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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Northern Aplomado Falcon Now a Fixture in the Coastal Prairies of South Texas

Romeo Garcia  Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge biologist Romeo Garcia holds a 23-day old aplomado falcon nestling being prepared for banding. Photo by C. Perez/USFWS

Wildlife biologist Chris Perez shares some awesome news about the endangered northern Aplomado falcon.

Once considered common in its U.S. range, the northern Aplomado falcon declined rapidly after the 1930s and was considered extirpated in the United States by the late 1950s. The reason for their disappearance in South Texas is blamed on over-collection. At the time, egg collecting was a hobby much like stamp collecting; "oology" it was called. We protected it as an endangered species in 1986.

But even before that, our partners at The Peregrine Fund were hard at work on the restoration of the northern Aplomado falcon to South Texas. The Fund was working on captive breeding of the falcon and began experimental releases on Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Los Fresnos, Texas, in 1985.

So far, more than 1,500 young Aplomado falcons have been released in South Texas.

Aplomado falcon  An Aplomado falcon in flight. Photo by Cal Sandfort, The Peregrine Fund

As a result of these efforts, this rare and attractive falcon has now been restored to its former South Texas range, and, according to Peregrine Fund biologists Paul Juergens and Brian Mutch, the 2016 nesting season has seen some of the highest territorial pairs and individual falcons to date. 

Along the South Texas coastal landscape, a total of 37 territorial pairs and 93 individual falcons were documented.  Numbers continue edging upward, bringing this endangered falcon closer to 60 self-sustaining pairs, the current goal to downlist the species to threatened, an impressive recovery from zero birds just 30-some years ago.

The Peregrine Fund continues to monitor the progress of recovery with assistance by our biologists.  Despite new threats to their coastal prairie habitat such as wind farms and other development, it is clear the northern Aplomado falcon is now firmly established within the South Texas coastal prairie.

Abandoned Landfill and Private Landowners Provide Hope for Pollinators

landfill afterOur Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program worked with the city of Burlington, Vermont, to convert an abandoned and grass-capped landfill into a blooming sea of flowers and plants that would attract a variety of pollinator species, including the declining monarch butterfly.

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Collaborative Conservation Pays Off for One of Idaho’s Rarest Plant Species

Pollinators are pivotal to increasing Packard’s milkvetch reproduction. Pollinators are pivotal to increasing Packard’s milkvetch reproduction. The increasing presence of native, pollinator-friendly plants is helping to improve the prospects for a species once considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Justin Fulkerson/Idaho Natural Heritage Program

An early diagnosis of the conservation challenge and a concerted focus of resources on the ground with willing partners can often avert acute conservation conditions and prevent a trip to the Endangered Species list.  Packard’s milkvetch, one of the rarest plants in Idaho, benefitted from such early  action.

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Reno FWO Botanist: Overcoming ‘Plant Blindness’ Crucial to Saving Sagebrush Sea

Sarah Kulpa, a US Fish and Wildlife Service botanist, works with native plants in the University of Nevada-Reno greenhouse complex. Credit: Dan Hottle/USFWS Sarah Kulpa, a US Fish and Wildlife Service botanist, works with native plants in the University of Nevada-Reno greenhouse complex. Credit: Dan Hottle/USFWS

Sarah Kulpa, a botanist and plant ecologist for our Reno Fish and Wildlife Office, is leading the charge to help scientists, landowners and other partners working on protecting sagebrush across Nevada’s portion of the Great Basin understand that successful conservation not only depends upon what’s happening on the ground, but also what’s in the ground.

Too often, the missing link is seeds from native plants.

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Summer Rocks on a National Wildlife Refuge

Grab the kids. Head out the door. Summer arrives today at 6:34 p.m. ET. , and here’s a way to start it right: Take your wiggly crew on a day trip to a national wildlife refuge.

Wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are full of amazing sights. And they’re closer than you think. If you live in a big city, chances are there’s a refuge within an hour’s drive

What can you and your clan do in summer on a wildlife refuge? Lots. Try these ideas for starters.

