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Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Summer Rocks on a National Wildlife Refuge

Grab the kids. Head out the door. Summer arrives today at 6:34 p.m. ET. , and here’s a way to start it right: Take your wiggly crew on a day trip to a national wildlife refuge.

Wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are full of amazing sights. And they’re closer than you think. If you live in a big city, chances are there’s a refuge within an hour’s drive

What can you and your clan do in summer on a wildlife refuge? Lots. Try these ideas for starters.

See the sights

 alligator snapping turtleAlligator snapping turtle, Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama. Photo by Garry Tucker/USFWS

National wildlife refuges and the wildlife they protect are an integral part of our American heritage.

Refuges are your public lands, protecting such species such as alligators, whooping cranes and sea turtles. You owe it to yourself to check them out. Here are some of the most popular refuges to see wildlife.

Snap great nature images

 Taylor’s checkerspot A Taylor’s checkerspot displays its distinctive wing pattern in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Photo by Aaron Barna 

Ever wanted to play Ansel Adams? Here’s your chance. At a refuge, you can find wonderful nature subjects galore. Pick up some nature photography tips from experts.

Go fish

 fishing The Service's Mindy Gautreaux and daughter Jordan show off their catch after Mindy gave Jordan a fishing lesson at a camp in Mississippi. Photo by Mindy Gautreaux/USFWS

Many wildlife refuges are great spots to land a big one – or give your kids a beginner’s lesson. Check out the Refuge System fishing guide.

Try birding

birderA youngster scans for birds at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Birding is always popular on refuges. Many refuges were established to protect habitat for migratory birds. If you don’t have binoculars, ask if you can borrow a pair at the refuge visitor station. Starting with big birds – such as cranes, herons, prairie chickens and storks – is a good idea for youngsters and first-timers.  Birding checklists and more.

Take a walk

hiking Participants in a “hike with a ranger” event pause at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, California. Photo by USFWS

You say you could use a little exercise?  Go for it. Take a walk in nature, enjoying the fresh air and the sights and colors around you. Go on a guided walk or venture out on your own-- sometimes it’ll just be you and the wildlife around you. Find a trail near you

Go for a paddle

Canoeing Canoe trail, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Photo by Berkley Bedell/USFWS

Summer is supposed to involve water, right? Find some awesome refuge water trails.

Take a scenic drive

See the wildlife without breaking a sweat. Many refuges have auto tour routes that let you see the sights from your vehicle. Find some great scenic refuge drives.


National wildlife refuges, and all the wildlife they protect, are an integral part of our American heritage. Any time is the right time to visit a refuge, and you won’t regret a summer visit.

Happy Pollinator Week!

Green Sweat Bee on Wavyleaf Thistle
A green sweat bee visits a wavyleaf thistle plant in North Dakota. Photo by Krista Lundgren/USFWS

This week is Pollinator Week. The celebration of these enormously important hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies and flies began in 2007. Without them, wildlife would have fewer nutritious berries and seeds, and we would miss many fruits, vegetables and nuts, like blueberries, squash, chocolate and coffee, that depend on pollinators. Our Midwest Region has a good introduction to pollinators and ideas on how to help them. Our Northeast Region shares a story from Vermont on the decline of bumble bees there.

Hooray for Fish Ladders and Generous People

A young alewife. Photo by Katie Conrad/USFWS  

I use a wheelchair, which means that more than once I have had to be carried somewhere or picked up off the floor.

I am always overwhelmed by other folks’ willingness to help -- sometimes complete strangers. At the same time, I yearn for independence.

As I read about a recent fish passage project on the Saugatucket River in Rhode Island, I couldn’t help but compare my situation with the river herring and cheer the fish on.

Spring Migration for Fish 

Each spring, anadromous fish like the alewife and blueback herring, collectively called river herring, migrate from saltwater, up a river, to freshwater to spawn. River herring can swim more than 10,000 miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean to lay eggs in freshwater lakes with ample food and few predators. 

In reality, dams and mills often create barriers.

Fish Ladders

A fish ladder, which is an inclined series of tiny waterfalls that create an alternate stream for the fish,  can help. These ladders mimic the natural flow of a river and allow fish to travel to the other side of the dam.

But the fish ladders along the Saugatucket River at Main Street Dam and Palisades Mill were too steep and difficult for fish to navigate. When community members noticed the build-up of fish near the ladders, they hand-carried the fish over the dams, helping thousands of river herring complete their migration pattern.  (Is it dusty in here? Why are my eyes watering?) 

