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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Going to Bat for Bats

Just in time for Bat Week, folks in our Northeast Region have collected some of the best stories about “the coolest mammals on Earth” and conservation efforts for them. 

Like All National Wildlife Refuges, Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge Holds Many Attractions

   turkeyWild turkeys eat acorns, insects, fruits, nuts and seeds during daylight hours, while roosting in the refuge’s trees at nighttime.

Story by Michael D’Agostino
Photos by Tim Zeltinger

Wetlands and waterfowl, marshes and moose, grasslands and great horned owls are just a few of the conspicuous and camouflaged sights to behold on the 32,092 acres of Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge in north-central North Dakota that draws more than 100,000 visitors annually.

One repeat visitor to Upper Souris is Kim Fundingsland. “I’ve been visiting refuges since as long as I can remember walking... ‘cause my dad was big into hunting and fishing and outdoor activities. So, I was exposed to national wildlife refuges at a very young age,” says the 64-year-old Fundingsland, a local news writer born and raised in North Dakota.

From hunting and fishing to wildlife photography, he enjoys a variety of outdoor activities on wildlife refuges in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

   grouseTwo sharp-tailed grouse dance in the dense grasslands of Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge. The courtship display and gathering, where males compete to attract females, is called a “lek.” Visitors can reserve blinds to view these ancient avian rituals on the refuge each spring.

What are the biggest draws to Upper Souris?

“It’s fishing and enjoying nature in as natural an environment as you could find in today’s world,” notes Fundingsland.

VISIT: Find your nearest national wildlife refuge

Tim Zeltinger agrees. The 55-year-old, who lives near Upper Souris, enjoys both fishing and photography on the refuge, where he also brought his son and his son’s fellow Cub Scouts over the years so the youngsters could enjoy Upper Souris the same way Zeltinger had as a youth.

“I grew up in a single-parent home — my dad had passed away — so we had some local people that kind of took me and my brother under their wings,” Zeltinger explains. Fishing with older mentors at a young age made Zeltinger keenly aware of the many modern threats facing America’s natural places.

“To me the refuge is kind of untouched territory,” explains the award-winning self-taught photographer. “It’s not just wildlife,” Zeltinger adds. “Trying to get untouched nature shots is getting tougher and tougher.”

Zeltinger often frequents Upper Souris and nearby J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge to capture nature’s many spectacles, from dancing sharp-tailed grouse to bedazzled night skies.

A red-winged blackbird rests atop a refuge sign at Upper Souris National Wildlife RefugeA red-winged blackbird rests atop a refuge sign at Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge. These birds are found near marshes feasting on insects and seeds.

And what else brings visitors in addition to fish and photography? Birds!

BIRD WATCHING TIPS

  • Go outside! This may seem obvious, but the best way to watch birds is to get outside as much as possible (although there can be much profit in watching birds through your window, too, especially if you have a bird-friendly backyard habitat). The more you are outside, the more you will get to know where and when the birds are likely be.

  • But good bird watching begins inside. While most bird watching is done outside, you can greatly improve your experience from the comfort of a cushy couch. Field guides, online resources, books, bird sound CDs and more can all provide crucial information.
  • Look for more than just birds. Now that you have a feel for your surroundings, you will start to learn where to look. Birds can be hard to locate. It might be hard to pick out a bird on a shaded branch, so look for motion, which can be easier for the eye to pick up on. You might see some more in the early morning, or at dusk. Many birds also like edge habitat or open areas close to cover.
  • Don’t just bird watch, bird listen. Many times birds are heard before they are seen, especially in the summer, when the leaves are out. Many experienced bird watchers bird by ear as much as by eye. At first, the songs may seem like a cacophony of indistinguishable sounds, but with practice, you will be able to hear that that flash of yellow in the trees was a pine warbler, not a prairie warbler.  • Be colorblind. Many times the color is the first thing that people use to identify birds, but it can also be misleading. For instance, a blue bird may appear grayer under cloudy conditions. Pattern can be a good indicator. Does it have a pattern on its head? Are the wings solid-colored? Other helpful indicators are size, shape and behavior. Have fun!

