The 2014-2015 winter survey estimated that 308 whooping cranes wintered at and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. A continued upward trend in whooping crane numbers in recent years has been observed, and that portends well for cranes at the refuge this winter, 2015-16. “We have a growing population and excellent habitat conditions this year on the wintering grounds,” says national whooping crane recovery coordinator Wade Harrell. “Thus, we're hoping for a larger population.” This population is the only remaining wild flock of endangered whooping cranes. The birds nest at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada and migrate 2,500 miles to winter on the Texas coast at and near Aransas Refuge. All whooping cranes alive today, both wild and captive, are descendants of the last 15 remaining cranes found wintering at Aransas Refuge in 1941.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe helped release 30 black-footed ferrets at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver last fall. Several private landowners in Colorado already have black-footed ferrets on their land. The black-footed ferret is considered one of the nation's most endangered mammals. Its historic range spans much of western North America's intermountain and prairie grasslands, extending from Canada to Mexico. Once thought to be extinct, black-footed ferrets were rediscovered in 1981 in northwest Wyoming. These last remaining 18 ferrets became the genesis of the captive breeding program that has given hope the species could be saved from extinction and recovered in the wild. Video: http://bit.ly/1PXyLAr


A new Nature Discovery Outdoor Play Area, designed for children 4 to 10, opened last fall at Red River National Wildlife Refuge near Shreveport. The area allows children to scamper like squirrels over a natural, crooked balance beam and hop along a circle of tree stumps. On a small stage, children can dance while shaking rain sticks. They can put on fabric wings to fly around as a monarch butterfly or a bald eagle. They can use natural tree blocks to build homes for tiny toy animals. The refuge uses the play area for summer camps and programs with preschool, homeschool and elementary school students. When the area is not being used by a scheduled group, it is open to the public during the day. “With our nature play area, we are providing a safe place for children to discover nature while encouraging them to use their imagination and creativity in unstructured, free play,” says refuge ranger Terri Jacobson.

Puerto Rico

Results from a site visit to Desecheo National Wildlife Refuge confirm that the Desecheo population of the endemic and endangered cactus known as higo chumbo is recovering after the removal of invasive vertebrates. Biologists reported that there are several mature cacti with abundant fruit and no signs of predation. The Service, Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex and nonprofit Island Conservation have been partnering since 2008 to remove invasive species from Desecheo Island. In 2003, only nine individual higo chumbo plants were known to exist on the island. Today, after conservation actions including invasive species removal and monitoring efforts, surveys have located 72 individual plants. Desecheo is a small, uninhabited island approximately 13 miles west of Puerto Rico. Higo chumbo is a slender, upright, columnar cactus. When it was listed as endangered in 1990, the species was known to occur only on Desecheo and two nearby islands.


Ten endangered Hawaiian petrel chicks were moved from their off-refuge nesting area last fall to a new colony behind a predator-proof fence at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Hawaiian petrels, or ʻuaʻu in Hawaiian, are endemic to Hawaii and are found only there. They have declined dramatically because of many threats, including predation by introduced mammals (cats, rats, pigs) and collisions with man-made structures during the petrels' nocturnal flights from breeding colonies in the mountains to the ocean, where they feed. Hawaiian petrel chicks imprint on their birth colony the first time they emerge from their burrows and see the night sky, and they return to breed at the same colony as adults. Because these chicks were removed from their natural burrows before this imprinting stage, they will imprint on the Kilauea Point Refuge site and return there as adults.


Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge became considerably more accessible to visitors last fall. A 30-year-old, wood- framed, structurally deficient footbridge over high-speed passenger and freight railroad tracks that separated part of the refuge from its parking lot and the town of Ridgefield was replaced with a new concrete bridge. The new pedestrian bridge – which cost about $2.1 million – provides visitors with easy access to the refuge's Cary Unit. That unit includes the two-mile Oaks to Wetlands Trail and the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a full-scale Chinookan-style cedar structure similar to Native American dwellings Lewis and Clark described when they visited the area more than 200 years ago. The new bridge, which was funded mostly by the Federal Lands Transportation Program with help from the Paul Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program, complies with Outdoor Developed Area Accessibility Guidelines of the Architectural Barriers Act, which the previous bridge did not. Ridgefield Refuge is part of the Portland-Vancouver Urban Wildlife Conservation Program.


Conservation and animal health research both have benefited from a feral hog study at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Non-native, invasive feral hogs harm the south Texas coastal refuge because they compete withve wildlife for resources and destroy wetlands, roads and levees. In addition, the refuge, which is home to white-tailed deer and exotic nilgai antelope, is under a cattle tick fever eradication program quarantine. So when University of Georgia veterinary researcher Joseph Corn proposed surveying feral hogs for ticks, the refuge readily agreed. Corn and Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) staff removed 173 feral hogs from the refuge last September. APHIS also tested the hogs for other diseases, including avian influenza. Final results have not been announced, but, preliminarily, the refuge learned that none of 81 sampled hogs tested positive for cattle fever ticks. “This study was important to the refuge because we got a large number of hogs managed at little to no cost, we could find out if feral hogs at the refuge are carrying cattle fever ticks and because we understand that our feral hog management actions through public hunting are not enough to manage or reduce the feral hog population,” said Laguna Atascosa Refuge wildlife biologist Jonathan Moczygemba.


Seventy-six hunters with disabilities from 14 states participated in a special deer hunt in November 2015 at Lost Mound Unit of Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge. Quadriplegics, paraplegics, amputees and other physically challenged hunters harvested 13 does and 11 bucks. The largest buck, an 11-pointer with a field-dressed weight of 174 pounds, was taken by Tim Anderson of Savanna, IL. Hunters were required to use non-lead ammunition for the hunt. The non-lead regulation went into effect in 2014 after research showed that bald eagles were being exposed to lead at Lost Mound.