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Curator's Corner: Organization!

 cards Recently, we received a collection of IDs, awards and old purchasing credit cards from an employee, probably now retired, from a fish hatchery in Washington State. They were in perfect condition but expired. He had saved about a dozen of the cards as far back as 1983. This is a testament to how organized the gentleman who saved them was. Wow, I bet those fish swam in line at that fish hatchery! P.S. I always cut up my credit cards when they expire.

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

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Fish & Wildlife News  

Fish and Wildlife Service Supports Men and Women in Law Enforcement

badgeIf a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes an object can be priceless – not in terms of dollars and cents, but for the principles it represents, and the emotions it recalls. It’s like that with law enforcement badges. 

A few years ago, our museum at NCTC received a donation of old badges. One shot-up badge dates from the time of Edgar Lindgren, the first law enforcement officer in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service history killed in the line of duty. In 1922, just three weeks after taking a game warden position, Lindgren approached three men near Big Lake, Iowa, suspecting them of shooting a bittern out of season. They killed him for it.

We may never know for sure if it is Lindgren’s badge – no records exist – but what a powerful symbol that badge is. It is, of course, a shield – a representation of an officer’s commitment to protect people and wildlife. Whether it is Lindgren’s or that of another officer who came under fire, the damaged badge also embodies the risk Special Agents and Federal Wildlife officers willingly accept to protect the world’s natural resources. 

As we celebrate National Police Week, I hope we all remember to thank our friends and co-workers who defend everyone’s right to enjoy the outdoors. As a former refuge law enforcement officer, I know their work is often dangerous, lonely, and unsung. Sadly, Edgar Lindgren is not the only wildlife law enforcement officer whose name appears on our Fallen Comrades Memorial, which honors employees who have made the ultimate sacrifice. I keep a replica of the damaged badge on display in my office as a constant reminder of the sacrifices our officers make. 

RELATED: Midwest Region Federal Wildlife Officer of the Year Rob Hirschboeck  | Northeast Region Federal Wildlife Officer of the Year John Ross

As moving as the badge is, perhaps an even more fitting tribute to the men and women of our law enforcement ranks took place recently at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota, where 48 youngsters took part in a daylong camp to learn what it takes to become a conservation officer.  And if the participants of the Youth Game Warden Camp are any indication, the outdoors will be well-protected in the future. Said camp organizer and Federal Wildlife Officer Kelly Modla, the kids “come with lots of enthusiasm and questions, and just tear it up.” 

campers and FWS officerAn officer shows campers tools of the trade. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS

Actually, the most appropriate tribute may be from 12-year-old camper Hannah, who said: “I’ve been camping and being outside with my family since before I could walk, and I’ve been hunting for about two years now. I’d love to grow up and be a game warden and teach people how to have respect for wildlife.” 

Thank you, Hannah. If you’re among the best and brightest, we will surely welcome you into our law enforcement family. And thank you, officers. I know some of the work you do appears thankless, but conservation relies on you.


-Jim Kurth, Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Livers of the Rivers

   musselsMussels help keep water clean. Photo by USFWS

Freshwater mussels may lack charisma, as they look like nothing more than rocks. But that belies the natural wonders of their life-history and their incredibly important role in the ecology of streams and the people and economies that rely on the same water. Work getting underway in Texas holds promise for mussels in most need.

Stakeholder collaboration aims to benefit freshwater mussels in Texas

Fish & Wildlife News  


Oil Spill Funds Help Protect Shorebird Nesting and Improve Monarch Habitat

 piping plovers  Piping plovers can be too camouflaged. Photo by Kaiti Titherington/USFWS

The sparkling beaches of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama attract visitors of all shapes and size—and species. Bon Secour’s beaches and dunes are visited not only by tens of thousands of people each year but also by the many kinds of wildlife our refuge managers are charged with protecting and preserving every day. On any warm spring day at Bon Secour, you may find sunbathers, swimmers, nature lovers, birds, beach mice, crabs, foxes, insects and scores of others.

