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A Talk on the Wild Side.

#FindYourWay on Snow

 3 photos of Snowshoers , first by himself, second 2 YOUNG PEOPLE RUN AND THIRD A CHILD ON AN ADULT's shoulders  Snowshoers enjoy the terrain at, from left, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota. Photos by USFWS

From the Great Plains, the Great Lakes and the Northeast to the high country of the West and the expanses of Alaska, national wildlife refuges in northern latitudes are special places to celebrate winter.

Many of them are ideal for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Some also lend themselves, in Alaska especially, to dog sledding (aka mushing) and skijoring. See “#FindYourWay on Snow,” a National Wildlife Refuge System photo essay. 

3 photos of snow: top photo has otters on riverbank, below, left is cardinal in snowy evergreen, and third is people on a sleighride viewing elk   Whatever your mode of travel over snow at a national wildlife refuge, you might see – clockwise from top – curious river otters, majestic elk, a resplendent cardinal or other wildlife. Photos, clockwise from top, by Kenny Bahr, Lori Iverson/USFWS, Steve Gifford

“#FindYourWay on Snow” is part of the Refuge System’s series of online stories that highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. New stories are posted on the Refuge System home page on Wednesdays. The stories are archived here.

Service Leader Sheehan Helps Injured Peregrine

  Sherwood with bandage on wing Photo by Wildlife Center of Texas

It is not easy being a migratory bird. Just ask Sherwood the peregrine falcon.

Migrating thousands of miles one way takes its toll and a lot along the way can cause you harm. While migrating down the Texas coast, Sherwood, a juvenile bird, is thought to have hit a loading crane while in a stoop, injuring a wing and a talon.  

Ideally, injured wildlife should go to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Rehabbers are trained and have permits to care for wildlife. But Sherwood was spotted by a bystander who rescued him. The rescuer stopped by Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters to ask for help, which is how Sherwood came into the care of Greg Sheehan (seen below with vet staffer), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Principal Deputy Director.

RELATED: Lost Marbled Murrelet Found in Roadway, Returned to the Sea by Wildlife Heroes

Sheehan was ending his day touring national wildlife refuges on the upper Gulf Coast of Texas when he and refuge staff were approached to help with the falcon, which appeared to be in shock. They realized the bird needed immediate attention, so Sheehan and staff loaded up the tranquil peregrine in the only carrier available – a cardboard box – and went in search of an open vet clinic.

  Greg Sheehan and vet staffer in front of x-ray

“We are driving down the highway with this bird in a box, and he starts to get pretty active,” says Sheehan. “The prospect of having a peregrine flying around in an SUV is not ideal.” After a long and interesting drive – some of it spent trying to contain the bird – Sheehan and staff found the Sherwood Animal Clinic in Beaumont, Texas. Sherwood’s namesake, the clinic is owned by a vet that specializes in exotic animals.

They left Sherwood there that evening, and Sheehan stopped by the next morning to check on the bird’s progress.

During winter migration, Arctic peregrines, considered one of the fastest animals on earth, are often seen along the Texas Gulf Coast where they hunt for shorebirds, ducks, songbirds and even bats.  They feed along the shorelines, employing a 200-mph dive toward prey, known as a stoop. Peregrines need to build up their reserves before their long migration to South America. National wildlife refuges, and national and state parks along the Texas coast are well-known for hosting large concentrations of migrating peregrine falcons in the spring and fall, with Padre Island National Seashore and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge recognized as internationally important staging areas for the falcons.

  Sherwood looking over shoulderPhoto by Wildlife Center of Texas

The injury to Sherwood’s wing was significant enough that he was transferred to the Wildlife Center of Texas, a wildlife rehabilitation facility with a long history of successfully treating injured raptors. Even though Sherwood’s injuries are healing, he may not be released to the wild. If unable to fully regain use of this injured wing, he will become an ambassador bird at a zoo or educational institution.

 “We would really like to see this bird released on a national wildlife refuge where he can go back to hunting those shorelines, but mostly we are glad that he’s alive,” says Sheehan. “If he has to be a captive bird, he will bring a lot of happiness to a lot of people.  Ambassador Sherwood sounds pretty good.” 

