Facebook icon Twitter icon Flicker icon You Tube icon

Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Immigrant Children Connect with Nature in Their New Home

Student hugs a plant Dirt flies as students dig in a garden, the sound of laughter bouncing across the schoolyard. “There’s sand in my shoes, but that’s not stopping me!” exclaims Maryna, a third-grader digging holes for new plants at Anza Elementary School. Most of the children who attend Anza, in El Cajon, just east of San Diego, have emigrated from war-torn countries such as Iraq and Syria, and now they are are transforming themselves into confident young girls and boys through a schoolyard habitat project.

Read More

Students at Anza Elementary are learning to love being outdoors. Photo by Lisa Cox/USFWS

Gila Trout Swim Mineral Creek

 helicopter with big tank hanging beneath it
Gila trout arrive at the treetops over Mineral Creek. Photo by Craig Springer/USFWS

How do you move a thousand captive-raised fish from their hatchery to their release site miles away? Answer: Carefully! It helps to have a helicopter, too. That’s what it took (along with a big truck and a lot of shoe leather) to get that many Gila trout safely out to the remote headwaters of Mineral Creek, well inside the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico.

On November 18, the Service, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and U.S. Forest Service released the young Gila trout, ranging from 6 inches to a foot in length, into Mineral Creek. These rare, yellow trout were spawned, hatched and raised in captivity in 2015 and 2016 at the Service’s Mora National Fish Hatchery. Hatchery fish are carefully paired and spawned to maximize genetic diversity of offspring, improving chances of their survival in the wild. The captive fish were also purposely subjected to rigorous swimming conditions in the hatchery to further ensure their fitness when released.

These trout traveled by truck eight hours to meet a helicopter at the Gila National Forest’s Glenwood Ranger Station. The aircraft made multiple flights carrying an aerated tank at the end of a long line, each time full of Gila trout. Biologists from the three agencies had hiked several miles into the rugged country to meet the trout and place them in the cool, shaded runs and pools of Mineral Creek, a tributary of the San Francisco River near Alma, New Mexico.

   Andy Dean releases Gila trout into Mineral Creek.
  Andy Dean releases Gila trout into Mineral Creek. Photo by Craig Springer/USFWS

This release is a large step forward in conserving Gila trout, which live only in New Mexico and Arizona along the Mogollon Rim, notes Andy Dean, lead Gila trout biologist with the Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. “This repatriation into Mineral Creek adds another stream to harbor Gila trout, as outlined as a necessity in the Gila Trout Recovery Plan,” he says.  “Not only does this add a population within the San Francisco River drainage, it also helps establish Gila trout populations across a larger geographical area. More Gila trout over a larger area adds greater security to this rare fish.”

That desired security will be achieved when the Mineral Creek population is naturally reproducing, and fish of multiple ages swim its waters, perhaps in 2018.

Mineral Creek came to the attention of biologists as a candidate stream to receive Gila trout after the massive Whitewater-Baldy Fire of 2012. Destructive as it was, the forest fire actually made Mineral Creek suitable for Gila trout. The fire burned in the headlands of the stream and summer rains washed a slurry of ash and debris down the creek, removing unwanted competing non-native fishes. Though the mountain slopes and streamside vegetation are not fully stabilized post-fire, sufficient habitat exists to harbor Gila trout in Mineral Creek.  With so few suitable streams available to repatriate Gila trout in the watershed, biologists seized the opportunity.

Mineral Creek was not the only stream to receive Gila trout from Mora National Fish Hatchery this autumn.  More than 8,600 Gila trout were placed in several other waters to advance the species’ recovery and entice anglers to go after native trout in native habitats of southwest New Mexico. 

The Gila trout is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The species was listed as endangered in 1973, and due to conservation measures, was downlisted to threatened in 2006. A year later, select Gila trout populations were opened to angling for the first time in 50 years. 

Craig Springer, External Affairs, Southwest Region

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Virtual Tour: Visiting the Winter Home of Western Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies Overwintering in Pacific Grove, CaliforniaDuring sunny winter days, monarch butterflies overwintering along California’s central coast will disperse from their clusters on trees, when they exhibit their underwings to disguise themselves as dead leaves, to bask in the sunshine until dusk. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Public affairs specialist Joanna Gilkeson recently traded in a job in our Midwest Region in Minnesota for a job in California. She is a big monarch person, so when the time was right, she packed up her camera equipment and drove north along California’s coast to see monarchs overwintering in California for the first time.