Bird watching offers many benefits, including exercise and stronger observation skills. But the key is to have fun.

CHRISTOPHER DEETS, Migratory Bird Program, Headquarters

That’s what Charles Taft of the Souris Valley Birding Club experiences firsthand. The club, founded in the mid-1990s, includes 15 active participants and has had close to 100 members.

Taft has been visiting Upper Souris for decades and made friends with visitors from as far as the West Coast. Many return year after year, just like the birds they come to watch.

“We got acquainted with a couple from the Los Angeles area,” Taft explains. “They spend maybe six months of year on the road and their passion is predominantly bird photography.”

Taft has lived in North Dakota since 1972 and aims to visit all the national wildlife refuges in the state. He’s a retired pastor who studied geology, so nature has always been close to his heart. His wife completed several botany courses, so exploring the natural world together suits them well.

“We’ve done a lot of traveling and a lot of birding. And, well, anything is fair game: If it’s a rock, I’ll look at it. If it’s a flower, my wife looks at it. If it’s a bird, we both look at it,” Taft says with a chuckle.

Their refuge adventures take them across the Unites States. Taft and his wife particularly enjoy auto tours. Driving across the country in their 1997 Volkswagen Eurovan camper — from Alaska to Arizona — the Tafts enjoy the unique experience each national wildlife refuge provides and the captivating habitats each protects.

Refuges provide a tranquil, solitary getaway. “We need places where you can go so that you can get some idea of what the land looked like and what it is capable of looking like,” Taft adds.

North Dakota is no exception. “We do have some grassland birds that are easier to find on the refuges than other places” Taft notes. “We have five big refuges within let’s say an hour and 15 minutes’ drive from Minot. We’re a great location to enjoy them.”

For the Tafts, traveling the country to relish rare and ravishing plants, birds and habitats has become a lifelong hobby. “Over the years, we’ve certainly come to appreciate the wildlife refuges,” Taft concludes. “We’re kind of national wildlife refuge junkies.”

Ron Martin, a 60-year-old North Dakota native and fellow birding enthusiast, wholeheartedly agrees.

“One thing that birders say to me when they come here from other states,” Martin explains, “is they’re just astounded at the sheer number of birds at some of these refuges.”

   fog hangs over Lake Darling A thick fog hangs over Lake Darling at Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge. The lake is a productive fishery and habitat for waterfowl and migratory birds, including snow geese in autumn.

Indeed, North Dakota is home to a large swath of the Prairie Pothole Region, which spans portions of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Montana. A mix of grasslands and small, ephemeral, pothole-like wetlands provide breeding habitat for more than 300 bird species including millions of waterfowl. About half the ducks in the United States come from this region, known as North America’s “Duck Factory.”

OUTDOOR RECREATION
Sportsmen and -women were some of the earliest conservationists and remain among its most dependable supporters, so the Service is dedicated to encouraging fishing and hunting and other types of outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation, including observing or photographing wildlife, hiking and boating, are also key drivers of both conservation and the nation’s economy.

  • Service’s Partners Program Helps Michigan Landowners Turn Land into Wildlife Havens
  • The Apache Trout has Gone from Anonymity to the State Fish of Arizona

Martin has been frequenting Upper Souris since 1981, when he started volunteering in Breeding Bird Surveys organized by the U.S. Geological Survey. These surveys take him throughout the state. But Martin’s birding exploits also take him across the continent, visiting refuges in Texas, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana.

A lifelong North Dakotan, Martin grew up on a farm and works in manufacturing. He became interested in nature at a young age, particularly after a trip to Honduras in 1979 during college, where his faculty-leader was an avid birder.

“I have lots of birding friends who’ve been to many refuges, and I run into them occasionally,” Martin adds. “There’s a group of pretty serious birders that are pretty active on eBird and social media, and I run into those people pretty regularly.”

He recently helped create a Friends organization in 2016 with several community members. The Friends of the Upper Souris Loop Refuges is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit supporting habitat maintenance and outdoor recreational activities for Upper Souris and J. Clark Salyer. From bird hikes to snowshoeing, the new group plans to provide a variety of volunteer opportunities for locals and visitors.

