FRIENDS OF ANAHUAC REFUGE
A strain of naturally occurring soil bacteria tested on national wildlife refuges and other western lands may soon offer rangeland managers a safe new way to manage cheatgrass, an aggressive plant pest.
Cheatgrass is a Eurasian invasive plant that is now found in the United States, Canada and Mexico. It covers hundreds of thousands of square miles, including the fragile sagebrush steppe habitat that is the home of the increasingly rare greater sage-grouse. In the Great Basin states of Nevada, Utah, Oregon and California, cheatgrass is spreading at the rate of thousands of acres per day. Wherever cheatgrass grows, unwanted wildfires burn hotter, more frequently and disrupt fragile ecosystems.
The native bacterium doesn’t have a catchy name; researchers refer to it simply as ACK55. But many hopes are riding on this strain of Pseudomonas fluorescens.
“I’m convinced it will work as long as the bacteria are applied in the fall to the soil so they can colonize emerging cheatgrass roots in the spring,” says Michael Gregg, a Land Management Research and Demonstration biologist at the Mid-Columbia River Refuges Complex in Washington state. Gregg is working to convince others that ACK55 belongs in the big leagues of land management. The message is getting through.
In addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, government agencies expressing interest in the natural cheatgrass inhibitor include the National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
“A biopesticide is much more cost-effective than an herbicide and less damaging to the environment and human health,” says Hilda Diaz-Soltero, senior invasive species coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She hopes the inter-agency interest will speed further research designed to lead to the product’s approval as a commercial biopesticide.
Early test results have been impressive. In long-term field trials at Hanford Reach National Monument/ Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Washington, single applications of ACK55 dramatically reduced cheatgrass in three to five years while not hurting other plants or animals. Another field trial is in progress at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho. In December 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Service committed $200,000 to scale up ACK55 tests to meet Environmental Protection Agency biopesticide registration requirements.
ACK55 is not the only new cheatgrass management tool being studied. “There is a fungus, colorfully named Black Fingers of Death, being tested by other researchers,” says Fred Wetzel, the Service’s National Wildland Fire and Emergency Response advisor and ACK55’s project leader. In contrast to other controls, Wetzel likens ACK55 to using laser surgery to target and suppress the plant’s developing root cells. “This cheats the plant out of everything it needs to grow and reproduce,” he says.
The scientist who discovered ACK55 and devised a method to apply it is Ann C. Kennedy, a soil microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Kennedy stresses ACK55’s safety. She says the native soil bacteria inhibit just three grass species: cheatgrass, medusa head and jointed goat grass. All are invasive species of the sage steppe habitat. Wheat, native bunch grasses and broadleaf plants are unaffected. Another advantage of ACK55 is that applied bacteria don’t survive in the soil indefinitely; after three to five years, soil bacteria numbers return to pre-treatment levels.
Working with the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and a team of resource scientists are moving toward federal registration of ACK55 as a biopesticide. Only then can a patented treatment be licensed for commercial sale and distribution.
Photo Caption:Firefighters battle a 2007 Nevada wildfire fueled in part by invasive cheatgrass. Credit: Sparks Tribune
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Chambers County Recovery Team (CHART)
Truth be told, I’m an S.O.B. – spouse of a birder.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to be outside and enjoy nature, but my husband knows my life list better than I do and my threshold for discomfort in pursuit of birds is far below his.
So, when he suggested we drive 100 miles to the Skillern Tract at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge one Monday afternoon and stalk a wayward migratory sandpiper, I hesitated.
Under normal circumstances I might not have paused, but we had our toddler in tow and our last birding excursion with her didn’t go so well since such outings with my husband mean waiting and walking, walking and waiting, and waiting and walking some more. No food, no bathroom, no breaks until the bird is seen.
If the Ruff hadn’t been a lifer, I would have said no way. But it was. So I went.
The drive from Houston took my family and me just over an hour and was relatively traffic free. When we pulled into the entrance off FM 1985, we saw a woman packing up a scope into a car with Arizona license plates.
My husband told my daughter and me that she wasn’t going to drive off without telling us if she got a look at the Ruff, a medium-sized shorebird that breeds in marshes and wet meadows across northern Europe and Asia.
The woman, who had been attending the Feather Fest in nearby Galveston, was more than happy to tell us about her Ruff sighting and tried to help us get our own. But after about 15 minutes without a look at the bird she decided to take off and told us she thought the Ruff had done the same.
My husband and I held on to hope and kept looking. Our toddler, meanwhile, was getting antsy. The Yo Gabba Gabba DVD she was watching in the car was almost over and she wanted “DOWN!”
