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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Do One Thing to Sustain Life

World Wildlife Day logo

Celebrated yearly on March 3, the date the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed in 1973, World Wildlife Day has been set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness of the importance of conserving wild plants and animals. More importantly, World Wildlife Day is a call to action for everyone to do at least one thing every day to help conserve wildlife.

The theme of World Wildlife Day 2020 is “Sustaining all life on earth,” not just us humans or the myriad of animal- and plant-based products we use. As all the components of the world’s biodiversity are interconnected, each of us must get involved in helping sustain all animals and plants, even those that are geographically far away and unfamiliar to us.

 World Wildlife Day poster

Everyone is impacted by how we sustain life on earth, starting with those closest to and most dependent on nature. While it may not be immediately apparent, particularly in urban areas where most of us live, the livelihoods of billions of people throughout the world depend directly on how they sustain animal and plant life. And since all of us need clean air, water, food, clothes, shelter, medicine, energy and more, all of us depend indirectly on how animal and plant life is sustained. It is in all of our best interests to get involved

How can you get involved? To learn more, you can visit the World Wildlife Day website where you will find a variety of outreach materials, including posters, a social media kit and a video. The social media kit includes information about the value of wildlife, threats faced by wildlife and the importance of sustainability.

You can also learn more at our website. Within the Service, the International Affairs Program and the Office of Law Enforcement implement and enforce CITES in the United States.

To gain an increased appreciation for wildlife, you can visit a National Wildlife Refuge near you.

  Tiger Stamp

With increased awareness often comes increased responsibility to take action. The World Wildlife Day website includes suggestions of things all of us can do. If all of us do one positive thing, we will help the planet and all animal and plant life on it.

To consume responsibly, seek to buy sustainably sourced products. In sharing knowledge, encourage others not to buy products that harm threatened or endangered species. After visiting a nearby refuge, think about volunteering or joining a Friends Group. Consider using the Save the Vanishing Species Stamps sold by the U.S. Postal Service. Instead of paying 50 cents for a stamp, you pay 65 cents and the additional 15 cents goes to help endangered animals around the world. Through the purchases of the stamps, Americans have contributed $5.7 million since 2011 to support worldwide conservation.

 vulture on rocky groundA hooded vulture in Zambia's Kafue National Park. Photo by Wynand Uys/Creative Commons | Video Showcases Threat Wildlife Trafficking Poses to Vultures 

The purpose of World Wildlife Day is to increase both awareness and action. Any and every thing each of us does can make a difference. If everyone does something, the sum total of all our actions will help sustain life on earth, including our lives and those of our children and grandchildren. Thanks for doing your one thing today and every day to enjoy, celebrate and sustain all life!

By Edward Stoker, External Affairs

It’s a First: Ocelot Crosses Under the Road

black and white photo of ocelot entering underpass

On January 25, a remote camera captured the first-ever ocelot using an ocelot underpass in the United States, a tribute to the long-term planning, hard work and scientific research of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) in the name of ocelot roadway safety. 

TXDOT installed the underpass the ocelot used, along FM106, a road that runs through and adjacent to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, home to one of only two populations of ocelots in the United States.

OM331, a 5-year-old male ocelot, crossed beneath the FM106 roadway, perhaps starting the dispersal process or maybe just exploring his range’s boundaries. Photographed approaching the same underpass on January 17, he took more than a week to actually use the underpass to travel to the other side of the road -- without ever needing to cross the road surface! Given the high risk of vehicle-collisions to ocelots that travel onto roadways, the use of underpasses and other crossing structures to keep ocelots off of roadways is crucial to reducing ocelot mortalities caused by vehicles and supporting ocelot conservation in South Texas.

In 2013, the two agencies came together to develop plans to build eight underpasses on FM 106 during a roadway rehabilitation project. Construction started in November of 2015 and underpasses were completed mid-summer 2019. These underpasses have been monitored using remote cameras during the project by USFWS and TXDOT.  Many  South Texas species -- alligators, armadillos, bobcats, coyotes, javelina, long-tailed weasels, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and tortoises to name a few -- have made great use of the underpasses.

TXDOT and USFWS look forward to continuing to improve the safety of motorists and wildlife by keeping wildlife safely off roads.

