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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Return of the Plovers

If you live in the right parts of the country, you might be starting to see plovers return to your area.

 Old Man Plover  At 15 years old, BO:X,g, also known as Old Man Plover, is the oldest Great Lakes piping plover to return to its breeding grounds. Photo courtesy of Alice Van Zoeren

Old Man Plover, a Great Lakes piping plover, has made it back to his breeding site once again at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan.

   Pink 85Photo by Jesse Amesbury/CWFNJ

On the Atlantic Coast, piping plover Pink 85 is back on the beaches of Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Western snowy plovers at Malibu Lagoon State Beach.Western snowy plovers at Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Photo by Chris Dellith/USFWS

And, for the first time in nearly 70 years, Western snowy plovers are nesting on Los Angeles County beaches.

Managing Fire

   West Mims wildfire at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Inter-agency fire crews work to contain the West Mims wildfire at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in April 2017. The fire began with a lightning strike on April 6 and is still burning. Photo by Josh O’Connor/USFWS

Despite what we learn as kids from Bambi and Smokey Bear, fire is not always the enemy in nature. Many species can’t live without it.  Sound management of public lands, as practiced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, involves wise use of fire.  

That includes prescribed fire -- fire that is planned to meet land management goals, such as restoring nesting habitat for birds or controlling plant pests.

The Service has used prescribed fire since the 1930s to improve the health of plant and animal communities and return nutrients to the soil. The Service burns roughly 300,000 acres a year.

   Wind blows smoke from a controlled burn at Florida’s J.N. “Ding” Darling Refuge away from homes Wind blows smoke from a controlled burn at Florida’s J.N. “Ding” Darling Refuge away from homes in the area. Photo by USFWS

Wildfires burn far more. While some lands have evolved to burn at regular intervals, in many areas, changes in land use and the introduction of non-native species have accelerated the fire cycle. Drought, heat and disease can heighten the risk.

Every year, wildfires sparked by lightning race across the landscape, raising alarms for public safety. Another aim of prescribed fire is to reduce the risk of deadly wildfires.

A photo essay from the National Wildlife Refuge System looks at the Service’s role in fighting wildfires and carrying out prescribed burns.    

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

Agents Uncover Illegal Transport of Squirrel Monkey Blood

Surprised squirrel monkeySquirrel monkey. Photo by Tambako The Jaguar/ Creative Commons

To avoid over-exploitation of wildlife, purchasing and shipping animal blood requires special permitting. But the owner of one biological products company and/or his employees intentionally packaged and shipped monkey blood falsely labeled as human blood to avoid permits and higher costs. Thanks to Operation Sanguis, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the owner of BioChemed Services Inc has pleaded guilty of creating and submitting false labels of animal products to avoid screening requirements.

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Explaining Why This Work is Important

   volunteers pose with trash bags of invasive plantsStudents from Hobart and William Smith Colleges learn about the impacts of invasive plants on native ecosystems, while filling bags with Japanese stiltgrass. Students worked hand in hand with volunteers, Montezuma biologist Linda Ziemba, and other refuge staff. What a team! Photo by Ray Hunt

As National Volunteer Week wraps up, take a moment to read about the incredible work of biologist Linda Ziemba at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York. Linda has been working with volunteers, partners and students to improve the quality of natural ecosystems and educate them about the importance of a healthy environment.

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American Wigeon Wins Georgia Artist’s Heart

Top 10 - Georgia - American WigeonRayen's American wigeon

Mark Davis in Southeast Region tells us about the winner of Georgia’s annual 2017 Junior Duck Stamp Contest.

What would she paint? Rayen Kang logged on to her computer and started searching. The images flew past. 

A merganser? No, she painted that last year. Mallard? Well, no.

And then:

The American wigeon? Rayen paused. She admired in its green head, so iridescent it glowed. Her eyes lingered on the duck’s subtle coloration, its feathers going from light to dusky.  Rayen decided she liked what she saw. 

So, too, did the judges at Georgia’s annual 2017 Junior Duck Stamp Contest. For the second year in a row, the suburban Atlanta resident took home the best of show award. 

