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The Big Apple Goes Big for Birds

   releasing dovesNew York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver (L) prepares to release a rehabilitated dove in Central Park, following the lead of Service biologist Scott Johnston. Photo by USFWS

"New York City: Migratory Bird Treaty City of the Year"?  

Maybe that's going too far because so many other cities participated or hosted an event in celebration of the 100th anniversary of our nation’s most significant conservation treaty. But the biggest media market in the world – New York City – sure did its part to celebrate. 

To begin with, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared May 5 "Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial Day" in New York. To celebrate, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation hosted an event in Central Park. Students from the Mather School experienced bird watching – many for the first time – in Central Park, and  Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver released rehabilitated doves, with an assist from Service migratory bird biologist Scott Johnston.   

The centennial was also celebrated in an unlikely setting as staff members from the National Audubon Society’s New York City headquarters office rang the New York Stock Exchange opening bell on August 1 in honor of the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial. The occasion was featured on CNBC and Yahoo Finance, among others. 

“What an awesome way to celebrate the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty,” says Chandra Taylor Smith, Audubon's vice president of diversity and inclusion. 

   young and old birdersJamal, a student at International High School, introduces himself to Helen Hays, Director of the Great Gull Island Project with the American Museum of Natural History. He wants to pursue biology and science as a career and is signing up to do volunteer field work on Great Gull Island. Photo by Margaret Byrne/USFWS

The celebration continued  at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium, where partners built a receiver tower to track radio-collared birds, including endangered roseate terns and threatened red knots. Tagging work was funded by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Students participating in the science club at the International High School in New York City will work on a project to track the birds and monitor their flight patterns. Students will present their results at a mini-centennial symposium at the New York Aquarium event.  

Even if New York City must share the title of Migratory Bird Treaty City of the Year with other cities around the country, the Big Apple and its residents showed that they’re for the birds.

Scott Johnston, Migratory Bird Program, Northeast Region


Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Chicago Centennial Celebrations Embrace a Wide Range of Audiences

   bird walkA bird walk through a Chicago area park focused on the significance of birds in Chinese culture. Photo courtesy of Audubon Great Lakes

The Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial came to the Windy City in a big way this summer.

The Chicago area was the focal point for the Service’s regional centennial celebration, and the National Audubon Society Chicago Region worked with the Service’s Midwest Region and community partners to develop a variety of events in communities throughout the Chicago area celebrating the importance of birds in our lives and cultures.

The main event, at Lincoln Park Zoo, highlighted local efforts such as the Urban Bird Treaty program, as well as regional and national efforts in migratory bird conservation. Young people were also able to show off their skills in a youth art contest, with judges including five-time Federal Duck Stamp artist and Minnesota native Joe Hautman.

   bird walk
Many events in the Chicago area focused on getting urban youth into the outdoors. Photo courtesy of Audubon Great Lakes  

Throughout the Midwest, the Service worked with partners to celebrate the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial with local events, including state fairs, youth and adult hunting events, bird festivals, and other bird-centric gatherings. 

“This centennial is a unique opportunity to create awareness and increase support for migratory bird conservation through promoting key actions and engaging the public in centennial-related activities like our event in Chicago,” said Tom Cooper, the Service’s Midwest Region Migratory Bird Program Chief. 

A key partner, Audubon Great Lakes, hosted a number of centennial events connected to a broad range of social and geographic diversity, touching Chicago’s north, west and south sides, in addition to the wider Chicago metro area with events in Cook County, Lake County and DuPage County, as well as northern Indiana. 

Audubon Great Lakes engaged urban audiences around the centennial with two dozen partners, including the National Park Service, the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago and RefugeeOne.