Save Vanishing Species Stamps are Back


After a hiatus, the Save Vanishing Species Stamp is now on sale again online and at post offices. Purchases of the stamp help support conservation projects for endangered elephants, rhinos, tigers, great apes and sea turtles. To date, 99 projects in 35 countries have been funded to help protect these beloved, yet highly threatened species. More than 50 million "Tiger Stamps" have been sold to date, raising $5,740,478 million for the MultiNational Species Funds FWS administers.

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Volunteer Honored for 35,000 Hours of Service

 man in snow with trashbag, wearing camo helmet  Carl Zenger cleans a wood duck box at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

Refuge volunteer Carl Zenger, 81, was recently honored by Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, NY for devoting a record 35,000 volunteer hours to the refuge over the past 23 years. Thomas Roster, manager of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge Complex, praised Zenger for his remarkable achievement. “For someone to provide this incredible number of hours, days and years of giving is just hard to imagine!” he said. “Carl's contribution goes way beyond a sum of hours; it means birds banded, habitats managed, facilities maintained, and kids educated.”

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National Wildlife Refuges with Ties to African American History

men at a water pump   The Civilian Conservation Corps at Bombay Hook Refuge. Photo courtesy of Creation of a Legacy:  The Story of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Bombay Hook – 1938 to 1942


As we celebrate the many contributions of African Americans and African American culture to the United States during National African American History Month in February, let us take a moment to recognize the National Wildlife Refuges with ties to African American history.


Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge – What is now the refuge housed one of the 143 segregated Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps from 1936-1941. Even though segregated, African American workers received the same pay and benefits as other CCC workers. White River was the only CCC camp that was a floating camp where CCC enrollees operated former Corps of Engineers’ quarterboats throughout the rivers surrounding the refuge. This was the easiest way for the CCC enrollees to maneuver over the refuge and have access to areas inaccessible by land.

   man shake older woman's hand


Lape-Read House (Salt Meadow) at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge – The home of Esther Lape (seen, shaking hands with Assistant Secretary of the Interior Nathaniel P. Reed during the ceremony to create Salt Meadow National Wildlife Refuge) and her partner Elizabeth Read was frequented by Eleanor Roosevelt as early as the 1920s when the three first met, and the visits continued even during Roosevelt’s time as First Lady. Many of the discussions at the home centered on women’s rights and desegregation. The refuge interprets the Lape-Read House for visitors.


Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – As with Dale Bumpers White River Refuge, Bombay Hook Refuge housed a segregated CCC camp around 1937-‘38 that housed 12 men. Enrollees focused on clearing wood swamps and building a causeway to separate Shearness and Finis pools. They also created three freshwater impounds, planted trees, and built headquarters buildings, a boathouse, a marine railway, an observation tower, and a manager’s and patrolman's houses. Bombay Hook Refuge was the only segregated unit in Delaware.


St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge — The refuge was home to a segregated CCC camp from 1933-1942. The enrollees worked on various improvements to the refuge under the auspices of the Bureau of Biological Survey (from 1940 on, the Fish and Wildlife Service). The camp was briefly closed in 1934 because of a malaria outbreak and then relocated near Woodville, Florida. Camp workers made a number of improvements at the refuge, including constructing Lighthouse Road, building earthen levees to create large water impoundments for waterfowl and clearing more than 20 miles of firebreaks.  As part of its Lighthouse interpretation, the refuge talks about CCC history. 


Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge — Evidence from Peru Plantation, which included a large portion of present-day Harris Neck Refuge, in the form of original photographs, maps and house foundations, show settlements created by original and current Gullah Geechee (freed Creole communities) descendants.

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Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge – The refuge commemorates African American conservation efforts. As a youth, Holt Collier became a skilled tracker and hunter. He was a local celebrity and even organized a hunting trip for President Theodore Roosevelt, who called Collier the best tracker he had ever known. It was Collier and his trackers who located and held a bear for the president, who then refused to shoot a restrained animal. The event was the birth of the Teddy’s bear story. Collier remained a figure of importance in the community.

South Carolina

Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge — A Civil War-era plantation that now serves as refuge headquarters and the visitor center, Jehossee was owned by the William Atkins family until acquired by the Service. It has extensive ruins of slave quarters, a number of which later were used by the plantation's African American tenants. At The Grove Plantation House, which was owned by John Berkeley Grimball, Adam Deas (one of his former slaves) grew rice more successfully than contracted "white" hands. Deas lived in the nearby Willtown community, an African American community that is still present.

Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge – Evidence, in the form of original maps and photographs showing houses and demarcating the extent of land for the community along with remains of house foundations and roads, documents the presence of original and current Gullah Geechee (freed Creole communities) descendants.

  photo of a woman

Virginia and North Carolina

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge – The swamp served as a “safe” area on the Underground Railroad, meaning escaped slaves could hide and rest before continuing their trek or even stay and live in the small but thriving community that found a home deep inside the swamp. The history and archaeology of these communities is well-documented and refuge staff share the story. (At left, Harriet Tubman)


Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge — The refuge includes a portion of the Harriet Tubman National Monument. It contains wetlands and forests similar to those of the mid-19th century that provided protection to freedom seekers as they followed the rivers northward, hid in the forests and marshes, foraged for food and struggled through water to throw pursuers off their trail. Knowledge of the terrain was vital to survival while hiding and fleeing to freedom. Several escapes did occur within the refuge boundaries, and refuge visitors learn about them.


Venture Smith Homestead at Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge –After 30 years of slavery, Venture Smith purchased his own freedom in 1765 for 70 pounds and 3 shillings. He subsequently purchased his remaining family’s freedom and soon after settled on land that is now within the Salmon River Division of Conte Refuge. At his death, Smith owned more than 100 acres, three homes and several profitable businesses.

New Stamps Showcase Orchids Native to United States

   sheet of 10 postage stamps of orchidsPhoto by U.S. Postal Service

On February 21, the U.S. Postal Service celebrates the exotic beauty of orchids with the release of 10 new Forever stamps, each featuring a photograph of a native U.S. species, including: California lady's slipper (Cypripedium californicum)crested coralroot orchid (Hexalectris spicata)showy lady's slipper (Cypripedium reginae), lady's tresses (Spiranthes odorata)nodding pogonia (Triphora trianthophoros)greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora)yellow cowhorn orchid (Cyrtopodium polyphyllum)tuberous grasspink (Calopogon tuberosus) and Eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea). The stamps were designed by Art Director Ethel Kessler using existing photographs taken by U.S. author and nature photographer Jim Fowler. The stamp series, called "Wild Orchids," will be unveiled at a ceremony in Coral Gables, Florida.

More than 400 orchid species are native to the United States and its territories. These fascinating plants occupy specialized habitats and have special relationships with pollinators and with soil fungi. Their beautiful flower shapes and colors serve the biological purpose of attracting specific pollinators to facilitate plant reproduction. Orchids are popular as houseplants and extracts taken from orchid plants are used in health and personal care products, as well as foods, such as vanilla. International trade of all orchids is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES. CITES is a treaty among more than 180 nations that regulates international trade in certain plant and animal species and their products to ensure that trade is not detrimental to the wild populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead agency implementing CITES in the United States. Most orchid species are included in CITES Appendix II and can be traded commercially, but commercial trade in a select few Appendix-I species and genera (none of which are U.S. native) is generally prohibited. The Eastern prairie fringed orchid is also protected as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (as amended).

By Dr. Patricia De Angelis, International Affairs Program

A Talk on the Wild Side Podcast: Conservation in Cities

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A Talk on the Wild Side

With 80 percent of Americans now living in urban areas, our challenge is to meet people where they are and become relevant in their daily lives. Without public awareness and support, our conservation mission will not succeed. To do this, we work with national and community partners to make opportunities accessible to as many people as possible, and create quality wildlife habitat where wildlife needs it, even if that’s in a city.

   FWS employee points out something to two kids with binocularsChicago biologist Shawn Cirton, teaching birding to two children in the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Photo by USFWS.

In this ‘Conservation in Cities’ episode of our podcast, we talked to three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff about the work they do in urban areas. We started in the Windy City of Chicago, where we talked to Louise Clemency, the Chicago Ecological Services Field Office Project Leader. The Chicago Urban Bird Treaty Program is celebrating its 20th year now, and Louise talked to us about the importance of the collaborative work being done in this incredibly busy bird area on the Mississippi flyway.

   man holds a big fishTim Loux holds a Lahontan cutthroat trout outside the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery in Nevada. Photo by USFWS

Then we moved to the Biggest Little City in the World – Reno, Nevada. We talked to Tim Loux at the Lahonton National Fish Hatchery Complex, and he told us about the fish passage partnerships and projects done on the Truckee River that opened up 41 miles of river habitat to the endangered Lahontan cutthroat trout.

woman in red shirt stands before 4 kids at a desk   Leah Schrodt is an FWS Interpretive Specialist that works at the Oregon Zoo Education Center. Photo by USFWS

Then we went over to the City of Roses on the West Coast, where Leah Schrodt talked to us about the innovative partnership and education programs at the Oregon Zoo in Portland. The high visibility of the Oregon Zoo provides an ideal venue to connect with an urban audience and talk about the important work of the Service and our conservation mission, and no one is better to do that than Leah, who was recently awarded the Service’s Sense of Wonder award. 

