, community-driven efforts is the conservation business model of the Service and many of our partners. When we take proactive steps to effectively benefit at risk wildlife and local economies, together we can help to preclude the need to list species under the Endangered Species Act while conserving wildlife for future generations.

Jennifer Strickland, External Affairs, Mountain-Prairie Region



The Northern Great Plains Program was launched by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 2013. Major funding partners include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, a private foundation, and BNSF Railways. The program seeks to conserve, restore and improve one million grassland acres by 2026. Learn more at http://www.nfwf.org/greatplains/Pages/home.aspx.

Doves in the Wild: Zeta Phi Beta Members Embrace the Nature of America

line of people in the outdoors   Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.  visits Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland. 


symbol of dove

My name is Sierra Snyder and this summer I am interning at the headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Zeta Days at the Refuge initiative. Zeta Days is an initiative by the Service and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated (Our symbol is the dove at the left). It started in 2015 in an effort to bring more diverse groups to national wildlife refuges. Since its inception, hundreds of Zeta chapters along with their youth and auxiliary groups have visited refuge sites across the country!

Now here is a bit about myself...

I am 21 going on 22 and fresh out of Morgan State where I received my bachelor of science in strategic communications. I was initiated into the Gorgeous Gamma Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. in the fall of 2016 and I am a proud member of the greatest sorority in the world (I may be a little biased). While my experience with nature and wildlife may be limited, I have already learned a lot about the importance of engaging in outdoor recreation and conservation on national wildlife refuges.

person crouches and looks at flower   Checking out the flowers at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

During my time at the Service, I will be blogging about the Zeta experiences at various refuge sites and why it is important for us and all Americans to engage in conserving wild spaces and its wildlife.

I hope that you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it and that we ALL can learn more about America’s beautiful outdoors. 

More Doves in the Wild

Tiger Stamp Spotlight: Preventing Rhino Poaching

 Silhouette of rhihni in sunset  Photo by Myriam Trausch/CITES Youth Photo Contest

How Americans Like You Have Helped Make This Project Possible

Tiger StampProjects such as this one would not be possible without the funding generated from proceeds of sales of the “Save Vanishing Species Stamp,” also known as the “Tiger Stamp.” Through programs administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tiger Stamps have helped fund projects that benefit tigers, sea turtles, great apes, rhinos and elephants in 35 countries. Since 2011, purchases of stamps have generated more than $4.7 million in funding for international conservation projects. Learn more and purchase Tiger Stamps from the U.S. Postal Service. Thank you for your support!


Outside, the rain is starting to fall, but the small house does not provide shelter for the on-duty ranger. Rain leaks through the 40 year-old, asbestos-ridden hatch roof. There is no electricity or hot water. Rusty pipes carry water to the facility and safe drinking water is not guaranteed. While the living conditions are typical, the ranger enforces more than regular park regulations. Part of a Rhino Protection Unit (RPU) in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozI Park (HiP), the ranger is one of an incredible team of people protecting the park’s endangered rhino populations from poachers.

Hluluhwe-iMfolosi, in the province of  KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), is synonymous with rhino conservation – it was here that South Africans found the last surviving population of southern white rhinos. Whereas international tourists come to KZN to see rhinos, poachers come in search of rhino horn. Although rhino horn is made of keratin, the same substance as human fingernails, poachers will kill rhinos for their horns because people mistakenly believe the horns have medicinal powers. By the early 1960s and 1970s, both black and white rhinos were hunted to dangerously low numbers throughout Africa. Threats to rhinos are so great that to minimize the information available to poachers, specific data on HiP’s rhino population is confidential.

However, through ambitious anti-poaching campaigns and reintroduction programs, the rhino population increased and was reintroduced to sites where rhinos had gone locally extinct. Thanks to good custodianship, dedicated individuals and strong political will, South Africa was able to increase its rhino population from fewer than 100 to more than 20,000 individuals. White rhino populations grew to the point that they became the founder population for all other southern white rhino populations in existence today. Field rangers patrol the park to provide on-the-ground protection for the rhinos. The rangers are committed to defending the park’s habitat and species, and enforcing regulations within the park. They are also able to arrest violators.

During the rhino’s recovery, rhino poaching was low; however in 2007, poaching began to rise again and is still an issue.

    rhino coming out of grass with birds on his backA southern white rhino in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. Photo by Brian Miller/Creative Commons

Unfortunately, the overwhelming price tag for greater enforcement on an already strained budget left many facilities understaffed or in disrepair. Little funding exists for facility repairs, let alone funding for equipment upkeep or for the rangers’ salaries. Instead, many rangers work long hours in difficult conditions for minimal pay. To defend the park, rangers have to forfeit time with their families in order to commit additional hours to patrol, often at night. A restful night’s sleep has become a luxury for the rangers. These conditions lower not only the rangers’ morale and comfort, but also their ability to effectively combat rhino poachers.