Highlights of these events include: 

  • Bird walks, led by Audubon’s Junior Naturalist Aidan Cullen, where participants identified common neighborhood birds while also looking for fall migrants that were passing through on their way to their wintering grounds in Central and South America.  
  • Trips for 25 refugees, including Congolese Swahili-speakers, Syrian, Iraqi and Somali Arabic-speakers as well as individuals from Burma and Afghanistan, led by Audubon Great Lake. The trips offered information on ethnobotanical uses of native plants, wildlife management practices, bird migration behaviors, as well as broader introductions to park spaces and their amenities. 
  • A bird walk for 30 participants starting at Ping Tom Park, including a discussion about the appreciation of birds and nature in Chinese culture. After a cultural exploration of Chinese music and traditional practices inspired by nature in general and birds in particular, Audubon staff led the group on a bird walk along the river bank. 

Larry Dean, External Affairs, Midwest Region
Contributing: Audubon Great Lakes


Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

 

Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial Establishes New Partnerships

   crowd at banding stationVisitors to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay flock to the banding station to learn how the Service tracks birds. Photo by USFWS

The Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial campaign produced a number of positive results, such as raising awareness of the importance of birds to humans and the natural world, and inspiring people to take simple but meaningful actions for bird conservation. 

SEAWORLD-CENTENNIAL PARTNERSHIP BY THE NUMBERS
  • 275,663 guests and students learned about migratory bird conservation through programs and events at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks.

  • 245,000+ online users were reached with SeaWorld and Busch Gardens centennial social media content.

  • 19,415 young people participated in centennial-focused activities during summer camps and field trips at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks.

  • 6,100 SeaWorld community members received centennial information via emails or texts.

  • 4,100+ SeaWorld and Busch Gardens ambassador employees received information about the centennial.

  • 3,540 people were reached through local community activities highlighting the centennial.

Another positive outcome of this national celebration was the strengthening of traditional partnerships – such as the century-old conservation alliance with Canada – and the creation of new and nontraditional partnerships.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Service’s burgeoning relationship with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, which includes all national SeaWorld and Busch Gardens locations. 

The Service – through the Southeast Region Centennial Team – reached out to SeaWorld to help create awareness about the importance of migratory bird conservation using SeaWorld’s extensive educational resources, reach and availability of migratory species ambassadors. What followed was an enthusiastic effort by SeaWorld to leverage the occasion of the centennial to raise the profile of migratory bird conservation and connect with visitors in its parks across the nation. 

   Daffny Pitchford and owl
Daffny Pitchford, refuge manager of the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Woodbridge, Virginia, helped out at the Busch Gardens Williamsburg event. She also made a new friend – a barn owl. Photo by USFWS  

As of October, more than half a million people had engaged to explore the world of migratory birds and were inspired to act for bird conservation through the efforts of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Among the highlight activities of the centennial partnership with SeaWorld: 

  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Busch Gardens Williamsburg hosted centennial events in August that engaged a total of nearly 4,000 guests. 
  • Educational booths at Wild Days events reached 23,600 park guests at SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld San Antonio. 
  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s centennial celebration engaged guests in bird-related crafts, a bird call karaoke contest and educational stations focused on bird conservation. The event also welcomed back summer campers who had helped assemble nest boxes earlier in the year. 
  • SeaWorld San Diego ambassadors led birding programs for nearly 400 students in the Ocean Connectors program. 
  • Busch Gardens Williamsburg reached more than 750 community members about birds and the centennial through events such as the Historic Jamestown Birds of Prey program and Newport News Parks and Recreation Summer Camp.
  • SeaWorld San Antonio ambassadors shared centennial messaging at a Bexar County, Texas, government meeting where May 14 was declared Bexar Bird Day.

Rachel Fisk Levin, Migratory Bird Program, Headquarters, and Resee Collins, Migratory Bird Program, Southeast Region


Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

10 Simple Ways You Can Help the Environment

   Staff and volunteers restoring tidal marsh at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Staff and volunteers restoring tidal marsh at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Don Freiday/USFWS

This year make a commitment to help out the environment by making everyday easy changes.