See the sights

 alligator snapping turtleAlligator snapping turtle, Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama. Photo by Garry Tucker/USFWS

National wildlife refuges and the wildlife they protect are an integral part of our American heritage.

Refuges are your public lands, protecting such species such as alligators, whooping cranes and sea turtles. You owe it to yourself to check them out. Here are some of the most popular refuges to see wildlife.

Snap great nature images

 Taylor’s checkerspot A Taylor’s checkerspot displays its distinctive wing pattern in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Photo by Aaron Barna 

Ever wanted to play Ansel Adams? Here’s your chance. At a refuge, you can find wonderful nature subjects galore. Pick up some nature photography tips from experts.

Go fish

 fishing The Service's Mindy Gautreaux and daughter Jordan show off their catch after Mindy gave Jordan a fishing lesson at a camp in Mississippi. Photo by Mindy Gautreaux/USFWS

Many wildlife refuges are great spots to land a big one – or give your kids a beginner’s lesson. Check out the Refuge System fishing guide.

Try birding

birderA youngster scans for birds at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Birding is always popular on refuges. Many refuges were established to protect habitat for migratory birds. If you don’t have binoculars, ask if you can borrow a pair at the refuge visitor station. Starting with big birds – such as cranes, herons, prairie chickens and storks – is a good idea for youngsters and first-timers.  Birding checklists and more.

Take a walk

hiking Participants in a “hike with a ranger” event pause at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, California. Photo by USFWS

You say you could use a little exercise?  Go for it. Take a walk in nature, enjoying the fresh air and the sights and colors around you. Go on a guided walk or venture out on your own-- sometimes it’ll just be you and the wildlife around you. Find a trail near you

Go for a paddle

Canoeing Canoe trail, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Photo by Berkley Bedell/USFWS

Summer is supposed to involve water, right? Find some awesome refuge water trails.

Take a scenic drive

See the wildlife without breaking a sweat. Many refuges have auto tour routes that let you see the sights from your vehicle. Find some great scenic refuge drives.


National wildlife refuges, and all the wildlife they protect, are an integral part of our American heritage. Any time is the right time to visit a refuge, and you won’t regret a summer visit.

Happy Pollinator Week!

Green Sweat Bee on Wavyleaf Thistle
A green sweat bee visits a wavyleaf thistle plant in North Dakota. Photo by Krista Lundgren/USFWS

This week is Pollinator Week. The celebration of these enormously important hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies and flies began in 2007. Without them, wildlife would have fewer nutritious berries and seeds, and we would miss many fruits, vegetables and nuts, like blueberries, squash, chocolate and coffee, that depend on pollinators. Our Midwest Region has a good introduction to pollinators and ideas on how to help them. Our Northeast Region shares a story from Vermont on the decline of bumble bees there.

Hooray for Fish Ladders and Generous People

A young alewife. Photo by Katie Conrad/USFWS  

I use a wheelchair, which means that more than once I have had to be carried somewhere or picked up off the floor.

I am always overwhelmed by other folks’ willingness to help -- sometimes complete strangers. At the same time, I yearn for independence.

As I read about a recent fish passage project on the Saugatucket River in Rhode Island, I couldn’t help but compare my situation with the river herring and cheer the fish on.

Spring Migration for Fish 

Each spring, anadromous fish like the alewife and blueback herring, collectively called river herring, migrate from saltwater, up a river, to freshwater to spawn. River herring can swim more than 10,000 miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean to lay eggs in freshwater lakes with ample food and few predators. 

In reality, dams and mills often create barriers.

Fish Ladders

A fish ladder, which is an inclined series of tiny waterfalls that create an alternate stream for the fish,  can help. These ladders mimic the natural flow of a river and allow fish to travel to the other side of the dam.

But the fish ladders along the Saugatucket River at Main Street Dam and Palisades Mill were too steep and difficult for fish to navigate. When community members noticed the build-up of fish near the ladders, they hand-carried the fish over the dams, helping thousands of river herring complete their migration pattern.  (Is it dusty in here? Why are my eyes watering?) 