The future success of conservation ultimately lies in our ability to maintain our relevancy. This means we need to provide opportunities for Americans to connect with the outdoors and nature where they are to become stewards of the environment. There are many Service programs involved in urban wildlife conservation issues, including urban national wildlife refuges, urban wildlife conservation partnerships and urban bird treaty cities. And it was quite clear that there are some awesome projects and communities we are working with across the country, so we will definitely explore more of this work in a future podcast episode – stay tuned!  

Catching Cactus Crooks

   small cactus Living rock cactus, found in the Chihuahuan Desert of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, is prized by poachers. Photo by Al Barrus/USFWS

When someone mentions smuggling and the Southwest, cactus probably doesn’t pop to mind. However, black market cactus trade is a problem, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners are on it.

After years of investigation, four cactus traffickers recently were sentenced for their role in the illegal harvest, sale and/or transportation of living rock, a spineless cactus found only in the Big Bend region of southwestern Texas and northeastern Mexico.

The defendants were sentenced to a total of nine years of probation and one year of unsupervised probation. They also were ordered to pay $118,804 in fines and restitution, and forfeit 17 firearms. There are more defendants in the ongoing case.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents, Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Unit, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Sul Ross State University are collaborating on the years-long effort to stop the illegal harvest of living rock cactus.

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Eastern Black Rails, the ESA and the Powerful Tool that Supports Both

bird in a hand   A biologist holds an eastern black rail in southern Louisiana coastal wetlands. Photo by Brian Hires/USFWS

The eastern black rail is one of the planet’s most wide-ranging migratory birds, with many populations flying thousands of miles annually to marshlands across the United States and Latin America. It uses salt marshes, shallow freshwater marshes, wet meadows and other types of flooded grassy vegetation across this broad range for cover, forage and nesting.

Following population declines of as much as 90 percent, the eastern black rail was proposed for protection as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2018. Primary threats are the loss of its habitat across the United States and Latin America.

The bird is elusive, however. So much so that it even featured in the birding comedy The Big Year, as the only bird in North America the protagonists were unable to spot. It is so elusive that even dedicated biologists have difficulty locating and studying them, meaning that little had been known about them to date.

So how did the Service go about evaluating the status of this elusive wetland-loving bird?

Given that nearly half of all species protected under the ESA are wetland-dependent in some fashion, this is an important question for more than just the eastern black rail. Wetlands are home to countless fish, wildlife and plants—many of which are of significant commercial and recreational importance. These habitats are also critical to people. Wetlands recharge groundwater, mitigate flooding, provide clean drinking water, offer food and fiber, and support cultural and recreational activities.

The answer to the question involves some of the most highly visited Service webpages. Every week, thousands visit the Service’s National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) pages for detailed science, maps and statistics that are vital to their livelihoods. These stakeholders include scientists, city planners, citizens, landowners, developers, and decision-makers from local, state and federal governments, state wildlife agencies, conservation groups, industries and universities. Few outside this group of power users, however, know about this resource and its ability to bring American wetlands, wildlife and natural resources issues alive to anyone with a computer.

The NWI was initiated in 1974 to create the nation’s first comprehensive inventory of its wetlands and to monitor changes to ecosystems, wildlife habitats and natural resources.

3 people sit around in dark with measuring instruments in pack on grass   Biologists with Audubon Louisiana gather rail data. Photo by Brian Hires/USFWS

NWI’s geospatial dataset captures wetlands from coast to coast, providing information on water fluctuations, vegetation and soil type, salinity, proximity to lakes and rivers, and human modifications, such as ditching. Among other things, this allows biologists to assess habitat for wildlife and develop strategies for conserving species. It also allows planners and landowners to make better-informed decisions, which not only protect their bottom line but also support conservation.

The development of the eastern black rail Species Status Assessment (SSA), a foundational scientific document that informed the rail’s ESA decision, serves as a powerful example of the role key factors play in ESA work. To determine the status of the rail, Service physical scientist Rusty Griffin used NWI data to analyze its habitat. The dataset helped him identify the rail’s habitat needs and assess the current conditions of available habitat within the species’ range — all important SSA requirements.