Search Party: In Maine, Partners Find Common Ground in Cold Water

 3 people standing in a pond  Service biologist Kirstin Underwood shows trainees how to put data loggers in streams to record water temperature. Photo by Bridget Macdonald/USFWS

By Bridget Macdonald

“If you were a salmon, where would you want to be in the summertime?” Service fisheries biologist Scott Craig asks about a dozen people at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

They aren’t there to hear the answers. They are there to help find them. A few hours later, most are knee-deep in Popple Flowage learning how to install data loggers underwater to find sites that offer prime habitat for salmon — or could if restored.

Once the loggers are installed, they can be left alone to record water temperatures for up to three years. But up front, it requires a lot of time in the field, toting a lot of equipment— tape, epoxy, a wire brush and a camera to document the site well enough to find it again. Preferably a waterproof camera.

“I already fell in this morning when I was out scouting the site,” says Service biologist Kirstin Underwood, who was co-leading the training with Craig.

It’s worth the trouble. For young Atlantic salmon —called parr — summer is the time to forage, mature and grow, which they can only do in water 44 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference: That’s cold. The low end of the temperature range for an Olympic swimming pool is 77 degrees.

When water temperatures pass that threshold, salmon suffer. “They still eat, but they don’t gain weight because their metabolisms are running so high,” says Craig. When water temperatures stay high for several days, salmon will relocate in search of cold water. When they’re traveling, they’re not growing, and the likelihood that they will live long enough to reproduce begins to diminish.

That’s not just a problem for fish; it’s a problem for Maine.

“Cold water is our natural heritage,” explains Merry Gallagher of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. As a native fish conservation biologist, Gallagher’s primary focus is Eastern brook trout — a species of special concern in Maine —and as with salmon, temperature is everything. Brook trout do best in water between 54 and 68 degrees.

  sallmon parr in stream Like other Maine species, Atlantic salmon parr need cold water. Photo by E. Peter Steenstra/USFWS

The challenge, Gallagher says, is that “Maine is a big state, with a lot of water.” More than 44,000 miles of rivers and streams in 10 major watershed regions, encompassing more than 35,000 square miles. Just 1,000 square miles shy of the total area of the five other New England states combined.

That’s why partners from Native American tribes, universities, watershed councils, land trusts, nonprofit organizations, and several state and federal agencies in the United States and Canada formed the Maine Stream Temperature Working Group. They all share a stake in Maine’s cold water heritage, and now they are sharing resources that can help them preserve it.

“There were a lot of organizations keyed into streams and stream temperature in Maine, and many people were collecting data in different places at different times across the state,” says Service biologist Serena Doose, former coordinator of the working group. “We knew that all of that data would be of greater value if it was collected and shared.” That’s because when all of the information is one place, it’s easier to see where the gaps are.

 man at water's edge, holding up a card
Fisheries biologist Scott Craig at a training for the Maine Stream Temperature Working Group at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in May. Photo by Bridget Macdonald/USFWS  

Ecologist Ben Letcher of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center was thinking the same thing on an even bigger scale. With support from the Service and a regional conservation collaborative, his research group had been developing the Spatial Hydro-Ecological Decision System (SHEDS) — a regional stream temperature database and more — designed to support better management of aquatic resources across the Northeast.

The goal was to build a model that could predict daily stream temperature at most locations in the region — except sites with unusual groundwater inputs or water management practice—based on weather conditions, characteristics of the surrounding watershed and actual measurements taken by people in the field. The perfect tool to find sweet spots for species such as salmon and brook trout.

Just as the coordinators of the Maine partnership were looking for a central repository for partners to store their data, Letcher approached them about piloting the SHEDS database.

They dove right in.

“I was surprised to see how many different organizations were involved,” says Jeff Walker, an environmental and water resources engineer who helped design the SHEDS database.

But for participants, it seemed natural. “As soon as I got wind of the group, I thought: ‘Yes! We want to be involved,’” says Jeff Stern of the Androscoggin River Watershed Council. Stern focuses on habitat restoration projects for brook trout and says he has noticed that the main stem of the river has been getting increasingly warmer in the summer.

“In the long run, the tributaries are going to be the saving grace for brook trout.” Stern says. The streams “are smaller, more shaded and will stay cooler as the climate changes,” he explains. “SHEDS will help us focus in on exactly where we need to be concentrating our efforts.”

