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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Karen Yochem: 24-Year Volunteer Has Amazing Commitment to Refuge

   Karen Yochem

We are lucky. Close to 42,000 volunteers choose to give more than 1.5 million service hours a year. They help us band birds, spawn fish, lead wildlife- watching tours and much more.

In honor of National Volunteer Week, April 23-29, meet Karen Yochem. Every week since 1993, Karen has been volunteering at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. She has put in more than 18,821 volunteer hours at the refuge. That is equivalent to 2,352 eight-hour work days and more than 9 years of full-time work.

Read More: Karen is believed to have the third most hours among active volunteers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Putting Action Behind Intent is the Key to Reconnecting With the Outdoors

Wildlife Viewing Area Trail, Lee Metcalf RefugeThis Wildlife Viewing Area Trail at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Montana is just waiting for visitors. Photo by Keith Krejci

Can something really be popular and important, if we never make time for it? 

That’s the paradox outlined in an important new report on the attitudes and behaviors of U.S. adults and children toward nature and the outdoors. The report, commissioned and released today by several partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, summarizes the results of interviews and surveys conducted by professional researchers of nearly 12,000 adults, children and parents across the nation in 2015-2016. 

Despite what you might assume, the study found that Americans of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities share a remarkably strong interest in and support for nature. Most felt time spent outdoors provided them with peace, meaning and purpose. And kids indicated that they were healthier, happier and more creative when they spent time exploring nature and playing outside. 

Yet despite these positive feelings and broad recognition of the benefits nature can provide, the amount of time Americans of all ages spend in the outdoors continues to decline. Whether it’s increasing development that puts what many people feel is “nature” farther away, or growing competition for our limited time from other activities (especially smart phones and electronic media of all sorts), most Americans report significant barriers to spending more time outdoors. 

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that most adults are fine with the limited amount of time they currently spend outdoors. Yet for more than half of them, it’s five hours or less per week! Getting outside used to be the key part of a great weekend. Now, for far too many people, it’s a luxury when there are errands to run or activities to drive the kids to. It’s something to do on vacation a few times a year to special places, because they’ve lost an intimate connection with the natural world right outside their doors.

But kids emulate the adults in their lives. The negligible time we spend in the outdoors is having an impact on their ability and aspirations to go outside. Successive generations are growing up believing that less time spent outdoors is normal, lowering their expectations. 

Children surveyed reported spending an average of 6.6 hours per week in the outdoors. Think about that. Our kids are averaging less than an hour per day – and that amount actually declines as kids get older and more involved in other activities. 

Less than an hour per day. More than half of all adults, and millions of kids are virtual prisoners in their own homes! In fact, if they were actual prisoners, it would be an international human rights violation to give them less than an hour per day of outdoor time. Yet our kids shut themselves indoors to spend an average of 16 hours per week watching television or using electronic media of one sort or another. And adults aren’t much better. 

We have to help them – and ourselves – break out of the virtual prisons we have in many cases voluntarily constructed. But as with any successful prison break, no one can do it alone. 

Families FishingFamilies fishing at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver. Photo by Stephanie Raine/USFWS

Spending time outdoors is an intensely social activity. Yes, many people of all ages like to spend time alone in the outdoors. But for most of us, the best times we’ve had in the outdoors occur when we have friends and family there to share in those experiences. 

Think about your most vivid memories of nature from when you were a child. Chances are, there was someone you loved there with you. Whether it was your first hunting trip with your father, fishing or camping with your grandparents, or hiking a new trail with your mother and sister – these are the experiences that we remember, because they matter. And they matter because being out in nature isn’t just about nature itself. It’s about sharing the wonder with our loved ones. 

So what can we do? Fortunately, the report also includes a number of positive recommendations to help reconnect adults, children and parents with the outdoors. 

First, we can make nature a group activity. When you want to go outside, invite your friends. Take your family, or organize a trip with your church or community group. 

Second, we can redefine for ourselves what “nature” is. For most kids, walking outside and spending time in the woods can be as meaningful and beneficial as a trip to Yosemite. Spending time outdoors doesn’t have to mean backpacking the Great Divide Trail. Taking your family out for a short walk around a local wildlife refuge, or having a picnic at a neighborhood park can be incredibly fun and beneficial. 

Third, we can make getting outside a habit.  It shouldn’t be a chore like going to the gym, but making a routine out of outdoor activities and forcing ourselves to stick to it will benefit us in much the same way. 

Together, we can help each other reconnect with nature and rediscover our passion for the outdoors.