Never been to a refuge before? No problem, says Martin.

“Get your binoculars and check it out!” he adds. From rare birds to wily rabbits and budding blossoms, life abounds and adventures await. “Get out there and give it a try!”

 

MICHAEL D’AGOSTINO, External Affairs, Mountain-Prairie Region


Fish & Wildlife News  

Service’s Partners Program Helps Michigan Landowners Turn Land into Wildlife Havens

 wetland with pond  Restoring wetlands like this one remains a focus of the Partners Program in southern Michigan. Photo by USFWS

By Jim Hudgins

PARTNERS FOR FISH AND WILDLIFE
Throughout its history, Partners biologists have found and built relationships with motivated landowners, like the Princes and Lamiers, and have worked with them to voluntarily restore wildlife habitat. With little fanfare, the Partners Program has moved forward, an acre at a time, to improve habitat for a wide range of declining species. Those biologists have found that while all landowners have their own interests in and visions for a piece of property, ultimately, as Steve Lamier says, most want to be good stewards of their land for future generations.

What do you get when, over a 19-year timespan, you combine two landowners, three biologists, 120 acres of land and a passion for hunting, fishing and wildlife? A series of successful projects by the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program that have restored more than 80 acres of habitat for many species of wildlife including migratory birds and a number of game species.

In 2012, when Steve Lamier, purchased 120 acres in Hillsdale County, Michigan, he followed the lead of previous landowner and friend Bill Prince and engaged the Partners Program to do what it does so well — work with landowners to restore wildlife habitat on private lands.

Lamier, with wife Rebecca, notes, “We fell in love with this gorgeous piece of ground; the wetlands, fields and trees.” They took over where Prince left off — continuing to work with the Partners Program to restore wetlands — and managed the land with new energy and excitement.

 grasslands
This diverse mix of wildflowers and grasses provide food and cover for native pollinators, migratory birds and game species. Photo by USFWS  

Partners biologist Jim Hazelman gave technical and financial assistance to restore two wetlands — Prince also restored several wetlands — and provided the Lamiers with advice on how to manage their land for wildlife. “I’m a city boy,” says Lamier. “We try to do whatever we can to enhance the land.”

With guidance from Hazelman and Prince, and his own passion to improve the land, Lamier has drawn down a wetland to recharge the vegetation, repaired berms, controlled invasive species such as autumn olive, pruned the trees and maintained the grasslands. He hopes to continue his efforts for many years to come.

Those efforts, in part, are directed at supporting the Lamiers’ passion for hunting. Both Steve and Rebecca are avid hunters of waterfowl, turkey and deer. The combination and positioning of the habitat pieces within their land make the property very attractive for wildlife, and great for hunting. Mallards and Canada geese use the wetlands and nest in the adjacent grasslands. Wood ducks use the wooded wetlands and the adjacent more-open wetlands. Wild turkeys use the woods, and each spring the toms are strutting in the grasslands. In early summer, young turkey poults move among the grasses and wildflowers, foraging for abundant insects. White-tailed deer find food and shelter in the woods and in the blocks of planted pines and grasslands. These deer also forage on the grasses and flowers. All of these game species use the wetlands for water, food and cover. Each of these key habitat pieces has been improved through the efforts of the landowners combined with the technical and financial assistance from the Partners Program.

   Rebecca and Steve Lamier, standing with biologist Jim Hazelman, Rebecca and Steve Lamier, standing with biologist Jim Hazelman, are now proud stewards of more than 80 acres of wildlife habitat restored through the Partners Program. Photo by USFWS

“We are privileged and very fortunate to have this land as our backyard,” Lamier notes. “In the past, I’ve driven 3½ hours to hunt and got out a few times during the season.” He continues, with a smile, “Now I not only get to sleep in, but I can hunt almost every day in season for a couple ›› of hours in the morning. And, it’s much easier for Rebecca and me to coordinate our schedules so we can get out and hunt together.”

