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A Talk on the Wild Side.

For Winter Adventures Off the Beaten Path, Visitor Center is Blazing a Trail

 Group with background of Northern Lights  Winter visitors enjoy the northern lights in Wiseman, a town near Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo by Jack Reakoff

Kristen Reakoff, Interpretive Park Ranger at Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, is no stranger to being off the beaten path. Kanuti Refuge straddles the Arctic Circle. But they do get visitors, and now have a new way to share information with them.

Blazing trails — that’s something we Alaskans and visitors to Alaska know a lot about. We love to traverse far and wide through wilderness, skiing, mushing or hiking. Why? Out there in the quiet and solitude of nature — we feel like we are the first ones to have explored an area — and we actually might be. The expression “blazing trails” was first used in the late 18th century to mean marking a forest trail by making blazes, or notches, in bark. Today, the term refers to breaking new ground or doing something with a pioneering spirit. It’s that pioneering spirit that is both fed by and helps protect Alaska’s unique wilderness and places like Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge.

But blazing trails isn’t just about being out in the wilderness — it’s about finding creative ways to connect people to the wonderful wild places of Kanuti Refuge. In the past few years, Kanuti Refuge staff, along with partners, blazed a special trail — providing winter-time visitor services in remote Coldfoot, Alaska.

Coldfoot Field Station   Coldfoot Field Station covered in snow. Photo by USFWS

Two years ago, as winter visitation was sharply increasing in the Brooks Range — an area near to our Coldfoot Field Station — our team realized the growing public need for winter visitor services. We could provide services such as information and interpretation about the nearby public lands (Kanuti, Yukon Flats and Arctic National Wildlife Refuges, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Dalton Highway Corridor).

We identified and carved out an underused area in the Kanuti Coldfoot Field Office, no bigger than a tiny Alaskan dry cabin (for us non-Alaskans, think an episode of Tiny House Hunters), and transformed it into a vibrant one-stop spot that provides winter visitor services—for the first time ever. Though the center is small, the vision behind it isn’t. Kanuti staff, partners and volunteers created the new center almost exclusively by recycling resources, using them in fresh ways to provide most of the visitor services any new visitor center would —just without the cost! Now in the second winter of being open to the public, our little center continues to see increasing visitation, and a growing need for additional public services.

Winter adventurers    Winter adventurers express their appreciation for the winter visitor center in Coldfoot, Alaska. Photo by USFWS

The winter visitor center will soon close as springtime takes hold, and we prepare to open the nearby Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, which is open from late May to early September. Before we open again next winter, we will complete improvements that will increase heating and electrical efficiency and provide visitors with a little more room. Until then, Kanuti Refuge staff will keep “blazing trails” for the conservation of this special Refuge. We look forward to seeing visitors next year at the winter visitor center and helping them blaze trails of their own.

Innovative Program Builds Partnerships, Provides Wildlife Habitat

   Dustin Taylor, Joshua Du Bose and border collieDustin Taylor, a pest management specialist from the Klamath Basin Refuge Complex, and Joshua Du Bose, manager of Horsley Farms, visit a section of wetland near Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Byrhonda Lyons/USFWS

After years of building trust and forming relationships with each other, we are working together with local farmers to improve wildlife habitat near the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in California and Lower Klamath Refuge on the California/Oregon border. Both refuges are located along the Pacific Flyway, and during spring and fall, the wetlands serve as resting stops for migrating birds and leftover grain from nearby farmers serves as the birds’ food.

Walking Wetlands

International Collaborations Needed to Help Cinnamon Teal

   Casey SetashColorado State University graduate student Casey Setash transports cinnamon teal ducks on Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado. Photo by USFWS

Steve Segin, in External Affairs in our Mountain-Prairie Region, talks to Colorado State University graduate student Casey Setash about the cinnamon teal.

The cinnamon teal does what many Americans do when the temperature drops: It heads to Mexico and Central America for some sun and fun. Since the bird spends half of the year south of the border; management of this enigmatic species requires international collaboration. 

