Facebook icon Twitter icon Flicker icon You Tube icon

Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

MENTOR-POP Fellows Support Pangolins at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii

MENTOR-POP fellows with Dan AsheLinh Nguyen Ngoc Bao and Jonas Kambale Nyumu with Dan Ashe, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo by USFWS

The IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii brought together more than 10,000 participants from 192 countries last month to discuss and find ways to address the most urgent conservation and sustainable development challenges such as wildlife trafficking. Jonas Kambale Nyumu and Linh Nguyen Ngoc Bao attended the IUCN Congress on behalf of MENTOR-POP (Progress on Pangolins), an 18-month program by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Zoological Society of London. Based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, MENTOR-POP is developing a trans-disciplinary team of nine early-career Central African and Asian conservation practitioners with academic and field-based training and internships to champion the conservation of the three Congo Basin pangolin species. All eight species of pangolins in the world are in peril due to international trafficking for their scales and meat. In perhaps a turning point, pangolins received increased protections last week under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Linh’s report on IUCN:

I’m an early-career conservationist. The IUCN World Conservation Congress was my first experience and chance to interact with many experts from all over the world who believe in, and are willing to support, young professionals like me. In my native Vietnam and now as a Fellow with MENTOR-POP , I have been working toward pangolin conservation for a long time. At the IUCN Congress, I was so excited to meet in person with pangolin experts: Dan Challender (IUCN-Species Survival Commission Pangolin Specialist Group), Thai Van Nguyen (Save Vietnam’s Wildlife), Darren Pietersen (African Pangolin Working Group) and others. They are all amazing and I’m touched to see how they put their efforts to great use to conserve pangolins. What I learned from them will help a lot in developing our group project, which will be implemented in Cameroon to protect those species from Central Africa.

white-bellied pangolin in treeThe white-bellied pangolin is one of three pangolin species found in Central Africa. Photo by Frank Kohn/USFWS

Jonas and I presented about challenges of pangolin conservation in Central Africa and the MENTOR-POP initiative to address threats facing the species at a session focused on wildlife trafficking organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We were thrilled to engage with conservationists from around the world and raise awareness about the plight of pangolins in Central Africa.

IUCN CEC Young Professional AwardeesLinh and Diogo Veríssimo receives IUCN CEC Young Professional Awards. Photo by Society for Conservation Biology

One of the highlights for me was receiving an IUCN Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) Young Professional Award. The CEC Award recognizes young professionals who conduct excellent work in conservation through education or communication, and who work to advance opportunities for inspiring others. This award covered my participation at the Congress. It was an honor to be publicly recognized at the plenary session.

I was eager to finally meet with my IUCN CEC family, which offered me a great privilege to attend the congress. I learned more about new conservation approaches that I can apply as the MENTOR-POP Team and I raise awareness about pangolins and pilot test efforts to reduce consumer desire for pangolins in Cameroon. When I made a speech about my work on pangolins at the award ceremony, many people were interested in it and for some of them, it was the first time they heard about these unique animals and the threats facing them. Without doubt, pangolins need more conservation attention and investment. I am happy to lend them my voice. 

Endangered Rails Released in San Diego

Six endangered light-footed Ridgway’s rails were released into San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge this week! For decades, a team has been working to bring this secretive marsh bird species back from the brink.

But, how?

Light-footed Ridgway's Rail
Light-footed Ridgway's rail by Rinus Baak, USFWS.

Getting the Data

One way the team is working toward a genetically strong population of light-footed Ridgway’s rails, is by monitoring them through satellite telemetry. Five of the released birds were custom-fitted with a transmitter that will send data using satellite technology. This information allows scientists and land managers to follow the movements of these endangered birds.

It may sound straightforward, but a few challenges make it tricky to track the birds. First, they are extremely hard to see within the cordgrass vegetation -- think, “thin as a rail.” Second, when the tracking device eventually comes off the bird when it has deceased, it’s next to impossible to retrieve with the tides going in and out twice per day.

Despite the difficulties, it’s critical for the team to retrieve data regarding the movement of these birds.

Rail being fitted for tracking device
This week, one of the light-footed Ridgway's rails is fitted with a tracking device by Lisa Cox, USFWS.

What Their Activity Tells Us

These days, it’s common for light-footed Ridgway’s rails to spend their entire lives in one coastal marshland (like South San Diego Bay). But that hasn’t always been the case.

Before the species became endangered, the birds traveled to other marshes and intermingled with other rails. This strengthened their genetic diversity.

