Building Community Through a Refuge
By Dan Ashe
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Albuquerque Business Journal in March named 30 women from a highly competitive pool of 435 nominees as this year’s Women of Influence in the state of New Mexico. The Journal was looking for women who are leaders, innovators, mentors and role models. It comes as no surprise that Jennifer Owen-White, manager of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, was an honoree.
Owen-White is pouring her heart and soul into Valle de Oro, the first urban refuge in the Southwest Region. And she is building the refuge with the people of Albuquerque. Valle de Oro is, “a refuge established, designed and built by the community for the community, and that is so exciting,” she says. That it is!
“I often tell people that it is not my job as the refuge manager to build this refuge; it is my job to help the community build its national wildlife refuge,” she says.
Throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System, our visitor services folks are engaging nearby communities and helping them build their connections to nature by answering their concerns and meeting their needs.
Unless we act, many of today’s children will have few opportunities to experience nature. We have become a more diverse, more urban nation, and many kids don’t get a chance, like I did, to wander fields breathing in pristine air, to turn over rocks in creeks and find out what was hiding out there, to watch a bird of prey swoop down on a river and grab a fish with its talons.
But visitor services folks are working tirelessly to find programs that do allow young people to connect with nature, even in the heart of a city like Albuquerque. At Valle de Oro Refuge, one project uses community gardens to help youth really get their hands dirty. Sometimes, geo-caching or other adventures that use the latest technology get people out into nature.
I know many refuges are holding fishing derbies for new anglers or wildflower walks or even “spring cleaning” events. That’s on top of the normal events that happen at refuges: teaching people about the amazing critters and beautiful places that we share the world with.
Since I took this job, I have emphasized that priorities are making the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relevant in people’s lives and ensuring that all Americans really see that what we do matters in their lives. We can’t afford to allow millions of kids to continue growing up with little understanding of the personal stake they have in healthy wildlife and ecosystems. A world without a conservation ethic is not a world friendly to humanity.
20 Most-Visited Refuges
National wildlife refuges attracted almost 47 million visitors in fiscal year 2014. According to the Refuge Annual Performance Plan, here are the 20 most-visited refuges:
- Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
- Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, California/Arizona
- Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge,
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois
- Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
- Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina
- Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
- Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska
- Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois
- J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
- Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama
- Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, California
- National Elk National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming
- Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
- Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin
- Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts
- Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaii
- Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaii
- Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
- Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, Tennessee
Erie National Wildlife Refuge Trash to Treasure Contest
Rescue some trash from the recycling bin or the garbage and make it into something pretty or useful. Bring it to the refuge to display and maybe win a cash prize. 1st place in each division, Age 17+, Age 13 – 16, Age 9 – 12, and Age 8 & Under, wins a cash prize. Entries must be submitted by June 12th and the winners will be announced June 27th at Summer Fest.
The rules are fairly simple: The major component of each entry should be something previously used that would normally be thrown away or recycled after they are used. Entries must have been created within the dates: 06/13/2014 - 06/12/2015.
Judging criteria may include originality and creativity; durability, suitability to purpose, and quality of craftsmanship; artistic merit; and "How much did it save the planet?". Sorry the judges’ decision is final.
Entries will be on display at Summer Fest and then at the refuge until the week of July 13th.
Entries must be turned in to the Erie National Wildlife Refuge, 11296 Wood Duck Lane, Guys Mills, PA 16327. Call (814) 789-3585 if you have questions. For entry form go here.
Sponsored by Friends of ENWR
Erie National Wildlife Refuge Summer Fest 2015
We hope to see you at the this year's Summer Fest. The event features free admission, handicapped parking and access, and fun for everyone in the family. This year we are working on having a food vendor available but the details haven't been completely ironed out yet. We are also hoping to provide Hay Ride Tours of the ENWR.
The "Passport Program" will give kids a chance to earn a prize just for participating in all required activities. This year's prize is new and improved and will offer lasting enjoyment to young nature enthusiasts.
All activities will be based on a "Nature Myths" theme. Activities will include a Sun Catcher Craft, Face Painting, a Notebook Craft, Fishing Casting Practice, Archery, and as always bring your camera for the Photo Opportunity.
Many outside groups will be partnering with the ENWR to provide displays and activities all day as well, including Audubon PA, French Creek Valley Conservancy, Pitt Ecology Lab, Western PA Conservancy, Crawford County Conservancy, and the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This year's live animal display will be provided by All God's Creatures Reptile Education and Rescue.
All entries to the "Trash to Treasure" Contest will be on display at Summer Fest as well. This a fun contest and the resulting entries are always interesting and imaginative!
A "Silent Auction" has been held at Summer Fest the last few years. This is an opportunity for you to help the Friends of ENWR support Summer Fest so please take the time to look at the items offered and maybe even place a bid.