Read How

Rescued Pangolin Given a Second Life in Cameroon

   pangolin disappearing into brushReleased pangolin finding its way in the wild. Photo by MENTOR-POP      

Ichu Ichu Godwill  of MENTOR-POP (Progress on Pangolins) tells us how the team's reputation as regional experts on pangolins is gaining traction.

This fall, Dr.Tobias Feldt, a postdoctoral scientist from Germany who is working in North-West Cameroon, contacted MENTOR-POP. “Two days ago, my landlord confronted me with the information that he had bought a ‘strange creature’ from a friend,”he told them. The animal turned out to be a white-bellied pangolin. The landlord planned to keep the animal and display it for tourists and little children. Upon receiving this information, the MENTOR-POP Fellows contacted other pangolin experts in Africa and the authorities of the North-West Regional Delegation of Forestry and Wildlife. In Cameroon, the giant pangolin is completely protected, while the white-bellied and the black-bellied pangolin have partial protection. Regardless of which pangolin, trade in pangolin scales is illegal.

Uncertain of the legality of keeping the pangolin (it would depend on the source of the animal) and realizing that the pangolin would likely not survive long in captivity, the landlord decided to release it back to the wild.

The pangolin was finally released to the wild in the Mbi Crater Forest Reserve in North-West Cameroon  by  the MENTOR-POP team, authorities of the North-West Delegation of Forestry and Wildlife, and Dr. Feldt.  Says Dr. Feldt:

Tarla holds pangolin while others lookFrancis Tarla, the MENTOR-POP Coordinator, provides a close-up look at the soon-to-be-released pangolin to the Conservator of Mbi Crater Forest Reserve and the North-West Regional Chief of Wildlife. Photo by Tobias Feldt

“I had never seen a real pangolin before in my life, but due to my interest in nature documentaries, I was quite aware of their existence in this part of Africa.  So, it immediately attracted my attention when the owner of the place where I am staying for my research here in Bamenda mentioned that he had just purchased a ‘strange animal that rolls up when it is afraid.’ And it became clear from the very first moment that it would not be at all a good idea to keep it. Thanks to the international pangolin conservation family, it took only a few emails to raise the awareness of a global network ofconservationists for my case. But the highlight came when I was invited by MENTOR-POP to witness the first release action ever carried out for a pangolin in the history of Cameroon. It made me very happy, and somehow proud, to see this little fellow being released into the wild again, where it belongs. Overall, it was a pleasure, and a gift, to experience this beautiful creature alive – and later in freedom. And I really hope that other people will still be allowed to share this experience in the future. Farewell, little fellow, and all the best for your ‘second life – and all the best to all pangolins for your future!”

pangolin release teamDr. Tobias Feldt (5th from right) and some members of the delegation that released the white-bellied pangolin. Photo by MENTOR-POP

Pangolins are unique in being the only scaly mammals. Unfortunately, they are heavily trafficked for their scales, which are used in traditional medicines, and their meat, which is considered as a delicacy in some parts of Africa and Asia. As the populations of Asian species have dwindled over the past years, traffickers have shifted to Africa to meet the Asian market demand, making the African species increasingly vulnerable to extinction. All eight species of pangolins have been up-listed to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meaning a complete ban in international trade in pangolins or their parts.

The MENTOR-POP Fellowship, an 18-month program organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, works with transdisciplinary teams to strengthen capacities to conserve pangolins in Central Africa.

 

Eagles Across America

   bald eagle A bald eagle cruises over Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge  along the California-Oregon border. Photo by George Gentry/USFWS

Half a century ago, the bald eagle was in danger of extinction. Habitat loss, illegal shooting and food source contamination (largely via DDT) decimated bald eagle population. The Endangered Species Act, government banning of DDT and conservation actions taken by the public have helped lead a remarkable recovery. The bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007. This week’s National Wildlife Refuge System photo essay, Eagles Across America, touches on why the bald eagle is the grand bird that it is.  

   bald eagle A bloodied bald eagle after downing a meal at Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Photo by Thomas DeHoff  

“Bald eagles tend to evoke passion and emotion in people that few other wildlife species can match,” says Matt Stuber, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region eagle coordinator. “Maybe it’s their size. Maybe it’s because they are our national symbol. Or maybe it’s because many people grew up in a time when bald eagles were rare, which made them all the more special. Maybe it’s all of the above.”