Read More 

See Joanna's Photos

‘Hope Spots’ in the Ocean

  Palmyra Atoll Natl Wildlife Refuge Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is part of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, one of five marine national monuments cooperatively managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo by Kydd Pollock

The ocean covers almost three-quarters of Earth’s surface and contains about 97 percent of the planet’s water. The ocean is home to an almost otherworldly array of rainbow-colored fish, exotic plants, large-winged seabirds, powerful marine mammals, living corals and vital microorganisms. We are just beginning to understand how those ocean creatures are interconnected with one another and with us.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state and territorial governments and others to conserve the ocean and remote islands and atolls in it. The two federal agencies cooperatively manage four marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean and one in the Atlantic. 

Oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle has called the marine national monuments “hope spots” for ocean health. They are the subject of this week’s National Wildlife Refuge System photo essay, “Hope Spots” in the Ocean.

   PapahanaumokuakeaAn exotic and colorful assortment of fish, plants and corals inhabit reefs within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Photo by James Watt 

Papahanaumokuakea, at more than 580,000 square miles, is the largest marine national monument. “It’s the largest protected area under U.S. jurisdiction. It’s the largest wholly protected area on Earth,” says Matt Brown, a Fish and Wildlife Service superintendent for the Pacific marine national monuments. “At its heart is the most remote island chain in the world, the Hawaiian Archipelago.”  

The deep water at the far end of Papahanaumokuakea is home to scores of species found nowhere else on Earth.

Additionally, Papahanaumokuakea “is the spiritual birthplace and the spiritual home of the Hawaiian people, and so it is a place of enormous cultural significance,” says Brown. “It’s also a place of enormous historical significance. In June, we’re going to commemorate the 75th anniversary the Battle of Midway. It’s the turning point of World War II. It’s all of these layers that make Papahanaumokuakea so special.”

   Mariana Trench MNM Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, clockwise from bottom left: Galatheid crabs and shrimp graze on bacterial filaments on mussel shells; tropical fish and corals inhabit an area nicknamed “the aquarium”; superheated spring water spews from Champagne Vent into cold ocean water to form bubbles of liquid carbon dioxide. Photos by NOAA Submarine Ring of Fire 2004

The other marine national monuments in the Pacific are Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and, in the Atlantic, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

Learn more about them in “Hope Spots” in the Ocean. It is part of the Refuge System’s series of weekly 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.

Captive Rearing and Reintroduction Program Gives the Dusky Gopher Frog a Head Start at Recovery

   dusky gopher frogAdult male dusky gopher frog. Photo by John Tupy

The dusky gopher frog is a native to the longleaf pine forests of the southeastern United States. This federally endangered animal depends on temporary shallow ponds embedded in this landscape for breeding. Unfortunately, much of the open longleaf pine habitat where rainwater collects to create the ideal setting for breeding has disappeared as a result of development and fire suppression. For years, the survival of the frog has primarily depended on a single breeding pond – Glen's Pond – located within Mississippi’s DeSoto National Forest. This site has been monitored continuously since it was discovered in 1988. Since then, severe drought events and a disease outbreak in 2003 resulted in several back-to-back years where there was little to no breeding success. With few frog tadpoles surviving to adulthood, the species was in jeopardy.

A captive rearing and release program has helped bolster the wild dusky gopher frog population. By hatching egg masses brought in from the wild and raising the tadpoles in the safety of a lab, staff in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mississippi Ecological Service’s Field Office ensures the breeding population at Glen’s Pond recruits healthy adult frogs each year, even when various factors prevent the natural development of wild tadpoles into frogs.

Read More

Monarchs and Other Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch butterfly at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Ron Holmes/USFWS

We write a lot about monarch butterflies and our work to conserve them – with good reason! Almost everyone knows monarchs. They may well be North America’s best-known butterfly. And people are rallying to support them. Beyond their celebrity, though, there is another good reason. Planting milkweed, a key way to help monarchs, has benefits beyond monarchs. In fact, all our work, and that of many partners, to restore habitat for monarchs helps other pollinators. And we restored or enhanced more than 330,000 acres in 2016 for monarchs and other pollinators, blowing past our goal for 2016 AND 2017.

Lately, our work with other butterflies has been in the news.

Oregon silverspot butterflyOregon silverspot butterfly was listed as a threatened species with critical habitat in October 1980.  Photo by USFWS

In Oregon, we are working with partners to re-establish two populations of the threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly. At one time, the Oregon silverspot butterfly was widespread among 20 distinct locations from northern California to southern Washington.  Only five populations currently remain, four in Oregon and one in California.