 Man on short scaffold rapairing windowWindow repair on a facility. Photo by Save the Rhino International

The rangers are effective, they just need more resources

Working with Save the Rhino International and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided funds from Tiger Stamps for crucial repairs for the rangers’ equipment and facilities. The funds helped to renovate existing buildings and water supply facilities, and to pay for the installation of solar panels. Now, rangers are able to live in dry buildings equipped to provide them with safe drinking water, hot water and electricity so that they are able to use small electric appliances. Additionally, the funds helped upgrade the rangers’ tracker dog kennels to improve living conditions and safety for the dogs. Tracker dogs Gunner and Phoenix can continue their deployment without fear of predation.

   Tracker dog with handler Tracker dog Gunner with his handler. Photo by Save the Rhino International

While these changes improved the level of comfort and ranger morale, the funding also enhanced the rangers’ ability to protect rhinos. Funds from the Tiger Stamp helped purchase vehicles and equipment, such as a Toyota Hilux 4X4, new tires and a new spotter plane. Rangers are now better able to monitor existing rhino populations by tracking the black rhinos, conducting number counts for white rhinos, and widening the scope of their land coverage for carcass detection. Better transportation has also increased the efficiency of ranger response teams and improved the ability of rangers to track poacher movements. The spotter plane especially has been effective in guiding ground teams towards rhinos in need, such as toward orphaned or poached rhinos. Reinvigorated, the rangers can deploy for longer, working to preserve the park’s rhino population and biodiversity as a whole.

Yet, the rangers continue to face challenges. Poaching in HiP has increased tenfold. Within the broader context of South Africa, poachers have shifted their focus toward KZN. Even with the improvements from the project, the rangers face safety concerns. The worsening situation will continue to strain the rangers and their resources, necessitating further assistance. The rangers have committed to helping keep rhinos safe.  Our funds can help keep rangers safe. 

This story was written by Deborah Kornblut, an intern with the Service’s International Affairs Program.

From Dust to Lush: Wyoming Partnerships Take Lessons from the Past to Build a Greener Future

   black and white photo of house with windmill on top, surrounded by dirt, dying plantsA homestead during the Dust Bowl. Photo by Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress.

Sometimes, we really do learn from our mistakes.

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl taught Americans a painful lesson: when we mistreat our soil, our plants and our land through unsustainable practices, the land reacts in-kind, and we pay the price. In response to the Dust Bowl crisis, the federal government purchased nearly 5 million acres of damaged lands in order to rehabilitate them, and thus the system of National Grasslands was born.

“Some of the lands that were repaired and restored were sold off. Those are the ones that are privately owned today,” says Mark Hogan, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Wyoming. “Many were never sold off because they were so damaged at the time, but today they’ve become productive.”

The farming, ranching and scientific community now know that in prairies and pastures, grass with healthy root systems is essential to sustain healthy, nutrient-rich soil that stays put and doesn’t blow away. Today, the U.S. Forest Service manages the National Grasslands and issues leases to established grazing associations, who then provide permits to their members to allow their cattle to graze. Cattle belonging to members of the Spring Creek Grazing Association use portions of the Thunder Basin National Grassland in northeastern Wyoming.  In April, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department was awarded $150,000 in grant funds by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help the association make rangeland improvements that benefit owners of working lands while conserving local wildlife.

“We are encouraged by the support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the opportunity to collaborate with the grazing association to improve range conditions and wildlife habitat,” says the project’s lead, Todd Caltrider with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “By improving grazing distribution with rangeland grazing infrastructure, we can better manage cattle to get the wildlife habitat value that we would like to see on the landscape.”

This practice, called “rotational grazing,” takes its cues from history by mimicking how the land was used by roaming bison. The bison would arrive, graze the grass, then move on. Their nomadic nature and foraging patterns resulted in a diversity of grass heights across the prairie, providing a variety of habitats for many grassland species. The period of rest the grass received between grazing events gave it time to recuperate, which is essential in order to maintain strong root systems underground; something the Dust Bowl taught us is necessary to sustain a healthy soils.

   herd of cowsCurious cattle. Photo by Krista Lundgren/USFWS

“If you can manage a site that will allow plants time to rest and recover, you can improve the health of the rangeland, have more production, and increase carrying capacity for both wildlife and livestock. It’s a win-win for the producers and wildlife,” says Mark, who is also member of the project team.

Improving the availability of water is another key to any habitat improvement project, because whether you’re a herd of mule deer or a herd of cattle, you need water. “By adding livestock watering systems and cross-fencing, landowners can better implement a rest rotation grazing system that allows for better control of rangeland utilization,” Todd says. This also relieves pressure on the natural gulches where rainwater collects, giving them a chance to recover and regrow grass.