RELATEDr: Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network

Shorebirds also love Bon Secour, and those visiting and nesting on the refuge are some of the beneficiaries of a restoration project being funded by a landmark $20 billion settlement with the petroleum giant BP for the damage caused by 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The spill not only deposited oil on the beaches of Bon Secour Refuge but also triggered cleanup work that disturbed wildlife habitat along the refuge’s beaches and dunes. “After the spill, we calculated that as many as 102,000 birds were killed by the oil spill, either by exposure to the oil or by encounters with cleanup activities,” says Kate Healy, a Service restoration biologist. “That’s why the Service has worked so hard to create projects that restore and protect bird habitat along the Gulf Coast.”

  sign Signs at Bon Secour alert visitors. Photo by American Bird Conservancy

The Service is working with The American Bird Conservancy at Bon Secour to complete a shorebird project aimed at protecting nesting areas used by least terns, snowy plovers, American oystercatchers, black skimmers and other shorebirds. The partners are posting warning signs and erecting temporary fencing around key nesting and foraging sites. “It’s important to warn people that nests, eggs and chicks are in the area. They’re easy to miss because they’re naturally camouflaged—they blend in very well with the sand and shells around them,” Healy explains. “While their camouflage may foil predators such as foxes and raccoons, it makes them almost invisible to beachgoers.” Work this year will complete the five-year effort.

monarch caterpillar in milkweed   A monarch caterpillar crawls on milkweed at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

Although not injured by the spill, monarch butterflies will benefit from a dune restoration project at Bon Secour that will also help beach mice and reptiles, including lizards and snakes.

The dune project includes re-vegetation of disturbed dunes with native plants, including milkweed, a plant that plays a vital role in the conservation of monarch populations. “We’re encouraging people everywhere to do as much as they can to save monarchs by planting native milkweed,” says Ben Frater, assistant restoration manager for the Department of the Interior’s Gulf Restoration effort. “At Bon Secour, we’re doing our part to improve the butterflies’ habitat there. By winter 2017, we expect to plant hundreds of seedlings along the refuges’ dunes.”

These are just two early projects in the effort to restore the natural vitality of the Gulf. Many more are coming.

NANCIANN REGALADO, Gulf Restoration Team, Southeast Region

Fish & Wildlife News  


Silver Lining: Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network

    4 royal terns on beachRoyal terns.  Photo by Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

Many people were upset as they watched the unfolding devastation of wildlife and habitat caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Some were also troubled by the realization that there weren’t adequate baseline data on the birds of the Gulf to assist decision-makers responding to the crisis.

“There were bird data, but the bird data were limited and very disjointed,” says the Service’s Randy Wilson. His colleague, Jeff Gleason, agrees: “Outside of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment effort, there was no standardization. Monitoring efforts had been site-specific and short-term.”

RELATED: Oil Spill Funds Help Protect Shorebird Nesting and Improve Monarch Habitat

“The spill highlighted our need to do a better job monitoring,” Wilson says. “It was the impetus for us to come together as a group.”

Approximately 20 conservation professionals began to address the situation in November 2013. The group, now known as the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network (GOMAMN), has grown to include more than 100 individuals from state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions and partnerships. Wilson and Gleason lead the network’s coordination committee.

GOMAMN provides a forum for conservation partners to collaboratively identify gaps in data, share information, advance standardization, and combine resources and expertise. The common goal is a comprehensive, coordinated, integrated, scientifically rigorous Gulf-wide bird monitoring program. Without such a monitoring program, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of management and restoration efforts.

“The goal is to learn what bird populations are doing in and around the Gulf,” says John Tirpak, the Science Coordinator for the Service’s Gulf Restoration Team and GOMAMN member. “Because the better you understand them, the better you can restore them.”

   Rescued-oiled-brown-pelican-held-by-USFWS-biologistA rescued oiled brown pelican is held a by a Service biologist. Photo by Kim Betton/USFWS

The members of GOMAMN are working toward answering the fundamental questions: the “what, where, when and how” of monitoring birds in the Gulf. Wilson says that although there’s still work to be done, GOMAMN is helping develop monitoring projects to better assess restoration projects. “So the network’s products are already influencing restoration on the ground,” he adds.

For instance, the Seabird Surveys being implemented under the Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Project for Protected Species use GOMAMN models to inform the fundamental project objectives and survey design for seabirds.

When, inevitably, the next crisis hits the Gulf, such as a large oil spill or severe hurricane, GOMAMN will be ready to assist with baseline data and standards that all the parties have already agreed upon. As a result, Tirpak says, “You’ll see a coordinated response arrive at faster.”