Quino Checkerspot Butterfly on a wild hyacinthQuino checkerspot butterfly on a wild hyacinth. Photo by Andrew Fisher/USFWS Volunteer Biologist

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge is working to recover the critically endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly. A team of biologists from the San Diego Zoo, the Service and the Conservation Biology Institute recently released 742 larvae of the Quino checkerspot on the refuge. This was the first captive-rearing and release for this California native butterfly species. The Quino checkerspot was once among the most commonly seen butterflies in Southern California, but this species has experienced a drastic decline, primarily because increased urban development has deprived it of habitat. Climate change, drought, invasive plants and fire pose additional threats.

Male Smith's blue butterfly at Salinas River National Wildlife RefugeMale Smith's blue butterfly at Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Diane Kodama/USFWS

Also in California, Service senior fish and wildlife biologist Jacob Martin has been studying the endangered Smith’s blue butterfly for more than 10 years. Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge is a safe haven for the tiny butterflies, which have struggled to survive against trampling by humans and vehicles, proliferation of weeds and coastal development. A new survey technique and long-term monitoring effort will help the refuge know better how to support the Smith’s blue butterfly population.

A Bridge to Nature

Students gather around gardenStudents learn about pollinators and conservation work with Groundwork and the Service. Photo by Marilyn Kitchell

On a clear fall day last year, we helped celebrate the opening of a pollinator garden at Yonkers School 13, a pre-K to 8 school in south Yonkers. Groundwork-Hudson Valley Urban Rangers, high school students paid to work on conservation projects, built the garden, with input from our staff. The effort is another component of the Yonkers Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, which was established in 2014.The garden features plants chosen to represent four habitat types – wetlands, meadows, forest understories and grasslands. Blooming in spring or fall, the chosen plantings should provide habitat for butterflies, bees and wasps (dare we hope for a hummingbird?!) in a part of Yonkers dominated by impervious surfaces.

Read More

U.S. and Sudan Talk Wildlife Trafficking

   delegationU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Associate Director Teresa Christopher, Chief of Law Enforcement William Woody, and Special Agent in Charge David Hubbard, visit Sudanese National Police HQ in Khartoum, Sudan, to discuss potential cooperation on combating wildlife trafficking.

Shortly after arriving in Sudan, I quickly noticed that the Sudanese bills have images of many of Africa’s iconic species – elephants, rhinos, giraffes and Cape buffalo – yet many of these species are disappearing at alarming rates.  Over 30,000 African elephants are killed each year…with populations plummeting toward extinction.  The wildlife trafficking crisis is global and has far-reaching, detrimental economic, environmental, security and social impacts -- especially in Africa.  Illegal poaching and associated wildlife trafficking are major sources of funding for transnational organized criminal networks, insurgencies and militant groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). These organizations are well structured, often violent and capable of illegally moving large commercial volumes of wildlife and wildlife products. 

In mid-December, I led a U.S. delegation to Khartoum in an unprecedented visit to assess the possibility of long-term cooperation with the Government of Sudan on efforts to halt wildlife trafficking, as well as to learn more about ivory trafficking and LRA involvement.   Sudan has historically been one of Africa’s major transit routes for illicit trade of wildlife products.  However, due to decades of ongoing conflict and strained relations between Sudan and the United States, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders have never visited Sudan.

Poachers and traffickers travel long distances from Sudan across central Africa in search of elephants residing in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and other neighboring countries.  Porous borders, long-standing unrest, endemic conflict, widespread poverty, lack of economic opportunities and frequent movement of a large number of people in these areas all contribute to the illicit trade.     

Sudanese government’s seized wildlife stockpile.

Accompanied by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chief of Law Enforcement William Woody, Special Agent in Charge David Hubbard, and senior officials from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Security Council and the Directorate of National Intelligence, I spent three days meeting with senior government officials and local leaders, viewing the Sudanese government’s seized ivory stockpiles, and visiting local markets, or souqs, known to be centers of commerce for illegal wildlife products. 

As part of a high-level dialogue with the Government of Sudan, the visit included constructive discussions with national and state government leaders, National Police, ethnic leaders from Kafia-Kingi and South Darfur, and civil society representatives.  We heard about the Sudanese government’s efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and promote wildlife conservation, including deployment of officers in nine national parks, enforcement challenges, such as rough terrain, recent drug control operations and development of management plans.   We gained a better understanding of existing Sudanese wildlife laws and pending legislation.  In addition, we discussed the impacts the ongoing armed conflicts and the poor economy have had on wildlife management and trafficking. 