With our partners we recently finished work on new fish ladders, and earlier this spring, tens of thousands of river herring utilized these improved passages and migrated independently up the river to spawn.

I never before thought of myself as a river herring, now I’ll never forget. And on behalf of my new-found fishy brothers and sisters, I’d like to thank the people of Wakefield for carrying the river herring and everyone who built new ladders to give them back their independence.


By Matt Trott with Emily Schaefer 


How Do You Move Half a Million Fish?

 Service and Tribal staff have been working quickly and proactively this week to save thousands of young Spring Chinook from rising temperatures at Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery in Central Oregon.

With patience, precision and pep in your step. And that is exactly how our fisheries staff and Warm Springs Tribal partners have managed to save 578,000 young fish from the perils of rising water temperatures.

Moving this many fish isn’t easy but after the unprecedented heat last year, fisheries managers for the Service decided to beat the heat and be proactive. “Last July we had to react to the situation - water temperatures at Warm Springs in the seventies and fish can’t tolerate that - we had to do an emergency transfer,” said Warm Springs Hatchery Manager Mary Bayer. “We were seeing temperatures rising so we are moving all of our fish earlier to avoid a crisis situation.”

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Desert Tortoises Say ‘Oorah’

Combat Center Chief of Staff, Col. James F. Harp releases

Last September, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, discharged 35 individuals. But you won’t hear them singing about “the halls of Montezuma.” They are, you see, threatened desert tortoises the center had carefully raised for almost nine years.

Tortoise numbers in the wild have declined rapidly over the past few decades due to predation and upper respiratory disease. Soft shells make young tortoises particularly vulnerable to predators. So the center’s biologists used a process call headstarting. They shelter the tortoises until they are better able to survive on their own, protecting them from disease and dangers and ensuring adequate vegetation is available for juveniles.

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Penobscot River Reaches the Sea -- Restoration Project Celebrates Final Milestone

 Howland Dam
The Howland nature-like fishway (to the left of the photo) is one of the largest in the country. It allows fish to bypass the Howland Dam both up- and downstream. Functioning as a river, it can support all kinds of wildlife, from American eel to freshwater mussels and insects. Photo by Josh Royte/TNC/Lighthawk

The Penobscot River, New England’s second largest river system, once flowed freely for more than 100 miles from Maine’s North Woods to the sea. Over two centuries, more than 100 dams were built that crippled its course, obstructing the migratory paths of sea-run fish like Atlantic salmon, shad, eels and alewives and diminishing the water’s health and food for wildlife upstream.

One by one, those dams have come down, been bypassed or received improved fish passage techniques, freeing the river to again reach the Atlantic. This project is the work of more than a decade of cooperative action by federal and state agencies, the Penobscot Indian Nation, conservation groups, towns and dam owners. Energy production will be maintained through improvements to other dams upriver.

Who Benefits?

  • Forage fish like American eel, sea lamprey, rainbow smelt, shad, alewives, striped bass and tomcod gain renewed levels of insects. These fish, in turn, attract kingfishers, fish-eating ducks, herons, eagles, ospreys and river otters.
  • One species particularly critical to the project is endangered Atlantic salmon. Historically, the Penobscot River supported Maine’s largest populations of Atlantic salmon, with annual runs prior to 1830 estimated at 50,000 to 70,000 adults. Today, the Penobscot River represents the best chance for restoring wild Atlantic salmon in the United States. The project is an essential step for successful restoration of salmon. Ten other sea-run fish, such as American eel, sea lamprey, sturgeon, tomcod, smelt and striped bass, also benefit.
  • Recovery of Atlantic salmon would renew opportunities for the Penobscot Indian Nation to exercise its rights for sustenance fishing.
  • The people of the area are able to enjoy the river more fully. Projections based on the Service’s 2010 fisheries economic report indicate that the reconnection of the river’s waters will bring more than $500 million in benefits to the local economy.

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Steering in the Right Direction for Bats

Indiana bats
Indana bats (above) and northern long-eared bats spend winter hibernating in caves and mines. Photo by Ann Froschauer/USFWS

The Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat may fit in the palm of your hand, but they are a really big deal when it comes to administering the Endangered Species Act. 

These two federally protected bats live in 37 states plus the District of Columbia, an incredibly large expanse of the United States. And for our staff administering the Endangered Species Act’s process of consultation and mitigation on the ground, that means numerous federal and state agencies to work with to implement effective conservation for these species. Unfortunately, the reality is that consultation and mitigation can vary from one state to another, causing uncertainty, delays and burdensome workloads for all the people involved. 