Summer Fest is always held the last Saturday in June which is the 27th this year. The event is open from 10:00AM - 4:00PM at the Refuge's Activity Center on Wood Duck Lane in Guys Mills, PA. This is an "Rain or Shine" event and while most activities are under a tent or in a building please consider the weather when dressing for the event. Sponsored by the Friends of ENWR.
Strengthening our Conservation of North American Bats
By Dan Ashe
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
We share hundreds of species with Mexico and Canada, and coordinate conservation activities with these neighboring partners on many of them, including monarch butterflies, migratory birds, and many more. But until now, comprehensive coordination for one group of animals has fallen noticeably short: bats.
For the first time in history, with the signing of a Letter of Intent (http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2015/Bat-conservation-LOI.pdf) at the April Canada/Mexico/U.S. Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management (http://www.trilat.org/), we have official coordination on the conservation of North America’s bats.
North American bats, many of which migrate across international boundaries, face many threats:
Habitat destruction has limited bats’ food gathering and roosting sites throughout their range;
Human-related disturbances, including wind turbines, can lead to bat deaths; and
Perhaps the best-known bat-killer -- for now limited to bats in the United States and Canada -- is white-nose syndrome, a deadly invasive fungus. Since its discovery in New York less than 10 years ago, white-nose syndrome has spread to 26 states and five Canadian provinces and killed millions of bats.
Certainly, we already do coordinate with our neighbors on many bat conservation issues. We work closely with Canada to respond to white-nose syndrome and with Mexico to conserve endangered Mexican and lesser long-nosed bats. We also invest directly in partner-led bat conservation projects in Mexico through our Mexico Program, including environmental education activities, capacity development and community-based population monitoring and habitat conservation.
This Letter goes beyond all efforts to date, and tells everyone that the three countries will strengthen cooperation, coordination and information-sharing related to the conservation and management of all (more than 150!) bat species in Canada, the United States and Mexico.
Bats are hugely important. In addition to pollinating many plants, including some commercially valuable crops, bats also eat a lot of insect pests that disturb crops, forests and us! In the United States alone, bats are estimated to save us at least $3 billion per year in pest control services.
We -- Canada, Mexico and the United States -- are determined to keep it that way, and commit to doing what it takes to help them survive.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Polar Bears Featured on 2016 Federal Recreational Lands Pass
The 2016 America the Beautiful Pass, an annual pass for entrance to more than 2,000 national public recreation sites, will feature a touching photograph, taken by Gregory Teller, of a polar bear and her cub in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The 2016 image was selected from about 22,000 images submitted to the annual “Share the Experience” contest, sponsored by the National Park Foundation, Active Network and Celestron in partnership with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service. The contest gives amateur photographers the chance to showcase their skills by capturing the beauty of the nation’s public lands.
The “Share the Experience” photo contest highlights our nation’s public lands – including national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and recreation areas – and draws entries from across the United States. As the grand prize winner, Gregory received $10,000, and his photograph will be featured on the 2016 America the Beautiful pass, an annual pass for entrance to more than 2,000 national public recreation sites. Each year, approximately 300,000 people purchase this pass, which pays for itself in as few as four visits to flagship national parks.
“Moments with mothers and their cubs were just perfect, especially this shot as the cub reached up to his mother,” said Gregory, who took the photograph while visiting Alaska for the first time on a six-person tour to see the Northern Lights and polar bears. Photography is a hobby for Gregory, who frequently visits public lands. “I feel in love with the area. We stayed a couple of days in a village near the refuge where polar bears frequent.”
Photographs for the 2015 “Share the Experience” contest must be taken between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2015. Contest entries are accepted from April 30, 2015, to December 31, 2015, and photographers can participate by uploading photos on www.sharetheexperience.org. Winners will be announced by May 1, 2016.
Prizes for winning entries include monetary awards, outdoor equipment, annual federal recreation passes and hotel packages courtesy of Historic Hotels of America. Prizes are offered for fan favorites and for one winner in each for the following six categories:
- Adventure and Outdoor Recreation
- Historical and Cultural
- Scenic, Seasons and Landscapes
- Every Kid in a Park (new category as part of President Obama’s initiative)
- Night Skies
Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge Established in NC
The new Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge in western North Carolina, formally established in April, is devoted to the conservation of southern Appalachian mountain bogs, one of the rarest and most imperiled habitats in the United States.
Mountain Bogs Refuge is the nation’s 563rd national wildlife refuge. North Carolina is home to 11 refuges; Mountain Bogs Refuge is the first one west of Charlotte.
“The establishment of Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge marks a turning point in the efforts of a number of dedicated partners in preserving this unique and threatened habitat,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Jim Kurth. “It will provide a focal point for mountain bog conservation in the area, and highlights the importance of our National Wildlife Refuge System in preserving our nation’s spectacular biodiversity for future generations of Americans.”