Following a visit on the first day with the Foreign Minister, senior officials from the National Police, Ministry of the Interior, and National Intelligence and Security Service, the delegation viewed a storage facility of seized wildlife products at the Wildlife Protection Policy Headquarters. 

   tusksSudanese government’s seized wildlife stockpile.

After speaking with the Sudanese government, I also had the opportunity to hear from more than 15 traditional leaders of ethnic groups located around Kafia-Kingi and South Darfur during a roundtable discussion.  These leaders pointed to a poor economy, the long-running conflict in Darfur, the proliferation of arms and a strong demand for exotic goods as the main reasons for illegal trafficking of wildlife.  They described movements of poachers, some of which were said to be LRA, recalling that these groups would travel between Sudan and neighboring countries in the south to poach elephants for their tusks and other wildlife for their skins. The poachers would then return to the Darfur region to sell these products.  Driven by the dire situation in the region, local hunters also turn to trafficking wildlife for income – which can be far more lucrative than farming and other means of generating money in an area that has been a conflict zone for years.

Many groups move in and out of the region across borders with the CAR and other neighboring countries, creating enforcement challenges.  But increased enforcement efforts alone will not address the problem.  Raising awareness with local communities and creating new economic opportunities as alternatives to selling ivory and wildlife products are also needed.   This was reiterated by both traditional leaders and senior government officials.  

Despite government efforts, a trip to Omdurman and Khartoum markets indicated a thriving business in wildlife products – from carved ivory tusks to snake skin shoes.

 shop  Markets in Khartoum and Omdurman openly sell ivory and other illegal wildlife products.

 wildlife products


Combating wildlife trafficking has been a major priority for the U.S., spurred by President Obama’s Executive Order in September 2013 and advanced with bipartisan support through the adoption of the END Wildlife Trafficking Act in October 2016.  U.S. efforts to combat wildlife trafficking have focused on enforcement, demand reduction, on-the-ground protection and conservation, and international cooperation and capacity building. 

Cooperation and partnerships around the globe are cornerstones of these efforts.  In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created a dedicated International Operations Unit to dramatically expand the reach and effectiveness of our law enforcement program.  We have based regional attachés in key locations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and continue to expand our global presence and encourage cooperation - with our newest special agent attaché joining the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, Gabon, this month.

The United States remains deeply committed to the Sudanese people.  Through visits like this, the U.S. aims to set a foundation for future cooperation that could not only help to save Africa’s iconic species but promote regional security and a peaceful and stable Sudan.  

About the author: Teresa R. Christopher is the Associate Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  


Try Nature. It’s Good for You

   students run on a field trip to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife RefugeElementary school students let loose on a field trip to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Research links outdoor activity and good health. (Photo: Justin Belson/USFWS)

Add some nature to your New Year’s resolutions. You’ll be healthier for it. 

A growing body of research supports the idea that getting outdoors and moving — on national wildlife refuges, for example — can improve your peace of mind and physical well-being. 

Many refuges are strengthening that health-and-nature connection — and helping their communities in the process. They’re improving urban access to green space, sending nature broadcasts to sick children, promoting outdoor skills and taking a host of other creative actions.  

   yogaVisitors take part in an outdoor yoga class at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Carmen Leong-Minch/USFWS)

See where some of those connections are leading at https://www.fws.gov/refuges/features/HealthAndNature.html.

Look for a new online story about your national wildlife refuges every Wednesday on the Refuge System home page.

Dedication and Unity Prevent Extinction of One of the World’s Most Endangered Lizards

   Jamaican Rock Iguana. Jamaican rock iguana. Photo by Peter Harlow

The following blog post was written by Dr. Stesha Pasachnik, a Conservation Biologist at the Fort Worth Zoo who helps lead work supported by the International Iguana Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Fund.

Jamaica is considered a hotspot within a hotspot of biodiversity, as it has the greatest number of endemic birds and plants of any Caribbean island, and numerous unique reptiles, amphibians, insects and bats.   Endemic means the species is found only in one region, in this case, only in Jamaica. 

The Jamaican rock iguana, Cyclura collei, is among those endemic species. Although these iguanas once thrived along much of the island’s southern dry forest habitat, they were considered extinct by the 1940s, due to habitat conversion and the introduction of the Indian mongoose, known to have caused the extinction of at least two other lizards on Jamaica. 