With our partners we recently finished work on new fish ladders, and earlier this spring, tens of thousands of river herring utilized these improved passages and migrated independently up the river to spawn.

I never before thought of myself as a river herring, now I’ll never forget. And on behalf of my new-found fishy brothers and sisters, I’d like to thank the people of Wakefield for carrying the river herring and everyone who built new ladders to give them back their independence.


By Matt Trott with Emily Schaefer 


How Do You Move Half a Million Fish?

 Service and Tribal staff have been working quickly and proactively this week to save thousands of young Spring Chinook from rising temperatures at Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery in Central Oregon.

With patience, precision and pep in your step. And that is exactly how our fisheries staff and Warm Springs Tribal partners have managed to save 578,000 young fish from the perils of rising water temperatures.

Moving this many fish isn’t easy but after the unprecedented heat last year, fisheries managers for the Service decided to beat the heat and be proactive. “Last July we had to react to the situation - water temperatures at Warm Springs in the seventies and fish can’t tolerate that - we had to do an emergency transfer,” said Warm Springs Hatchery Manager Mary Bayer. “We were seeing temperatures rising so we are moving all of our fish earlier to avoid a crisis situation.”

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Desert Tortoises Say ‘Oorah’

Combat Center Chief of Staff, Col. James F. Harp releases

Last September, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, discharged 35 individuals. But you won’t hear them singing about “the halls of Montezuma.” They are, you see, threatened desert tortoises the center had carefully raised for almost nine years.

Tortoise numbers in the wild have declined rapidly over the past few decades due to predation and upper respiratory disease. Soft shells make young tortoises particularly vulnerable to predators. So the center’s biologists used a process call headstarting. They shelter the tortoises until they are better able to survive on their own, protecting them from disease and dangers and ensuring adequate vegetation is available for juveniles.

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Penobscot River Reaches the Sea -- Restoration Project Celebrates Final Milestone

 Howland Dam
The Howland nature-like fishway (to the left of the photo) is one of the largest in the country. It allows fish to bypass the Howland Dam both up- and downstream. Functioning as a river, it can support all kinds of wildlife, from American eel to freshwater mussels and insects. Photo by Josh Royte/TNC/Lighthawk

The Penobscot River, New England’s second largest river system, once flowed freely for more than 100 miles from Maine’s North Woods to the sea. Over two centuries, more than 100 dams were built that crippled its course, obstructing the migratory paths of sea-run fish like Atlantic salmon, shad, eels and alewives and diminishing the water’s health and food for wildlife upstream.

One by one, those dams have come down, been bypassed or received improved fish passage techniques, freeing the river to again reach the Atlantic. This project is the work of more than a decade of cooperative action by federal and state agencies, the Penobscot Indian Nation, conservation groups, towns and dam owners. Energy production will be maintained through improvements to other dams upriver.

Who Benefits?

  • Forage fish like American eel, sea lamprey, rainbow smelt, shad, alewives, striped bass and tomcod gain renewed levels of insects. These fish, in turn, attract kingfishers, fish-eating ducks, herons, eagles, ospreys and river otters.
  • One species particularly critical to the project is endangered Atlantic salmon. Historically, the Penobscot River supported Maine’s largest populations of Atlantic salmon, with annual runs prior to 1830 estimated at 50,000 to 70,000 adults. Today, the Penobscot River represents the best chance for restoring wild Atlantic salmon in the United States. The project is an essential step for successful restoration of salmon. Ten other sea-run fish, such as American eel, sea lamprey, sturgeon, tomcod, smelt and striped bass, also benefit.
  • Recovery of Atlantic salmon would renew opportunities for the Penobscot Indian Nation to exercise its rights for sustenance fishing.
  • The people of the area are able to enjoy the river more fully. Projections based on the Service’s 2010 fisheries economic report indicate that the reconnection of the river’s waters will bring more than $500 million in benefits to the local economy.

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