The 2010 oil spill was a disaster of unprecedented proportion, and it’s hard to find a positive side to it. Nonetheless, Tirpak says, “We saw an opportunity to bring everyone together, to really talk about what we collectively need, not what we individually need.”

NADINE LEAVITT SIAK , Gulf Restoration Team, Southeast Region

Fish & Wildlife News  


Wildflowers Dazzle at National Wildlife Refuges

   prairie coneflowers in fieldYellow prairie coneflowers reach for the sun at Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota. Birds and butterflies love the flowers, at their showiest from midsummer to early fall. Photo by Kirsten Brennan/USFWS

Wildflowers have begun their eye-catching show in prairies and meadows, mountains and forests, deserts and seacoasts around the country. National wildlife refuges offer some of the most spectacular displays. That’s because they conserve many native plants while protecting tracts of undeveloped land.

Join us on a photographic swing around the National Wildlife Refuge System to ogle some wildflower gems.  

   field of Cammassia quamashCamassia quamash, commonly known as camas, small camas or quamash, turns a meadow purple at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The wildflowers here bloom in the largest remaining wet prairie remnant in the Willamette Valley. Photo by George Gentry

Fair warning, though. The photos might just make you want to see the native flowers – and their refuges – firsthand.

Can’t break free just now? Not to worry. While some wildflowers are in their glory right now, others are biding their time until summer or fall.

Along the way in our refuge wildflower tour, we’ll share some tips about when to see your favorites and why to grow your own.

You’ll find the photo essay here.    

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

Susan Morse, National Wildlife Refuge System communications

Bison Return to Wind River Reservation

2 bison Two bison check out their new home. Photo by Alexis Bonogofsky, image used with permission

As of November 2, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe had restored six of the seven ungulates found in the area of Wind River Reservation in Wyoming before the arrival of Lewis and Clark: moose, whitetail and mule deer, elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep. On November 3, came No. 7: bison, a result of a partnership among the Service, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Eastern Shoshone.

“Recognizing both the ecological significance of buffalo as well as the importance to tribal commu­nities, NWF has partnered with tribes for over 20 years to restore and protect bison,” says Garrit Voggesser, NWF’s tribal partner­ships director.

Pat Hnilicka, project leader of the Lander Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Lander, Wyoming, says that one of the jobs that the partners worked on was habitat improvement. They removed about a mile of decrepit barbed-wire fencing that bison could get tangled in. They are also working to restore some irrigated meadows to make them more productive and can support more bison.

worker Dan Dewey and a Service crew remove more than a mile of decrepit barbed-wire fence, a potential hazard to bison, within the pasture on the Wind River Reservation. Photo by Pat Hnilicka/USFWS

Beyond ensuring that the land would be hospitable to bison, the project also needed bison that were of the type that roamed there hundreds of years ago.

 The first bison calf to be born in 130 years on Wind River Reservation "hit the ground" May 2.  

The Service’s Lee Jones worked to find a herd of bison that not only fit that genetic requirement but also had a sterling reputation for being disease-free.

The disease brucellosis has cost billions in direct expenses and money spent to develop a treatment. Brucellosis infects bison, and Jones says, the disease “is a huge concern in Wyoming.”

That led her to Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa. The bison there trace their lineage to the National Bison Range in Montana, and are ecologically appropriate for restoration in the Rocky Mountains. Iowa has also been brucellosis- and tuberculosis-free for many years, Jones says.

So on November 3, 10 bison were released on the reservation.

“While this was a culmination of years of hard work, it was a new beginning, not an ending. We plan to release more this coming fall,” Voggesser says. “We hope to have hundreds of buffalo on thousands of acres in the next few years.”

With those 10 bison, they are starting a new herd, which is not easy, Jones says. “It is an incredible step they took, absolutely incredible.”

The day of the release was equally incredible.

bison and watchers   People watch the release of the bison. Photo by Pat Hnilicka/USFWS

“’This is the best day of my life bringing the bison here,’” Jones remembers a bystander telling her.

This project is “a career highlight,” Hnilicka says.

“Today, boy-shan bi-den— buffalo return in the Shoshone language—has become a reality,” says Jason Baldes,  bison representative for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. ”This restoration effort, 40 years in the making, returns buffalo to our lands, our culture, our community and generations to come.”

Note: While bison and buffalo are used interchangeably, the name for the North American animal is bison.

Fish & Wildlife News  


Cops and Bobbers, Hooks and Ladders: Fishing with a purpose!