OUTDOOR RECREATION
Sportsmen and -women were some of the earliest conservationists and remain among its most dependable supporters, so the Service is dedicated to encouraging fishing and hunting and other types of outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation, including observing or photographing wildlife, hiking and boating, are also key drivers of both conservation and the nation’s economy.

  • Like All National Wildlife Refuges, Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge Holds Many Attractions
  • The Apache Trout has Gone from Anonymity to the State Fish of Arizona

Lamier has added several elevated deer blinds, fixed at key spots on the property. He also has a mobile blind and tree stands that can be set at the start of each season. And he has developed some food plots, to make the land even more attractive to wildlife.

As passionate as he is about hunting, when Lamier describes his goals, he says they are working to provide good habitat for all animals and looking at a bigger picture. “It’s truly amazing in spring waterfowl migration, to see the diving ducks we don’t see in the fall — canvasbacks, ‘bluebills’ [scaup] and mergansers — and the songbirds and sandhill cranes.”

Noting that they derive great pleasure in giving back, Lamier recognizes that maintaining habitat on this land helps to filter water that eventually flows to Lake Erie, and absorbs carbon through the trees and grasses, which improves air quality. “Ultimately this is about good stewardship – leave it better than you found it. We’ve taken Bill’s vision and tried to improve it.”

  Bill Prince with Partners biologist Jim Hazelman.  Bill Prince with Partners biologist Jim Hazelman. Photo by USFWS

Bill Prince began working on that vision in 1999 when he approached Partners biologist Steve Dushane. Prince saw potential for the property, which consisted mostly of highly erodible cropland, drained wetlands and a 17-acre woodlot.

A portion of the land was enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program and Prince turned to the Partners Program for assistance with wetland restoration.

 bobolink
Grassland habitat restoration is ultimately about helping to increase wildlife species, like bobolinks, whose numbers have decreased due to habitat loss. Photo by USFWS  

Prince’s first project was to restore a 14-acre wetland that remains in place today, nearly 18 years after the project’s completion and eight years after his habitat development agreement expired. Additional projects followed in 2002, 2007 and 2011. Partners biologist Hazelman helped Prince restore two wetlands in the woodlot and plant nine acres of trees, all with the goal of improving and connecting habitat for the federally protected copperbelly water snake. Another Partners biologist, Meri Bryant, assisted Prince in establishing 53 acres of grassland, focusing on a diverse stand of native warm-season grasses and wildflowers. This stand benefits migratory grassland birds such as bobolinks, whose populations are in decline, as well as native pollinators including the monarch butterfly.

Given the significant loss of wetlands across southern Michigan, restoration of this habitat type has been a priority since the Partners Program began 30 years ago. As the program grew and evidence mounted about grassland declines, those habitats became a priority as well. Essentially, restoring lost habitats, such as wetlands and grasslands, is a way to help restore declining populations of wildlife —  waterfowl, and other wetland birds, and grassland songbirds — that depend on these habitats.

Prince bought the farm from family members and remembers when the “land washed and was eroding badly.”

“I enjoy hunting, fishing and the outdoors, but my goal was bigger than that,” he says. “Basically, I wanted to make the land right again.”

Looking over the land he’s known for 50 years, Prince breaks into a big smile. “I’m really proud of what it has become!”

JIM HUDGINS, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program-Michigan Private Lands Office, Midwest Region


Fish & Wildlife News  

The Apache Trout has Gone from Anonymity to the State Fish of Arizona

Bradley Clarkson holds a brood fish.
Bradley Clarkson, a White Mountain Apache Tribe member and Service apache trout biologist, holds a brood fish. Photo by Craig Springer/USFWS  

By Craig Springer

Blue meandering lines on maps of eastern Arizona tell a story about the shape of the land and the interactions people have with it. They symbolize the streams that vein off the White Mountains and pour downhill to their inevitable juncture with something larger that may sport another colorful name.