So, for the next 30 minutes or so, my husband and I took turns chasing her on the blacktop road and looking out into the 300 acres of managed wetlands that attract thousands of shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl year round.
Just when we were ready to throw in the towel, my husband yelled, “I got it! Get over here!”
As usual, I didn’t get on the bird right away, which led to another short hunt. But finally, scanning the wetland grasses with my binocular, I saw the Ruff standing near a group of Long-Billed Dowitchers and Stilt Sandpipers.
It’s sandy-colored head, overall pale appearance and shorter bill made the bird stand out as much as a non-descript shorebird can.
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Lifer.”
“Yay,” my daughter clapped and we were on our way back home.
If my husband and I had been alone, we would have explored the tract’s viewing platform near East Bay Bayou, a great spot for hummingbirds, warblers and more.The Skillern Tract is located next to the bayou and is seven miles east of the main refuge entrance on FM 1985.
If you visit soon, you too might catch a glimpse of the Ruff. It was still there earlier this week. If the Ruff has decided to move on, there is plenty of other wildlife to be seen.
Click here to view a short video of the Skillern Tract at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
Click here for more information about birding in Southeast Texas as well as lodging in the area.
A map of favorite birding hotspots can be found here.
For more stories like this, visit: http://chamberswild.com
By: Keith Godwin
Spring is a perfect time to mix nature and the history of Texas in Chambers County. From the site of an old Spanish mission, to the site of an historic revolutionary Fort – all may be enjoyed in a short visit to the Wild side of Chambers County. Combine history with wildlife viewing, water sports or just relaxing – afforded at the parks and sites along a trail just off I-10 and Hwy 61 – and you have the makings of a great outdoor family or group excursion that beg to have you visit with a canoe, picnic basket, tackle box, camera and map of the County.
One begins at the Wallisville exit on I-10, just over the Trinity River Bridge going east from Houston – at the charming historic Wallisville Heritage Park, at the Wallisville Information Center. The Historical Markers here offer a fascinating insight to the early history of settlements in the area when early Pre-history indians lived nearby and the Spanish established a mission 1756.
Grab the information brochures on Chambers County and back on to I-10 for a short hop to exit Hwy 61 south to Anahuac. As soon as you turn right on 61 – you see entrance to Whites Park. As you drive the pine lined road in the Park – you will see the historic marker for the Turtle Bayou site, where the first cry for “resolution” in the Texas Revolution took place in 1832. This is a great place for outings due to the scenic picnic/camping areas, and Turtle Bayou offers canoeing excursions. Photography, bird and even gator watching – is also popular.
The last stop on this “historic” trail is Fort Anahuac Park in the city of Anahuac. Drive Hwy 61 to south and east into the historic downtown sites. Early Anahuac restorations make for a casual self-tour and history lesson. A short drive takes you on to the Anahuac Fort site – now a popular park and boating area overlooking the beautiful Channel entering from Trinity Bay. Large trees, kiddie playgrounds, picnic sites, and a large nature trail park add to the well-established boating ramps and special fishing sites. Deciding to stay overnight is easy – a variety of lodging is available here and other communities in Chambers.
There is so much nature, history and outdoor opportunities for fun in Chambers County communities – why not plan on making a weekend of it?! We encourage you to stop at one of the visitor centers in the area for further information.
For more stories like this, visit http://chamberswild.com
After crossing the bridge over the little man-made pond, the trail curves back around a corner in an enticing sort of way. This time of year is wonderful because the grass is lush, the trees are budding out with almost translucent green leaves and the wildflower blooms dot the edges of the path with purple and yellow.
I had, as I generally do, spent too much time in the visitor center and gift shop, where I eventually shelled out enough on books to get a free travel mug. (All proceeds go to the Friends of the Anahuac Refuge.) But it was good. Not only had I brushed up on my knowledge of local wildlife through the great exhibits, but I also had a nice chat with volunteer, Dorothy Anderson. She told me what folks had spotted lately on the trail so I would know a few things to look for.
I set out hoping most to see the bald eagles but would have been happy to see a wood duck or two at the nesting boxes, even though I don’t consider myself much of a birder. (A good birder friend of mine once referred to me as a “starry-eyed generalist.” Guilty as charged.) This was my first time on the quarter-mile trail, and I was so pleased with it already. The woods around me rustled with wildlife, probably small birds and lizards picking at the dried leaves. The trail dropped down until it actually cut into the earth exposing white spots of clam shell from another time when Karankawa may have sat on the banks of Turtle Bay for a clambake of sorts.