The Nature Conservancy donated an easement on a 39-acre parcel in Ashe County, which formally established the refuge.
Less than 20 percent of the mountain bogs that once existed still remain. They are typically small and widely scattered across the landscape, often isolated from other wetlands. Important to wildlife and plants, mountain bogs are home to five endangered species – bog turtles, green pitcher plant, mountain sweet pitcher plant, swamp pink (a lily) and bunched arrowhead.
Bogs also are habitat for migratory birds and game animals, including mink, woodcock, ruffed grouse, turkey and wood duck. They also provide key benefits by their natural capacity for regulating water flow, holding floodwaters like giant sponges and slowly releasing water to nearby streams, decreasing the impacts of floods and droughts.
Bogs are breeding habitat for many species of amphibians, especially salamanders, of which the Southern Appalachians have the greatest diversity in the nation.
The refuge may eventually grow to 23,000 acres, depending on the willingness of landowners to sell and the availability of funds to purchase lands. To guide acquisition of land and conservation easements and bog conservation in general, the Service has identified 30 sites -- or Conservation Partnership Areas -- containing bogs and surrounding lands.
Funding to acquire land and easements would likely come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, funded by fees collected from the sale of publicly-owned offshore oil and gas drilling leases.
For more information about Mountain Bogs Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/mountainbogs.
2013 wildlife category winners.
Erie National Wildlife Refuge's
15th Biennial Nature Photo Contest
In 1987, the Presque Isle Audubon Society (PIAS) initiated a formal relationship with Erie National Wildlife Refuge (ENWR) under the National Audubon Society’s “Adopt A Refuge” program. It co-sponsored the first biennial nature photo contest with the refuge that year in an effort to keep the local community involved in the refuge.
Fast forward to 2007 and the ENWR is hosting the Eleventh Biennial Nature Photography Contest. For the first time, the contest is co-sponsored by the Presque Isle Audubon Society and the newly formed Friends of Erie National Wildlife Refuge.
That year 132 photographs were entered. Photos were judged in three major categories, Plant Life, Wildlife, and Landscape. In addition, a special award was presented for the best photo taken on the ENWR. Approximately 70 people attended the reception. Guests viewed all the entered photos, watched the awards ceremony, and had the opportunity to talk to judges about nature photography tips and techniques. An evaluation of the contest resulted in several suggestions for improving the contest itself, and nature photography opportunities on the refuge.
During the last contest held in 2013 the judges had the difficult task of choosing 11 winners and 10 honorable mentions from the 151 photos entered in the ENWR's Nature Photo Contest. The contest continues to award First, Second and Third place ribbons plus cash prizes for the top winners in the categories of Plant Life, Wildlife and Landscape. In addition ribbons and cash prizes are also awarded for the Best Photo Taken on the ENWR and for the Best Student (under 18) Photo.
The Friends of ENWR and PIAS continue to co-sponsor the Biennial Nature Photo Contest and we hope the 2015 edition will be just as successful as those in the past. For more information and entry form go here.
Spring Clean Up Part II
We are having another clean up! If you couldn't make the last one, you can help out at this one!
The Clean Up date is scheduled for Sunday, May 17, 2015. We will be meeting at 1:00pm at the ENWR Headquarters building in Guys Mills.
Conservation by Multiplication
By Dan Ashe
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
In the 20th century, led by icons including John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold and Ding Darling, America created the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the National Wildlife Refuge System and other federal and state public land protections. As a result, nearly 30 percent of the nation’s land is protected, in some form, and stands as a foundation for the future.
In the 21st century, we will strengthen that foundation. But if we want to meet this century’s conservation challenges, we must link the public estate to the more than 70 percent of the land that is privately owned. Many species entrusted to our care rely on private land to survive and thrive. If we’re going to conserve biological diversity, we must keep our public land foundations strong and build on them by engaging private landowners, most of whom are proud land stewards.
That’s why we’ve focused on a vision for the Refuge System that sees refuges as hubs of networks of public and private lands. It’s why our field offices are engaging landowners across the country and developing voluntary conservation easements on hundreds of thousands of acres. These easements and other tools allow us to do conservation work through landowners, helping them achieve sustainable economic use of their lands while protecting and enhancing essential habitat for wildlife.
By linking habitat on these private lands to our public estate, we are doing conservation by multiplication rather than simple addition. And to deal with 21st-century challenges like changing climate, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s next generation will need to graduate to algebra, trigonometry and calculus, creating more complex connections and giving wildlife the means to move across the landscape in step with the seasons, increasing human presence and shifting sources of food and shelter. That’s why we are building next-generation capacities like Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) and Refuge System Inventory and Monitoring.