And the focus gets sharper as more partners contribute. Courtney Nickerson, a board member of the Merrymeeting Bay Chapter of Trout Unlimited and of Fly Fishing in Maine, was looking for a way to channel his local knowledge of aquatic systems into a project that aligned with the missions of his organizations when he heard about the working group. He attended a training in November 2016 and went home with 10 data loggers to deploy.

“As someone who is out on the water a lot, I understand how important cold water is to an entire river system,” says Nickerson. “Trout Unlimited can use the information we collect to keep track of streams and be better stewards at the local level, but anyone who goes into SHEDS can use that data to help make better management decisions now, and hopefully 10 years and 50 years into the future.”

According to Underwood, who is now the coordinator for the working group, SHEDS has temperature data from 1,773 sites in Maine — that includes data from 194 active sites where data loggers have been installed, as well as historic data.

There are now almost 100 million stream temperature measurements in SHEDS for the entire Northeast, and nearly half of them are in Maine.

While there is still more ground to cover, the picture is coming into focus.

“There are some areas where, until recently, we didn’t have any data at all,” says Gallagher. “We are continually getting new information, and every iteration of the model is an improvement.”

They are getting warmer in their search for cold water.

BRIDGET MACDONALD, External Affairs, Northeast Region

Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

From Massachusetts to South Carolina, Recovering Seabeach Amaranth

new seabeach amaranth plant    A new seabeach amaranth plant on Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Jennifer Koches/USFWS

By Jennifer Koches

This is a story about people, places and a plant — but it’s more than just that. This is a story about faith in a tiny little seed and the huge potential for recovering a threatened species.

First things first — the plant

Most people have probably never heard of seabeach amaranth, but for such an obscure little dune plant, it bears a mighty burden. This low-growing annual colonizes newly disturbed habitats such as over-wash areas at the end of barrier islands and flat, low-lying areas along the foremost dunes. It is perfectly designed for trapping sand and plays an important role in the dune-building process. As sand builds around the sprawling amaranth (some healthy plants can grow more than three feet in diameter), other plants move in, aiding in the establishment of dunes and eventually out-competing the amaranth. The amaranth moves on to new areas, and the cycle repeats. Because of this, seabeach amaranth is noted in the botanical world as a “fugitive” species.

   seabeach amaranth
  Some healthy seabeach amaranth plants can grow more than three feet in diameter. Photo by Kate Iaquinto/USFWS


Its ecological role cannot be overstated. The more sand that is trapped, the more vegetation can become established; the more stable the dunes, the more protected the beaches – you get the picture. It wouldn’t be a stretch to refer to seabeach amaranth as the Atlas of the beach-plant world, bearing the weight of coastal protection on its back.

Seabeach amaranth inhabits the dynamic shores of the Atlantic Coast, historically from Massachusetts to South Carolina, setting its roots wherever suitable habitat is available. First described in the early 1800s, it was frequently collected and written about. But by the 1900s with the advent of bulkheads and seawalls, the decline began. Increasing pressures on coastal habitats from development, human foot traffic, beach driving and such disastrous storms as Hurricane Hugo in 1989 sounded major alarms for the species, eventually resulting in its listing as a threatened species by the Service in 1993. Populations had declined to the point that the plant was only found in New York, North Carolina and South Carolina —Long Island being the northernmost population in existence. Since listing, additional threats have been identified such as beach nourishment projects, grazing by herbivores and invasive species.

Just like the environments in which seabeach amaranth grows, populations can be highly dynamic with numbers fluctuating widely from year to year. But something noteworthy has happened over the last decade, something more than just a fluctuation. A significant decline from a high of almost 250,000 plants tanked to just around 1,300 rangewide. Time to rally the troops.

The People

Dale Suiter, an endangered species biologist in the Service’s Raleigh Field Office, was behind the number crunching. As recovery lead for the species, he has kept up-to-date on seabeach amaranth populations since 2003. And being the lead for a species that historically spans nine states, he has had the opportunity to get to know quite a few folks who are working hard to recover this plant, including Erin King, biologist at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Connecticut. The two began to craft a rangewide recovery project to bolster the species. In short, the plan involved collecting seabeach amaranth seeds from existing populations and establishing seed plots on beaches at coastal refuges throughout the species’ historical range.

