An aerial survey of Hart Mountain and Sheldon National Wildlife Refuges showed a record number of pronghorn last summer. The refuges are co–managed and just 15 miles apart—Hart Mountain in southeastern Oregon and Sheldon in northwestern Nevada. Each summer since the 1950s, refuge staff has conducted surveys to monitor pronghorn population. Results indicate pronghorn numbers have been increasing, particularly since the 1990s. Until recently the population within the refuges was estimated at 3,700. This summer, the record was shattered when more than 6,200 pronghorn were seen at the refuges. Both refuges were established in the 1930s for the conservation of pronghorn and other wildlife native to the Great Basin. In the 1920s, pronghorn were believed to be near extinction with fewer than 20,000 remaining; today, the species is estimated at nearly one million animals from Mexico to Canada.

In related news, Friends of Nevada Wilderness volunteers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff removed the final four miles of old range fence from Sheldon Refuge. To make the interior of the refuge fence free, volunteers and staff have taken down more than 150 miles of barbed–wire since 2009. Fencing interferes with pronghorn migratory paths and water access, and it can harm sage–grouse, low–flying birds that become entangled in the barbed wire.


J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and its Friends group made a powerful statement in the global battle against plastic debris this fall. On National Public Lands Day, the Gulf Coast refuge rolled out its “Kick the Bottle” campaign and ended sales of bottled water at its Nature Store. Instead, the store now sells reusable, collapsible water bottles labeled with the refuge’s name and a Kick the Bottle logo for $1.25, just 25 cents more than it charged for bottled water.

“We already have clean, filtered water, and we would rather make it easier for people to refill their bottles than to sell disposable bottled water, which is both wasteful and hazardous to wildlife,” said refuge manager Paul Tritaik.

“It takes the United States only 27 hours to use enough water bottles to encircle the Earth’s equator if laid end–to–end,” said supervisory refuge ranger Toni Westland. She indicated that the refuge plans to promote the Kick the Bottle initiative beyond its boundaries.

In other news, Ding Darling Refuge was among six tourism spots worldwide to receive a 2012 Phoenix Award from the Society of American Travel Writers. Since 1969, the prestigious award has recognized destinations that have contributed to a quality travel experience through conservation, preservation, beautification or environmental efforts.


Two national wildlife refuges are part of Illinois River habitat that has been named a Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. Chautauqua Refuge, Emiquon Refuge and The Nature Conservancy–owned Emiquon Preserve together have been recognized as the 34th Ramsar site in the United States. There are more than 2,000 such sites worldwide. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 to encourage voluntary protection of wetlands. Countries that sign the treaty demonstrate commitment to conserve wetlands as a contribution toward sustainable development. The newly recognized site, called the Emiquon Complex, lies within the former natural floodplain of the Illinois River. The site and adjacent lands support at least 87 species of fish, 23 freshwater mussels, 19 amphibians, 41 reptiles, 260 birds and 28 mammals, many of which are state endangered, threatened or rare.

Rhode Island

Just days after Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge reopened its renovated visitor center, 100 college student volunteers helped restore native shrubland and clean up beaches at the refuge five miles east of Newport. About 80 students from Providence College and 20 from Roger Williams University spent almost 800 hours cumulatively on consecutive days planting native shrubs, clearing debris and litter from the coastline and improving beach habitat by removing invasive Asiatic sand sedge. Native shrubland is essential for many species of migratory birds, and Sachuest Point Refuge is a critical stopover point along their flyway. The refuge is also working to provide habitat for the New England cottontail rabbit, which benefits from shrubland restoration. Students pulled the invasive sedges to make room for native grasses and wildflowers to grow back. Next spring, refuge staff and volunteers plan to further restore the land by planting native beachgrass plugs. The visitor center was renovated to install new exhibits that tell the story of Sachuest Point, which over centuries has been a Native American settlement, a farm, a sheep ranch and a Navy communications center.


The Service and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission are joining forces this fall to make improvements for fishing access at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Boat ramps are being built, replaced or improved at four of the nine lakes that are open to fishing at the refuge. All of the ramps will be Americans with Disabilties Act (ADA)–accessible. The projects are being funded with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visitor facilities enhancement funding and money from the purchase of Nebraska Aquatic Habitat Stamps. Valentine Refuge attracts about 15,000 fishing visitors annually. Available species include largemouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill and northern pike.

North Dakota

Audubon National Wildlife Refuge won a 2012 Federal Energy and Water Management Award presented by the Department of Energy. The refuge was honored for the sustainable design and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold rating of its 17,123–square–foot visitor center/headquarters. The $6.1 million building, completed with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding in 2010, emphasizes energy efficiency, renewable energy, recycled materials and water conservation. Its total energy savings compared to an average building is approximately 289.2 million BTUs per year. Its energy intensity is estimated to be 67 percent less than the building it replaced, and it minimizes greenhouse gas emissions by some 30 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually. The award cited the Audubon Refuge project team of Michael Crocker, Sheri Fetherman, Jackie Jacobson, Lloyd Jones, Eric Jordan and Gary Williams.

Take Pride Awards

Andrew French, project leader at Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in New England, and the Friends of St. Croix Wetland Management District have been named 2012 Take Pride in America Award winners.

French was cited as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Federal Land Manager of the Year. The award honors a manager who has demonstrated an innovative approach to managing volunteers on federal lands. French was recognized for his leadership and creativity in fostering productive and far–reaching partnerships that have benefitted conservation and communities in the four states the refuge spans in the Connecticut River watershed: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

St. Croix WMD Friends group was cited in the nonprofit group category. The group was recognized for a string of accomplishments in 2011–12. The Friends group introduced local residents to the wetland management district’s prairie habitat in west–central Wisconsin via numerous outreach events; used a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to develop an auto tour birding guide of the district and state wildlife area; and used grants and partnerships to encourage residents to volunteer for habitat restoration work. As a result, 468 people contributed more than 4,800 volunteer hours to the WMD.


photo of gateway to Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge
The Environmental Education Center at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge has new artwork in its entryway—a hand–painted tile mural highlighting salmon species of the Pacific Northwest. The mural was created and installed by six–to–12–year–old students at Mariah Art School in nearby Olympia. It is the latest of four murals the school has installed since the center opened in 2009. With the largest estuary restoration project in the Puget Sound region underway at Nisqually Refuge, critical salmon habitat is returning.
Credit: Michael Schramm/USFWS