Police  officer and youth
A Hartford City Police officer shares a smile with a young angler who just caught his first fish!

As National Police Week starts, Jennifer Lapis, Visitor Services Manager at Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in New England, tells us about a great program that combines fishing and community outreach. She took the photos, too!

At first glance, a large group of police officers walking around a city park may lead people to think the worst. But this spring in the cities of Springfield, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut, a park crowded with cops was met with squeals, smiles and laughs from the young community members who participated in the Cops and Bobbers, Hooks and Ladders Youth Fishing Program.

This recreational fishing program is designed to teach kids to fish, connect them with the outdoors and develop positive relationships with law enforcement and safety officials within their communities. Building these relationships, both with nature and members of their community, are critical building blocks for these kids as they meet next-generation challenges. 

casting classThese Hartford Fire Department cadets teach the kids how to cast before they head to the water to fish.

For many of these urban youth, the Cops and Bobbers, Hooks and Ladders event is the first time they have held a fishing rod, or even have seen a live fish up close. These adventurous new anglers go from being squeamish and scared of a worm or fish, to putting bait on a hook and proudly holding their prized catch for a photo.

Police  officer and youth
Working together as a team is one benefit of the Cops and Bobbers, Hooks and Ladders Program, as seen in this photo of an officer helping one of the participants with her fishing rod.

The police, firefighters and other partners involved in the programs are on the front lines, helping bait hooks, cast lines and reel in fish. Today, we all too often see the contentious relationships between community members and police officers. The Cops and Bobbers, Hooks and Ladders events provide safe and nonviolent community outlets for kids, with goals of establishing trust, mutual respect and teamwork to build a community that everyone can be proud to consider home.

The Cops and Bobbers, Hooks and Ladders events in both Springfield and Hartford would not have been possible without the contributions of many partners: City police, fire and parks departments; state wildlife and angler education agencies; nonprofit community organizations; and the federal government all played an important role in making these events a success for everyone. In addition, grants and generous donations enabled each kid with rod and reel o take home, as well as tackle boxes and a commemorative T-shirt.

teamAfter a fun day of fishing, the Hartford team gathers together for a photo.

The Silvio O Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is honored to share the commitments of all our partners, and we look forward to continuing the programs, and perhaps even expanding into other communities.

The Future of Fire Shelters

Lori Iverson tells us about some important fire research.

   The researchers set up one of three fire shelters on a metal frame. Burn Boss Blake Stewart of the Service stands by, ready to call for the start of fire ignitions as soon as the team is set up and clear of the area. Photo by Lori Iverson/USFWS

Earlier this week, North Carolina State University Professor Joe Roise and graduate student Bobby Williams joined a prescribed fire training exchange (TREX) fire crew to test a fire shelter prototype during a prescribed fire at the Madison Wetland Management District in South Dakota.

One year after Arizona’s 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire resulted in the tragic loss of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, the U.S. Forest Service entered into a collaborative agreement with the NASA Langley Research Center to examine potential improvements to fire shelter performance. It’s a logical partnership because of common performance requirements between fire shelters and flexible heat shields used by the space program, and additional research can benefit both organizations.

At the same time, Roise’s university received a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant to develop new material improving on existing fabric technology and raise the performance of current fire shelters. Researchers from North Carolina State’s College of Textiles and Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources teamed up to research and propose improvements.

   The fire shelter test site sensor poles can be seen behind the flames as the fire approaches. Photo by Lori Iverson/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Plains Fire Management Zone is hosting this year’s TREX training in South Dakota. FWS has been using and managing fire safely and cost-effectively since the 1930s, leading to lands being in healthier ecological condition overall, with lower risk of damaging fire. This long-term, balanced approach to fire management benefits both people and wildlife.

Thus far, the North Carolina researchers have lab tested their shelters by replicating heat in a fire chamber. This week’s trip to South Dakota gives them an opportunity to further field test their work, which has previously only been done in chaparral in Southern California. After burning in native tall grass prairie species here, they’ll also test their shelter models in other vegetation types, including highly flammable marshland in Virginia, various species of pine in North Florida, and timber in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

It’s too early for results, but “the whole project is extremely important because it can save lives across the nation,” Roise says. “That’s the bottom line: saving lives.”