Today there are hundreds of acres of new habitat (due to wetland restoration projects). The team is looking to understand how the birds use the improved wetlands and if it impacts their activity.

The hope is to see the birds moving to neighboring wetlands. This would indicate a beginning of recovery for the species and a sign that we’re keeping our coastal ecosystems healthy.

Rail being fitted for tracking device
The tracking device on one of the rails by Lisa Cox, USFWS.

Steps Toward Recovery

When monitoring began in 1980, the population was down to 200 breeding pairs. That number is now up to 656 pairs. The news is positive and inspires continued work toward recovery for the species. Next spring, there could be new sounds of duetting rails pairing up in the restored marshes of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Watch the release live and read the San Diego Tribune’s account of the release.

Generations of Hunters

  hunters at sunrise on Agassiz RefugeSunrise at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota. Regulated seasonal hunting is permitted at more than 330 national wildlife refuges and wetland management districts, in keeping with conservation objectives. Photo by USFWS

For millions of American families, the hunting conservation ethic is a way of life to be passed on proudly through generations. 

The DeSpains of Arkansas and the Johnsons of Minnesota are two such families. They enjoy hunting at and near Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Fergus Falls Wetland Management District, respectively. 

RELATED: Benefits to Hunters and Anglers Pay Dividends for All Americans. But We Must Fight For Them, says Dan Ashe

In this week’s National Wildlife Refuge System feature story, “Generations of Hunters,” they explain why hunting is important to them.

generations of hunting family in a blindJenny Johnson, left, with daughters Ally and Rebecca and the girls’ grandfather. “I want to teach them love and respect for the world around us, not just seeing it through the eyes of social media but to see it firsthand,” Jenny Johnson says. “Being out there firsthand and experiencing the hunt gives them the kind of love and respect that is hard to learn otherwise.” Photo courtesy of the Johnson family

Hunters like the DeSpains, Johnsons and others help conserve natural resources. Ninety-eight percent of the price of Duck Stamps purchased by hunters and other conservationists goes to acquiring wetland habitat on national wildlife refuges.

Hunters also bolster the overall economy. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey estimated that 13.7 million people spent $33.7 billion hunting in United States in 2011, the most recent year from which such data is available.

 Will Despain with a harvested turkeyWill DeSpain at age 14 in 1995. Hunting teaches gun safety, he says. “It makes you responsible. It’s not easy … You may hunt two or three weekends and not even see a deer … It takes patience and respect for the outdoors.” Photo courtesy of the DeSpain family

“Generations of Hunters” is part of the Refuge System’s series of weekly online stories that use photos to highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. A new story is posted on the Refuge System front page each Wednesday. Past stories are archived here.

The Perfect Day

  Dan and pheasants

For a lot of hunters, there is one special time among all of your hunting trips that stands out in your memory as having been perfect, a day of pure bliss when all the stars line up just right and everything connects at just the right time and in just the right place.

Read about Dan Magneson's

‘Silent Spring’ Turns 54; Thanks Rachel Carson

  carson on a mountain with binocularsRachel Carson on Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania.

Please do not hold this against me, but until I started working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I did not know who conservation hero Rachel Carson was. I am sure that somewhere along the line I heard of her groundbreaking book Silent Spring, which was published on this day 54 years ago today, but I didn’t remember its story or that of the author.


Shortly after I arrived at FWS after years in newspapers, I asked a former office-mate who the woman in a frame on her shelf was. Rachel Carson, she declared, and so I started digging into her to find out what I should have known all along. Biologist-writer Rachel Carson -- What an amazing woman. That she was a woman makes her achievements all the more remarkable given the time, but she was truly an amazing person. 

She’d have been truly remarkable without Silent Spring -- scientist, best-selling author -- but that book cemented her legacy as someone who helped launch the contemporary environmental movement and prompted  Americans to be conscious of the environment.

  Carson and UdallRachel Carson meets with Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall in 1962.

Silent Spring

Carson, a onetime writer-biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, once said that "man's endeavors to control nature by his powers to alter and to destroy would inevitably evolve into a war against himself, a war he would lose unless he came to terms with nature." 

In Silent Spring she opened the eyes of society to the dangers of indiscriminate use of the pesticide DDT. She stood tall despite withering attacks on her professional and personal integrity. And in the end, the federal government banned DDT. 

Since the banning of DDT, the bald eagle, brown pelican and peregrine falcon, once devastated by the effects of the pesticide, all soar the skies freely in increasing numbers, after decades of recovery efforts. 

  Carson and HinesWildlife artist Bob Hines and Rachel Carson spent many hours along the Atlantic coast visiting refuges and gathering material for many of the agency’s pamphlets and technical publications.