They realized that establishing more self-sustaining populations in natural areas less vulnerable to man-made threats was needed to prevent seabeach amaranth from going extinct.

   seeds in wAterSeabeach amaranth seeds at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Jennifer Koches/USFWS

A major component of the plan is a “seed increase” at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, the Center for Plant Conservation’s designated repository for seabeach amaranth seeds. An aging seabeach amaranth seed bank created an urgent need to collect new seeds from as many populations as possible to preserve genetic diversity, safeguard the species against extinction, and provide seeds for future research and reintroduction projects. The seed increase involved growing plants from seeds that were collected in the wild and then harvesting seeds from those plants. In total, 12,000 seeds went to establish seed plots in the field this season while an additional 80,000 seeds are being kept in long-term storage.

The Places

six people on a beach around the sign for Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge   The seabeach amaranth planting team at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Kevin Holcomb/USFWS

The work began in May, first at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina and progressing northward to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, Cape May National Wildlife Refuge (and the adjacent U.S. Coast Guard LORAN Support Unit beach) and Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, Nantucket National Wildlife Refuge (and lands owned by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and the Massachusetts Trustees of Reservations) in Massachusetts and lastly Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, also in Massachusetts With the help of two Service regions, six refuges, dozens of volunteers, partners and Service staff, one by one, the seeds were planted in carefully planned and plotted transects.

 planting seeds  Mike Kunz (left), a conservation ecologist at North Carolina Botanical Garden, and April Punsalan, a Service botanist, plant seabeach amaranth seeds on Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Jennifer Koches/USFWS

“This recovery project has been a great opportunity to work with other Service biologists and conservation partners to try to establish seabeach amaranth populations on national wildlife refuges and adjacent conservation lands,” says Suiter. “I’m eager to see the results of everyone’s hard work.”

And as the weeks passed, monitoring crews noted some amazing early success — beautiful, healthy seabeach amaranth plants springing up — some in places that haven’t seen plants in decades.

The hope is that as each of these plants will reach maturity and produce a wealth of seeds on the shores of these refuges, giving rise to a next generation of amaranth plants. From the beaches of Monomoy Refuge south to Cape Romain Refuge, this obscure little beach plant has gotten a hero’s welcome. Many of the people working this recovery project have never met face-to-face, but there is nevertheless a common thread connecting them all — faith in a tiny little seed that so many hands worked diligently to sow.

   4 people plantingVolunteers and interns at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, including Melanie Cucunato, plant seabeach amaranth seeds on Cape May Refuge. Photo by Heidi Hanlon/USFWS

As Melanie Cucunato, an intern at Cape May Refuge, so eloquently says: “The only thing I can keep thinking is that in 20 years, when there is a steady seabeach amaranth population on the refuge, I will be able to visit and tell my children and my grandchildren, ‘I was a part of planting this seabeach amaranth and look at it now!’ I can’t think of anything more rewarding than that.”

JENNIFER KOCHES, External Affairs, Southeast Region

Service Biologist Works with Private Landowners to Benefit People and Wildlife

Mark Hogan walks along a fence   Mark Hogan walks along a fence he helped design and build to protect riparian areas on the Wind River Reservation. Photo by Jennifer Strickland/USFWS

By Jennifer Strickland

Once upon a time, Mark Hogan was a biologist who disliked coffee.

Why then has he spent the past 20 years training himself to drink the stuff? According to Hogan, “An invention that brings people together is coffee.”

Hogan’s passion is bringing people together to do good things for wildlife. As Wyoming’s state coordinator for the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, his business model is simple: focus on the most important habitats for wildlife, and learn what the landowners living and working in the area want and need from the land. What better way to do that than over a cup of coffee? With those key pieces of information, you can then collaboratively design and execute restoration projects that will benefit the landowner’s bottom line as well as fish and wildlife populations.

cow looks at green field from a road   A cow pauses on the dirt road that weaves through a national forest and into the Little Snake River Valley. Photo by Jennifer Strickland/USFWS

“The philosophy of the Partners Program has always been, ‘Where can we help? What can the land do, and what do you want it to do?’” Hogan says. “In a sense we’re design biologists, and the technical assistance we can provide to landowners is second to none.”