Congrats to Isaac Schreiber, Winner of Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest


U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a talented young artist from Duffield, Va., took top honors at the National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest. A pair of trumpeter swans painted by 12-year-old Isaac Schreiber will grace the 2017-2018 Junior Duck Stamp, which raises funds to educate and engage our nation’s youth in wildlife and wetlands conservation, and outdoor recreation.

PHOTO GALLERY: All the entries

Daniel Billings, 16, of Gallatin, Mo., took second place with an oil painting depicting a wood duck. 

Third place went to Rene Christensen, 17, of Nekoosa, Wis., for her graphite rendition of a pair of Canada geese. 

The 2017 Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation Message Contest winner was 14-year-old Catherine Wang from Johns Creek, Ga., who wrote: “Conservation is the promise that the children of tomorrow will witness the beauty of today.” The conservation message expresses the spirit of what students have learned through classroom discussions, research and planning for their Junior Duck Stamp Contest entries.

Read More

Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest Underway

   Jr. Duck StampThe 2016-2017 Junior Duck Stamp features a pair of Ross's geese by Stacy Shen, 16, of Fremont, California.

Young artists are gathering today at Charleston Music Hall in South Carolina for the 2017 National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest.

Young people whose artwork won "best of show" awards in contests all over the country are competing to have their work appear on the 25th Junior Duck Stamp, which we produce annually. This $5 stamp has become a much sought after collector's item. One hundred percent of the revenue from the sale of Junior Duck stamps goes to support recognition and environmental education activities for students who participate in the program.

Good luck to all the contestants!

Clamping Down on Illegal Grass Carp Sales in Indiana

   grass carp

Nonnative grass carp can be an effective alternative to chemical treatments in controlling aquatic vegetation, but they can harm our native fishery. Indiana allows people to use sterile grass carp as a biological control method in man-made ponds, and the state has in place regulations that keep these fish out of rivers and streams and away from Indiana’s native fishery.

Earlier this year, conservation officers within the investigation section of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources worked closely with special agents within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement to investigate and quickly close a case of a company trying to bypass those regulations.

Read More: Fighting Asian Carp is a Collaborative Effort

'Friends' Better Their Communities

   Friends of Alaska RefugesRefuge Friends groups, like the Friends of Alaska Refuges, do it all, from helping pull weeds to assisting with environmental education programs. Photo by USFWS 

Some conservation-minded citizens find their calling through the nonprofit Friends organizations that are the helping hands of national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries. Some 200 Friends organizations work on behalf of national wildlife refuges. Thirty-three other groups work hand-in-hand with national fish hatcheries. As they work on behalf of conservation, they are improving your community, one project at a time.

   Chesnut CreekIn southwest Kentucky, Friends of Clarks River took quick action when they learned that Chestnut Creek was impaired. Photo by Ray Stainfield 

When the Friends of Clarks River learned in 2010 that Chestnut Creek -- which flows into the refuge’s namesake river -- was impaired, they took action. The group obtained Environmental Protection Agency grants to identify the threats – and the solutions. Now, the Marshall County Sanitation Department is repairing failing sanitary sewer facilities, and local homeowners can find help to replace their failing septic systems.

   Friends of Heinz Refuge The Friends of Heinz Refuge is helping to revitalize southwest Philadelphia and involving young people in the process. Photo by USFWS 

With 40,000 vacant lots in the city of Philadelphia, conservation stewardship can seem more a dream than a reality. The Friends of Heinz Refuge in Pennsylvania is changing that, first by identifying at least six lots to revitalize. The Friends also worked with Philadelphia University architectural students to design the Cecil Street Garden. 

   kids at Tamarac Discovery Center Environmental education takes many forms, sometimes incorporating music to celebrate nature. Photo by Denise Warweg

Through activities ranging from family workshops on flora and fauna to summer explorations for kids, Tamarac Discovery Center – built with the fundraising acumen of the Friends of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge – is the hub for connecting its Minnesota community with natural resources and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. Among other advances, the Friends have helped keep aquatic invasive species out of local waters by teaching anglers proper boat cleaning techniques. “The Friends of Tamarac are building a legacy of conservation stewards,” says Tamarac Refuge manager Neil Powers.

   Trinity River boardwalkA trails network has welcomed the city of Liberty into Trinity River Refuge. Photo by USFWS 

The city of Liberty in east Texas has moved closer to Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge — thanks to the still-expanding “From Crosswalks to Boardwalks” hiking and biking trail complex. The Friends of Trinity River Refuge were at the very heart of the trails’ development, even helping to build a 500-foot boardwalk.  

   Pinckey islandThe Friends of the Savannah Coastal Wildlife Refuges bought an electric shuttle for Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina, giving people — regardless of physical abilities — the chance to see wildlife. Photo by Eric Horan 

The impact of Friends’ work goes way beyond the borders of federal lands and waters. Got a yen to help? Find a Friends group near you.