Author E.F. Schumacher said: “Eagles come in all shapes and sizes, but you will recognize them chiefly by their attitudes.”

   bald eagle A bald eagle perches at Camas National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho. Photo by Lance Roberts/USFWS

Despite bald eagles’ recovery, adaptability and increasing population, they still face many human-related threats. Among a few threats cited by Stuber, in no particular order, are:

  • collisions with man-made structures and vehicles
  • lead poisoning and poisoning from other chemicals
  • electrocution
  • illegal shooting
  • unintentional capture in leg-hold traps (meant for other animals)

Today, eagles are protected by at least three laws, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act.

   bald eagle A bald eagle patrols Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Photo by Larry Hitchens

“Eagles Across America” 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.

Bo Derek Joins Efforts to Combat Wildlife Trafficking

 Bo Derek  Actress Bo Derek, who is a WildAid Board Member and has also served as a Special Envoy of the Secretary of State for Wildlife Trafficking, spoke passionately about the need to protect wildlife from trafficking. She became interested in the issue after visiting the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. Photo by Frank Kohn/USFWS

We recently stopped by Capitol Hill to highlight the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners including JetBlue, Discovery Communications, WildAid and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance in the fight against wildlife trafficking. We held a briefing for congressional staff and the public, which allowed us to amplify our messages to Americans and consumers abroad about how they can help reduce demand for illegally traded wildlife. People who travel abroad will sometimes unknowingly make purchases of food, souvenirs, clothing and medicine that are made from imperiled wildlife. Endangered and threatened animals may even be sold as pets.

Here’s a quick overview of how each of these partners is making a difference:

 panel  Our Danielle Kessler moderated a panel with partners including WildAid, Discovery Communications, JetBlue and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. Photo by Frank Kohn/USFWS

WildAid

The #StopWildlifeTrafficking campaign features celebrities in airport billboards and PSAs that ask consumers to protect wildlife by questioning their purchasing choices, particularly for items like ivory. The cast of the Walking Dead TV show is featured in one PSA; a broader range of celebrities are featured in other PSAs. And the video infographic below provides some of the hard-truths about how trafficking is impacting species. More PSAs with additional celebrities will soon be released.

A WildAid campaign in China featuring basketball star Yao Ming and other celebrities has helped to reduce consumption of shark-fin soup by 50-70 percent. This is just one example of WildAid’s success in reducing demand, and we’re hopeful that their expertise in changing consumer behavior will lead to similar successes for species being impacted by U.S. consumers.

JetBlue

The Caribbean is one of the most popular destinations for many of JetBlue’s flights and protecting what makes the Caribbean special is critical to the company’s business interests. JetBlue in partnership with the Service produced a short film featuring local conservation leaders in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Grenada that seeks to empower consumers to serve as guardians of Caribbean wildlife such as sea turtles, coral, and blue and gold macaws. The film is being shown on JetBlue flights, which carry 35 million passengers each year.

Discovery Communications

In September, at the most recent international wildlife trade conference (CITES COP17), Discovery Communications released a new PSA created in collaboration with the Service. It is narrated by actor Edward Norton and is now airing on Discovery networks in the United States and abroad. The PSA was part of the company’s mission to not only inspire people, but also empower them to protect the world’s wildlife and natural wonders

U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance

The U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance has recruited a large number of companies and organizations under one umbrella to work together to take on the wildlife trafficking crisis. Sara Walker, Executive Director of the Alliance, explained that while it’s not an issue that has been on the radar (yet) for many companies, there is relevance and a role for them to play in helping to protect wildlife. Some big names have already joined the Alliance in addition to Discovery, JetBlue, and WildAid, including Google, eBay, Ralph Lauren, and Tiffany.