Throughout his career Hogan has worked with a variety of partners in the state, ranging from families who have been ranching their lands for generations to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes on the Wind River Reservation. In Wyoming, where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, the landscape is characterized by its sagebrush uplands, grassy prairies and soaring peaks. Eighty-five percent of the state is considered rangelands, and domestic livestock production is an important component of the state’s cultural and economic identity.

Despite its tremendous natural resources, water is scarce in Wyoming. As the nation’s third driest state, the wet habitats of Wyoming are few and far between. Featuring a wide diversity and high density of vegetation and prey species, these places are of high value to wildlife and people alike.

A Colorado cutthroat trout. Photo by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department  

“Wet meadows and riparian areas only make up about 2–3 percent of the state, but 80 percent of the wildlife in Wyoming relies on those wet areas for all or a portion of their lifecycle,” says Hogan.

The majority of these wet places are on private rangelands, which makes ranching families the guardians of much of the state’s water resources. That means successful conservation of wildlife populations depends on their support. Hogan recognized his ranching neighbors were in a unique position to make a difference for native fish species in decline, such as the Colorado cutthroat trout.

“Like our birds, our fish are migratory. They have to be able to move up and down a [river] system to find the right conditions to complete their lifecycles,” he says. “Part of my job is to help push stream restoration, stream stability and fish passage into the forefront.”

Hogan knew that if native fish species reached the point where one required federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), that listing could impact local agricultural practices.

“The lifeblood of a ranch is its water,” Hogan says, knowing that local, voluntary conservation partnerships are the best method for safeguarding American species and working lands.

Coffee might bring people together for breakfast, but it is water that brings life to the planet. With a clear focus on improving Wyoming’s water resources for people and wildlife, Hogan began the journey that would guide his career for decades.

As Hogan was getting his feet wet in Wyoming, the late George Salisbury Jr. was having water-related challenges on the family ranch in Savery, Wyoming.

man leaning against truck
  George Salisbury Jr. on his ranch, circa 2001. Photo by Mark Hogan/USFWS

At the time, George and his wife, Laura, were the owners and operators of the Ladder Livestock Company, a cattle and sheep operation employing rotational grazing practices across a patchwork of private, state and federally owned lands. Nestled in the Little Snake River Valley along the Wyoming/Colorado line, the ranch employs irrigation techniques in Battle Creek, a tributary of the Little Snake River.

But Battle Creek had decided to move and was waging a battle of its own. The stream was wandering and cutting into Salisbury’s hay fields, threatening the health of a crop essential for feeding livestock during the winter months. Salisbury had tried various methods to ease the problem, such as building dams, but each time an adjustment was made, the stream reacted in a different way than intended.

“Old George was a classic — he was so smart, so cool. He was like a father and grandfather to everyone,” Hogan remembers. “Ranchers like George have a respect for and understanding of the land. They know its cycles and recognize when something changes, but in some cases they might not know what’s driving that change. They may not know the ‘why.’ The Partners Program came in to answer that question.”

Through a network of conservation-minded friends and partners, Hogan was introduced to Salisbury, who invited him to visit Ladder Ranch to survey the stream. What Hogan observed was a body of water responding to change, and he saw this as an opportunity.

“We can use a stream’s tendencies to heal itself, so that was our strategy,” he says.

He knew that if they could modify the flow patterns of Battle Creek to get the stream to a stable state, they could not only save Salisbury’s hay fields but also improve fish passage for the Colorado cutthroat trout and other native fishes.

  Woman with arm around granddaughter Sharon O’Toole and her granddaughter, Siobhan. Photo by Jennifer Strickland/USFWS

“For somebody like Mark to show up at my father’s door was really a gift,” recalls Sharon O’Toole, Salisbury’s daughter, who now operates Ladder Livestock Company alongside her husband, Pat, and their children, Meghan and Eamon. “My father was always a range management guy. He’d manage the range just as much as he did his livestock. One thing he’d say is, ‘Landscape is too important to be managed generically, it must be managed specifically.’”

