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A Talk on the Wild Side.

From the Director: Why Jim Kurth Conserves

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

Now that I have been sitting at a desk and pushing paper around the headquarters office for 15 years, some might be surprised to learn that I still consider myself first and foremost a conservationist. Although it has been a long time since I was out in the field wearing a uniform and “saving dirt,” I connected with conservation early, and I’ve never looked back.

Going to school at the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point, I immersed myself in the land ethic pioneered by Aldo Leopold in nearby Sand County. Leopold taught me the need to recognize our intertwined relationship with the natural world and tend that relationship with great care. And so I enthusiastically embarked on my career in conservation as a steward of wildlife and the wild land and waters.

This calling has taken me all across the nation, from my first U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service job at Mississippi SandhiIl Crane National Wildlife Refuge in 1979 to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to my stints in Washington, DC, and many places in between.

At each one of those stops, I’ve taken something unique away that further cemented my connection with nature, sometimes in unexpected ways.

At Arctic Refuge I saw the hawk owl. In a way, it became my very own hawk owl.

I was exploring the refuge’s Firth River Valley with a few colleagues, enjoying the peaceful nature of the place. The bird flew low along the horizon to the south. Someone quickly identified it as a hawk owl, and I recalled a biological survey of the Firth conducted some 15 years earlier.

The survey recorded a hawk owl nesting in nearly the exact location we were exploring. I wondered if the hawk owl soaring above us was the grandson or great-granddaughter of that bird.

Had this bird’s ancestors seen the first humans, or the scimitar cat and the short–faced bear? Did they hear the thunder of the mastodon? And I thought about my descendants, and whether they’ll be lucky enough to see a hawk owl if they visit the Firth generations from now.

My hawk owl captivated me and connected me to the past and future of nature.

So did a clutch of mallard eggs.

My first trip to the field after moving to Service Headquarters in 1999 was to Windom Wetland Management District in Minnesota. It was a beautiful spring day at Windom, full of songs of meadowlarks, bobolinks and red–winged blackbirds. I joined refuge staff and walked across a waterfowl production area, when a hen mallard flushed a few feet ahead of us.

One of our group gently pulled back some of the grasses, and there it was—the nest with the eggs.

I remember feeling incredibly happy and proud. Those eggs were a reminder of the past—we successfully worked to protect wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region for waterfowl. But they also reminded me of an uncertain future. With new and accelerating old threats, it’s hard to envision what the Prairie Pothole Region will look like a hundred years from now.

Working to secure a better future for wildlife in the Pothole Region and across North America is why I conserve and am still excited to come to work every day for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Every Service employee has similar touchstones that have shaped their career and outlook on life. For Craig Springer in our Southwest Region, it’s native trout. Kate Miyamoto in our Mountain-Prairie Region chased butterflies as a child in Texas and now hopes to give the next generation the same spark butterflies gave her. You can read these and other compelling stories about why we do what we do in this issue of Fish & Wildlife News.

We have incredibly challenging jobs (even me!), but we are also truly lucky. We get to “play in the dirt,” to experience the blessings that nature offers, some of us on a daily basis. Even when others of us are cooped up in meetings, we can take some solace knowing that we are still conserving the nature of America.

Thank you for all you do.


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Curator's Corner: Big Band Story

 cards

It is nice to know that we all still appreciate a good laugh. A 1975 edition of Fish & Wildlife News featured an article and photo of two Service biologists “banding the world’s largest Laysan albatross.” They were putting a fake band on a very large statue of an albatross on Midway Island. Some things never change, including silly articles from Service folk— like curators!


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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Curator's Corner: Another Child’s Favorite

   taxidermy wolf

I wrote an article earlier about the favorite taxidermied specimen in the archives storage room for children being the snowy owl because of Hedwig from the Harry Potter books. Well, I should also mention that there is another favorite stuffed animal in the archives for children who are a little older. Can you guess which animal that is? It is the wolf, and that is because of Jacob in the Twilight series of books. I bet if we had a stuffed vampire named Edward, it would certainly supplant both the owl and the wolf by a million votes!

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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Unique Partnership with the Oregon Zoo

   visitors at the Nature Exploration Station The center's Nature Exploration Station (NESt) is designed to help visitors understand how humans and nature depend on each other, focusing on the message that "small things matter." Photo by USFWS

The Service has officially “broken new ground” on an exciting way to effectively connect with the public and tell our Service story. We partnered with the Oregon Zoo in the development of the zoo’s new Education Center. The sustainably built, aesthetically pleasing center was designed to foster a conservation ethic among the zoo’s 1.6 million annual visitors. With a Service staffer on-site, the facility provides an opportunity to take the partnership a significant step further.

Opportunity Knocks

It all started in 2013 during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new exhibit at the Oregon Zoo called Condors of the Columbia, one of several projects on which the Service has partnered with the zoo over the years. Paul Henson, the Service’s Oregon state supervisor, was inspired by a conversation with Grant Spickelmier, the zoo’s education curator, who described a voter-approved bond measure to build a new state-of­the-art education facility. Henson saw a phenomenal opportunity to spread the conservation message to a broader, more diverse urban audience, and suggested to Spickelmier the idea of having a Service employee stationed at the Education Center. This small spark of an idea led to a unique partnership, the first of its kind for the Service.

   grand openingKids visiting the zoo "cut" the ribbon at the grand opening ceremony on March 2. Photo by USFWS

“Joining the Oregon Zoo in their new Education Center is a natural extension of our shared conservation mission and an innovative way for the Service to connect with a broader audience,” says Henson. “We have a long history of working together to recover species, and now we look forward to continuing our collective efforts on an education mission to tell the wildlife conservation story and to build a strong conservation ethic in present and future generations.”

