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Florida scrub jay. Photo by Gail Hendricks, USDA NRCS.

Stimulus funds help Florida scrub jays at Merritt refuge

Even a national wildlife refuge has to work hard to keep its habitat the Florida scrub jay needs it: low oak scrub, with no tall trees where predators like hawks can hide. So the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will spend $905,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds – popularly known as stimulus funds – for habitat improvements at Merritt that will help the scrub jay to survive and thrive.

“We have one of the largest populations of Florida scrub jays in the state, but our birds are suffering from habitat loss from past fire suppression activities,” said Dorn Whitmore, supervisory park ranger at Merritt Island. “The Florida scrub jay is our priority species at the refuge. It requires an open landscape with few tall trees and numerous sandy openings. With this project, we are attempting to restore about 15,000 acres of critical scrub jay habitat.”

Habitat Restoration Resources, Inc., a small business in Cape Coral, Fla., has been awarded an $800,000 stimulus fund project to remove tall trees in sections of the refuge. That contract also means employment for workers.

“This contract is huge for us,” said Laurel Egan, majority owner of Habitat Restoration. “The economic downturn has hit us like it has everyone, and we feel very fortunate to continue to be able to pay our employees and pay their health insurance. Getting this stimulus contract allowed us to not downsize.”

A second stimulus contract of $105,000 was awarded by the Service to Summit Helicopters for aerial spraying of invasive species in the scrub jay habitat area.

A third stimulus contract for Merritt was awarded to Barlovento LLC for $633,000 to design and construct a new staff building at the refuge. Currently about eight refuge staffers, including biologists and law enforcement agents, work out of a trailer. The new staff building will be reinforced to withstand hurricane force winds up to 140 miles per hour.

Merritt National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries and marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks, with more than 1,500 species of plants and animals. Recreational opportunities include bird and wildlife observation, a wildlife drive, manatee observation deck, fishing, hunting and boating.

The Recovery Act provides $280 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - which includes $115 million for construction, repair and energy efficiency retrofit projects at Service facilities, and $165 million for habitat restoration, deferred maintenance and capital improvement projects. Projects help create local jobs in the communities where they are located and around the United States, while stimulating long-term employment and economic opportunities for the American public. Recovery Act projects address long-standing priority needs identified by the Service through its capital planning process. The agency worked through a rigorous merit-based process to identify and prioritize investments meeting the criteria put forth in the Recovery Act: namely, that a project addresses the Department’s highest priority mission needs; generates the largest number of jobs in the shortest period of time; and creates lasting value for the American public.

For a full list of funded projects nationwide, go to the Department’s Recovery web site at For a list of Service projects, click on the Service’s logo at the bottom of the page or visit The public will be able to follow the progress of each project on the recovery web site, which includes an interactive map that allows the public to track where and how the Department’s recovery dollars are being spent. In addition, the public can submit questions, comments or concerns at


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