I recently read an article about Jude Smith, the manager of Buffalo Lake, Muleshoe and Grulla National Wildlife Refuges in Texas and New Mexico. He’s at least in Algebra II already.
“Whatever we are doing on the refuge complex,” he says, “I’m considering how we can take the benefits and knowledge we have gained to surrounding landowners on the larger landscape. This complex is too small to make the big difference for wildlife that we are after.”
Smith knows the formula for success. If you multiply your refuge lands by partnership with private landowners, the product is a landscape that makes the difference.
This is happening as we work to conserve the greater sage-grouse. We have a strong public lands foundation, with 64 percent of the habitat under Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service management. We are strengthening that foundation but also working with and throughout the 11 range states to build strong state conservation programs and enlist private landowners in voluntary conservation. In the end, we are multiplying efforts and conserving a “sagebrush sea” that supports sage-grouse and hundreds of other species.
In Harney County, OR, our folks have signed up nearly 300,000 acres of private ranch lands in conservation agreements. Rancher Tod Strong put it best when he said, “What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.” Amen, Tod.
We can conserve the nature of America, if we think big, like Jude Smith, and reach out to good private land stewards like Tod Strong. Practice multiplication! Prepare for calculus! Think big!
Summer Fest 2015 Trash to Treasure Contest
Rescue some trash from the recycling bin or the garbage and make it into something pretty or useful. Bring it to the refuge to display and maybe win a cash prize. Divisions are Ages 17+, Ages 13 – 16, Ages 9 – 12, and Ages 8 & Under.
Submit your entries by June 12th and the winners will be announced June 27th at the ENWR's Summer Fest. All entries will be displayed that day and at the refuge until the week of July 13th. Entries must be picked up by July 17th or they will be come property of the Friends of ENWR.
For information and entry form go here.
ENWR Spring Clean Up Day
Spring is here and it's time to think about spring cleaning. Spring Clean Up Day on the Erie National Wildlife Refuge that is! The Clean Up date is scheduled for Sunday, April 12, 2015. Celebrate Earth Day early this year by cleaning up the Refuge! We will be meeting at 1:00pm at the ENWR Headquarters building in Guys Mills.
This year we are working with the Great American Cleanup of PA, which is from March 1st to May 31st. As a registered event we can get free cleanup supplies such as bags, gloves and vests donated by PennDOT and Keep America Beautiful. If you can't join us on the ENWR on April 12th consider finding another event to participate in here.
This event is open to adults and families alike! Hope to see you there!
Campaign to Save Beleaguered Monarch Butterfly
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a major campaign aimed at saving the declining monarch butterfly.
The Service signed a cooperative agreement with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), announced a major new funding initiative with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and pledged $2 million in immediate funding for on-the-ground conservation projects around the country.
Introducing the new initiatives at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. were Service Director Dan Ashe, U.S. Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar, NWF President and CEO Collin O’Mara, and NFWF representatives.
Monarchs are found across the United States. While they numbered some 1 billion in 1996, their numbers have declined by approximately 90 percent in recent years. The decline is the result of numerous threats, particularly loss of habitat due to agricultural practices, development and cropland conversion. Degradation of wintering habitat in Mexico and California has also had a negative impact on the species.
“We can save the monarch butterfly in North America, but only if we act quickly and together,” said Ashe. “And that is why we are excited to be working with the National Wildlife Federation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to engage Americans everywhere, from schools and community groups to corporations and governments, in protecting and restoring habitat. Together we can create oases for monarchs in communities across the country.”
The memorandum of understanding between NWF and the Service will serve as a catalyst for national collaboration on monarch conservation, particularly in planting native milkweed and nectar plants, the primary food sources in breeding and migration habitats for the butterfly.
The new NFWF Monarch Conservation Fund was kick-started by an injection of $1.2 million from the Service that will be matched by private and public donors. The fund will provide the first dedicated source of funding for projects working to conserve monarchs.
From California to the Corn Belt, the Service will also fund numerous conservation projects totaling $2 million this year to restore and enhance more than 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs while also supporting more than 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. Many of the projects will focus on the I-35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, areas that provide important spring and summer breeding habitats in the eastern population’s central flyway.
The monarch may be the best-known butterfly species in the United States. Every year they undertake one of the world’s most remarkable migrations, traveling thousands of miles over many generations from Mexico, across the United States, to Canada.
The monarch’s exclusive larval host plant and a critical food source is native milkweed, which has been eradicated or severely degraded in many areas across the U.S. The accelerated conversion of the continent’s native short and tallgrass prairie habitat to crop production has also had an adverse impact on the monarch.
The monarch serves as an indicator of the health of pollinators across the American landscape. Conserving and connecting habitat for monarchs will benefit other plants, animals and important insect and avian pollinators.