Specific management of the land was exactly what Salisbury, Hogan, the Service, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Trout Unlimited and the Little Snake River Conservation District accomplished. The pilot project on Battle Creek was successfully completed in 2000.

“Our project really protects the banks and the creek from erosion during times of high water, and that keeps the soil from going downstream,” O’Toole says. “It matters; it makes a difference. I’m sure the cost has been returned many times over in public benefits, and none of that would have happened without Mark and [his colleague] Mindy.”

Not only did the Salisbury/O’Toole family see benefits to their ranch, they also provided Hogan with an outdoor classroom for testing a variety of stream restoration techniques. “The O’Tooles allowed us to experiment and come up with different design criteria. We learned a lot, and I am very thankful that they allowed us to come in and try new things.”

stream before and after   (Left) A portion of Battle Creek before restoration activities. (Right) A portion of Battle Creek three years after restoration. Photos by USFWS

“There are so many projects you can work on with the same people for a long period of time that you build these incredible relationships. You get to know the families because you’re working with them long­term on projects that require surveying, designing, coming back to stake it out, and then construction,” Hogan says. “In any given year you may stay with a landowner for a full three weeks, so you become kind of like those in-laws that just...show up!”

A federal biologist and honorary in-law? Now there’s a unique title.

2 men at a stream   Pat O’Toole walks with Mark along Battle Creek. Photo by Jennifer Strickland/USFWS

“We’ve known Mark so long it seems like forever,” says O’Toole. “He just has the perfect personality for the job. Great people skills and he really knows his stuff. If you’re somebody like Mark, it’s also not just about being a nice person, it’s about getting stuff done. He’s not hard driving, but he’s focused and he pays attention to what needs to be done, like deadlines and making sure everyone does their piece of the puzzle. It took Mark and the Partners Program to bring things into focus and get something major done.”

Today, the Little Snake River watershed is home to the largest fish passage project in the United States. Hogan, Ladder Ranch, their neighbors, and a plethora of public and private partners continue to improve stream banks, wetlands, irrigation systems and wildlife habitat in the area. In fact, the history of successful partnerships in wetlands has expanded into even more conservation victories in the nearby sagebrush uplands, where the O’Tooles are engaged in official agreements under the ESA that provide benefits to the greater sage-grouse.

It’s no question that the conservation successes of the Little Snake River Valley are built upon a foundation of mutual respect for the resource and sense of camaraderie among neighbors and families, ranchers and biologists.

When looking toward what will guide the future of natural resources conservation in the West, Hogan points to the ever-growing body of shared conservation knowledge that the partners have developed over the years.

“We learn as much from a landowner when we’re on their land as I hope they’re learning from us,” he says. “The next generation will understand even more about what makes a healthy system. When George’s great granddaughter Siobhan goes out, she will know why the creek meanders and that she needs to maintain different age classes of cottonwoods along a stream’s banks to keep it healthy.”

So what is the silver bullet that develops successful partnerships between natural resource organizations and private landowners? Hogan’s answer is simple: bringing the right people together at the right time to learn from one another.

“It’s an easy job; it’s just so easy working here,” he tells me with a smile I can hear through the phone. “It’s about having that cup of coffee or sitting down for breakfast with local ranchers before they start their day. They truly are stewards of the land and have been for generations. We’ve just come to the table at the right time, offering the type of assistance landowners have been looking for to facilitate their ideas. We want to enable success, it’s just in our nature as Partners biologists.”

JENNIFER STRICKLAND, External Affairs, Mountain-Prairie Region

Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Achieving Conservation Goals through Collaboration

5 students weed a garden   Belvedere students weeding a pollinator garden. Photo by Stacy Evers

Over the summer, Headquarters staff had the pleasure of connecting with nearby Belvedere Elementary School, the first elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia, to be designated as an International Baccalaureate World School. Belvedere strives to help its highly diverse student body learn about, get involved in and make a difference in the world. The school also works to develop the next generation of conserva­tionists.

A few fifth-graders contacted the Service through a school mentor to ask questions about foreign endangered species and what students could do to help protect them. After that initial connection, the Service discovered that Belvedere has a strong environmental education program that is making a difference.

