The San Francisco Bay/Estuary, which includes four national wildlife refuges, has been named the United States’ 35th Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. There are more than 2,000 such sites worldwide. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty signed in Iran in 1971 to encourage voluntary protection of wetlands. The San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast. It accounts for 77 percent of California’s remaining perennial estuarine wetlands. The bay/estuary Ramsar site is home to more than 1,000 species of animals. It hosts more wintering shorebirds than any other U.S. Pacific Coast estuary south of Alaska. It is also important to more than 130 species of resident and migratory marine, estuarine and anadromous fish species. It includes Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Refuge, Marin Islands Refuge, San Pablo Refuge and Antioch Dunes Refuge.


Ground has been broken on a project to link Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge with a new state park that will honor abolitionist Harriet Tubman and help tell the story of her early life and the Underground Railroad. The park’s 17 acres adjacent to Blackwater Refuge will offer views of marshes, woodlands and fields that are reminiscent of the backdrop for Tubman’s early years. The park’s visitor center, scheduled to open in January 2015, will be connected physically and intellectually to the refuge’s visitor center through programming, multi–use trails and roads. Tubman was born in 1822 not far from what is now the refuge and escaped slavery at 27. She returned to Maryland’s Eastern Shore at least 13 times and freed approximately 70 enslaved family members and acquaintances. She was known for her ability to live off the land. This spring President Obama established federal, state and private lands as the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument.


Photo of trailhead portal
This new trailhead portal at Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada marks a transition from desert to riparian habitat. (USFWS)

Desert National Wildlife Refuge has opened new trails and informational exhibits at its Corn Creek headquarters area. There are now five area trails, three of them wheelchair–accessible. Some have panoramic views of the Sheep Mountain Range. On the trails, visitors can find a refugium for the endangered Pahrump poolfish, a prehistoric grinding stone, a cabin built with ties from an abandoned railroad, and places to observe some of the 320 bird species on the refuge.

Palmyra Atoll

Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is rat–free one year after a major effort to remove the invasive predators, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and Island Conservation have declared. Removing non–native rats was the top priority for the Palmyra Atoll Restoration Project, a multi–year effort to protect 10 nesting seabird species, migratory shorebirds, the rare coconut crab and one of the largest remaining native Pisonia grandis forests in the tropical Pacific. Palmyra Atoll, about 1,000 miles south of Honolulu, includes 25 islets covering 580 acres of land, and thousands of acres of healthy coral reefs. An article about the rat–eradication project appeared in March/April 2012 Refuge Update.

Midwest Region’s New Online Look

All 66 national wildlife refuge and wetland management district Web sites in the Service’s Midwest Region have migrated to the new content management system’s sleek redesign. Regional administrators and trained field staff across the country have been migrating refuge and WMD sites into the new CMS since early last year. “Our external affairs staff did a great job setting up training for migrators and developing videos for content managers. And we had a cadre of about a dozen—mostly field—visitor services folks who migrated the sites amid their other duties,” said Midwest Region visitor services and outreach chief Maggie O’Connell. Nationally, about 25 percent of wildlife refuge and WMD sites accessible through the Refuge System’s main Web site——have migrated to the new CMS.

Six Transit in Parks Grants

Six Refuge System–related projects have received $2.72 million in grants from the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program. Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Complex, CO, received $1.73 million for the Rocky Mountain Greenway project that will connect Rocky Mountain Arsenal Refuge, Rocky Flats Refuge, Two Ponds Refuge, and ultimately, Rocky Mountain National Park via a multi–use trail. Wichita Mountains Refuge, OK, received $444,500 for a multi–use trail to connect it to the town of Medicine Park and Fort Sill. Ridgefield Refuge, WA, received $250,000 to help replace a pedestrian bridge. Patuxent Refuge, MD, received $100,000 to replace a 40–passenger electric tram for visitors. Merritt Island Refuge, FL, received $100,000 to develop a transit plan. Back Bay Refuge, VA, received $94,000 to replace a public tram. Because Congress repealed the Transit in the Parks Program, this is the final round of such grants.


Three national wildlife refuges, the University of Washington and seven other research institutions collaborated on a study that sheds light on cyclical changes in sockeye salmon runs over the past 500 years. The results were reported in the January 2013 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study reveals cycles in salmon abundance on a scale not previously imagined. Salmon managers have long understood that run size is variable, changing from year to year and often showing cyclic change that persists for decades. However, this study documents cycles lasting up to 200 years. The implication to salmon management is that high variation in abundance and cyclicity of short–to–extremely–long duration must be recognized, and harvest regimes must be designed with flexibility to scale up or down. Given that the global salmon industry is valued at more than $3 billion annually, and given the ecological/social importance of salmon, this is important not just for Alaska refuge managers but for salmon managers everywhere. The study took place on 25 lakes throughout southwestern Alaska, 14 of which are on Togiak Refuge, Alaska Peninsula/Becharof Refuge or Kodiak Refuge. More than four million sockeye salmon annually return to their natal waters on these refuges. But more than 10 million salmon destined for these spawning areas annually are intercepted by the commercial fishery. A significant conservation concern is whether this level of harvest is sustainable.


This winter and spring, the Service transferred endangered Columbian white–tailed deer from Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White–Tailed Deer to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge about 60 miles away. The deer were moved to save them from potential loss due to the impending failure of a dike between Hansen Refuge and the Columbia River. If the dike fails, much of the refuge will be flooded, placing the deer at risk. Columbian white–tailed deer are unique to southwest Washington and western Oregon and are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The project, funded by the Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, relocated 37 deer to Ridgefield Refuge and 12 deer to a nearby island. Two of those 49 deer died during the move and eight died soon after. “It is important to note that these losses roughly equate to the natural mortality rate for the Columbian white–tail deer population, typically between 15 and 20 percent,” said Hansen Refuge project leader Jackie Ferrier. “We believe the translocation was very successful. The deer were in jeopardy where they were, and now they are on another refuge within their historic range where they will help contribute to recovery goals.”


The 2012–13 winter survey at and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge estimated that 257 whooping cranes overwintered there. That number includes about 105 pairs and at least 33 chicks. At least 22 cranes were identified outside the primary survey area. The results were based on seven surveys conducted using a new protocol. An article about that protocol, which was developed by Aransas Refuge and the Refuge System Inventory and Monitoring program, appeared in March/April 2013 Refuge Update.


Photo of cougar cubs and coyote

This photograph and others of two mountain lion cubs cornered on a fence by coyotes at National Elk Refuge went viral online in late March/early April. The photos, taken by outdoor recreation planner Lori Iverson, attracted more than 3 million views in one week, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain–Prairie Region office. The cubs were spotted the next day, apparently unharmed.