National Wildlife Refuge System

Around the Refuge System

photo of Hatchineha Ranch
This tract of land, Hatchineha Ranch, is part of the proposed Everglades National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Credit: Eric Blackmore/The Nature Conservancy

Midway Atoll

In January, for the first time in recorded history, a short–tailed albatross hatched outside of the islands surrounding Japan. The hatching occurred on Eastern Island at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. “We are all as excited as new parents,” said acting refuge manager Daniel Clark. “The chick hatched in the middle of a major storm, but the parent is doing an excellent job of protecting it, so we are guardedly optimistic about its chances for survival.” Establishing a new nesting colony is one of several important steps needed to continue the endangered bird’s recovery because volcanic activity regularly threatens the short–tailed albatross’ main nesting grounds on Torishima Island. The species’ recovery also depends on reducing the threats of contaminants, especially oil contamination at sea and plastic ingestion; reducing bycatch of these seabirds in commercial fisheries; and addressing invasive species conflicts at nesting colonies. Harvest of short–tailed albatrosses for their feathers caused a world population of more than five million birds to plummet to 10 individuals remaining at Torishima in 1950. Since then, conservation efforts have helped increase the population to approximately 2,400 birds, which forage widely across the temperate and subarctic North Pacific and can be seen in the Gulf of Alaska, along the Aleutian Islands and in the Bering Sea.


Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced in January that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with private landowners, conservation groups and federal, tribal, state and local agencies to develop a new national wildlife refuge and conservation area to preserve the community’s ranching heritage and conserve the headwaters and fish and wildlife of the Everglades. “The Everglades rural working ranch landscapes are an important piece of our nation’s history and economy, and this initiative would work to ensure that they remain vital for our future,” Salazar said. “The partnerships being formed would protect and improve water quality north of Lake Okeechobee, restore wetlands, and connect existing conservation lands and important wildlife corridors to support the greater Everglades restoration effort.” The Service and partners are conducting a preliminary study to establish a new refuge and conservation area of approximately 150,000 acres in the Kissimmee River Valley south of Orlando. In addition to improving water quality, the proposed area would protect habitat for 88 federal and state listed species, including the Florida panther, Florida black bear, whooping crane, Everglade snail kite and Eastern indigo snake.

Sarbanes Transit Grants

The Refuge System has received six grants from the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program from proposals submitted for fiscal year 2010 funding. Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, CO, received $400,000 for an inside–the–fence transit feasibility and planning study. Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex, HI, received $300,000 for a comprehensive transportation planning study for the complex’s three refuges. Thacher Island National Wildlife Refuge, MA, received $79,042 to match a like amount from the Thatcher Island Association to replace an aging vessel that supplies boat transportation for visitors, volunteers and staff. Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, OK, received $57,879 for a bus/alternative transportation replacement project. Washita, Optima and Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuges, OK, received $130,000 for a bus acquisition project. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, TX, received $230,000 for two tour vehicles to replace an aging tram and van used for interpretive programs.


Breton National Wildlife Refuge reopened in January after being closed to the public for eight months because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The refuge encompasses a series of barrier islands, including Breton Island and the Chandeleur Islands, off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge was closed in May 2010 when oil from the leaking BP well began washing ashore and threatened brown pelican nesting grounds. Breton Refuge, established in 1904, is the second–oldest in the Refuge System.

photo of murrelet nests
Under the watchful eye of a monitoring camera, a Kittlitz’s murrelet nests at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The refuge is an important center for the study of the little–known seabird species.
Credit: James Lawonn/USFWS


Steve Kehoe, a volunteer at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, has been named 2010 second–place National Public Lands Day Volunteer of the Year by the National Environmental Education Foundation. In advance of National Public Lands Day, Kehoe drove the refuge’s 26–mile loop to map out every location, choose the best projects and determine their degree of difficulty. On the day itself (September 25 last year), he led a crew of five novice volunteers to pull invasive species. Kehoe was honored from among the 170,000 volunteers who participated in National Public Lands Day across the country. The first–place winner was Julian “Pete” Dewell of the Washington Trails Association of Seattle. At age 80, Dewell volunteered on more than 150 work parties hosted by the WTA in 2010.

New Mexico

By the end of March, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge will bid goodbye for the season to thousands of migratory geese and sandhill cranes, the refuge´s signature birds. Nearly 37,000 light geese and 11,000 cranes took up residence this winter, drawing 6,000 visitors to the refuge’s Festival of the Cranes. When the big birds fly back north, they won’t leave a vacuum. They will be replaced by a less well–known migration, when thousands of colorful neotropical song birds–including goldfinches, yellow–rumped warblers and ruby–crowned kinglets–pass through this spring on their way north from South and Central America. To get a taste of the Festival of Cranes, go to


For the third consecutive year, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge researchers uncovered a wealth of information about the Kittlitz’s murrelet, a little–known seabird recently found to nest within refuge boundaries. Two volunteers–Owen Baughman and Timothy Knudson—and seasonal wildlife technician James Lawonn spent 88 consecutive days in the backcountry during the 2010 field season collecting data on the rare species.

The team discovered 16 active nests and four unoccupied nests that indicated former use. Of the 16 active nests, 10 produced chicks, four of which fledged. This season was the third year of a planned five–year cooperative study between Kodiak Refuge and the USGS Alaska Science Center. The 34 Kittlitz’s murrelet nests studied over the past three years are about 30 percent of all nests ever found, making Kodiak Refuge an important center for the study of this species, which is a candidate for endangered species listing.

Two New Regional Refuge Chiefs

David Viker and Robin West are the newest regional refuge chiefs. Viker, a 19–year veteran of the Fish and Wildlife Service, became Southeast Region refuge chief in January. He oversees 130 national wildlife refuges in 10 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Viker served as chief of the Southeast’s Division of Migratory Birds for five years before accepting the new job. He replaces Jon Andrew, who last year became Department of the Interior interagency borderlands coordinator. Viker worked on 10 refuges in five states before moving to the Southeast regional office in Atlanta in 2002 to serve as a deputy refuge supervisor. As chief of the region´s migratory bird program, Viker helped expand the system of joint ventures, establish landscape conservation cooperatives and coordinate the Service’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. West, a 32–year veteran of the Service, was named refuge chief in the Pacific Region, which includes Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and U.S.–affiliated Pacific Islands. He assumed his new duties in February. He succeeds Carolyn Bohan, who retired. West is responsible for nearly 270 million acres of land, water, coral reefs and ocean floor on 67 national wildlife refuges and five national monuments. West, who was a supervisory wildlife refuge specialist in the Pacific regional office in Portland before taking the new job, worked for 31 years in the Alaska Region. He held various refuge management positions in Alaska, including 14 years as the manager of the two million–acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

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Refuge Update March/April 2011

Last updated: April 12, 2011