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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Invaders in Oregon’s Diamond Lake to be Fed to the Tiger (Trout)

 Diamond Lake

Invasive species have become a serious problem in south central Oregon’s popular Diamond Lake and could potentially impact the excellent trout fisheries.  To fight them, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will be trying something new…add one fish to remove two unwanted ones. Tiger trout will soon be swimming in the lake’s clear waters in the hopes that these sterile trout will prey on the unwanted tui chub and the golden shiner, that could potentially take over the lake. Grant funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made this strategy possible.

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Students help mini catfish swim once again in southwestern Virginia waters

 Yellowfin Madtom release

Sometimes you can go home again. At least, that’s what the yellowfin madtom did last week, as U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith joined Northwood Middle School students, local officials and biologists to release 300 of these rare 4-inch catfishes into their new home in the North Fork Holston River in Smyth County, Virginia. The federally threatened madtom was last seen in the North Fork Holston River more than 120 years ago.

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Share Your Monarchs to Save the Monarchs!

 Monarch by Bill Heban
Monarch butterfly in Ohio, courtesy of Bill Heban.


The monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable species in North America and it’s in trouble. Climate change has intensified weather events that may impact monarch populations. Pesticide use can destroy the milkweed monarchs need to survive. Habitat loss and fragmentation has occurred throughout the monarch’s range.

Want to help spread the word about the importance of monarch butterflies? Next time you see a monarch, take a photo and share it with us! From now through the fall, we’re collecting monarch photos from across the country. Your photos can help educate others and create awareness.

Last year we received more than 750 photos from 45 states. This year, we can do even better! Keep your eyes open and see how many monarch butterflies, caterpillars, chrysalises and eggs you can photograph!

Already have a photo? Submit it now!

Other ways to help:

  • Plant milkweed and nectar plants that are native to your area.
  • Garden organically to minimize your impact on monarchs, their food plants and other pollinators.
  • Become a citizen scientist and monitor monarchs in your area.
  • Educate others about pollinators, conservation and how they can help. 

Learn more:

Bill Ashe: A Lifetime of Conservation

Last Friday, Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge held a dedication ceremony for the Bill Ashe Visitor Facility, a beautiful new building that will host educational programs to connect people with nature. His son, our Director Dan Ashe, was there.

Read about Bill Ashe's Lifetime of Conservation

How to Build a Butterfly and Pollinator Garden in Seven Steps

pollinator garden
Creating habitat, no matter the size, is helpful for monarchs and pollinators. Photo by USFWS


You probably already know that monarch butterflies and pollinators are in trouble. You have probably also heard that you can help by planting a pollinator garden. But how do you do that?  Joanna Gilkeson of our Midwest Region shares the steps needed.

What to do

Jurassic Pork

 Biologist Brian Fillmore at Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery carefully inserts a radio transmitter into an anesthetized paddlefish with assistance from two colleagues. It was stocked in Caddo Lake. Photo by +Mike Montagne/USFWS

Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma plays a pivotal point in conserving the paddlefish, which has been around since about the time coal was being made. Since taking on paddlefish culture in 1992 to stanch a decline in populations, more than 500,000 of the young fish have been released from the hatchery into waters where the big fish formerly swam.

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Whipping Creek Road Fire in N.C. Shows Value of Established Partnerships

Whipping Creek Road Fire
The Whipping Creek Road Fire was declared controlled May 23. Photo by Corey Waters/USFWS


Ed Christopher, a fish and wildlife biologist with our Branch of Habitat Restoration, on the need to plan ahead, especially for wildfires.

The middle of a bona fide emergency is not the best time to formulate a plan. Certainly, some on-the-spot planning is always necessary, but forethought is the crucial key for success in a real emergency. This is especially true when describing wildlfire in the organic soils of eastern North Carolina. Not just knowing who has the knowledge, tools, skills and abilities to manage these wildlfires but establishing solid, well-defined partnerships with those parties must be high priority in planning for the inevitable.

Such was the case with the partnership among the North Carolina Coastal Refuges Complex, the North Carolina Forest Service and the U.S. Air Force in eastern North Carolina. This partnership came out of necessity. Historic, large, long-duration wildfires associated with vast tracts of pocosin habitat and limited local response capacity to respond to wildfire are simple facts of life in eastern North Carolina.