Construction work can require mitigation to offset negative impacts to imperiled species.

So we decided to come up with a collaborative plan to minimize the inconsistencies, be more efficient, and achieve more conservation for bats. We worked with the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railways Administration and Federal Transit Administration, on a range-wide consultation and conservation strategy for the bats. The benefits include more consistent, streamlined consultations and more effective, landscape-scale conservation. By avoiding and minimizing impacts of common surface transportation projects for both bat species across their ranges, and including strategies to offset the impacts to bat habitat, this plan will bring consistency for partnering agencies and implement better conservation measures for both bat species.

This programmatic consultation (also called a Biological Opinion) is one of the largest of its kind, and will successfully reduce uncertainties, delays and workloads for all the partners involved. Not only will it save between two weeks and three months for hundreds of highway projects nationwide, resulting in increased cost-savings for taxpayers, but it also creates more meaningful conservation for bats on the ground. This example of good government is a win-win for both people and wildlife.    


We’re so proud of it, we even held a ceremony in Washington, DC, to formally sign the biological opinion and recognize the efforts of all the agencies involved to improve the road ahead for two of our most at-risk bat species.


The Sparks That Light the Future

Open Spaces features regular posts about Student Conservation Association (SCA) interns working to promote, protect and study wildlife on public lands all over the United States. Since 1957, SCA has been connecting young people from all backgrounds with life-changing, career-making conservation service opportunities. Learn how you can get involved at www.thesca.org.

Rich Guadagno
Rich Guadagno

Rich Guadagno was a son, a brother and a refuge law enforcement officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He was also a passenger on United Flight 93 and, his loved ones believe, was likely among those who battled the hijackers and forced the plane to crash before it reached its intended target on September 11, 2001.

“I was 12 years old, in sixth grade,” recalls Justin Holzer, of Rockland County, New York. “We were on a field trip at an outdoorsy place where they taught teamwork skills. When they stopped our activity to explain what had happened, I first thought it was another lesson scenario.”

Justin Holzer
Justin Holzer Justin is an SCA intern at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

Today, Justin is an SCA intern at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and one of two interns on Richard J. Guadagno SCA Conservation Fellowships funded by the Guadagno family. The other Fellow is Aliya McCarthy, a wildlife and botany specialist at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge in California, where Rich was manager until his life abruptly ended.

“He’s still a presence here,” says Aliya, an area native. “I was young when Richard passed away but I understand his contributions to the area. Humboldt is special, with rivers, the ocean and mountains all within hours of each other. I wanted to give back to the community I’ve lived in my whole life and it’s an honor to follow in his footsteps.”

“This is exactly what my dad and I had hoped for,” says Lori Guadagno, Richard’s sister. “It took a long time for us to figure what direction we wanted to go in, but the mission of SCA is so aligned with our hopes and dreams for carrying Rich’s legacy into the future. He was so passionate about getting young people in the outdoors. That’s where the spark needs to be fired.”

Jerry Guadagno, the family patriarch, was appointed to the federal memorial advisory commission by then-National Park Service Director Fran Mainella. It was unorthodox to go outside the agency, says retired National Park Service Regional Director and fellow commission member John Reynolds, but “Fran trusted the father of the only Interior Department employee involved to represent her views. And, in the end, I think Jerry and the commission got it absolutely right.”

The Flight 93 Memorial includes a walkway that follows the plane’s flight path, an overlook and exhibits that share tales of terror and heroism. Rich’s name is inscribed on one of 40 marble panels, one for each passenger and crew member. Justin, the Guadagno fellow, fills a unique role at the memorial. Unlike the many SCA volunteers who restore damaged landscapes, Justin helps to mend people.

“This is a place for dialogue,” he says. “We call it ‘21st century interpretation.’ Visitors often want to tell me where they were on 9/11. Others are still trying to understand ‘why.’ And people cry here every day, understandably.

“This site used to be a strip coal mine. The land was terribly scarred, but now it’s undergoing a metamorphosis. We want to treat peoples’ emotional scars by prompting discussions and sharing perspectives that contribute to our national narrative.”