   Senator Jeff Flake

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) meets with Office of Law Enforcement Chief, William C, Woody, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, Bo Derek and our partners. Senator Flake was a lead co-sponsor of the recently passed END Wildlife Trafficking Act. Photo by USFWS

Congressional Interest in Combating Wildlife Trafficking is Significant

Giving us new tools to fight wildlife trafficking, last year Congress passed, and the President signed into law the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act. This legislation demonstrates that protection of wildlife, both domestically and abroad, is a priority for Congress that has broad, bipartisan support. 

Following the briefing, other Members of Congress and their staff took time to meet with us and our partners to discuss the progress we are making. 

Senator Coons, one of the lead sponsors of the END Wildlife Trafficking Act said, “The collaboration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with private sector leaders is essential if we are to meet our goal of quickly and effectively combatting wildlife trafficking and poaching. Countless species worldwide, including well-known ones like elephants, sea turtles, and rhinos, could potentially be lost if we don’t take action. The partnership of well-respected advocacy organizations, like WildAid and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, will be critical to combine the strength of all sectors to empower Americans to know what they can do to help protect wildlife around the world. I am proud of the work Congress did earlier this year to pass the END Wildlife Trafficking Act, which provides congressional authorization and guidance for this important work.” 

Senator Flake, another lead sponsor of the END Wildlife Trafficking Act stated: “Wildlife trafficking is a multibillion-dollar industry that not only threatens to extinguish iconic wildlife, but also fuels an illicit industry that threatens global security. I am thankful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other stakeholders are bringing awareness to this important issue.”  

   Congressman Mike Thompson Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA-5) meets with Bo Derek, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and our partners. Photo by USFWS

The Service looks forward to continuing to work with Congress on the important issue of combating wildlife trafficking.

SECAS: An Unprecedented Vision for Conserving the Southeast Landscape

   BlueprintThe SECAS Blueprint 1.0 shown here represents lands with high conservation value, but it is not an acquisition boundary. In fact, much of the “high” priority is already in the conservation estate, while the “medium” areas are important for promoting and maintaining connectivity. 

The Southeast Region’s population grew 40 percent faster than any other region over the past six decades. Cities are getting bigger. Rural communities are getting smaller.  

Urbanization, population and related growth trends, and a range of related conservation needs prompted all members of the Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA); 12 federal agencies including the Service, all members of the federal Southeast Natural Resource Leaders Group; and conservation partners steering the work of six Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) to come together in 2011 to develop a shared, long-term vision called the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS).

[More]

Alaska is Different: It Has OSM

3 people with harvested caribou    Subsistence users transport harvested caribou in Northwestern Alaska. Photo by Lisa Maas/USFWS

From caribou and permafrost to massive refuges accessed only by float planes, most folks recognize that Alaska is different.  So different, in fact, that an entire federal initiative, the Federal Subsistence Management Program, operates only in the Alaska Region.

For rural Alaskans, subsistence fishing and hunting provide a large share of their food – annually they harvest about 18,000 tons of wild foods, including salmon and moose.  An economic benefit to be sure, but the harvest of wild foods also connects them to the land and a way of life that has been passed down for thousands of years.

“Like many in the Arctic, my family relies on the land for food,” Keemuel Kenrud, an Arctic Youth Ambassador, writes in a blog.

The Federal Subsistence Management Program and the Office of Subsistence Management (OSM), which supports the program, aim to ensure that wild resources on federal lands remain available to people like Kenrud.

UpperKenaiScenicThe Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act re-designated Kenai National Moose Range as Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

Some may be familiar with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the 1980 law that established or added to Alaska’s 16 refuges.  A lesser-known function of the law was to prioritize subsistence uses by rural Alaskans on federal public lands and water over other consumptive uses.   Since 1990, when the federal government assumed management of subsistence on federal public lands from the state of Alaska, OSM has administered this subsistence priority.  

