National Wildlife Refuge System

Around the Refuge System


The White River has been named the nation’s second national blueway. The blueway program recognizes river systems whose economic, recreational and natural values are protected by conservation partnerships. The White River watershed includes White River and Cache River National Wildlife Refuges. White River Refuge was established in 1935 to protect migratory birds. Cache River Refuge was established in 1986 to protect wetland habitats and provide feeding and resting areas for migrating waterfowl. Both conserve some of the last remaining bottomland hardwood forest in the Mississippi River Valley. The 17.8-million-acre White River watershed extends into Missouri. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes called the river “the recreational and economic lifeblood of communities from the Ozarks to the Mississippi.” The Connecticut River, whose four-state watershed is Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge’s acquisition boundary, was designated as the first national blueway last year.

New York

Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge is one of 10 Northeast Region refuges participating in a pilot program that conducted acoustic inventorying of bats last summer. The study, which uses state-of-the-art technology, is important because bats are in precipitous decline as a result of white-nose syndrome.

The pilot’s goal is to compile baseline data about bats on refuges. Very little bat research has been done on Long Island, says Wertheim Refuge biologist Robin Donohue. “A lot of what we have dates back to the 19th century.” Only one case of white-nose syndrome has been confirmed on Long Island, he says, so at Wertheim Refuge “it would be exciting to see any healthy individuals of the species that white-nosed syndrome hits particularly hard.”

Other refuges participating are: Patuxent, MD; Montezuma, NY; Great Bay, NH; Great Swamp, NJ; Silvio O. Conte (Nulhegan Basin), VT; Canaan Valley, WV; Great Meadows and Oxbow, MA; and Rachel Carson, ME. “We have a whole bunch of acoustic data,” says Laura Eaton, an assistant regional biologist overseeing the project. “My goal is to have the information analyzed in midsummer and to have reports ready by the end of the fiscal year.” The reports will show what species of bats use which refuges. The reports will also lay the groundwork for future identification of important habitat features, such as locations of maternity colonies. The pilot was funded in part by the Refuge System Inventory and Monitoring program.

Midway Atoll

photo of albatross with chick
Wisdom, a Laysan albatross and the world’s oldest–known wild bird, tends to her chick at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The chick hatched on Feb. 3.
Credit: Pete Leary/USFWS

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross and the world’s oldest-known wild bird at age 62 (or older), hatched a chick on Feb. 3 at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She laid the egg last November, and she and her mate took turns incubating it. Wisdom was first banded by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Chandler Robbins in 1956 as she incubated an egg. Robbins found her again in 2001, and Midway Atoll Refuge biologist Pete

Leary spotted her in 2012. Wisdom has raised at least 30 chicks. “Only one chick has been banded so far, two seasons ago,” says Leary. Last season “the chick wandered away and lost its temporary band before we could put on a permanent band. It probably survived. We just didn’t know which one it was.” Albatross lay only one egg a year. It takes much of a year to incubate and raise the chick. Word of Wisdom’s latest chick attracted global interest in social and mainstream media, including prominent articles in the Washington Post and the Sunday Times of London.


The latest survey of desert bighorn sheep at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge shows an estimated population of 428. That is slightly higher than the 402 estimated in a 2010 survey and the highest since 2007. The apparent population increase is not statistically significant, however, and biologists’ analysis of the past six surveys indicates no significant decline or improvement to the herd’s population. Wildlife management agencies remain concerned about the low population levels on the refuge compared to the estimated 812 animals of a 2000 survey. Wildlife experts attribute the decline of the herd’s size at the refuge since 2000 to a variety of potential factors, including drought, predation, water availability, disease and human disturbance. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department are jointly addressing the suspected causes of the decline. For the past 50 years, Kofa Refuge has been an important source of desert bighorn sheep for the restoration and maintenance of bighorn populations throughout the Southwest. Information about Kofa Refuge bighorn sheep is at

Two Regional Refuge Chiefs Named

Two new Fish and Wildlife Service regional refuge chiefs have taken their posts.

Charlie Blair, a 35-year Service veteran, is Midwest Region refuge chief. Blair brings a wealth of experience managing national wildlife refuges. Most recently, he was project leader at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Wetland Management District, where he oversaw implementation of a diverse program in an urban setting. Earlier, Blair managed Maine Coastal Islands Refuge, Sherburne/Crane Meadows Refuge Complex in Minnesota, Ottawa Refuge in Ohio, Ninigret Refuge Complex in Rhode Island and Stewart B. McKinney Refuge in Connecticut. He also has refuge experience in Maryland, Delaware and Alaska. Blair succeeds Rick Schultz, who retired late last year.

Will Meeks is Mountain-Prairie Region refuge chief. Meeks has more than 18 years of Service experience. He has been a private lands biologist, refuge wildlife biologist, refuge manager, deputy division chief in Refuge System headquarters and project leader. He most recently led the Habitat and Population Evaluation Team (HAPET) in Bismarck, ND. Before that, he worked at Refuge System headquarters as deputy chief of the Division of Natural Resources and Conservation Planning and in other wildlife resource and planning roles. Earlier, he was Alaska Maritime Refuge deputy manager and Lostwood Refuge manager in North Dakota. He has worked at wetland management districts in the Dakotas as well. Meeks succeeds Matt Hogan, now Mountain-Prairie Region deputy director.


Five crew members who were at the Service’s Tern Island research station when a tornado-like storm struck on Dec. 9, 2012, are safe. The early morning storm ripped through the research station, destroyed most of the island’s limited infrastructure (including communications/electrical systems) and killed about 250 of the island’s 3,000 nesting seabirds.

The crew—Service manager on duty Chad Bell and volunteers Abram Fleishman, Morgan Gilmour, Larry Chlebeck and Mike Johns—was safely evacuated on the MV Kahana and reached Honolulu Dec. 20. Bell “did a simply incredible job keeping the volunteers safe and communicating during this very trying incident,” said Doug Staller, superintendent of Papaha–naumokua–kea Marine National Monument.

Tern Island is in French Frigate Shoals 490 miles northwest of Honolulu in Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex within the marine national monument. “With the exception of one building and some water tanks, the entire field station (barracks, boathouses and storage sheds) is destroyed beyond repair,” said Meg Duhr-Schultz, a Service manager who was off-island when the storm hit. Looking to the future, Staller said “the facilities at Tern Island might look very different, but we are committed to maintaining a presence there so that we and our co-trustees can continue our important conservation research” for the benefit of green turtles, monk seals and other species. Photographs and more information are on Duhr-Schultz’s personal blog at

Diversity Award

photo of students
Samantha Smith, left, and other Career Discovery Internship Program students listen as Service biotech Jared Green explains turtle trapping at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts. The CDIP received The Wildlife Society’s 2012 Diversity Award.
Credit: Lamar Gore/USFWS

The Service’s Career Discovery Internship Program (CDIP) has received The Wildlife Society’s 2012 Diversity Award. The CDIP is a youth immersion program, which began in the Northeast Region in 2008. The Service partners with the Student Conservation Association to provide conservation experiences to culturally and ethnically diverse freshmen and sophomore college students, who would not otherwise participate in a conservation-based job. Since 2008, the program has expanded to include the Southeast, Midwest and Alaska Regions. Almost 200 students have participated at about 70 Service field stations. Of those who took part from 2008 to 2011, 17 percent have advanced into staff positions within the Service.

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Refuge Update March/April 2013

Last updated: March 11, 2013