The streams form patterns on the maps that please the eye. Their names stir the imagination. There’s no poverty of spirit in some of the labels: Hurricane, Moon, Sun, Stinky, Firebox, Paradise, Soldier, Crooked, Peasoup. These waters harbor some of the last remaining populations of the pretty Apache trout, found nowhere else but in streams that rim the White Mountains of Arizona.

The threatened Apache trout is named for the people. The yellow trout ornamented with black spots, a white-tipped anal fin, and sometimes a raccoon-like eye mask lives naturally only in the headwaters of the White, Black and Little Colorado rivers near the New Mexico border.

OUTDOOR RECREATION
Sportsmen and -women were some of the earliest conservationists and remain among its most dependable supporters, so the Service is dedicated to encouraging fishing and hunting and other types of outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation, including observing or photographing wildlife, hiking and boating, are also key drivers of both conservation and the nation’s economy.

  • Service’s Partners Program Helps Michigan Landowners Turn Land into Wildlife Havens
  • Like All National Wildlife Refuges, Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge Holds Many Attractions

The fish has been well known to anglers for some time. Local farmers and ranchers made forays into the high country in summer to catch them. One correspondent, simply “J.H.” from Show Low, Arizona, wrote in a July 1886 issue of the St. John’s Herald: “I speak truly when I say it was the most enjoyable period of my life.” He recounted how he and his pals caught scads of Apache trout from the White River during a prolonged summer outing.

The Apache trout had become known to science a few years earlier, in 1873, when it was collected by members of the U.S. Geographical Survey, though it was wrongly identified as a Colorado River cutthroat trout. Other scientists collected the yellow trout from the White Mountains from time to time, but it wasn’t until a century later in 1972 that the fish was properly recognized as a unique species and assigned its current scientific and common names. A year later it was placed on the endangered species list.

   Jake Washburn and Inez Clawson The Service’s Jake Washburn and Inez Clawson of the White Mountain Apache Tribe Game and Fish collect eDNA from an Apache trout stream. Photo by USFWS    

That recent scientific description doesn’t mean that others had not already known that the trout was something significant. The White Mountain Apache Tribe was prescient, the first to conserve the fish, closing Apache trout streams to angling in the 1940s. By that time, the trout had been reduced to a mere 30 miles of streams all within the confines of their Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

Places everywhere have their scars, and the White Mountains are no exception. The loss of habitat from excessive timbering was detrimental to the native Apache trout. Poorly managed cattle trampled stream banks and reduced shrubs that would cool trout waters in their shade. Abusive land uses accelerated topsoil erosion into Apache trout streams. High sedimentation during the spring runoff affected trout reproduction; fine sediments clogged porous gravel beds where oxygen-rich water should percolate over incubating Apache trout eggs.

To make matters worse, non-native brown trout, brook trout and rainbow trout were stocked into Apache trout streams. All three species out-compete the native fish for food and spaces to live, and rainbow trout hybridize with Apache trout.

Over the last 75 years, starting with the actions of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, followed by its work with the Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department, Apache trout populations have rallied. The future looks sunny for the species; it could one day be the first sport fish to be recovered and removed from federal protection.

Conservation work continues. Cattle have been fenced out of select Apache trout streams within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and along streams within the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Non-native sport fishes are no longer stocked near Apache trout waters. Alchesay-Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery, located on the reservation, continues to raise Apache trout for sport fishing. Apache trout from the federal facility are stocked on the reservation, and they are shared with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to be stocked in neighboring national forest waters. Many streams are open to anglers.

Service biologists remain shin-deep in Apache trout work, striving toward that goal of recovering the species. They expend a great deal of energy removing non-native brown trout and brook trout from Apache trout waters. They accomplish this with backpack-mounted electrofishing gear with which the unwanted fish are stunned and then netted from high mountain streams.

   Alchesay-Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery signAlchesay-Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery produces Apache trout. Photo by Craig Springer/USFWS

A new technology known as environmental DNA guides their work. Fish shed skin cells and excrete bodily waste, both of which contain the animal’s DNA. That DNA can be detected in the water. Biologists analyze stream water from several sites over long reaches, and the results specify which stream sections contain the unwanted, non-native trout.