Dual management of fish and wildlife harvest is another way Alaska is different.  Only rural Alaskan residents qualify as “federal subsistence users,” so two sets of regulations govern harvest on federal public lands and waters in the state:  one for most Alaska residents and non-residents administered by the state of Alaska and one for federally qualified subsistence users administered by OSM and the Federal Subsistence Management Program.

Any U.S. citizen can submit proposals to modify federal subsistence regulations (i.e., extend a moose season, reduce the harvest limit of salmon).  OSM then analyzes the effects of the proposed regulation change on fish and wildlife populations as well as subsistence uses, and shepherds proposals through multiple rounds of review, including by the 10 Regional Advisory Councils.

The councils, established by ANILCA, are made up of local subsistence and sport/commercial users and provide a regional forum for subsistence issues.  After discussions, the councils make recommendations to the Federal Subsistence Board, which makes the final decision on proposals.  The eight-member board is composed of the Regional Directors of five federal agencies – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service – and three public members with extensive subsistence knowledge and experience who are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior with concurrence from the Secretary of Agriculture. 

“Being a [subsistence] user, eating [the food we harvest] every day, handing that tradition down to my family, and showing them why it’s important that we have strong environmental programs, that we have regulations, that we have management plans, to protect the way of life for ourselves, I think is critical to the future of Alaska,” Anthony Christianson, the new chair of the Federal Subsistence Board, told Alaska Public Media.

Lisa Maas, Office of Subsistence Management, Alaska Region


Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Director Dan Ashe, Key Member of the FWS Family, Steps Down

Appreciation for the people who work with him drove Ashe when he served as director and throughout Service career. His last day is January 20.

   Dan and Scout polant milkweedAshe and a Girl Scout check on a milkweed planting, done to help monarch butterflies.  Photo by Lisa Cox/USFWS

Dan Ashe has garnered his share of accolades over his 22 years with the Service, the last five and a half as Director, but when it comes to naming what he thinks are his greatest accomplishments, he hesitates. “I think I will let other people decide whether things have been great.”

That’s not to say there aren’t things he is proud of. In summary, Ashe says he is proud of his work with the Service “in a variety of capacities” and his “work on things that are important and consequential.”

Specifically, he mentions the Refuge System Improvement Act in 1997 – a framework document for managing the National Wildlife Refuge System – the Service’s first scientific integrity policy, the climate change policy, landscape-scale conservation and more.

Fish and Wildlife Service Family

But when you speak to Dan Ashe, what you hear is his appreciation for the people who work with him. He doesn’t say he is proud he did this or he did that. Instead he says “we developed,” “we drove conservation.”

   Dan diving with Susan WhiteAshe and the Service’s Susan White see the sights around Palmyra National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific. Photo by USFWS

Fitting with that, Ashe says what he will miss most at the Service when he leaves are the people.

“We use the word family a lot here in the Fish and Wildlife Service,” he says, “and in many regards it feels that way.” And he will miss working with that family on issues big and small.

Chad Karges, the manager of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, was thankful for Ashe’s help dealing with a major issue a year ago: the illegal occupation of the refuge. “Dan's engagement was fundamental to lessening impacts to Service employees and resources,” Karges says.

But the Service family needs to grow to remain relevant, and Ren Lohoefener, who just retired after 27 years with the Service, including eight years as Pacific Southwest Regional Director, credits Ashe for seeing that, calling him “a force for change within the Service.” 

  Dan with Sigma members Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity International President Jonathan Mason (left to right) chats with Ashe, Sigma Deputy Director Steve Ballard and retired Service Deputy Director Rowan Gould in 2014 after the Service and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity signed a historic agreement to encourage urban youth to experience the natural world and promote their interest in conservation and biological sciences. Photo by Tami Heilemann/DOI

Lohoefener lauds Ashe’s support of diversity in our hiring to expand our family so we better reflect the diversity of our audience.

