Researchers discovered that Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is home to extraordinarily rare plants. A survey of flora and fauna found that the refuge’s Humbug Marsh supports a grass-like plant called the hairy-fruited sedge and an orchid species called oval ladies’ tresses. Records show that these plants have never been found in Wayne County. The survey also showed that habitat at Humbug Marsh – a Ramsar Convention-designated wetland of international importance – is distinctly different from nearby forests. To conduct the survey, researchers referenced records dating to 1817, before the land was settled and converted to agriculture. Researchers included refuge biologist Greg Norwood.

More than a dozen staff members from St. Marks, St. Vincent and Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuges and a similar number of Friends and volunteers went on a planting binge in late January and early February to help restore habitat at St. Marks Refuge. Staff, Friends of St. Marks Wildlife Refuge and volunteers planted 17,000 longleaf pine seedlings over three days. Staff, Friends, volunteers and students as young as six planted 14,500 wiregrass plugs in a separate, one-day effort. Both plantings were part of longleaf pine ecosystem restoration work that will benefit gopher tortoises, Bachman’s sparrows, fox squirrels, red- cockaded woodpeckers, brown-headed nuthatches, indigo snakes, pine snakes and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, among other species, according to North Florida Refuges biologist Joe Reinman. “Restoring the longleaf pine ecosystem, including the wildlife, is a priority of the refuge,” he said. “It is considered an endangered ecosystem, and its restoration is a priority of the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service and many partners.”

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge is restoring 968 acres of non-native pine and degraded forest lands to pre-European settlement conditions consisting of five habitat types, with the spotlight being the 486 acres of globally imperiled oak savanna habitat. Oak savanna, a mosaic of prairie grasses and wildflowers interspersed with oak trees, was once a predominant habitat in the Midwest, but just .02 percent of oak savanna remains. Sherburne Refuge, 45 miles from downtown Minneapolis, provides an opportunity to restore land and inform the public of the importance of diverse vegetative habitat types. The project, to be completed in 2018, will provide habitat for a range of wildlife species.

As part of a partnership with the AFL- CIO and its conservation organization, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, to restore parks and other public lands and waters, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and others to dedicate a boardwalk connecting the city of Liberty with Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge. The 500-foot Palmer Bayou Boardwalk was supported by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Liberty Community Development Corporation and refuge Friends, and was built by the AFL-CIO Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and other volunteers.

The trail between the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge office and Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse was scheduled to reopen in late April after repair and stabilization work. The maintenance was done to correct the effects of erosion that had made the trail unsafe for public use. To allow the work to be completed, the refuge was closed from mid-January to late April, a time of year when visitation is heaviest. The dates were selected because they are the least busy time of year for wildlife nesting. Hawaii geese (nene) typically are done incubating their eggs by January, and wedge-tailed shearwaters (uaukani) generally arrive in March and lay their eggs in early June. The refuge, on the island of Kauai, attracts more than 400,000 visitors annually.

Whooping Cranes
The Service is ending its support of the use of ultralight aircraft to guide young whooping cranes migrating from public lands in Wisconsin to national wildlife refuges in Florida because the captive- bred cranes have proved unsuccessful in raising young. “After 15 years and 250 [captive-bred] whooping cranes released, there are only four wild-fledged cranes alive today, and only two have nested successfully,” said Service external affairs officer Georgia Parham. “If this level of reproduction continues into the future, this population will never sustain its own existence. To achieve our goal of a self- sustaining population, we have to review our efforts and pursue strategies that hold the best prospects for success.” The Service is reassessing techniques with the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, which was established in 1999 to help recover the endangered species. There are 93 whooping cranes within the eastern migratory flock, one of three whooping crane populations in North America. A second population – a wild population of about 325 birds – winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. Efforts to establish a non-migratory flock are underway in Louisiana. The latter two populations are unaffected by this decision.

After recent acquisitions, Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, which was established in 2012, has grown to more than 5,700 acres – 4,214 acres in conservation easements and 1,502 acres in fee-title land. The acreage includes working ranchland and wildlife habitats that connect landscapes and help safeguard water supply. It was acquired with Land and Water Conservation Fund money and with help from conservation partnerships formed by Florida ranchers, sportsmen, state and federal agencies and nonprofits. The land will conserve habitat for the Florida panther, Florida black bear, gopher tortoise and the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow.

Midway Atoll
Wisdom – a Laysan albatross and the oldest known bird in the wild – became a mother again in February at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of Pap ̄ah ̄aumoku ̄akea Marine National Monument. The chick was named Kukini, the Hawaiian word for “messenger.” Wisdom was at sea foraging when the chick hatched. Wisdom’s mate oversaw the hatching at the nest. Wisdom, who is at least 65 years old, has raised at least eight chicks since 2006 and as many as 40 in her lifetime. “Wisdom is an iconic symbol of inspiration and hope,” said Midway Atoll Refuge manager Robert Peyton. “From a scientific perspective, albatrosses are a critical indicator species for the world’s oceans that sustain millions of human beings as well. In the case of Wisdom, she is breaking longevity records of previously banded birds by at least a decade. With over a million albatross on Midway Atoll alone, this shows just how much is left to learn about the natural world around us.” A month or so before the chick hatched, refuge volunteers counted 470,000 active albatross nests across the atoll. Because each nest represents two adults, the total breeding population at Midway Atoll was about 940,000, and the overall population exceeded 1 million.

Rachel Carson Award
Gail Collins, supervisory wildlife biologist at Sheldon-Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Nevada and Oregon, has received the Service’s 2015 Rachel Carson Award. The award recognizes scientific excellence through the rigorous practice of science applied to a conservation problem that achieves extraordinary results in fish and wildlife conservation. At Sheldon Refuge in Nevada, Collins led scientific studies documenting the severe ecological impacts to wildlife habitat of feral horses and burros, which include habitat degradation, loss of watershed functions and reduced biodiversity. Collins’s investigations provided strong scientific support to justify the controversial and complex decision to remove the feral horse and burro population from the refuge. With the removal complete, priority species like pronghorn and greater sage-grouse will benefit from improved sagebrush habitat.