Pocosin is an Algonquin word for “swamp on a hill.” The “hill” is created over time with the deposition of plant materials that decompose and create peat soils. These soils can be as deep as 12 feet or more in some places and depend on staying hydrated to prevent catastrophic loss due to wildfire. If dry, this organic soil is readily consumed by fire, creating a change in the local topography and resulting in significant carbon loss.

The 15,453-acre Whipping Creek Road Fire in April on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Manteo, North Carolina, wasn’t a new occurrence for the refuge. Frequent small fires occur throughout the year, and large, long-duration fires happen every few years. Such large wildfires in the eastern United States typically are multi-jurisdictional, so they require a response from various agencies. In the case of the Whipping Creek Road Fire, the footprint included land managed or owned by the Service, U.S. Air Force, The Nature Conservancy, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission and private landowners.

Whipping Creek Road Fire
Large fires like the Whipping Creek Road Fire occur every few years at Alligator River Refuge. Photo by Corey Waters/USFWS


The partnership among these agencies, and especially with the North Carolina Forest Service, stemmed from lessons learned during past wildfires. These wildfires helped build understanding about each other’s processes for wildfire response, as well as developing a relationship before meeting under duress. Although these lessons were learned during difficult circumstances, this foundation proved invaluable during the Whipping Creek Road wildfire response. Payment processes, a command structure, and proper protocols for community evacuations and endangered species fire suppression had already been established. Specific needs had been identified and understood. For example, one special aspect of wildfire response unique to coastal refuges is the avoidance of water with high salinity content to avoid environmental impacts from salt water use. For the Whipping Creek Road Fire, water-scooping aircraft were required to dip out of the freshest water source possible. Having these discussions before the wildfire helped pre-load the state’s Incident Command Team’s operation and management of this wildfire.

Although we cannot fully prepare for emergency response, if we fail to plan, then we plan to fail. Developing partnerships early among those that will be engaged in a natural emergency response will pay dividends by curtailing the amount of time consumed by attempting to figure out the players and processes when everyone is looking for and relying on leadership to bring order out of chaos. So the lesson learned from the latest large fire in the pocosin of eastern North Carolina is that through strong partnerships, we can achieve success.

Illegal Wildlife Smuggling Hits Home Following Hands-On Experience

orangutan skull

As I hold the skull of an orangutan in my hand, it’s simply overwhelming. Looking into the dark, empty eye sockets, I’m unable to find the proper words. The other skulls and animal body parts spread across the table in evidence bags add to my growing exasperation.

I’ve held dead animals before, from ducks and deer to my own dogs. Whether they’ve been harvested for food or were my four-legged friends, I had a bond when I touched its fur or feathers for a final time. But this was different.

Read more and learn about what you can do

A Seabird Rescue Takes Wing

Hawaiian petrel chick
A Hawaiian petrel chick in an old, pre-relocated, burrow. Photo by Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project


Susan Morse, a writer-editor for the Service's National Wildlife Refuge System, tells us about work out in Hawaii to recover the endangered Hawaiian petrel and the threatened
Newell’s shearwater.

KILAUEA, HAWAII — Coaxing rare seabirds to adopt a safer new nesting site on a steep sea-facing slope is a long process — and an exercise in hope. Just ask the folks at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii. I’m standing at their Crater Hill site now, shoes dusted in Kauai’s red dirt after a short scramble downhill, to hear about it.

albatrosses in front of predator proof fence
Albatrosses in front of predator-proof fence. Photo by Susan Morse/USFWS


First you erect half a mile of predator-proof fence around the new 7-acre nesting area. That’s to screen out the rats, mice, feral cats and pigs that are threatening the birds with extinction. Then you send a team to the mountains to retrieve 10 endangered Hawaiian petrel chicks when they’re a few weeks from fledging. You helicopter the chicks to the new site (known as Nihoku in Hawaiian) and place them in man-made burrows — one chick to a burrow. You hand-feed, weigh and monitor the young daily until they fledge. Phew.

Hoping

The crossed-fingers part comes last: You watch the fledglings fly out to sea, hoping some will return in three or four years (!!!) to mate — and in five or six years to nest.