“I think it’s always important to remember that cinnamon teal and other waterfowl are not just our birds here in the U.S.,” says Setash. “They don’t know international boundaries and require high quality habitat across those boundaries at each step of their lifecycle in order to survive.”

RELATED STORYBirds Beyond Borders

Setash has been conducting research into the breeding ecology of cinnamon teal. Her work compliments a nationwide banding program led by the Service to get a better understanding of the duck’s biology.

“The cinnamon teal is a priority species in the West and has traditionally been understudied,” says Dave Olson, a Service waterfowl biologist. “We have teams out working across the western United States, but having a graduate student dedicated to studying this duck will really help us make better conservation management decisions.”

Cinnamon Teal Seedskadee NWRCinnamon teal. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Setash says she has always had an interest in waterfowl, and it’s hard to say no to a duck as beautiful as the cinnamon teal. “What’s great about cinnamon teal is so little is known about them and the field is wide open to ask some really interesting question,” she says. 

Partnerships play an invaluable role in the research, with field support from several National Wildlife Refuges in Colorado, California, Oregon, Utah and Idaho, and state Wildlife Management Areas throughout the Intermountain West. Crews have banded more than 6,500 cinnamon teal since 2012. 

Setash has been conducting her research on Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. Her goal is to gather vital life history information on hen cinnamon teal nesting in the area. Once specific life history information is collected and analyzed, land managers can use informed information to take action that improve breeding habitat.

   teal with nasal marker

Cinnamon teal hen being fitted with a nasal disc on Monte Vista Refuge. This individual also has a band and a webtag on her right foot, indicating that she was marked as a duckling as part of an effort studying duckling survival. Photo by Casey Setash

As part of her research, Setash has placed more than 100 nasal discs on immature hens in hopes of determining their breeding site fidelity and wintering ground preferences. 

“If we know when the birds arrive and depart nesting and wintering areas, we can begin to form partnerships with the management agencies in those areas, as well as get a better understanding of what kind of habitat they’re cueing in on to potentially provide or preserve more of that habitat into the future,” says Setash “Placing the nasal discs on juvenile hens also allows us to see whether they are returning to the breeding grounds where they were born year after year to breed themselves.” 

The nasal discs, small plastic pieces of various colors and shapes, fit snugly on a wire going through the bird’s nostrils so individual ducks can be identified from relatively long distances.

Setash ensures that the nasal discs do not interfere with breathing, mobility or ability to forage.

“Each disk takes about three or four minutes to put on, and we make sure they’re snugly in place before releasing the hen,” she says. “Other than that, it’s simply a matter of getting people to report them to the correct agencies.” 

   teal

The cinnamon teal hen sporting a nasal disc spotted by David Molina in Nayarit, Mexico. Photo by David Molina

Recently, a biologist in Nayarit, Mexico, was able to do just that. David Molina, an independent biologist conducting water bird surveys, spotted something out of the ordinary: a female cinnamon teal marked with nasal discs. “It was a surprising observation,” he says. Molina was able to reach out to biologists working for the Service’s Sonoran Joint Venture, who passed on word of his finding. It was determined that this bird was banded at Monte Vista on August 24, 2016.

“What’s great about this sighting is that this juvenile successfully completed her first fall migration to Nayarit – nearly 1,400 miles from Colorado,” says Setash.

Partnerships with people like Molina not only provide insight into migration ecology and wintering habitat use, but also strengthen international ties pivotal for the conservation of migratory birds.

Setash has a final plea: “I’m sure birders in Mexico and Central America have seen some of these birds and had no idea why they were marked with small plastic discs, but didn’t know who to tell or that it might be important. That’s why it’s so essential that we get the word out about this and recover any and all information about these birds that we can,”

 

Dam Removal Starts with a Bang

Moving earth and stonePhoto by Mark Davis/USFWS

On March 28, a large yellow machine with a pile driver affixed to its arm clanked onto the concrete shoulder of lock and dam No. 6 on the Green River in Kentucky. Its operator lifted the driver, a slender length of steel ending in a point. He aimed it at a spot where workers had toiled to build a wall a century earlier.

Bang!