A new Web site -- http://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch -- provides information on how Americans can get involved with the campaign.
Celebrating a Milestone in Conservation – the Recovery of the Oregon Chub
By Dan Ashe, Director, U.S. fish and Wildlife Service
A winter storm grounded me in Washington on February 19, keeping me from traveling to Portland to mark the recovery of the Oregon chub. But no amount of snow can keep me from celebrating this milestone in conservation history.
As small as the 3-inch chub is, it will forever be known for a giant accomplishment – becoming the first fish ever removed from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
In only about 20 years, the chub has gone from the brink of extinction to thriving across its historic range in the Willamette River Basin. In 1993, the species numbered fewer than 1,000 fish in eight small populations. Thanks to a phenomenal conservation effort by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other dedicated partners, the Oregon chub has expanded to more than 80 populations with an estimated 140,000 fish.
That’s truly remarkable. We simply don’t see many species recover in what is, in biological terms, the blink of an eye.
While the Oregon chub isn’t as iconic as other Pacific Northwest fish species like the salmon or steelhead, it’s a vital part of the freshwater floodplain ecosystem of the Willamette River Basin – the lifeblood of western Oregon. As a result, partnership-driven efforts to help the chub recover have also benefited other species and local communities. Partners have improved management of the entire river system – providing increased recreational opportunities, better flood control, improved water quality and a healthier ecosystem for both wildlife and people.
The Endangered Species Act was the last line of defense for the Oregon chub, just as it is for hundreds of other native species facing extinction. With every species that is lost, we leave a more impoverished planet to future generations, and deprive them of the benefits of healthy ecosystems with vibrant biological diversity.
The chub’s recovery shows how the ESA can and should work – bringing partners together to recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they, and we, depend.
In the case of the chub, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife led the charge, conducting research and monitoring, promoting habitat protection and improvements, and conducting reintroductions of the fish into unoccupied habitats.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff worked closely with them to support recovery efforts. For example, the staff of the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex did an amazing job of enhancing chub habitat on the refuge. Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program staff worked tirelessly with local landowners who willingly agreed to put an endangered species on their land. And staff from our Columbia River Fisheries Program Office and Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office laid the groundwork for the delisting action.
A broad spectrum of organizations and individuals made other key contributions to the chub’s recovery, including the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and their Tribal Fish and Wildlife Program, which helped evaluate the impacts of stream management options on the chub. The Army Corps of Engineers played a vital role in implementing many of the stream management improvements vital to the chub’s recovery. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service protected 623 acres of chub habitat through Wetlands Reserve Program conservation easements. Professors and students from Oregon State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife completed some of the important underlying science to guide recovery efforts. And perhaps most crucially, dozens of private landowners in the Willamette River Basin stepped up and provided habitat on their land. It has truly been a collaborative effort.
By ensuring the recovery of the Oregon chub, we have taken a giant step toward honoring our commitment to future generations.
Refuge System Chief Jim Kurth Named Service Deputy Director
Jim Kurth, a major presence in National Wildlife Refuge System leadership for the past decade and a half, has been promoted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director for operations.
Kurth was chief of the Refuge System from October 2011 until January 2015, when he was named to the deputy director position vacated by Rowan Gould. Gould retired in December 2014 after a distinguished 38-year career with the Service.
Before becoming chief, Kurth was deputy chief for 12 years. His 15-year tenure in refuge leadership marked unprecedented growth in which the Refuge System added more than 60 new units encompassing more than 50 million acres. Beginning in 2011, Kurth led development and implementation of Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation – a blueprint for the future growth and management of the Refuge System.
“Jim Kurth is a natural leader with proven ability to effectively manage far-flung operations and meet complex conservation challenges. He understands how to multiply resources, and inspire and engage people. Most importantly, Jim loves the Service, its employees and its partners,” Service Director Dan Ashe said in announcing Kurth’s promotion. “I’m excited to work with Jim to continue improving the agency and strengthening our landscape-level collaborations with state wildlife agencies and other key partners.”
As deputy director for operations, Kurth will promote and implement the Service’s mission and priorities throughout the United States and abroad by developing and strengthening partnerships with other federal agencies and foreign governments, states, tribes, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector. He will also assist Director Ashe in ensuring agency performance and accountability, customer service and consistent application of all Service resource management policies.
Kurth will be responsible for managing the day-to-day implementation of the Service’s field-based mission. This includes overseeing an appropriated budget of $2.5 billion, and nearly 9,000 employees working across the nation and in many foreign countries. These employees spearhead efforts to conserve the nation’s native fish, wildlife and plants on 562 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts encompassing more than 560 million acres in all 50 states and U.S. territories; operate 69 national fish hatcheries; and administer fish and wildlife programs, including endangered species recovery, from 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field offices nationwide.