Spickelmier adds, “The Oregon Zoo is thrilled to have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partner with us at the zoo’s new Education Center. Having USFWS scientists and educators work directly with the zoo’s 1.6 million guests greatly increases our ability to raise awareness about wildlife conservation and inspire conservation action.”

  Leah Schrodt
Leah Schrodt, a Service interpretive specialist, is stationed at the Education Center. Photo by USFWS

A New Way of Reaching Out

The high visibility of the Oregon Zoo provides an ideal venue to tell the story of fish and wildlife conservation to visitors from a variety of economic, racial and cultural backgrounds.

“Small Things Matter” is the primary theme of the Education Center, which includes small creatures, small habitats and small actions people can take. The center helps visitors learn that nature  is closer than they think, even in urban areas. Visitors walk away with direct application for how they, too, can protect wildlife. Key features of the center  include a Nature Exploration Station with hands-on activities, interpretive displays and daily presentations from subject specialists; a wildlife garden with information about pollinators, native plants and ways the public can transform their yard into a place for wildlife, a Western pond turtle recovery lab; a 150­seat hall; and three classrooms, including a science lab.

The Service’s decision to station a full-time interpretive specialist at the zoo, working hand-in-hand with zoo staff in the development of activities, displays and programs designed to communicate our shared conservation messages, is a first for our agency. Leah Schrodt was selected for this role, and serves as a liaison to a broad range of Service experts. She works to draw out and share their wealth of conservation knowledge in areas such as endangered species, fisheries, pollinators, wildlife refuges, invasive species, law enforcement, wildlife forensics and much more.

And it won’t be just Oregon staff. Service experts from across the nation will have an opportunity to come to the center and talk about the important work of the Service and our conservation mission.

“The Oregon Zoo Education Center is an ideal venue for instilling a stewardship ethic in the public we serve,” says Schrodt. “The true spirit of collaboration, and what can be accomplished when we work together in partnership to achieve our conservation goals, is beautifully modeled in this endeavor.”

A History of Partnership

The Service has developed partnerships with a number of zoos and aquariums across the nation. These relationships are critical to our recovery work as we rely on zoo expertise in species propagation and animal husbandry for reintroductions. The Oregon Zoo has assisted our efforts to recover many endangered species:

The zoo houses one of four California condor breeding facilities, which produces more than 30 birds annually, most of which are released into the wild. Birds that cannot be released make their home in the Condors of the Columbia exhibit, which educates visitors about the bird’s plight.

The Oregon Zoo and Woodland Park Zoo (in Seattle, Washington) participate in a project to help vulnerable hatchling Western pond turtles evade predators. More than 1,800 turtles have been released to suitable sites. Western pond turtles are protected in several states.

In 2002, only 16 pygmy rabbits remained in Washington. Soon after, the Oregon Zoo developed a breeding program and was the first zoo in the world to successfully breed pygmy rabbits. While the zoo’s breeding program concluded in 2012, it continues to actively participate in pygmy rabbit conservation efforts.

Oregon silverspot butterfly numbers crashed in 1998, prompting the Service to begin efforts to supplement the population in partnership with the Oregon and Woodland Park zoos. The zoos are able to release about 2,000 butterflies each year on the Oregon Coast. The Oregon Zoo also helps rear and release Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, a threatened species.

The Oregon Zoo and various partners work collaboratively with the Service to monitor, study and recover populations of Oregon spotted frog, which was recently protected under the ESA.

   Fish and Wildlife Service biologists with visitorsFish and Wildlife Service biologists Shauna Ginger and Jennifer Siani share the "Skins, Scats, Skulls and Footprints" education kit with visitors during the grand opening weekend. Photo by USFWS

In 1998, the Service signed an official memorandum of understanding with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to work together for the conservation of native North American animals, plants and their habitats, and to educate the American public about the biological, economic and aesthetic contributions these species make to our quality of life. This partnership with the Oregon Zoo shows what can be accomplished when the Service works with zoos and aquariums to achieve our conservation missions.

For more information about the Service’s Education Center partnership at the Oregon Zoo, please contact Leah Schrodt: leah_schrodt@fws.gov.

ELIZABETH MATERNA, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, and LEAH SCHRODT, Interpretive Lead for Oregon Zoo Partnership, Pacific Region


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Curator's Corner: Extra Antlers

   antlers

If you have ever been to the National Conservation Training Center, I am sure that you have noticed the elk antler chandelier in the back windowed area in the bar. I got the antlers from special agents in Richmond, Virginia. I had the chandelier made by a local taxidermist, Tom Flynn. There were many other antlers left over, and the special agents did not need them back. They said we could put them in the woods for the little woodland critters to chew on for calcium. I still have them in the archives, because I figured that, with my luck, hikers at the facility would see them and spread rumors that West Virginia now has a large population of elk.

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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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 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


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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


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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


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