The Service family has always played an important part in Ashe’s life. His dad, Bill, was a career employee with the Service, and Dan Ashe grew up around the refuges of the Southeast.

At an event in June, he told an audience that he used to be known around the Service as “Bill Ashe’s son.”

The idea of family extends also to some of the advice Ashe has for his successor. “Love the people that work for you,” he says, “and they’ll go to the ends of the earth for you.”

Supporting the Field

   releasing black-footed ferrets: Dan holding carrierAshe and Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Noreen Walsh release black-footed ferrets. Photo by USFWS

His father, Ashe says, taught him that. Bill Ashe was very supportive of the people in the field, and Ashe says he learned to always support the field because much of the work “that gets done in the Fish and Wildlife Service gets done by this thing we lump into ‘the field.’”

Don Campton, science advisor and fish biologist in the Pacific Region, recalls meeting Ashe at a national meeting of science staffs back when Ashe was Science Advisor to the Director at the time.  “At the meeting, Dan asked all of us, ‘What are your needs?’” Campton told him that the Service needed online electronic access to scientific journals, something that Campton says was relatively new at the time. Campton says he is sure Ashe had heard that need before, and he “made that request a reality.”

“It is impossible,” Campton says, “to overstate the value of those contributions to the Service.”

Challenges that will be Overcome

That kind of support may be key as the Service faces challenges in the years ahead – the biggest in Ashe’s mind is the growth of human population, 10 billion by midcentury. The increase, he says, means that “every day is the best remaining day” for wildlife.

He tells people this when he talks to them – because it is true, he says, and integrity is important to Ashe, something else he got from his father.

But it doesn’t mean “we won’t have success.”

Ashe is optimistic.

What it does mean, he says, is that people “will have to make places for [wildlife species] to survive.” People will have to be “energetic enough and skilled enough to make places for them to survive.”

And Ashe thinks they will.

aSHE AND mEGAN rEED   Ashe with the Service’s Megan Reed, who presented a resolution on youth engagement at the 17TH Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in October. Ashe says he’ll “remember that moment for the rest of his life.” Photo by USFWS

“I see young people who are talented and energetic and dedicated, and they have tools and will have tools we have never imagined possible to bring to the task, so I am optimistic about the future.”

Lohoefener agrees there are challenges ahead and says Ashe positioned the Service to overcome them. “Dan will be recognized as a pivotal director during a time of global challenges.”

Bryan Arroyo, the Assistant Director for International Affairs, has seen Ashe work on the world’s stage. “Dan's leadership has transcended borders, taking the conservation mission of the Service global.” 

And thanks to Ashe, Arroyo adds, the Service has become a key player worldwide. “His balanced approach between conservation and sustainability has made him and the Service a trusted partner around the globe, allowing us to be influential on both domestic and international conservation policy.” 

Advice

 Dan speaks at Ivory Crush

Ashe speaks at the Ivory Crush in New York City, the second such event designed to raise awareness of the poaching crisis that threatens the existence of elephants. Photo by USFWS

Whoever follows him will find plenty of notes on how to succeed from Ashe, who says he has been gathering advice for a while. Some are quite basic, he says, such as “don’t answer your cellphone if you don’t know the number; let them leave a message.”

More seriously, he reminds the next director that “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an institution, not a person … your job is to maintain it so that you can hand it off to the next temporary custodian in as good or better condition than you received it.”

And he quotes President Lyndon Johnson when he describes what he calls “the dark side of the job.” Johnson once said, “Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There's nothing to do but to stand there and take it.” Sometimes, Ashe says, that is the director’s job.

But he was proud to represent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, something he has called “the greatest professional honor of my life.”

As he prepares to walk out the door as director one last time, Ashe thanks everyone. He knows he’ll still be working with the Service in his new role as President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He also knows the Service will succeed, “and I’ll be watching.”

-- Matt Trott, External Affairs


Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

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