Belvedere’s school grounds include a native plant garden, a butterfly garden, a rainwater collection system, a composting system and a permeable paver patio. Students engage in outdoor learning activities on school grounds, an adjacent park and other locations via field trips. Outdoor learning activities include bluebird monitoring, removal of invasive plant species, trail maintenance and raising trout to help stock local streams.

Belvedere has also been designated as a Virginia Naturally School. The recognition is part of a program administered by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. To receive the designation, a school’s environ­mental education program must meet specific requirements that increase with each successive year to promote student environmental awareness and stewardship.

Clearly the Service and Belvedere share some common goals. So the Service did more than simply respond to the inquiry from students, also providing posters and other educational materials. In addition, the start of a new school year provides Service members an opportunity to participate in educational events to share their knowledge and experiences with students.

The connection made with Belvedere is only one small example of how conservation goals are met through collabo­ration. And every day, across all programs and regions, Service staff are demonstrating their commitment to conservation and the American people by connecting and collaborating with diverse people and groups to achieve conservation goals for the benefit of all.


EDWARD STOKER, External Affairs, Headquarters

Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Public Lands: Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge Consistently Produces Quality Deer

   bow hunter with harvested deerScouting paid off for public lands hunter Kyle Walker. Photo by Paul Balkenbush/USFWS

Daybreak on November 17 didn’t show great promise for deer hunter Kyle Walker. It was going to be exceedingly warm—and windy.  Wind blows scent around and to a deer the world is a smell, not to mention it hampers a hunter’s hearing.

Walker was lucky to be drawn in a lottery for a chance to hunt white-tailed deer at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in north Texas, an 11,320-acre refuge known for quality deer hunting.


He had done his homework. Walker scouted the refuge for three days in July for places that he knew from experience might harbor deer. What’s more, Walker was required to take a bow hunter education course and pass an archery shooting proficiency test to enter the lottery draw at Hagerman.  Come opening day Walker was secured in his stand in a choice spot in the hardwoods that paid dividends.

“I took the best buck I have ever harvested on public lands,” says Walker. “It was the hunt of a lifetime.”

Walker, who makes a living as an administrator and a professor at a seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, relies on public lands for his hunting opportunity. “I hunt public land exclusively; I live in the metroplex where there are a lot of people and lots of concrete—public lands have been my only place to hunt in Texas—and I am very grateful.”

processing the harvest
Kyle Walker prepares his harvest. Photo courtesy of Kyle Walker  

Walker and his family enjoy the bounty of the harvest, free-range organic meat. He is able to share the harvest, too. This deer went into his freezer and that of a graduate student where he works, who has a family of teenagers.

Hagerman Refuge has an earned reputation, says its manager, Kathy Whaley. “I’ve worked the deer check stations for nine years, and have seen a lot of harvested deer and many trophy bucks,” says Whaley. The refuge has been open to deer hunting since 1984. Over the last 15 years hunters have harvested an average of 40 deer each year. The refuge has six units from 800 to 3,300 acres of which only three are open to deer hunting on a given year.  The deer hunts are managed for safety and quality experience.

“It’s affordable, too,” says Whaley. “Successful applicants pay only $50.00 to hunt on the refuge, in addition to state hunting license fees.”  And it’s one that Walker is willing to pay again—he has every intention of hunting at the refuge in the future.

Hagerman is located near Sherman, Texas. In addition to deer, it’s open to hunting turkey and feral hog by lottery draw and  dove, rabbit and squirrel in accordance with regulations with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 

Craig Springer, External Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Region

Hurrah for Volunteers

vOLUNTEERS POSE For a group photo, aech holding a banner that says Lend a Hand or EightSacramento Fish & Wildlife Office staff joined by friends and family at the 2017 Great American River Clean Up. Photo by Veronica Davison/USFWS

Today is International Volunteer Day. Throughout the country, on almost any given day, people from the Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer to make a difference.

We also cannot forget the thousands of people who volunteer with the Fish and Wildlife Service. They help make conservation possible.



Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

 yOUNG PEOPLE ON BOAT PULL FISH OUT OF NET  Pulling Northern pike and whitefish from a gillnet at Selawik Science-Culture Camp. Photo by USFWS

As Native American Heritage Month draws to a close, we at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to say how proud we are of our unique and important relationship with Native American tribes and our commitment to the wildlife and natural resources we all cherish.