Friends Are Bettering Their Communities 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. A new photo essay is posted on the Refuge System home page each Wednesday. The essays are archived here.

National Elk Refuge Reaching Out to Latino Community

   wagon rideA wagon ride to remember. Photo by USFWS

With 4 million visitors to the area each year, National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming, works to give the visiting public experiences to remember. With winter sleigh rides, May’s antler auction and breathtaking views year-round, there is always something to help people connect with nature.  

As a prominent member of the community, the refuge also looks for opportunities to connect residents to nature, and one group in particular offers the potential for a lot of new connections to nature: Jackson’s large and growing Latino population.

“Historically, local Latino youth and their families have visited the neighboring federal lands at much lower rates than other populations,” says the refuge’s Lori Iverson.

Working to combat that, the refuge recently took part in Grand Teton National Park’s Pura Vida program, a program designed to educate and engage the Latino community in Jackson. One part of the program encouraged Latino students to visit their public lands during their spring break.

“Our hope was to spark discussions about the importance of stewardship and instill a desire to seek out more experiences in the outdoors,” Iverson says.

 meeting the horses  Meeting the horses. Photo by USFWS

Eight students followed through on the refuge visit, and despite some nasty weather, they enjoyed a wagon ride to get up close with the elk and a driving tour of the refuge. They also heard about the refuge’s purpose and the mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

At the end of Pura Vida week, the students led their families on a Friday evening tour of the refuge, park and Bridger-Teton National Forest. Nearly 40 people came on the tour, with the Pura Vida students acting as naturalists/tour guides for their families, sharing the knowledge they learned.

“By participating in Grand Teton National Park's Pura Vida program,” Iverson says, “the National Elk Refuge staff had the opportunity to dissolve any barriers, introduce the students to the refuge and what it has to offer, and welcome the participants to return with their families to share their experience.”

Sounds like they succeeded.  

-- Matt Trott, External Affairs

Conservation Goes to the Dogs, and It's Great

   Momo and Ukkie (with Federal Wildlife Canine Officer Joshua Hindman)Momo and Ukkie (with Federal Wildlife Canine Officer Joshua Hindman).

Brent Lawrence in our Pacific Region tells us about two top-notch tail-waggers out there – Momo and Ukkie. They’re both assigned to help the Service’s law enforcement officers sniff out illegal activities.

Workin' like a dog

Taking Out the Trash

Marine Debris on Kure AtollEmployees for the State of Hawaii collect marine debris. Photo by Andy Sullivanhaskins/Hawaii Department of Lands and Natural Resources

We worked with partners recently to remove more than 100,000 pounds (that’s 50 tons!) of marine debris that had been collected over the last six years from the reefs and beaches of Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial in the Pacific. The debris, a potentially lethal entanglement and ingestion hazard for wildlife, was transported to Honolulu and will be incinerated to produce electricity.

Read More

More Photos and Videos

Bats: ‘The Coolest Mammals on Earth’

Ann FroschauerAs part of her work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ann Froschauer sometimes gets to explore bat caves up close and personally.

We know bats may seem scary sometimes, but they are cool. And they are important to all of us. So, to help celebrate National Bat Appreciation Day this Monday, April 17, we’ve asked our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service colleague Ann Froschauer a few questions about bats. See her answers in this week’s story, Bats: “The Coolest Mammals on Earth.”

pallid batThis pallid bat is being examined by a researcher. Pallid bats are found in dry areas across the western United States, including at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. Photo by Ann Froschauer/USFWS  

Froschauer loves bats. She got interested in them in high school and has been studying them professionally for more than 10 years. “I think getting a chance to see a bat in real life helps a lot of people get over their fears,” she says.

“I like all kinds of bats,” Froschauer says, “but one of my favorites is the pallid bat – they have beautiful white fur and huge ears, which they use to listen for the footsteps of prey like scorpions and centipedes.”

mariana fruit batThis young Mariana fruit bat looks at the world upside down. These bats are found at Guam National Wildlife Refuge and on other islands in the Pacific Ocean. Photo by Anne Brooke/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with many organizations and people to protect bats and learn more about them. Staff members at many of our national wildlife refuges study bats and work to protect their habitat. Would you like to help out? Check out 10 Ways to Be a Friend to Bats.

hibernating batsMore than 1 million gray bats hibernate each winter at Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Photo by Jennifer Pinkley/USFWS volunteer

Bats: “The Coolest Mammals on Earth” 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. A new photo essay is posted on the Refuge System home page each Wednesday. The essays are archived here.

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