Periodic monitoring continues. Where unwanted, non-native fishes occur downstream, barriers keep them at bay below and the pure Apache trout populations above. Barriers exist on 23 creeks.

At present, Apache trout exist in 28 populations and swim in 170 miles of stream. The lot of this native fish has changed significantly over time. In what is really only a brief period, the species has transcended from anonymity and mistaken identity, to the point when the White Mountain Apache Tribe waded in to protect this key part of their natural heritage to becoming the official state fish of Arizona.

CRAIG SPRINGER, External Affairs Southwest Region

 

 


Fish & Wildlife News  

An Unlikely Hero in Puerto Rico Recovery Efforts

 Agua

When James Casey, the Federal Wildlife Zone Officer for Mid-Coast Texas Zone, returns home from his mission in in Puerto Rico helping with recovery efforts, he will have quite a tale to tell. The hero is Agua the sweater-wearing dog and all the first responders helping the island.

Read More

 

Unmanned Aircraft Systems Give Biologists an Eye in the Sky

   Jeff Lucas pilots a UASJeff Lucas "pilots" a UAS. Photo by Scott Bishaw/USFWS

When humans first yearned to fly, we envisioned soaring into the wild, blue yonder. Now we’re exploring the wild, blue yonder while sitting on the ground – and wildlife is the better for it.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program, managed by  Aviation Office in Boise, Idaho, has been in the works for more than five years. But the first Service UAS “pilots” only became qualified early this year. 

Now the seven UAS pilots working in the Service’s Pacific, Midwest, Southeast and Alaska regions help field biologists and others to more efficiently and effectively survey wildlife and protected lands. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems, sometimes called "drones" by the general public, are mostly used for small-scale resource missions, gathering aerial imagery across 50 acres or less.  

“They are well-suited to bridge the gap between boots on the ground and manned aircraft,” says Federal Wildlife Officer Jeff Lucas, on detail as an instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, and a qualified UAS pilot. “Before the UAS program, a field biologist would have to request a manned aircraft, who was often a contractor, to provide aerial imagery. It was expensive. It was time consuming and it was complicated.

“Now, with the proper training and equipment, a field biologist can just launch a UAS and conduct the survey for a fraction of the cost to taxpayers,” Lucas notes. “It takes way less time and involves far less logistical planning.” 

Consider the need to count Aleutian tern nests in Alaska without disturbing a bird that is known to abandon its nest when it feels threatened. “That happens a lot when the survey is conducted on foot,” Lucas observes. 

   Alaska, Remote Pilot Mark Laker,  survey of Aleutian ternsMark Laker surveys of Aleutian terns in Alaska with a UAS. Photo by Tracy Melvin/USFWS

Enter the UAS and Remote Pilot Mark Laker. 

Some 30 flights were conducted at varying altitudes over the terns. An observer in a blind monitored birds to make sure they would not take wing. Orthomosaics -- used to measure true distances because it is an accurate representation of the Earth's surface -- were created of the flights that took place over a two-week period this past summer.   

“It was possible to identify terns from an altitude of about 100 feet,” says Lucas. "This kind of detailed biologist work could never have been accomplished by manned aircraft.”  

The UAS has been used to monitor sandhill cranes and to ensure that the stipulations of conservation easements, permanent and legal limitations on development, are being met, among other uses.  

The process starts with a flight plan. Once the pilot launches an aircraft, its performance is constantly monitored to ensure safety. “A UAS has the ability to take off, complete its mission and land without any input from the UAS pilot on the flight controls,” says Lucas. “But the pilot does have the capability to manually control the UAS in case strong winds kick up or some other safety issue comes up.”  There have been no mishaps.

Training is critical. All unmanned systems are operated by Federal Aviation Administration certificated pilots, who attend the week-long A-450 Remote Pilot training program administered through the Department of the Interior Office of Aviation Services.

The system is on target to grow: 11 Service employees are being trained in October. Another class to train a dozen is scheduled for April 2018.

