Midway Atoll

Photo of albatros
Wisdom, a 63–year–old Laysan albatross, tends to her chick less than a week after it hatched in February at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS)

Wisdom, a 63–year–old Laysan albatross, and her mate hatched another chick at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge on February 4. Wisdom is the oldest wild banded bird and has been nesting consecutively at the refuge since 2008. She probably has hatched at least 30 chicks over her lifetime. The refuge provides habitat for the world’s largest population of Laysan albatross. The birds typically pair for life. They lay one egg, which is incubated by both male and female for about 65 days. To see a video of Wisdom in November 2013 laying the egg that hatched, go to http://bit.ly/1jfnPQv.

On Jan. 9, a short–tailed albatross chick hatched at Midway Atoll Refuge. It was only the third hatching in recorded history of a short–tailed albatross anyplace other than three small islands off Japan. The short–tailed albatross is one of the world’s most endangered seabird species. It has a stunning golden head and is much larger than its cousin, the Laysan albatross, which nests on the refuge by the hundreds of thousands.


Toni Westland, the supervisory refuge ranger at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, knows there’s nothing like a little scat to capture the attention of third–graders and adults alike. The refuge’s “Scats and Tracks” environmental education program has been a hit for years. Now, the refuge has taken it a step further. It has installed 10 interpretive scat panels along its new Wildlife Education Boardwalk, which links the Sanibel School (elementary/middle school) to the refuge’s Indigo Trail. The individual flip panels are topped with replicas of raccoon, bobcat, yellow–crowned night heron, coyote, gopher tortoise, otter, marsh rabbit, alligator and black racer snake scat, and a white ibis pellet. The scat replicas were sculpted by North Carolina artist David Williams (www.winginitworks.com). “We needed a way to engage more families and visitors since we cannot do the Scats and Track program for everyone,” says Westland. “This self–guided discovery trail allows them to learn at their own pace.” The flip panels, which open to show information about the diet and other characteristics of the animals, were funded by the refuge’s Friends organization, the Ding Darling Society.


All of Skaggs Island is now part of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to the acquisition of the 1,092–acre Haire Ranch. The nonprofit Sonoma Land Trust coordinated the $8.3 million purchase, which was funded primarily by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Sonoma Land Trust raised the remaining funding needed from the State Coastal Conservancy and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The land was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in December 2013. Historically, Skaggs Island was part of a vast tidal marsh fringing San Pablo and San Francisco bays before the marshes were diked and drained in the 1800s. In 1941, most of the island was condemned by the Navy for a communications and intelligence–gathering base. In 2011, the Navy transferred its land to the Service to become part of the refuge. The Service has planned to restore Skaggs Island to tidal marsh for many years, but a 1941 civil action required the Service to maintain the network of flood protection levees, ditches and stormwater pumps that kept Haire Ranch dry enough for farming. Because of that agreement and the owners’ earlier reluctance to sell, the Service has been unable to flood the island and return it to wetlands. The plan now is to restore the 4,400–acre island to marsh within a decade.

Coastal Wetlands Grants

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in January announced $16.5 million in grants to support 21 critical coastal wetland projects in 12 states and Puerto Rico under the National Coastal Grants Wetlands Conservation Grants Program. State and local governments, private landowners, conservation groups and other partners will contribute an additional $18.2 million to the projects, which include acquiring, restoring or enhancing coastal wetlands and adjacent uplands to provide long–term conservation benefits. The projects stand to benefit habitat and wildlife directly at at least seven national wildlife refuges: Willapa, WA; Savannah, GA/SC; Cedar Island, NC; Rappahannock River Valley, VA; Kodiak, AK; Don Edwards San Francisco Bay, CA; and Humboldt Bay, CA. A complete list of 2014 grant program projects is at http://go.usa.gov/Bq4Y.


Staff at Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge released 22 juvenile cranes into the wild on December 10, 2013. The young birds, which were hatched at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, are the largest group of the endangered cranes released at the refuge in about a decade. “It’s the first time we’ve had four different cohorts in a year, let alone all at the same time,” said refuge supervisory biologist Scott Hereford. There are only about 110 Mississippi sandhill cranes in existence. An article about the refuge’s efforts for the endangered birds’ benefit appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Refuge Update (http://go.usa.gov/ZgzV).

2 Refuges Win DOI Environmental Awards

Two national wildlife refuges were among the four team recipients of 2013 Department of the Interior Environmental Achievement Awards. San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex, CA, was recognized for its new, net–zero energy, 16,500 square–foot headquarters and visitor center. It is the first U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service building to earn a LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, MA, was honored for improving water quality in the surrounding watershed through a “Slow the Flow” campaign, which involves the local community in workshops on sustainable landscaping techniques; a Rain Barrel Making Workshop; and a grant program. The awards recognize departmental employees and partners who have attained exceptional achievements under Executive Order 13514, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance,” and for cleaning up contaminated land.

New Mexico

Photo of statue

The bronze sculpture titled “Eyes on the Prize” was inspired by wildlife artist Eva Stanley’s visits to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. (www.EvasWildlifeArt.WordPress.com)

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge has inspired a sculpture that is scheduled to be displayed at three museum exhibits this year. The bronze sculpture by Colorado wildlife artist Eva Stanley titled “Eyes on the Prize” depicts two life–size roadrunners with a collared lizard on prickly pear cactus. “The Bosque has always been one of my favorite haunts, and I am almost always guaranteed to be able to spend some quality time observing and photographing roadrunners in your locale,” Stanley told refuge staff in an e–mail. “Therefore, I chose to acknowledge Bosque Del Apache for this bronze piece.” The sculpture will be part of an exhibit called America’s Parks II, which premieres in mid–March in Bolivar, MO, moves on to Denver in late May and goes to Tucson, AZ, in mid–September. More information: http://bit.ly/1hClmOk.


A record number of visitors participated in National Elk Refuge’s sleigh ride program this past holiday season. In the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, 4,728 people rode on a sleigh to view wintering elk. On Dec. 28 alone, a record 862 people shuttled onto the refuge via 55 sleighs. Sleigh rides are the refuge’s most popular educational program. In addition to elk, passengers routinely see coyotes, bald eagles, trumpeter swans and ravens on the rides, which are conducted in a way that minimizes stress to the wintering animals.

Service–Nature Conservancy Fire Agreement

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy in December 2013 announced a new partnership to increase and better coordinate controlled burn activities on their respective lands to enhance wildlife values. The agreement will encourage more efficient use of personnel and equipment while treating lands that might otherwise not get the benefit of prescribed fires. Collectively, the Service and TNC manage more than 78 million fire–adapted acres across the United States.