Kurth is a 35-year Service veteran and a career federal employee. He began his Refuge System career in 1979 at Mississippi SandhiIl Crane National Wildlife Refuge. He then moved on to a series of positions with progressively greater responsibilities at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee Refuge in Florida, Bogue Chitto Refuge in Louisiana, Seney Refuge in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Ninigret Refuge in Rhode Island.
Beginning in 1994 until he became deputy chief, Kurth managed the 20-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska – the largest wildlife refuge in the United States. Arctic Refuge also contains the 8-million-acre Mollie Beattie Wilderness Area, the largest wilderness within the Refuge System. During his time there, Kurth proved adept at bringing competing interests together and navigating complex environmental challenges affecting one of the nation’s most prominent refuges.
Cynthia Martinez, who has been deputy chief of the Refuge System, will serve as acting chief until Kurth’s replacement is selected.
!Because of the the weather "Audubon At Home" has been rescheduled for March 21st!
Audubon At Home
Wondering what it takes to attract birds to your garden? Let Audubon PA show you how to create your own backyard habitat for wildlife using six simple principles that lead to better ecological address and a greener "you. " Judith Acker will present the program "Audubon At Home" at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge Saturday, February 21st at 6:30PM. Call 814-789-3585 to register.
Trash to Treasure Contest 2015
Originally created as part of a Summer Fest with a "Recycle" theme, this contest was so popular that we made it an annual event. This contest is for "kids" of all ages. There are award categories for 8 & Under, Ages 9-12, Ages 13-16, and 17+.
Entrants are encouraged to "Rescue some trash from the recycling bin or the garbage and make it into something pretty or useful. Bring it to the refuge to display and maybe win a cash prize." The rules stipulate that the major component of each entry should be something previously used that would normally be thrown away or recycled after they are used.
Each year we receive more entries and they are amazing in their diversity and imagination. Entries must be delivered to the Erie National Wildlife Refuge's headquarters building and they will be displayed there and at Summer Fest. More details coming soon.
ENWR’s Nature Photo Contest
2015 is the year for the Erie National Wildlife Refuge’s Biannual Nature Photo Contest, so all you amateur photographers out there should warm up your cameras and get ready. More information will be coming soon.
President Requests $1.6 Billion in Fiscal Year 2016 for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 discretionary budget request supports $1.6 billion in programs for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an increase of $135.7 million over the 2015 enacted level.
“Investing in the conservation of our wildlife and habitat resources results in myriad health and economic benefits to U.S. communities,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Investing in the next American generation is also critical, so we are creating new ways to engage young audiences in outdoor experiences, both on wildlife refuges and partner lands. With 80 percent of the U.S. population currently residing in urban communities, helping urban dwellers to rediscover the outdoors is a priority for the Service.”
This budget invests in the science-based conservation and restoration of land, water and native species on a landscape scale, considering the impacts of a changing climate; expansion and improvement of recreational opportunities — such as hunting, fishing and wildlife watching — for all Americans, including urban populations; increased efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, which is an international crisis; and the operation and maintenance of public lands.
America’s Great Outdoors – This initiative, a Service priority, seeks to empower all Americans to share the benefits of the outdoors, and leave a healthy, vibrant outdoor legacy for generations to come. In 2016, a total of $1.5 billion in current funding is proposed for the Service as part of the Administration’s initiative to reconnect Americans to the outdoors while developing a landscape level understanding of a changing climate. This includes $1.3 billion for Service operations, an increase of $119.2 million over the 2015 enacted level.
A critical component of America’s Great Outdoors is the National Wildlife Refuge System. Funding for the operation and maintenance of the Refuge System is requested at $508.2 million, an increase of $34 million above the 2015 enacted level. Included in that increase is an additional $5 million for the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, which will extend opportunities to engage more urban youth and adults.
The budget also requests $108.3 million for grant programs administered by the Service that support America’s Great Outdoors goals. Programs such as the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants are an important source of funds for the conservation and improvement of a range of wildlife and the landscapes on which they depend.
Land Acquisition – The 2016 Federal Land Acquisition program builds on efforts started in 2011 to strategically invest in the highest priority conservation areas through better coordination among Department of the Interior agencies and the U.S. Forest Service. This budget includes $164.8 million for federal land acquisition, composed of $58.5 million in current funding and $106.3 million in proposed permanent funding. The budget provides an overall increase of $117.2 million above the 2015 enacted level. An emphasis on the use of these funds is to work with willing landowners to secure public access to places to recreate, hunt and fish.