Thank you, Rachel Carson; I’m sorry I didn’t know of you sooner. 

I hope you don’t you make that same mistake I did. Check out our websites on her (https://www.fws.gov/rachelcarson/, https://training.fws.gov/History/ConservationHeroes/Carson.html, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Rachel_Carson/about/rachelcarson.html), read Silent Spring, or just enjoy nature and let your heart be filled by a “sense of wonder,” one of Carson’s wonderful phrases.


Matt Trott, External Affairs


Company Spirit: When Employees Volunteer on National Wildlife Refuges, Everyone Wins

  One FedEx volunteer gives another a plantFedEx employees plant native flowers at the entrance of a new multi-use trail extension at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. The extension will connect the refuge with local communities. Audubon Pennsylvania helped organize the event. Photo by USFWS

Across America, employees are going green in a new way.

They’re clearing trails and planting native flowers at national wildlife refuges, with enthusiastic backing from their supervisors. Sometimes, their companies even pay them to volunteer.

“Company Spirit” — this week’s theme in the National Wildlife Refuge System’s new series of online stories — showcases some of these refuge initiatives. 

  Luann Coen pushes Miroslawa  Gehman in a wheelbarrowLuann Coen, senior deduction specialist at Brother International, gives a ride to Miroslawa Gehman, senior deductions manager, at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey in April 2016. Photo by Kai H. Fan

Here’s a preview:

Companies that send teams to volunteer each year at nearby refuges include such household names as Canon, FedEx, Ford, Monsanto, The Home Depot and The North Face.

A funny thing happens in the process: Team members fall in love with refuges and wildlife conservation.

“You walk away with just a really good feeling,” says Jennifer Hickson, manager of The North Face’s Lincoln City, Oregon, store. Her group volunteers several times a year at three nearby refuges, including Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where they cleared invasive scotch broom this spring.  

  Kevin Haughtwout and Cristy Rosario plant native spicebushBrother International manager of product development Kevin Haughtwout and administrative assistant Cristy Rosario plant native spicebush, the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail, at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, in April 2016. Photo by Kai H Fan

“It started out being just our team. Now we bring our families. They want to be part of it, too. Because they hear you say, ‘Yeah, it was a hard day. Yeah, I’m sore. But you wouldn’t believe the feeling of accomplishment, the feeling you’re making a difference.’ ” 

  Monsanto employees transplant plants into planters 
Monsanto employees transplant more than 2,500 plants and plant nearly 600 others outdoors at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa in April 2016. Photo by USFWS

That good feeling translates into benefits for participating companies, too – like higher staff morale and more camaraderie.

“We do good work for the refuge, and the company gets something back...,” says Doriana Allyn, senior environmental health and safety manager at Brother International, which sends a volunteer crew every year to Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Refuges, for their part, welcome the show of company spirit.

“Absolutely, we like it,” says visitor services manager Jonathan Rosenberg at Great Swamp Refuge. “It brings visitors to the refuge, gets work done on the ground, sells our mission and gets our conservation message out there in the corporate world. It’s all good stuff.”

See a PHOTO album of private company teams volunteering on national wildlife refuges.

Read the full story: “Company Spirit.”

We hope you’ll also check out Refuges’ homepage, and share your thoughts, photos and videos with us on FacebookTwitter, Flickr and YouTube. Like what you see? Share it with your friends and family. Thanks, and see you on a refuge!



Susan Morse, National Wildlife Refuge System communications

Threatened Seabirds Get a New Home…and a Helicopter Ride!

Newell's shearwater chick in burrow. Photo credit: Andre Raine/Kaua?i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project Newell's shearwater chick in burrow. Photo by Andre Raine/Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

Seven threatened Newell’s Shearwater (‘A‘o) chicks had quite an adventure this week that ended with the birds in a new home complete with predator-proof fencing at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii. Hawaiian petrels were successfully translocated to Kilauea Point last year.

Make Way for Beetles

Living on the beach may sound like a luxury to most people, but for the tiny Puritan tiger beetle it is the only way to survive. Get an up-close view of how we are helping endangered beetles re-establish populations in their sandy homes!

Read More

Southern California Shares the Land with Native Wildlife

Dana Point headlandsOur Habitat Conservation Plan tool and unlikely allies created a strategy for balancing development and conservation across the landscape in Orange County, one of southern California’s most populated areas.

African Grey Parrot: Species in Decline

The United States is a proponent or co-proponent of various proposals to help increase protections for species at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Read more about these species.

More Entries