After more than two years in storage, artifacts from the sunken 19th–century steamboat Bertrand are now back on display at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. In June 2011 as Missouri River floodwaters rose to record levels, more than 100 volunteers and workers rushed the museum collection of 250,000 artifacts out of the visitor center to safe temporary quarters. Now, after re–inventorying, re–cataloging and re–labeling the artifacts, the refuge has moved the collection back into the visitor center, where the exhibit has been streamlined and reorganized. A primary goal of the reorganization, according to collection curator Dean Knudsen, was to ensure quick flood evacuation in the future. To that end, display and storage cabinets are on casters and the exhibit is being selectively rotated. Only 35 or 40 percent of the artifacts are on open display at any given time; the rest are in storage. As result, repeat visitors might see different objects on different visits. The Bertrand, which sank in the river in 1865, was discovered on the refuge in 1968 with much of its cargo intact. The collection includes tools, bottled alcohol and foodstuffs, clothing, cannonballs and thousands of other Civil War–era artifacts.


Photo of Caldera
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forestry technician Florentino “Tino” Caldera oversees native tree and shrub planting at Rio Reforestation XXII at Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in south Texas. About 900 people planted about 14,000 trees on 20 acres. (Georgiana Matz)

For the 22nd year, volunteer supporters of Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge spent half a day planting native tree and shrub seedlings on refuge land. Rio Reforestation XXII was held in November after being postponed because of the federal government shutdown in October. About 900 people—mostly secondary school students and young adults—participated in the annual event sponsored by the Valley Proud Environmental Council, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor and the refuge. They planted about 14,000 trees on 20 acres on the Resaca Del Rancho Viejo tract near Brownsville. Restoring and connecting native habitat is vital to ocelots and other wildlife in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where 95 percent of habitat has been cleared for development or agriculture. Over the years, Rio Reforestation participants have planted about 200,000 native seedlings on more than 620 acres of land in the corridor refuge. Lower Rio Grande Valley Refuge comprises 90,000 acres on about 115 units along 275 river miles. The refuge is home to 1,200 documented plant species. Via the Rio Reforestation event, says refuge manager Bryan Winton, “we are able to spread the word of the value of the native plant species in attracting the full range of native wildlife like birds and butterflies into people’s back yards.”


The Refuge System’s determination to serve urban populations took a big step in November with the groundbreaking of an 11,800–square–foot visitor center at Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Service Director Dan Ashe, Rep. John Dingell and more than 300 U.S. and Canadian partners attended the groundbreaking, which culminated a decade of restoration work. The visitor center—on property known as the Refuge Gateway—is adjacent to the refuge’s Humbug Marsh Unit, the only Ramsar Convention Wetland of International Importance in Michigan. “As a young boy growing up in southeast Michigan, I have many fond memories of hunting and fishing along the shores of the Detroit River and Lake Erie with my dear old dad,” said the 87–year–old Dingell. “The banks of the river looked a lot different than they do now. There was less concrete and more trees, less brick and mortar and more wetlands. This groundbreaking is yet another step in preserving and protecting land so important to our region and so dear to my heart.” The visitor center grand opening is scheduled for fall 2015. An article about the progress at Detroit River Refuge appeared in November/December 2012 Refuge Update.


Facing reduced budgets and seeking to cut maintenance and operations costs, the Inland Northwest National Wildlife Refuge Complex last fall sold off three fire engines. The complex includes Turnbull, Little Pend Oreille and Kootenai Refuges. “Ordinarily, we would keep vehicles in good working order for as long as possible,” said long–time assistant zone fire management officer Doug Frederick, who coordinated the sale through the General Services Administration. A specially outfitted 1999 Ford F–550 pickup was purchased by Stevens County, WA, for $17,400. The county often helps the refuges manage wildfires and prescribed burns. A private individual bought a 1998 Ford diesel F–250 pickup, originally fitted with a small tank for drip torch fuel, for $14,825. Another individual bought an older Model 80 U.S. Forest Service engine for about $3,000. Proceeds were added to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region Working Capital Fund, which banks money to buy replacement vehicles for fire management.


Photo of a puffin in flight
For the first time, breeding tufted puffins have been documented on Hawadax Island in Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The news comes after the removal of invasive Norway rats from what was formerly known as Rat Island. (Ilana Nimz)

For the first time, breeding tufted puffins have been documented on Hawadax Island in Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The news comes just five years after the removal of invasive Norway rats from the place formerly known as Rat Island. Leach’s storm–petrels, thought to have been extirpated because of the rats, have also been heard. Song sparrows and snow buntings are rebounding as well. Norway rats were spilled onto the island’s rocky shores in a 1780s shipwreck. Since then, the rats had decimated native bird species by eating eggs, chicks and adult birds, and by ravaging habitat. In 2008, after years of planning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Island Conservation and The Nature Conservancy successfully removed the rats using rodenticide bait. The early increases in native bird populations are expected to lead to more ecosystem recovery. Seabirds drive vegetation communities on islands free of invasive predators by delivering marine–based nutrients to the soil. As seabirds increase on Hawadax, scientists expect plant communities to return to this natural state.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service destroyed six tons of confiscated elephant ivory at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in mid–November. Service Director Dan Ashe was joined by leading conservationists and officials from the Departments of Justice and State in a call for global action to combat the illegal wildlife trade. In recent years, the number of elephants slaughtered by poachers in Africa and Asia has risen to more than 30,000. Among the items crushed were raw and carved ivory tusks, sculptures and trinkets. The United States is one of the world’s largest ivory consumers, making this event especially significant for Americans.


Community partners, including Portland General Electric, Halstead’s Arboriculture Consultants and the Oregon Eagle Foundation, helped Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge save a bald eagle nest. In the 2013 spring and summer nesting season, a pair of eagles successfully raised one eaglet to fledgling in an area visible to refuge visitors. But the nest was established on top of a dying oak tree in danger of falling over, so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached out to the community for help. Portland General Electric provided the equipment, manpower and expertise to stabilize the tree. Oregon Eagle Foundation provided guidance on the design for supporting the eagle nest, and Halstead’s Arboriculture provided technical guidance on the best way to stabilize the tree. Images of the eagles’ nest are at:

Hurricane Sandy Restoration Projects

Last fall, at the one–year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Interior Secretary Sally Jewel announced that $162 million will be invested in 45 restoration and research projects designed to buttress Atlantic Coast communities and habitats against powerful storms. Many of the projects are scheduled to be completed on national wildlife refuges, including: Edwin B. Forsythe Refuge, NJ; Martin and Eastern Neck Refuges, MD; Prime Hook Refuge, DE; Great Dismal Swamp and Chincoteague Refuges, VA; Seatuck and Wertheim Refuges and Lido Wildlife Management Area, NY; Parker River Refuge, MA; and other coastal refuge lands.