If the whole trail would have continued on this way, I would have called it beautiful and worth the walk, but then I took another curve and there was the boardwalk opening up over the edge of Lake Anahuac. That’s when things got kind of magical. I couldn’t see the open lake yet because I was still among the cypress trees. The sounds changed, – still the rustle of bird feathers, but now the slosh of large fish that surfaced only fast enough to turn your head and see the ripple it left on the water’s surface. I did once peek over the edge of the boardwalk to see a dark shadow about a foot-and-a-half long cross under me, an unidentified fish.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the movement of a dark water snake over the surface of the water. I stopped to watch him. I knew he was not a water moccasin but what exactly he was, I didn’t know. Good thing I had just bought a snake field guide in the gift shop. I pulled out my phone to snap a picture of him when I realize he was stalking a little frog. (Again, I couldn’t ID the frog, but there was actually a frog field guide back in the gift shop!) I switched the phone to video mode and waited.
The creepy fellow eased closer to the poor little frog that still didn’t move. It took a couple of minutes for the snake to slowly cross the span of only a few feet, but then just as it was about to strike, the frog sensed the danger and jumped away. The snake lunged forward and sped after the little guy, but it was too late. As fast as the snake was, the frog still covered more ground in two or three jumps and disappeared under the murky water. I realized I was holding my breath through this Discovery Channel moment.
I pointed the snake out to a couple who walked up behind me. In a beautiful Scandinavian accent, the woman said, “Lucky froggie.” Indeed.
I walked on to the end of the boardwalk at the edge of the trees where the water opened up in the expanse of Lake Anahuac. I hadn’t seen the bald eagles or the wood ducks. But it was ok. The trail was still the highlight of my day.
The Visitor Center is a good stop to include in any trip to Chambers County, but is what I would consider a Must Do if you are headed the Refuge. Not only is it a nice place to make a potty stop and stretch your legs after exiting the interstate, but you can pick up field guides, get an overview of flora and fauna from the excellent exhibits, and tap the most important resource offered, the volunteers. Find out what has been spotted recently in the area, what is expected, and if any activities, such as yellow rail walks, are taking place that day. Please remember to sign in!
The Visitor Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a half-hour lunch break from 12 to 12:30. Budget at least an hour of your time for this stop. If you have more time, you have a good chance of seeing more wild activity if you quietly sit at one of the benches along the trail and wait.
For more stories like, visit http://chamberswild.com/
Significant investment in landscape conservation and wildlife priorities
WASHINGTON, D.C.-NWRA applauds President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget for including important conservation priorities including the National Wildlife Refuge System and Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The President’s request includes $499 million for the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance (O&M) accounts; a level that importantly restores the cuts from sequestration and would ensure hunting, fishing and bird and wildlife watching opportunities are not lost to the public. An investment in the nation’s Refuge System is an excellent investment in the American economy. The System and its 45 million annual visitors contribute over $4 billion in economic output and provide more than $32 billion in ecosystem services.
The budget also outlines a path to full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, one of the nation’s most powerful land acquisition tools. This is in line with the priorities American’s want – clean air, clean water, places to recreate and keeping working lands working.
“President Obama has provided a budget proposal that keeps the American value of wildlife conservation at its core,” said David Houghton, President of NWRA. “We are particularly heartened by the use of mandatory funds for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the inclusion of the Everglades Headwaters in the request.”
The President’s strong support for collaborative conservation programs through the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative is an integral component of funding for future conservation successes. The NWRA-led Northern Everglades initiative, which includes the Everglades Headwaters NWR and Conservation Area, has become a national example of landscape conservation. The budget request includes $5M for the Everglades Headwaters, which will provide funds to jumpstart the effort to ensure clean water for South Florida, sustain critical wildlife corridors, and continue a traditional ranching way of life.
NWRA also commended the President on the funding request for two other NWRA priorities, the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas and Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge encompassing the entire Connecticut River Watershed in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, with requested amounts of $5M and $4.6M respectively for continued collaborative conservation work. These refuges are also the first two designated National Blueways and highlight the Administration’s dedication to protect our nation’s vital waterways and watersheds.
NWRA urges Congress to support the President’s funding request for the Refuge System, Land and Water Conservation Fund and wildlife conservation programs. Congress is expected to take up the President’s budget in May and pass a final appropriations bill by September 30.
The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge Association is to conserve America’s wildlife heritage for future generations through strategic programs
that protect, enhance, and expand the National Wildlife Refuge System and the landscapes beyond its boundaries.