“The UAS program was developed because of the capabilities that small portable unmanned aircraft can provide,” says Lucas. “The potential uses of UAS go beyond just surveys and monitoring. We hope to begin using them for such projects as mapping vegetation and habitat, 3-D mapping, and supporting such missions as wildfire suppression, search & rescue operations, human and natural disaster monitoring, law enforcement officer safety and operations, and other things we haven’t even thought of yet.”

Celebrating National Wildlife Refuge Week

a wetland at sunset at Blackwater Refuge

The scenic beauty of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS

This week we celebrate National Wildlife Refuge week and the world-class outdoor recreation opportunities the more than 550 units of the Refuge System offer throughout the country. Celebrated annually during the second week of October, National Wildlife Refuge Week is a great time to connect with your local refuge as I plan to do on Columbus Day when I visit Blackwater, NWR on Maryland’s Eastern shore.

[More]

Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund Provides more than $9 Million for Conservation

monarch resting on leafResting monarch butterfly. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS

Today, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation released its grant slate for this year’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund. The Fund awarded 23 grants for $3.7 million with an additional $5.8 in matching contributions, generating more than $9 million for conservation. Of those awarded, several projects highlight our work and the work of our partners.

“The Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund delivers tremendous support through partnership-focused conservation efforts to ensure a future filled with monarchs,” says Greg Sheehan, Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The 2017 grants will enable us, our partners, and the public to continue providing on-the-ground results that are vital for this species that is so important in our native ecosystems as well as to thousands of farmers who rely on pollinators to help provide food to the citizens of America.”

The foundation’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund is a public-private partnership between us, Monsanto, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. This is the third year the Fund has awarded projects.

The 2017 awards will support efforts that increase the quality, quantity and connectivity of monarch breeding and overwintering habitat and enhance organizational capacity. Collectively, this year these projects will:

  • Restore and enhance more than 43,000 acres
  • Collect more than 2,800 pounds of milkweed and other native forb seed
  • Propagate 131,000 native plant seedlings
  • Host approximately 210 workshops or webinars

Service recipients awarded in this year’s funding cycle include:

Utilizing Prescribed Fire to Enhance Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Central Texas
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program will conduct prescribed burning to enhance monarch habitat on 7,000 acres of public and private lands. These programs have a history of working cooperatively with private landowners in central Texas to effectively use prescribed fire as a grassland habitat management tool. This project directly improves the quality of habitat benefitting breeding and migrating monarch butterflies. 

Expanding Monarch Butterfly Habitat Connectivity in Minnesota and Iowa
Five national wildlife refuges and wetland management districts will join eight non-federal partners to significantly increase the diversity of prairie plant species on permanently protected grassland sites. Throughout Minnesota and Iowa, this public-private partnership is creating a corridor of habitat for monarch butterflies and other migratory species by restorating and enhancing more than 450 acres of habitat and enhancing public educational opportunities.

Eastern North Dakota Monarch Butterfly Habitat Restoration
Through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, private landowners are working with us to restore and enhance monarch butterfly breeding habitat on their lands. This project will impact 600 acres in eastern North Dakota through seeding a diverse mix of regionally appropriate native forbs, including milkweed and grasses as well as implementation of rotational grazing systems on 5,660 acres.

Enhancing Monarch Habitat on Private Land in Texas
With more than 95 percent of Texas land in private ownership, working with voluntary landowners on conservation challenges is essential. This project will enhance more than 8,000 acres of monarch butterfly habitat on private lands. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program will offer financial and technical assistance to implement habitat projects beneficial to monarchs, other pollinators, and grassland dependant species.

Highlighted here are a few recipients that include us as a partner:

Restoring Overwintering and Breeding Habitat for the Monarch Butterfly's Western Population
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is leading a myriad of stakeholders across the western range of monarchs to restore and enhance priority habitats, specifically in the state of California. This project involves multiple public and private partners, including us, to combine efforts to focus on restoration and protection of coastal overwintering habitat and enhancement of more than 600 acres of breeding habitat across the Central Valley.