Aliya also facilitates conversations at Humboldt Bay, though in a vastly different context. Local efforts to protect the once-endangered Aleutian cackling goose have been so successful, the goose population has swollen and not everyone is happy about it. “As I conduct goose surveys, I meet many ranchers who aren’t pleased with the geese. They eat their grass and compete with their cows,” she notes. “But I talk with them and try to get everyone on the same page and earn their cooperation.”

Aliya McCarthy  
Aliya McCarthy: "I’m continuing Richard’s legacy.”

In December, Aliya graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in wildlife management. “This is a big step for my career,” she says. “A lot of my friends moved away after school, but I had a goal of remaining in California and working in a place I love. I’m enjoying the outreach and education, helping kids engage with nature. I’ve never felt more a part of the community, and I’m continuing Richard’s legacy.”

Back at the Flight 93 Memorial, days after the deadly Brussels airport bombing in March, ?ags ?y at half-staff. Visitor after visitor asks Justin if that is to honor the Flight 93 passengers, and time after time he must refer to Brussels as he gently corrects them. Nearly 15 years after the events of September 11th, terrorism is an ongoing reality.

“Since 9/11, our world has shifted,” he says. “We’ve had foreign attacks, unrest over immigration, mass shootings at places like Sandy Hook and the Colorado movie theater. They constantly loom in my head, but I was raised not to live my life according to fear.”

Justin’s resolve is powerful and genuine. And it’s another of the sparks that Lori Guadagno says her family wants to generate. One that will kindle the glow of hope.

“Justin and Aliya make me feel like Rich’s presence is still very much in play in the universe,” Lori says. “These students are taking his vision and his inspiration and carrying it forward.

“You have to put good out in the world. It may be one fellow here, one fellow there, it may initially seem so small but as every student does something positive, they will inspire goodness in others. That’s the only way you can balance out the horror and the sadness.”


Recovering Endangered Plants in Tennessee's Limestone Glades

Tennessee coneflower.

The varying geology of Tennessee has provided a pallet for the development of diverse ecosystems, including the limestone glades, barrens and woodlands of Tennessee’s Nashville Basin. In the heart of the state, soils give life to extensive outcroppings of limestone from the Ridley and Lebanon formations. These limestone glades are home to a remarkable diversity of plants adapted to life in a challenging environment, where the ground is saturated during winter and bone dry during summer. Many species adapted to these seasonal extremes, including two federally endangered plant species, one recently recovered plant species, one at-risk amphibian species and numerous other rare plant species, and are found nowhere else on earth.  

Learn more about how our offices work to conserve and protect Tennessee’s unique ecosystems: http://1.usa.gov/1XPt5MV

Go Fishing Today; You’ll Be Hooked

Giving it a go
Fishing at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside of Denver. Photo by Stephanie Raine


We are right in the middle of National Fishing and Boating Week and just wanted to remind you of the many opportunities at your national wildlife refuges.

Great fishing is available on more than 270 national wildlife refuges in every part of the country, and we stock more than 130 million chinook salmon, rainbow trout, walleye, striped bass and other species of fish every year, in many places we love to fish, to give recreation opportunities to America’s 33 million anglers who spent $41.8 billion in pursuit of their favored pastime in 2011.  We also sponsor or help sponsor free fishing days.

hatchery creek
An angler tries his luck in the new stream.

And even more. Along with partners, we just celebrated the grand opening of a major renovation of the adjacent trout stream at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Kentucky. Actually, renovation isn’t really correct. It is a brand new stream, totally man-made, more than one mile long, as opposed to the 380-foot stream it replaced. It should be full of trout, but Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Division Assistant Director Mike Hardin warns “It’s going to be a challenging stream to fish.”

Maybe not trout, do you have a hankering to catch some salmon?  The Kenai River holds the world record for king and red salmon taken by rod and reel. Part of the Kenai River is within Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

2013 National Fishing and Boating Week
Students enjoy fishing on the Anacostia River in Washington, DC. Photo by USFWS

When I was younger, the best fish I caught were bass. There are plenty of spots to catch bass on national wildlife refuges, and they include two of the refuges named in the 2016 Top 100 Family Fishing & Boating Spots in AmericaJohn Heinz at Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in California is also list among the Top 100 Family Fishing & Boating Spots.

The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation compiles the list every year from  the votes of anglers and boaters. About 35,000 voted in support of their favorite spots.

Fishing is fun and relaxing, and it helps you develop a true appreciaiton for nature. Plus, it is something the whole family can enjoy.

Don’t let one of the best opportunities nature offers pass you by.


-- Matt Trott, External Affairs, Headquarters

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