Cooperative Recovery – Species recovery is another important Service priority addressed in this budget. For 2016, the President requests a total of $10.7 million, an increase of $4.8 million over the enacted level, for cooperative recovery. The focus will be on implementing recovery actions for species nearing delisting or reclassification from endangered to threatened, and actions that are urgently needed for critically endangered species.
Ecological Services – The budget includes $258.2 million to conserve, protect and enhance listed and at-risk wildlife and their habitats, an increase of $32.3 million compared with the 2015 enacted level. These increases include a $4 million program increase to support conservation of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, which extends across 11 states in the intermountain West. Conservation of this vast area requires a collaborative effort unprecedented in geographic scope and magnitude. To achieve sustainable conservation success for this ecosystem, the Service has identified priority needs for basic scientific expertise, technical assistance for on-the-ground support, and internal and external coordination, and partnership building with western states, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and other partners.
Additionally, the budget request contains a $4 million increase to ensure appropriate design and quick approval of important restoration projects that will be occurring in the Gulf of Mexico region in the near future. The Gulf of Mexico Watershed spans 31 states and is critical to the health and vitality of our nation’s natural and economic resources. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill dramatically increased the urgency of the Service’s work in the Gulf and our leadership responsibilities. Over the course of the next decade, billions of dollars in settlement funds, Clean Water Act penalties and Natural Resource Damage Assessment restitution will be directed toward projects to study and restore wildlife habitat in the Gulf of Mexico region. The Service is in high demand to provide technical assistance and environmental clearances for these projects, and this funding will ensure that this demand can be met.
To learn more about the President’s FY 2016 budget request for the Department of the Interior, visit: www.doi.gov/budget.
Fostering a New Generation Of Outdoor Enthusiasts
The newest Conserving the Future implementation team – the Outdoor Recreation Team – is developing a strategy to expand outdoor recreation on national wildlife refuges to fulfill Recommendation 18 (http://1.usa.gov/1yftGMA). The goal is to create a Refuge System recreation program that is relevant and accessible to all Americans in order to create a connected conservation constituency.
The team is chaired by Marcia Pradines, chief of the Division of Visitor Services and Communications; Will Meeks, assistant regional director for refuges in the Mountain-Prairie Region; and Charlie Blair, assistant regional director for refuges in the Midwest Region.
“The Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Recreation Team did a terrific job writing a strategic plan that will advance hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges,” said Pradines. “This new team will focus on recreation that is both compatible to the wildlife conservation mission of refuges but also more accessible to ‘nature novices.’ This team is considering how to invite them to enjoy and care about wildlife, and help them become comfortable enjoying the great outdoors.”
The Outdoor Recreation Team is assembling four sub-teams, working to prepare draft products as early as July. The sub-teams are:
The concept of outdoor skills centers came from the Conserving the Future Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Recreation team, which last year issued its strategy (http://bit.ly/1vNt8dr). It called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to undertake steps to increase quality hunting and fishing opportunities. The team also recommended greater collaboration with state agencies in hunting and fishing programs; development of guidance for continuation of fish stocking programs and consideration of new stocking programs; and mentoring of a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts, among other steps.
- Recreation Access: The team will look at improving signs along highways and at other places that inform visitors and also research how transportation affects access. The team will consider how to streamline national guidance on accessibility, and calculate what it will cost in infrastructure investments to provide better access.
- Appropriate Refuge Uses: The team will develop additional appropriate uses guidance to focus on activities that attract new and diverse audiences and encourage partnerships with communities. New guidance would not compromise the standard that all recreation must be compatible with a refuge’s conservation mission.
- Wildlife Observation/Photography: In an era when so many people have great cameras in their smartphones, the team is seeking to establish a photography initiative. The team will expand online resources – and develop training and mentoring opportunities for refuge staff and volunteers – in an effort to provide the Refuge System’s photography offerings to a broader cross-section of the public.
- Other Recreation: Going beyond the “Big Six” – hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, wildlife observation, interpretation and environmental education – the team will, among other tasks, assemble examples of the kind of expansive recreation offered on some wildlife refuges. It also will ensure that at least one outdoor skills center will be launched to help foster a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts.
The new Outdoor Recreation Team expects complete its work in about two years.
Fish and Wildlife Service Requests Public Comment on Oil and Gas Rulemaking
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the opening of a 60-day comment period for public input on managing non-federal oil and gas development on National Wildlife Refuge System lands.
On many Service lands, including wildlife refuges, the federal government does not own the rights to subsurface minerals. Instead, mineral rights are owned by private individuals or other entities, which have the legal authority to develop their oil and gas resources.
Based on the Service’s best data, more than 200 refuges have oil and gas operations, including more than 5,000 wells, almost 1,600 actively producing oil and gas wells, and almost 1,300 miles of pipelines.
