The Friends of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge and co–plaintiff Northwest Environmental Defense Center won an important lawsuit settlement this summer that will help conserve healthy habitat at and near the refuge. The case involved an unlined landfill that for years had been leaching into the Tualatin River, which flows through the refuge outside Portland. Under the settlement, operators of the now–closed landfill will pay $7 million to the state Department of Environmental Quality to hire contractors to clean up contamination from the landfill. It’s “an incredible story that epitomizes all that our Friends can do, not just at Tualatin River Refuge but across the country,” said Tualatin River Refuge project leader Erin Holmes. “The Friends stood up and fought for clean water and protection of the Tualatin Rivershed. They took an organizational risk but did so because they strongly believed in what they were doing and in the protection of our natural resources. They demonstrated the ‘beyond the boundaries’ impact that Friends can have, and I am so proud of them.”


The new Chesser Island boardwalk at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has been repaired and improved. The original boardwalk, built in the late 1960s, was a treasured asset on the refuge for decades. In June 2011, the boardwalk was destroyed during the Honey Prairie Fire. The new boardwalk follows nearly the same path as the original. It leads out to the Owl’s Roost observation tower, which overlooks Seagrove Lake in the vast Okefenokee Wilderness. The boardwalk has been rebuilt to include three covered pavilions. It uses an environmentally friendly wood–alternative product made of materials, such as plastic grocery bags, that might otherwise end up in a landfill. The new boardwalk is eight feet wide and, like the old one, does not have a railing most of the way — providing an unobstructed experience with the swamp landscape and wildlife. A pioneering sprinkler system is in place to prevent destruction by all but the hottest fires. A 3,700–foot waterline services 88 sprinkler connections placed every 40 feet. The Owl’s Roost observation tower at the boardwalk’s end has been repaired, too, and it affords visitors a glimpse into Okefenokee Swamp, one of the largest intact freshwater wetlands in the world. The federal government shutdown in October forced the postponement of a grand reopening ceremony for the boardwalk until later this fall.


The Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, with sponsorship help from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, have arranged that the state Department of Motor Vehicles will issue a specialty license plate featuring the endangered ocelot. There are only about 50 known individual ocelots in the wild in the United States — all at Laguna Atascosa Refuge or on other land in South Texas. The specialty plates, which are expected to be available late this year, will read “Save Texas Ocelots.” They will cost $30 apiece, with $22 going to the Friends group to support ocelot conservation efforts. New refuge manager Boyd Blihovde, who was not involved in the specialty plate effort, expects that the revenue will help fund ocelot–monitoring interns, research projects, educational programs, ocelot translocation and perhaps landscape scale initiatives such as land acquisition and management.


  • Historically, one of the Midwest’s predominant habitats was a fire–dependent upland habitat in which prairie grasses and wildflowers grow under and around scattered oak trees, known as oak savanna. Now, a mere .02 percent of oak savanna remains. Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, 45 miles northwest of downtown Minneapolis, has begun a three–year project to restore approximately 200 acres of this rare oak savanna habitat. The project’s first phase was the removal of downed trees and thinning of standing trees by a local logging company. Encroaching shrubs in the understory will be mechanically removed prior to conducting a prescribed fire in the spring of 2014. These steps will release the native forbs and grasses that are found in the soil. To supplement natural regeneration, other native species will be planted to increase diversity. The overall goal is to provide a diverse oak savanna habitat for the many species that are dependent on it, including red–headed woodpeckers, wild turkeys and Blanding’s turtles.

  • To the delight of hikers, bikers and outdoors enthusiasts, the Bloomington City Council has agreed to renovate the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge, which crosses Long Meadow Lake in Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The 1920s–era bridge has been closed to motor vehicle traffic since 1993 and to pedestrians and bicyclists since 2002. The bridge has fallen into disrepair, despite being on the National Register of Historic Places. Before it was closed, the bridge was a popular spot to observe migrating waterfowl and birds on the lake. It also served as an important regional link for refuge trails. Under the renovation plan, the bridge is scheduled to reopen to foot and bike traffic in 2015.

Whooping Crane Study

Photo of a whooping crane in flight
A study published in the journal Science and co–authored by Necedah National Wildlife Refuge biologist Richard Urbanek found evidence that young whooping cranes learn their migration route from older cranes, and get better at it with age. (Joe Duff/Copyright Operation Migration USA Inc.)

A study titled “Social Learning of Migratory Performance” published in the journal Science in late August found evidence that young whooping cranes learn their migration route from older cranes, and get better at it with age. The study analyzed data from the eastern flock of whooping cranes. Most of those cranes were hatched at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, trained to migrate south in the fall by following ultralight aircraft, and then returned north in the spring on their own. The flock generally migrates between Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Horicon Refuge or other sites in Wisconsin and Florida’s Chassahowitzka Refuge or other sites in the Southeast. Necedah Refuge biologist Richard Urbanek was one of the study’s four co–authors. Urbanek, who has researched cranes for three decades, says that the study confirmed that breeding whooping cranes in captivity, rearing them via interaction with costumed biologists, reintroducing them into the wild, and training them to migrate via ultralight aircraft works. “First, the results indicate that the reintroduction techniques used were successful,” he says. “Second, the findings indicate that the developing population is adapting for most efficient use of the migration route and seasonal distribution.” The population of the captive–bred flock is about 100 birds. The continent’s last wild flock of whooping cranes, which winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and breeds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada, numbers more than 250 birds.


An August 2013 survey found a 46 percent increase in the number of endangered Moapa dace in the headwaters of the Muddy River near Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The survey found 1,727 Moapa dace, 546 more than an August 2012 survey did. The minnow–size fish is adapted to thermal spring waters in the Mojave Desert that can reach 90 degrees and have low oxygen levels, but the species has been struggling for survival because of habitat destruction and non–native competitors. The dace population declined as nearby springs and streams were converted into resort swimming pools and hot tubs, or degraded from ranching use. The population dropped from 3,800 in 1994 to below 500 in 2008. As the refuge and its partners acquired acreage, removed resort structures and non–native palm trees, and restored stream channels to natural conditions, the fish gradually have reclaimed the waterways. An article about Moapa dace recovery appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Refuge Update.