More than 400 students from elementary school to high school entered the competition April 11, and 100 artists received prizes, but only one painting – Rayen’s – took best of show.

Rayen, 17 and a junior at Northview High School in Johns Creek, was delighted to learn she’d won – again. Last year, when she was 16 and a sophomore, her painting of a hooded merganser left judges wowed. 

When she decided to compete again this year, Rayen looked for something distinct. She found it with the wigeon. 

 “It’s really pretty,” she said. “It has a really distinctive head.”

Rayen, who takes weekly lessons at First Fine Art & Design Academy, began working on her entry in January. She started with a rough sketch, then refined that. She added color – green, creamy white, tan, umber. Rayen lingered over the lighting.  

“I wanted it to be like 3-D,” she said.

It was. As judges reviewed the contestants for best in show, they kept returning to the entry featuring the duck with the iridescent head, the subtle coloration.

43Isaac's winner.

At the National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest 10 days later, 12-year-old Isaac Schreiber from Duffield, Va., won top honors with a pair of trumpeter swans.

PHOTO GALLERY: All the entries

But don’t worry about Rayen. She placed in the top 10, and her plans for next year? She laughed.

“I’ll enter again,” she said.

 The Service has sponsored the competition, which promotes waterfowl and wetlands conservation, since 1989. For more information about the program, visit https://www.fws.gov/birds/education/junior-duck-stamp-conservation-program/conservation-education-curriculum.php.



Karen Yochem: 24-Year Volunteer Has Amazing Commitment to Refuge

   Karen Yochem

We are lucky. Close to 42,000 volunteers choose to give more than 1.5 million service hours a year. They help us band birds, spawn fish, lead wildlife- watching tours and much more.

In honor of National Volunteer Week, April 23-29, meet Karen Yochem. Every week since 1993, Karen has been volunteering at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. She has put in more than 18,821 volunteer hours at the refuge. That is equivalent to 2,352 eight-hour work days and more than 9 years of full-time work.

Read More: Karen is believed to have the third most hours among active volunteers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Putting Action Behind Intent is the Key to Reconnecting With the Outdoors

Wildlife Viewing Area Trail, Lee Metcalf RefugeThis Wildlife Viewing Area Trail at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Montana is just waiting for visitors. Photo by Keith Krejci

Can something really be popular and important, if we never make time for it? 

That’s the paradox outlined in an important new report on the attitudes and behaviors of U.S. adults and children toward nature and the outdoors. The report, commissioned and released today by several partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, summarizes the results of interviews and surveys conducted by professional researchers of nearly 12,000 adults, children and parents across the nation in 2015-2016. 

Despite what you might assume, the study found that Americans of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities share a remarkably strong interest in and support for nature. Most felt time spent outdoors provided them with peace, meaning and purpose. And kids indicated that they were healthier, happier and more creative when they spent time exploring nature and playing outside. 

Yet despite these positive feelings and broad recognition of the benefits nature can provide, the amount of time Americans of all ages spend in the outdoors continues to decline. Whether it’s increasing development that puts what many people feel is “nature” farther away, or growing competition for our limited time from other activities (especially smart phones and electronic media of all sorts), most Americans report significant barriers to spending more time outdoors. 

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that most adults are fine with the limited amount of time they currently spend outdoors. Yet for more than half of them, it’s five hours or less per week! Getting outside used to be the key part of a great weekend. Now, for far too many people, it’s a luxury when there are errands to run or activities to drive the kids to. It’s something to do on vacation a few times a year to special places, because they’ve lost an intimate connection with the natural world right outside their doors.

But kids emulate the adults in their lives. The negligible time we spend in the outdoors is having an impact on their ability and aspirations to go outside. Successive generations are growing up believing that less time spent outdoors is normal, lowering their expectations. 

Children surveyed reported spending an average of 6.6 hours per week in the outdoors. Think about that. Our kids are averaging less than an hour per day – and that amount actually declines as kids get older and more involved in other activities. 