The rulemaking effort is part of the Service’s ongoing commitment to avoid or minimize adverse effects on natural and cultural resources and wildlife-dependent recreation, ensure a consistent and effective regulatory environment for oil and gas operators, and protect public health and safety.
The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in the Federal Register on February 24. Comments must be received on or before April 25. The Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. The Service cannot accept email or faxes.
Written comments and information can be submitted by one of the following methods:
Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–HQ–NWRS–2012–0086]; or
U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS–HQ–NWRS–2012–0086]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
“Throughout the process, the Service will work with the public, the oil and gas industry and conservation groups to ensure we are using the best management practices and other industry standards for the conservation of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats,” said Director Dan Ashe.
Since this is a formal rulemaking process with subsequent National Environmental Policy Act support, the Service anticipates the effort will take at least three years to complete.
Comments and materials, as well as supporting documentation, will be available for public inspection at http://www.regulations.gov under the above docket number. In addition, more details on the kinds of information the Service is seeking is available in the notice and will be posted online at http://www.fws.gov/refuges/oil-and-gas/
It’s More than A Duck Stamp. It’s a Champion for Conservation
By Dan Ashe,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
It’s sometimes easy to lose hope these days, given the challenges our nation faces and the seemingly intractable political polarization of our society. But President Obama’s approval in December of bipartisan legislation raising the price of the federal Duck Stamp is a reminder that we’re still capable of great things as a nation.
The federal Duck Stamp program is one of the most successful conservation initiatives in history. Since the program’s creation in 1934, funding from Duck Stamp sales has been used to acquire and permanently protect more than 6 million acres of vital National Wildlife Refuge System habitat. Much of this wetland and grassland acreage – which supports hundreds of native species of migratory birds, animals and plants – would otherwise have been plowed under or paved over.
Rising land prices have steadily eroded our ability to protect other vulnerable habitat through acquisitions and the purchase of conservation easements on private land. Raising the price of the Duck Stamp from $15 to $25 will restore most of the purchasing power that has been lost since the price was last increased in 1991. With the additional funds generated by the increase, we anticipate being able to protect an estimated 17,000 additional acres of habitat every year.
This will also benefit Americans of all ages and backgrounds. All hunters 16 and older are required to possess a valid stamp, but anyone who cares about conservation can buy one. And what’s more, lands acquired and protected with Duck Stamp dollars are accessible to everyone – not just for hunting, but for wildlife watching, photography and other outdoor recreation. A valid Duck Stamp can also be used for free admission to scores of national wildlife refuges that charge admission fees.
Wetlands and associated uplands are as important for people as they are for wildlife. They provide natural protection against flooding and storm surges; filter pollutants from water used for drinking, cooking and sanitation; and support thousands of jobs and local businesses linked to outdoor recreation and tourism.
Perhaps most importantly, the Duck Stamp price increase represents an emphatic expression of optimism for the future. After all, the stamp itself was born out of far more desperate circumstances.
More than 80 years ago, at the height of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, our nation’s waterfowl and migratory birds faced devastation. Yet in the midst of ecological collapse, widespread poverty and unemployment, many Americans refused to give up. Led by hunters, they played an instrumental part in the passage of the Duck Stamp Act of 1934.
That success inspired passage of the Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, which created an excise tax on firearms and ammunition (later expanded to fishing rods, reels and equipment) that has raised more than $14 billion to support conservation at the state level.
These historic conservation achievements laid the foundation for the return of healthy wildlife populations and habitat across the nation.
Hunting groups led efforts to raise the price of the stamp. Organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Refuge Association mobilized their members in support, and hunters across the nation contacted members of Congress to urge passage. That’s why this successful program continues to enjoy strong bipartisan support in Congress and the Executive Branch.
We face enormous conservation challenges in the coming decades and we must confront them as one nation, indivisible. The federal Duck Stamp shows us the way forward. Together, we can ensure that future generations of Americans have access to clean air, clean water and the wonder of our native wildlife and wild places.
More Than 113,000 Acres Conserved Last Fiscal Year
Fiscal Year 2014, which ended on September 30, 2014, saw some growth in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The Refuge System established one new refuge -- Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon — in FY14 and added 113,403 acres, including 28,549 acres in fee title and 84,854 acres under easement or lease, at 78 national wildlife refuges and 26 wetland management districts, spanning 40 states. The total includes 74,435 acres conserved in the Prairie Pothole Region.
As of September 30, 2014, the Refuge System includes 562 national wildlife refuges, 209 waterfowl production area counties (managed by 38 wetland management districts), and 50 coordination areas, spanning more than 150 million acres. Refuge System staff also manage an additional 418 million acres of submerged lands and waters in four marine national monuments.
The FY14 Statistical Data Tables for Lands Under Control of the Fish & Wildlife Service are available online at http://www.fws.gov/refuges/land/LandReport.html.