Due to the unique political relationship that exists between the U.S. government and Indian governments, the Service maintains government-to-government relationships with Indian governments. We work directly with tribes and respect Native American values when planning and implementing programs.

These programs include  working  together to inspire young tribal youth to become stewards of their environment through  the Bishop Pauite’s Firstbloom science program or the Klamath Tribal Youth Program, both in California; a fishing day for the Prairie Island Indian Community in Minnesota; and through other programs across the country.

  2 kids and one adult hold salmon as others look on In Oregon, the Burns Paiute Tribe released hatchery-raised Chinook salmon into the Malheur River, and then harvested the salmon using traditional fishing methods such as spears, nets or baskets. Photo by Paul Henson/USFWS

Tribes help recover wildlife, including cui ui in Nevada, monarch butterflies, Apache trout in Arizona, bison in Wyoming, Atlantic salmon in Maine, Chinook salmon in Oregon and sickelfin redhorse in North Carolina and Georgia.

We are happy to reach out with training, whether it is in watercraft safety or treatment of fish disease.

The Selawik Science-Culture Camp in Alaska, the Preserving Our Homelands (POH) Summer Science Camp in Massachusetts and a recent “wild foods safety” brochure in Maine reinforce traditional ecological knowledge and age-old hunting and trapping traditions.

 aRROWHEADS ON A TABLE  Projectile points dating as far back as 8,000 years ago. Photo by Zintkala Eiring/USFWS

We promote programs to celebrate cultural history, such as the one showing the traditions of the Norwottuck people at the the Fort River Division of Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts.  There, visitors learned about the arrowheads the native Americans in the area used and read the Native American Storybook of the Norwottuck, Algonquin people, designed by one of our interns, herself  an Oglala Lakota-Sioux Native American from South Dakota.

And we continue working to improve our tribal partnerships. For instance, last year we appointed the first-ever tribal liaison for our Migratory Bird Program.

Although the month celebrating Native American people is ending, our commitment to working with tribes is lasting, and we look forward to strengthening this very special relationship.

Prescription for Success at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

 group outdoors  in a parking lot  Gerald Vickers gives a briefing before the first-ever prescribed burn at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Courtesy D. Wells/USFWS

What does it take for a 30-year-old dream of using prescribed fire to improve wildlife habitat to become reality? Mike Horne, refuge manager at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, knows: a lot of planning, communication and partners — and more than a little patience.

After many months of preparation, partners from multiple states and federal agencies finally came together in early April at the refuge just 26 miles west of New York City, to successfully and safely conduct the first-ever prescribed burn at Great Swamp. Horne’s staff joined forces with 34 firefighters from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the National Park Service, Albany Pine Bush Preserve, several refuges and the Service’s Northeast Region Fire Program to treat nearly 200 acres.

Since the early 1980s, the refuge had wanted to use fire to unclog ponds choked by the accumu­lation of live and dead plants because heavy equipment cannot be used in sensitive wetlands. The buildup kept waterfowl from using the ponds to stop, rest and feed during their migration.

For one reason or another, work to burn the ponds never materialized until 2016 when the refuge put together a comprehensive prescribed burn plan. “There is a great deal of up-front work that goes into making a fire successful before the drip torches are lit,” says Horne. Some of the most important advance effort, he says, “is communicating with neighbors and partners about how prescribed fire works.”

Thanks to the refuge’s outreach efforts, no one called to complain after the smoke became visible on the day of the fire at the suburban refuge because the public already understood what was happening and why.

Conducting a prescribed burn is no easy task. On the day of the burn, weather conditions must be right, and properly trained fire leaders must be present to ensure the safety of the public and firefighters — the number one priority on any burn. This requires close coordination with the National Weather Service and partners to make sure there are enough firefighters with the right skills.

“Fire is giving us the ability to recover these wetlands into manageable units, helping to remove layers of dead vegetation as well as trees and shrubs we have been struggling with for years,” says deputy refuge manager Lia McLaughlin. The project demonstrates that burning can be used as a viable tool to maintain grasslands in the Northeast, and shows how partners with limited resources can cooperate to achieve meaningful conservation goals across the landscape.

GERALD VICKERS, Regional Fire Management Specialist, Northeast Region 

Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

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