To determine possible future habitat conditions, Griffin used data from NWI Wetlands Status and Trends reports. These reports represent some of the most important scientific and conservation documents on American wetlands. Wetlands Status and Trends reports, renewed every five to 10 years, have catalyzed billions of dollars worth of wetlands restoration and conservation efforts across America. They helped turn around the rapid loss of wetlands and related wildlife that began in the 1800s and continued until the 1950s. Using the Wetlands Status and Trends data, Griffin worked with FWS biologist Whitney Wiest to develop habitat projection models.

The resulting models predicted future population numbers for the eastern black rail by projecting extinction and colonization rates for sites currently occupied by the rail. The result was a science-based finding that the rail faced the possibility of extinction in the foreseeable future, spurring conservation actions and research that have had meaningful impacts.

While there is much more to be learned about the eastern black rail and changes to the diverse wetland habitats that they call home, the NWI will no doubt play a central role in these efforts.

“Conservation of wetlands is critical for countless species, especially long-distance travelers like migratory birds and waterfowl, and conservation begins with good science,” says Megan Lang, NWI’s chief scientist. “Maps of important habitat and information on how that habitat is changing, are essential for supporting conservation across large areas.

“Good science and resources like the NWI, Wetlands Mapper, and Status and Trends reports, which that are available to stakeholders and citizens at any time and outline…are also the foundation of conservation partnerships, sustainable planning and endangered species conservation,” adds Lang.

“After all, you can’t protect what you don’t know exists,” Lang says.

BILL KIRCHNER, Science Applications, Pacific Region, and BRIAN HIRES, External Affairs, Headquarters

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

'Tis the Season for the Christmas Bird Count 2019

Tufted TitmouseTufted titmouse. Photo by  Bill Thompson/USFWS


Christmas is only one day on the calendar for most people. For bird watchers, however, the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) can make “Christmas” a 23-day experience. Now in its 120th year, The CBC is one of the world’s longest-running citizen science efforts. The count takes place from December 14 to January 5 each year. It is organized into circles, and the goal is to count as many birds as possible in each circle on one day during the event, either on a predetermined route, or—with permission of the circle leader—even in participants’ back yards. Data are collected, compiled and used to learn about long-term bird trends. The data are free and publicly available, creating a great resource for scientists, students and managers.

The CBC began on Christmas Day, 1900.  Previously, many families would have Christmas hunting competitions-- known as side hunts--to see who could kill the most birds. Frank Chapman, and early Audubon officer, wanted to offer an alternative. The first count took place in 25 locations, from California to Canada, counting 90 species.  

In a time of growing awareness of bird conservation, the idea caught on. Today, there are thousands of bird circles, in all 50 states, and foreign countries, with tens of thousands of participants. Last year, more than 48 million birds were tallied!

Get Involved

By now, you might be wondering on how you can be a part of this tradition (if you aren’t already). It’s pretty simple--just find a circle near you, and get in touch with the circle lead to find out the day of the count and determine whether you will follow a route or participate at your home.

Some circles look for experienced bird watchers, while others are more open to the general public. Some circles pair novice bird watchers with more experienced people, making it a good way to develop your skills!  After the data are collected, it is sent you your compiler and added to the report. You are welcome to participate in as many circles as you wish 

Short-Eared Owl on Seedskadee NWR


Short-eared owl. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS 

National wildlife refuges from Alaska to Texas to New Jersey will be hosting Christmas Bird Counts, so be sure to check out wildlife refuges near you. Many others will include a national wildlife refuge along a route, combining the joy of bird watching with some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

 "The majority of refuges are within a Christmas Bird Count circle, which is wonderful because CBCs are one of the world's oldest examples of citizen scientists contributing to wildlife conservation," says Mike Carlo, National Wildlife Refuge System bird watching coordinator.

 Legendary biologist, founding author of the Golden Guides and 60-year U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee Chan Robbins had this to say about the CBC: “If we had not had a Christmas Bird Count in the early days, we would not have as strong an understanding of long term bird trends. Many of these changes take place gradually.”

 The holidays can be a busy season, but if you are considering starting a new tradition that gets you outside, contributes to bird conservation and understanding and helps build lifelong relationships, consider being a part of the Christmas Bird Count this year.

-- Chris Deets, Outreach and Education Coordinator, Migratory Bird Program

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