Biologist Eric Vanderwerf (left) and Deputy Project Leader Mike Mitchell, Photo by Susan Morse/USFWS


“We would be happy if a third to half the birds return” — as birds have in rescue projects elsewhere, says Mike Mitchell, deputy project leader at the Kauai Refuge Complex. “It’s fascinating how they do that. Scientists believe chicks memorize the stars to find their way back to the same spot that they fledged from.”

The first nine “graduates” of the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project flew off the island last fall; the 10th chick, ill before it was moved, didn’t live to fledge. The project’s next phase is tentatively set for fall, after the public gets a chance to weigh in.

Recovery's Next Step

On May 11, project leaders opened a 30-day public comment period on a draft environmental assessment. The preferred plan proposes the move of 10 Newell’s shearwater chicks plus 20 more Hawaiian petrel chicks to the new nesting area, as well as a “social attraction” component.

If you think that means a happy hour for birds, you’re not far off. Biologists have rigged up loudspeakers to mimic petrel and shearwater calls. They hope these will woo prospective mates to the refuge’s new nest site. “This way, we can increase our odds of success,” says Mitchell.

Meanwhile, refuge staff and partners are restoring habitat inside the fence — clearing another acre or so of invasive Christmas berry and replacing it with native plants. Eventually, they aim to remove all of the non-native plants and restore all of the 7-acre nesting area.

WORKING TOGETHER
Partners in the seabird translocation project include: Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, a Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Forestry and Wildlife project administered by Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, University of Hawaii; Pacific Rim Conservation; Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge; and American Bird Conservancy (ABC).

The National Tropical Botanical Garden helped with plant restoration at the translocation site. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and ABC provided funding support.

“It’s just at the very beginning here,” biologist Eric Vanderwerf says of the recovery project.  

Says Mitchell, “It’s great to have this partnership working together on restoration being done on a national wildlife refuge where the conservation efforts being made will be there in perpetuity.”

Rescuing Rare Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Chicks, Fledgling from Flooding

Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks
The three Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks found floating in flood waters are healthy and eager to be fed. Photo by Mary Peterson/USFWS

 

Mary Peterson, a biologist in our South Florida Ecological Services Office, tells us about a team effort to save some Florida grasshopper sparrows from heavy rains.

An unpredicted, freak rain event on May 4 flooded nearly all of the first Florida grasshopper sparrow nests of the season, prompting the Service and its partners from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to carry out an emergency rescue of chicks and eggs when the second round of seasonal nesting attempts was threatened by  heavy rains last week.

After the first round of storms, FWC field crews paid increased attention to nests at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area and a private ranch where these highly endangered sparrows are being studied. Late on the evening of May 17, these crews became increasingly concerned about the approaching rain storms and decided to check nests they knew had chicks or fledglings.

Three 1-day-old chicks were found alive floating in water while the female continued to try to incubate them. One 9-day-old fledgling was also found alive. The birds were collected and cared for overnight. Just before sunrise the next morning crews checked all the known nests and found all of them to be either flooded or in danger of being flooded, with another round of storms on the way. In consultation with FWC, we collected 30 eggs from all the nests at both sites.

We took the eggs and young birds collected to the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF) in Loxahatchee, Florida., to be part of the Florida grasshopper sparrow captive propagation program—where just a few days earlier, the first captive-bred Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks had hatched.

Of those 30 eggs, 20 were still viable and at various stages of development. They’re currently being incubated at RSCF. Some of the more developed eggs may begin hatching any day now. The young birds are also being cared for at RSCF and doing well as of May 23.

The effort to save the Florida grasshopper sparrow is truly a team effort. The rescues May 17 and 18 wouldn’t have been possible without the talented and dedicated field crews and Dr. Erin Hewett-Ragheb of FWC’s Florida Wildlife Research Institute. Hats off to Florida grasshopper sparrow technicians Lindsay Wagner, Neil Pearson, Annie Meyer, Conor Eagan, Alison Fox and Michael Maples, and University of Maryland Baltimore County Ph/D. student and expert nest-finder, Archer Larned. They’re all true conservation champions.

Although these floods couldn’t have come at a worse time for the sparrows, this species has been known to re-nest as many as five times and produce as many as three successful broods during a single nesting season. So, fortunately, the reproductive potential is still there to produce young in the wild during this breeding season. All Florida grasshopper sparrow nests found across all sites are being protected with predator fences, which are nearly 100 percent effective. If water levels recede and dry patches of habitat become available, these sparrows could begin building new nests by late May.

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