Thus did the first step in a project to restore the Green to its natural boundaries begin. It likely will continue for a couple of weeks until the dam is gone, the water flows freely again.

Beneficiaries include fish, freshwater mussels, anglers, boaters 

Eggs!

sora nestA sora nest lies in a shallow marsh at Morris Wetland Management District in Minnesota. Morris is one of 38 wetland management districts in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Photo by Sara Vacek/USFWS

Spring is here, Easter and Passover are near, and eggs are resting in nests at national wildlife refuges from coast to coast. This week’s National Wildlife Refuge System photo essay, Eggs!, explores distinctive characteristics of bird eggs with Paul Baicich, co-author of Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds.

mure eggSome eggs, like this common murre egg at Selawik National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, are pyriform: pear-shaped and pointed. Photo by Brandon Saito/USFWS  

Baicich points out that some eggs are pyriform (pear-shaped and pointed), and as a result, are less likely to roll away than oval eggs are. If pyriform eggs are knocked or start rolling, they will roll in a circle.

snake eating an eggA bullsnake preys on a mallard nest at Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

As Baicich notes eggs in nests face considerable hazards. Predators and extreme weather conditions threaten the survival of eggs. Birds must protect incubating eggs from cats, snakes, foxes, weasels, skunks and raccoons. Often, the most aggressive predators are not native to an area. Extreme weather, flooding, drought, heat, cold and loss of habitat to human development and agriculture also adversely affect nesting success.

WisdomWisdom, a Laysan albatross and the oldest known bird in the wild, cares for an egg at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Wisdom is at least 66 years old and has raised at least eight chicks since 2006. Photo by Kristina McOmber/Kupu Conservation Leadership Program

 Eggs! 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.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge HQ Area Opens in Time for Harney County Bird Fest

Malheur National Wildlife RefugeA stunning sunrise at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Brent Lawrence/USFWS | MORE PHOTOS

It’s spring and the snow has been replaced by snow geese at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The trees and flowers are blooming again and, as if on cue, the birds are making their return just in time for the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival on April 6-9.

“The birds are coming back, and they’ll keep coming back as long as this land and water are here for them,” refuge project leader Chad Karges says.  

Thank You, Science Women!

   Lindsey Troutman

We know we’re late, but on the last day of Women’s History Month we just wanted to thank all the talented and dedicated women at work here at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thank you, science women!

Protecting Military Readiness and the Gopher Tortoise at the Same Time

Grumpy baby gopher tortoise

Burrows made by the gopher tortoise help protect an estimated 300 other species – snakes, spiders, lizards and frogs. But who protects the gopher tortoise? Turns out the U.S. military does. 

The Gopher Tortoise Conservation and Crediting Strategy allows the military to make deposits (tortoise credits) that will be available for future mitigation use as needed.

“It’s a unique approach to help the military balance mission activities with conservation responsibilities.”

Saving Salamanders

salamander on the roadsideA spotted salamander waits at the roadside, as if pondering whether or not to cross.  Photo by Justin Dalaba/USFWS

 They don’t get the spotlight too often, but salamanders are a key part of our environment. And we are determined to conserve these awesome amphibians.

That is why some folks from our New York Field Office were out in the rain one night as part of  the   New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Project. They were documenting salamanders and helping them cross the road.

   Santa Cruz long-toed  salamander A captive-reared, mature Santa Cruz long-toed salamander found found on state land managed by Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Matthew Slater/USFWS

In California, a team has been helping endangered Santa Cruz long-toed salamanders survive the historic drought that plagued California the last several years. With a local pond drying up in the drought, the team captive-reared salamanders, the first time that has been done with this sub-species.

And that’s just two projects!

Worthy of a Toast: Farmers, Vineyard and Wildlife Refuge Work Together for Conservation

   Graham Evans-Peters Baskett Slough refuge manager Graham Evans-Peters points out key features of the refuge. Photo by USFWS

Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge is a 2,492-acre slice of heaven in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Part of what makes it the jewel that it is are the creative partnerships  the refuge has with its neighbors.

“Why wouldn’t we work to help native wildlife?”

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