Less than an hour per day. More than half of all adults, and millions of kids are virtual prisoners in their own homes! In fact, if they were actual prisoners, it would be an international human rights violation to give them less than an hour per day of outdoor time. Yet our kids shut themselves indoors to spend an average of 16 hours per week watching television or using electronic media of one sort or another. And adults aren’t much better. 

We have to help them – and ourselves – break out of the virtual prisons we have in many cases voluntarily constructed. But as with any successful prison break, no one can do it alone. 

Families FishingFamilies fishing at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver. Photo by Stephanie Raine/USFWS

Spending time outdoors is an intensely social activity. Yes, many people of all ages like to spend time alone in the outdoors. But for most of us, the best times we’ve had in the outdoors occur when we have friends and family there to share in those experiences. 

Think about your most vivid memories of nature from when you were a child. Chances are, there was someone you loved there with you. Whether it was your first hunting trip with your father, fishing or camping with your grandparents, or hiking a new trail with your mother and sister – these are the experiences that we remember, because they matter. And they matter because being out in nature isn’t just about nature itself. It’s about sharing the wonder with our loved ones. 

So what can we do? Fortunately, the report also includes a number of positive recommendations to help reconnect adults, children and parents with the outdoors. 

First, we can make nature a group activity. When you want to go outside, invite your friends. Take your family, or organize a trip with your church or community group. 

Second, we can redefine for ourselves what “nature” is. For most kids, walking outside and spending time in the woods can be as meaningful and beneficial as a trip to Yosemite. Spending time outdoors doesn’t have to mean backpacking the Great Divide Trail. Taking your family out for a short walk around a local wildlife refuge, or having a picnic at a neighborhood park can be incredibly fun and beneficial. 

Third, we can make getting outside a habit.  It shouldn’t be a chore like going to the gym, but making a routine out of outdoor activities and forcing ourselves to stick to it will benefit us in much the same way. 

Together, we can help each other reconnect with nature and rediscover our passion for the outdoors.

Congrats to Isaac Schreiber, Winner of Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest


U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a talented young artist from Duffield, Va., took top honors at the National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest. A pair of trumpeter swans painted by 12-year-old Isaac Schreiber will grace the 2017-2018 Junior Duck Stamp, which raises funds to educate and engage our nation’s youth in wildlife and wetlands conservation, and outdoor recreation.

PHOTO GALLERY: All the entries

Daniel Billings, 16, of Gallatin, Mo., took second place with an oil painting depicting a wood duck. 

Third place went to Rene Christensen, 17, of Nekoosa, Wis., for her graphite rendition of a pair of Canada geese. 

The 2017 Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation Message Contest winner was 14-year-old Catherine Wang from Johns Creek, Ga., who wrote: “Conservation is the promise that the children of tomorrow will witness the beauty of today.” The conservation message expresses the spirit of what students have learned through classroom discussions, research and planning for their Junior Duck Stamp Contest entries.

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Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest Underway

   Jr. Duck StampThe 2016-2017 Junior Duck Stamp features a pair of Ross's geese by Stacy Shen, 16, of Fremont, California.

Young artists are gathering today at Charleston Music Hall in South Carolina for the 2017 National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest.

Young people whose artwork won "best of show" awards in contests all over the country are competing to have their work appear on the 25th Junior Duck Stamp, which we produce annually. This $5 stamp has become a much sought after collector's item. One hundred percent of the revenue from the sale of Junior Duck stamps goes to support recognition and environmental education activities for students who participate in the program.

Good luck to all the contestants!

Clamping Down on Illegal Grass Carp Sales in Indiana

   grass carp

Nonnative grass carp can be an effective alternative to chemical treatments in controlling aquatic vegetation, but they can harm our native fishery. Indiana allows people to use sterile grass carp as a biological control method in man-made ponds, and the state has in place regulations that keep these fish out of rivers and streams and away from Indiana’s native fishery.

Earlier this year, conservation officers within the investigation section of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources worked closely with special agents within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement to investigate and quickly close a case of a company trying to bypass those regulations.

Read More: Fighting Asian Carp is a Collaborative Effort

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