Environmental Justice Comes to Albuquerque

 Celebration of Environmental Justice   On Earth Day, the refuge held its annual Community Celebration of Environmental Justice “to honor and organize for our communities and our rights to a healthy environment in which to live, work, play, pray and go to school.” Photo by Kyle Cahall/Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

While the Mountain View community in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has more than enough “tank farms,” as the residents call the huge petroleum tanks in the area, it is short on green space.

So when community members heard talk that their main natural oasis, an old 570-acre dairy farm, might get developed and be lost, they got to work. The result: Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2012, the first urban refuge in the Southwest and the first refuge in the nation to have an Environmental Justice strategic plan. The refuge “stands out like an emerald in the middle of all of the industry,” says Teri Jillson, president of the Friends of Valle de Oro Refuge.

At its most basic, Environmental Justice means making sure that ALL people can live in environmentally healthy communities. It recognizes that certain communities – often poor or minority – have faced adverse environmental situations and looks to prevent that from happening and remedy where it has already happened.

Mountain View was ready for some Environmental Justice.

The neighborhood is a largely minority area with industrial facilities next to schools, homes and businesses. Part of the neighborhood is a Superfund site where chemical storage and military activities once contaminated groundwater. The neighborhood is also home to the primary sewage facility for the city of Albuquerque.

'For the Community'

Since the refuge’s beginning, Refuge Manager Jennifer Owen-White has made sure to involve the community in every aspect of the refuge. “This is a refuge established, designed and built by the community for the community.”

To continue the grassroots support of the refuge – a key part of Environmental Justice –Jillson says the Friends “make sure to ask people what they would like to see on the refuge.” The Friends of Valle de Oro also developed a unique partnership with longtime community organizers and Environmental Justice advocates, Los Jardines Institute. Together the Friends, Los Jardines Institute, the Mountain Veiw Neighborhood association and Valle de Oro have been working on a shared future for the refuge and its host community. 

Richard Moore, a national leader of the Environmental Justice movement, co-coordinator of Los Jardines Institute and a local resident, says: "This is an example of putting justice back into the hands of a community that has been historically treated unjustly. This is why Los Jardines Institute has been a significant partner on the planning, implementation and delivery of the Environmental and Economic Justice strategy for Valle de Oro."

The enthusiastic community support is one reason the Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group decided that the creation of the Valle de Oro Refuge could be a model for other communities, federal agencies and others working on Environmental Justice.

 Celebration of Environmental Justice   The community celebrates Environmental Justice. Photo by Kyle Cahall/Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

“We are really excited about is the fact that Valle de Oro is a model for the nation, and we take that very seriously,” Jillson says.

To help put together films and blogs needed as a model, Valle de Oro turned to Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), a National Indian community college and land grant institution in Albuquerque, through the College Underserved Community Partnership Program.

SIPI “happily agreed to produce the education films and blogs at no cost to federal government,” says Kim lambert, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Environmental Justice specialist.

“It’s a win for all,” she says. “Students benefit by utilizing their learned curriculum to gain practical experience that can serve as a resume builder, while earning college credits through their academic institution. Federal agencies benefit by seeing an improvement in the effective and efficient use of resources. And the community benefits from the refuge and its Environmental Justice stance.”

The community is definitely benefitting.


At a ceremony last year highlighting a $1 million increase in funding for the refuge, Sara Carrillo, principal at Mountain View Elementary School in Albuquerque's South Valley, said of the refuge, “It is giving our families a safe place to connect with nature, spend time together, be healthy and reconnect with our history."

The refuge also provides direct benefits to the community in such areas as education, job creation and a local economic boost.

One project helps not just Mountain View but also Valle de Oro’s wildlife. The Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority is funding work to create habitat that will improve storm water drainage in the neighborhood.

Partners like the flood control authority have made Valle de Oro the success it is. The refuge lists more than 100 groups and agencies as partners. And they will continue to determine the refuge’s success overall and in Environmental Justice.

Says Owen-White: “My job is to put the community's amazing ideas together with sound science and engineering to create something that is sustainable for wildlife and people.”

Jillson works with Owen-White toward that goal. She is not just president of the Friends group; she is also a 22-year Mountain View resident who has raised two children there.

To her, Valle de Oro “represents a community victory and establishing something positive for the Mountain View neighborhood.”

That’s the fruit of Environmental Justice. 

-Matt Trott, External Affairs, Headquarters

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