That bodes well for one of Wyoming’s most celebrated species, the greater sage-grouse. Often found on private lands during the summer, grouse appear at grassy gulches to drink, nest, feast on bugs and raise their young.  “This is in our sage-grouse core area. It’s been identified as prime sage-grouse habitat, so that makes it a priority area for us,” Todd says.

   far off photo of greater sage-grouse at a lek A greater sage-grouse lek in the Thunder Basin National Grassland. Photo by Christi Painter/Forest Service

In addition, the team will be assessing portions of the 150 miles of Dust Bowl era woven wire and barbed wire fencing. “They’re a barrier to big game migration and a threat to greater sage-grouse,” Mark says. New, wildlife-friendly fences that big game can slide under or leap over will be built in more preferable locations for the ranchers. Plus, if the biologists spot a patch of troublesome cheatgrass along the way, they’ll treat it.

Mark views the project as an opportunity to benefit wildlife and to build trust within a community. “This is important for us and really exciting,” he says. “The grazing association has not worked with such a broad coalition of conservation partners, especially wildlife agencies and non-governmental organizations, so we need to pull it off right.”

“There’s definitely a need for this project and I’m excited to see the changes in the ecosystem,” Todd says. “I’ve been working with Mark about three years and his experience with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has been helpful, because this grant is different from what Wyoming Game and Fish typically works with.”

The Dust Bowl was time in American history that forced us to not only accept failure, but to collaborate, innovate, and rely on science to guide us toward greener pastures. When we take the time to respect the land, its creatures, and to learn from our mistakes, together we build a better future for wildlife and people alike.

  rollung green field A portion of the project site. Photo courtesy of Todd Caltrider/Wyoming Game and Fish Department

JENNIFER STRICKLAND, External Affairs, Mountain-Prairie Region

The Northern Great Plains Program was launched by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 2013. Major funding partners include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, a private foundation, and BNSF Railways. The program seeks to conserve, restore and improve one million grassland acres by 2026. Learn more at http://www.nfwf.org/greatplains/Pages/home.aspx.

Protect Yourself and Wildlife From Fire

   an owl flies over a wildfireAn owl hunts over a prescribed burn safely conducted at Matagorda Island along the Texas Gulf Coast within Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Planned burns help reduce wildfire risk and improve habitat for wildlife. Photo by Jeff Adams/USFWS.

The 2018 wildfire season is already challenging firefighters with no end in sight. Wildland fire specialists are beginning to use the term "Fire Year" instead of "Fire Season" because fire activity is occurring year-round. 

Here are some ways you can help:

Protect People During Wildfires

It is critical for families and communities to have escape plans and materials ready in the event of an emergency evacuationNever fly unmanned remote-controlled aircraft near fires – this can endanger firefighters!

Protect Refuges from Wildfire

During lightning-caused wildfires or planned prescribed burns that mimic natural fire cycles, wildlife know how to seek safety in holes or moist areas until the fire passes, and later enjoy the benefits of rejuvenated habitat.  How we manage fire on refuges.

But approximately 95 percent of all wildfires on national wildlife refuges are started accidentally by people. These unnaturally timed wildfires cause unnecessary risks to visitors, wildlife and nearby communities.

Only people can prevent unwanted human-caused wildfires. Whether it’s ensuring a campfire or landscape debris burn of leaves and branches is completely extinguished, or keeping a vehicle well maintained to prevent sparks, following just a few simple steps can help prevent wildfires.

Fire Prevention How-tos:

Protect Your Home from Wildfire

Every year many families unnecessarily lose their homes and possessions to wildfire. You can minimize these losses by becoming aware of fire safety measures and taking steps to maintain a survival space.  

Things You Can Do Today:

  • Spring Cleaning: Clean roof surfaces and gutters of pine needs, leaves, branches, etc., regularly to avoid accumulation of flammable materials.
  • Pruning Trees: Remove branches from trees to height of 15 feet, and remove portions of any tree extending within 10 feet of the flue opening of any stove or chimney.
  • Landscaping: Space vegetation so that fire cannot be carried to the structure or surrounding vegetation. Clear an area with no burnable material around all structures and propane tanks.  Locate picnic tables and firewood away from buildings
  • Fuel storage:  Store gasoline in an approved safety can away from occupied buildings. Locate propane tanks far enough away from buildings for valves to be shut off in case of fire.  
  • Driveway maintenance: Post street address clearly at all intersections and on structures. Widen all entry roads and driveways to at least 16 feet. Ensure your home has at least two different entrance and exit routes.
  • Daily living. Keep garden hoses connected to spigots. Make a habit of backing into parking spaces, which affords more visibility for exiting.

More Entries