Restoring Native Prairie Habitat for Monarch Butterflies
Prairie Pothole Partners and Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge Complex, in partnership with other conservation organizations, will convert 200 acres of agricultural land within the refuge complex in southeastern North Dakota to a high diversity prairie community for monarchs and other pollinators. Additionally, partners will collect 50 pounds of native forbs including four species of milkweed to use in the restoration.

Monarch Butterfly Flyway Restoration
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation will continue and expand the habitat corridor restoration work across the state of Iowa. The Iowa Butterfly Flyway was initiated in 2015 by coordinating a series of restoration projects in central Iowa. Working with public and private partners, including our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the project aims to enhance 500 acres of habitat across the Iowa Wetland Management District and along the I-380 corridor by planting diverse milkweed and nectaring species.

See the full award announcement and project descriptions (PDF)

Fall for Autumn on Northeast Refuges

PATH IN Canaan VALLEYnwr
Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge is nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. Photo by Marvin De Jong

There are 72 national wildlife refuges in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region, which stretches from Virginia and West Virginia up to Maine. Almost all of those refuges are gorgeous places for fall walks. This week’s photo essay, “Fall for Autumn on Northeast Refuges,” offers a short tour of a few of them.

Looking THROUGH binoculars at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is just 10 miles from downtown Philadelphia. Photo by Lamar Gore/USFWS

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, which is just across I-95 from Philadelphia International Airport, features 10 miles of walking trails and 4.5 miles of canoe/kayak trails through tidal Darby Creek.

“It is difficult to pick a favorite trail on the refuge, as both the water trail and the trail along Warbler Woods will make you pause with the colors they bring,” says refuge manager Lamar Gore.

Moose in water
Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge encompasses the Connecticut River watershed in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Photo by David Govatski

Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge consists of several units in four states that offer views of breathtaking fall foliage in the Connecticut River Valley of New England.

The Mollie Beattie Bog Boardwalk and Trail near Island Pond, Vermont; the Mud Pond Trail off State Route 116 near Jefferson, New Hampshire; and the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail in Hadley, Massachusetts, are accessible to all visitors, including those with mobility challenges.

“You might see American woodcock, American black duck, barn swallows, bobolink and American kestrel,” says visitor service manager Jennifer Lapis. “Other animals seen in these areas include wild turkeys, moose, painted turtle and white-tailed deer.” 

water and fall colorsIroquois National Wildlife Refuge – midway between Buffalo and Rochester, New York  – offers several options for enjoying bird migration in fall. Photo by Megan Davis/USFWS

“Fall for Autumn on Northeast Refuges” is part of the Refuge System’s series of photo essays that highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. New photo essays are posted regularly on the Refuge System home page. The essays are archived here.

It’s a Wrap

  Southwest Region fish distribution truck wrap  The Southwest Region fish distribution truck wrap was was designed by the Service's Kristin Simanek. Photo by Tammy Simmons/USFWS

A graphic vinyl wrap covers the Service's Southwest Region’s fish distribution truck.  

The beautiful images symbolize the breadth of fisheries conservation performed across the Southwest. Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma raises alligator gar and paddlefish in concert with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and our Texas Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. Paddlefish recently returned to Caddo Lake after a long hiatus. Alligator gar grow to enormous 13 feet long in the wild, offering original and distinctive angling experiences.

Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery raises endangered razorback sucker along the Colorado River in Arizona, along with rainbow trout for anglers.

San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center in Texas conserves the rarest of aquatic organisms, fish, mussels, plants and amphibians. Passing motorists will see a Texas blind salamander on the truck’s tailgate. It’s eyeless—and a ghostly pale white.

The rarest of trout, Apache trout from Arizona and Gila trout from New Mexico, portray the work of Alchesay Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery, Mora National Fish Hatchery, the Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources and Recovery Center and our Arizona and New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices. Fish biologists are waist-deep in recovering these trout so enjoyed by anglers.

Anglers across the Southwest also love catching channel catfish that come from Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Texas. That’s where this truck is housed. The rig puts on more than 15,000 miles a year getting fish where they need to be. Its next assignment: deliver endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow from Uvalde National Fish Hatchery in Texas to its namesake waters.

Honk if you see us on the road. 

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