For more stories like this, visit:http://refugeassociation.org/
Washington, D.C.--The National Wildlife Refuge Association today expressed its strong support for Sally Jewell as the next Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior following the Senate’s confirmation of her nomination last night. Jewell’s appreciation for the outdoors and wildlife as well as her extensive knowledge of the economic benefits of our natural resources will bring a unique perspective in the President’s cabinet.
"We are extremely pleased by the Senate’s confirmation of Sally Jewell to be the 51st Secretary of the Interior and look forward to working closely with her to grow our nation’s commitment to wildlife conservation at a landscape level, in places such as the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in Florida, the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in the Connecticut River watershed and Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas.” said David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “She will undoubtedly be an excellent spokesperson for the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative and will continue to bring attention to our nation’s great public lands.”
Jewell has earned national recognition for her management skills of the nearly $2 billion outdoor equipment company, REI. This expertise makes her uniquely qualified to lead an agency with hundreds of millions of acres of lands where Americans go to enjoy outdoor recreation.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The sun literally never sets on its 150 million acres spanning 560 units from Guam to Puerto Rico. Over 40 million annual visitors contribute over $4.2 billion in economic output and over 34,000 jobs from recreation-related spending. National wildlife refuges and their recreational opportunities is part of a growing industry in the United States. Jewell’s leadership at the helm of the Department of Interior comes at a crucial time.
“Sally Jewell has been a leader in the outdoor recreation industry using innovative strategies to protect and restore wildlife habitat throughout the Pacific Northwest and across the country; as Secretary of the Interior, she will have an opportunity to articulate and implement a larger conservation vision for the nation.” said Houghton. “We look forward to working with her to further the goals and mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Refuge System.”
For more stories like this, visit: http://refugeassociation.org/
Last holiday season, as they have since 1900, citizen scientists fanned out across America to count birds. The results from the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) demonstrate the importance of national wildlife refuges to birds.
At least 70 bird species have their country- or continent-wide high counts conducted at least partially on refuges. For example, nowhere else in North, South or Central America can a person find more snow geese than the 490,000 counted during the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge CBC in western Missouri. The same is true for the 37,000 tundra swans at Mattamuskeet Refuge in coastal North Carolina; the 30,000 sandhill cranes at Muleshoe Refuge in west Texas; and the 3,600 red-throated loons at Back Bay Refuge along Virginia’s southeastern coast.
Refuges in more than a dozen states and in every region host country-wide high counts for particular bird species.
“I have fond memories of visiting Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge every winter while I was growing up and marveling at the sight and sounds of 100,000 snow geese picking up off the water at once,” says National Audubon Society chief scientist Gary Langham. “The Christmas Bird Count data clearly show that refuges host enormous numbers of birds across the country.”
During the Christmas Bird Counts, volunteers nationwide follow routes within a 15-mile diameter circle and count all the individuals of all the bird species they see or hear. Some people count birds at their backyard feeders, while diehards are traipsing the backcountry well before dawn.
The CBC numbers are proof positive that the National Wildlife Refuge System, established in large part for migratory birds, is making a meaningful difference.
Many waterfowl species have their high counts on CBCs encompassing refuges, such as the 22,000 Ross’s geese at Merced Refuge in central California or the nearly 1,400 wood ducks at Pee Dee Refuge in the Piedmont of North Carolina. But refuges also host national high counts for a variety of other bird types, including falcons, hawks, cranes, galliformes, loons, petrels, albatross, shearwaters, boobies, tropicbirds, terns, plovers, sandpipers, dowitchers, rails, blackbirds, jays and flycatchers.
Merritt Island Refuge in Florida has the high count for federally threatened Florida scrub jays, Harris Neck Refuge in Georgia for clapper rails and Sabine Refuge in Louisiana for Forster’s tern. Even the ubiquitous red-winged blackbird has its continent-wide high count on a refuge-centered CBC: a staggering 3.2 million at Squaw Creek Refuge.
“National wildlife refuges provide quality habitat in strategic areas for migratory birds,” says Doug Brewer, manager at Virginia’s Back Bay Refuge. “The CBC high counts for red-throated loons and king rails here show the importance of this refuge at a critical time of year.”
The Friends of Anahuac Refuge was established in 1997 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Anahuac, TX.
For questions, call the refuge office at 409-267-3337.
P.O. Box 1348
Anahuac, TX 77514
Refuge Office Address:
4017 FM 563, Anahuac, TX 77514