   Indian mongooseIndian mongoose. Photo by Carla Kishinami/Creative Commons License

But maybe they weren’t extinct after all. 

The 1970s brought hope when JD Woodley was conducting an assessment in the Hellshire Hills and a pig hunter showed him a dead iguana. Woodley shared this information but the conservation community could not yet comprehend its importance and little action was taken. It was not until two decades later, when the idea of biodiversity conservation was revolutionizing the field of ecology, that a second discovery would change the course for this species.

 Once again a pig hunter, Edwin Duffus, encountered an iguana in the Hellshire Hills, when his dog returned with it. Duffus brought it to the Hope Zoo in Kingston and they contacted local herpetologist, Peter Vogel. This time the community was ready and soon mobilized to save the species. The Jamaica Iguana Research and Conservation Group (now the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Group [JIRG]) was created as a collaborative effort, between many local and international organizations, to establish a stable population of iguanas within Hellshire Hills and investigate reintroduction sites. Had it not been for the quick response from many groups and champion on-the-ground leaders (Peter Vogel, Byron Wilson and Rick van Veen – University of the West Indies [UWI]), this species would likely be extinct.

For nearly 30 years, the JIRG worked to build a stable population in the Hellshire Hills through intensive surveys, invasive-species control, and a head-start and release program at the Hope Zoo. This perseverance resulted in increasing the number of nesting females seven-fold and releasing more than 300 hatchlings into Hellshire Hills. In 2013, after years of negotiations, the National Environmental Planning Agency (NEPA), formally took on oversight of the project, making it one of their only species-focused conservation projects. While a current population estimate is not available, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in a 2010 assessment provided an estimate of 100-200 mature individuals. The Jamaican rock iguana is an IUCN red-listed critically endangered species. 

Threatening that success, in 2013 the Jamaican government backed a development plan for a port facility that would destroy the current habitat of the iguana in Hellshire Hills and prime reintroduction sites on the Goat Islands. 

In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined the JIRG’s international campaign to stop this development by backing the International Iguana Foundation (IIF), a longstanding JIRG partner organization, in an effort to explore potential reintroduction sites.   

   Dr. Pasachnik and ranger Kenroy Williams release a Jamaican rock iguana Dr. Pasachnik and ranger Kenroy Williams release a Jamaican rock iguana after collecting data on its size and shape. Photo by Peter Harlow

In July 2016, I was hired as a Conservation Biologist by the Fort Worth Zoo, which provides the office for the IIF, to oversee the aforementioned Service supported work. I have been involved in iguana research and conservation for more than 15 years, and have worked throughout Central America and the Caribbean. The opportunity to work on this iconic project was an honor. I traveled to Jamaica September through October 2016, coinciding with the hatching season of the iguanas. The goals of the trip were to meet the relevant stakeholders, observe the hatching period management, and begin to assess a potential reintroduction site. Coincidently, the JIRG had recently been contacted by Noel Levy, a founding member of the Jackson Bay Gun Club. This was a connection that may just change the course of history for these iguanas once again.

Noel’s gun club manages half of the Portland Ridge peninsula - a dry forest, similar to Hellshire Hills, and long thought of as a potential site to establish a secondary population of Jamaican Iguanas. Noel had heard there was interest in introducing iguanas to Portland Ridge and he wanted to make it happen! 

   Portland Ridge in JamaicaPortland Ridge is a potential reintroduction site for Jamaican rock iguanas. Photo by Stesha Pasachnik

Noel talked of preserving nature for future generations, turning the gun club into a reserve and using iguanas as the flagship for the project. In collaboration with Damion Whyte (UWI PhD student), Noel and I embarked on a plan to assess the area, looking for nesting and retreat sites, and preferred dietary plants for the iguanas. This site would increase the range of the iguanas greatly, expanding it into an independent area 

The good news kept coming. In October, the prime minister of Jamaica announced that the port development would not be approved. Jamaica had taken a stand for the environment. Stopping this development was a hard-fought battle; however, we must stay vigilant as development pressure is a constant concern in Jamaica. Many organizations are now exploring how to turn the area into a reserve for iguanas and other endemic wildlife. 

The future remains uncertain as it often is in conservation, but one thing that is clear is our need for a continued united front. The most impressive observation I made during this first trip was the sheer number of organizations involved in the protection of these iguanas and their habitat. We will continue to work in unity to ensure a hopeful future for all the species that coexist within Jamaica. 

Read more recent articles about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s work in the Caribbean:


More Entries