FRIENDS OF ANAHUAC REFUGE
Check out the first edition of The Gulf Gazette! It is a newsletter from USFWS Inventory & Monitoring biologists working in the Gulf Coast Zone, including Anahuac NWR.
Attention beginner and expert birding enthusiasts!!
A FREE birding workshop is scheduled for December 15, 2014. The workshop is presented as a result of an exciting new partnership between Audubon Coastal Texas and The Friends of Anahuac Refuge (FOAR). The goals of this partnership are to conduct monthly free workshops to train volunteers to identify waterbirds along the upper Texas coast including Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and other good birding locations in this coastal area. The waterbird monitoring project is needed to first establish a baseline of numbers of birds and secondly to use the information to manage waterbird populations by species.
These workshops will teach volunteers how to collect information by waterbird monitoring at the coastal locations such as Anahuac refuge and other sites. This workshop will be approximately one hour and will be paired with a 1-2 hour field trip which will help volunteers become comfortable with identifying waterbirds and filling out the census form. Beginner and experienced birders are all welcome to participate.
The first workshop will begin at 9:00 am until approximately 10:00 am December 15, 2014 at the USFWS Chenier Plains NWR Complex Headquarters (ANWR Visitor Center) on FM563 about 2 miles south of I-10 and 4 miles north of Anahuac. Then there will be a 1-2 hour bird survey in the field ending by 12pm. Bring your binoculars and favorite field guide, Audubon will bring extras for those who have none. Also, bring a bottle water and a light snack for this event and wear weather appropriate clothing including walking shoes/hiking boots.
For additional information contact Travis Lovelace, 409 277-9112 or 409 252-3454 or email at email@example.com .
Ibis photo by Danni Hill Previte
Prescribed Fire and Other Heated Language
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service firefighters regularly reduce wildfire risk and help restore wildlife habitat by conducting prescribed burns at national wildlife refuges. When they do so, they use technical talk that can be confusing. Here’s a primer of some commonly used terms:
Wildland fire: Any fire burning in a natural area, either a prescribed fire or a wildfire.
Prescribed fire: A planned wildland fire started and managed by professional firefighters in accordance with an approved prescribed fire burn plan, which specifies allowable conditions for burning and desired results. Also called a prescribed burn. Sometimes called a controlled burn.
Drip torch: Hand-held steel canister with a spout commonly used by wildland fire specialists to ignite prescribed fires or fight wildfires by dispensing flaming liquid – a mixture of diesel and gasoline – onto burnable vegetation. Related tools include: flame thrower (aka Terra Torch ®), usually mounted on a truck, trailer or off-road vehicle, used to shoot a horizontal stream of gelled gasoline; helitorch, hung from or mounted on a helicopter to disperse ignited lumps of gelled gasoline from the air; and ping pong balls, plastic balls filled with flammable chemicals that are dropped from a helicopter and ignite after hitting the ground.
Fuels: Live or dead vegetation – such as grass, overgrown brush, trees or logging slash – that could fuel a wildfire. Also called hazardous fuels when referring to conditions creating high risk of wildfire.
Fuels management: The practice of reducing wildfire risk through planned and approved actions to thin or remove vegetation that could fuel a wildfire. Fuels treatments can also improve wildlife habitat and commonly are done on a rotating schedule using prescribed fire, mechanical removal with chainsaws or heavy equipment, and chemical treatment with herbicides. Also called hazardous fuels reduction when referring to conditions creating high risk of wildfire.
Control line: An inclusive term for constructed or natural barriers used to stop the spread of a wildland fire. The part scraped or dug to mineral soil is called a fireline.
Spot fire: A new fire start ignited outside of control lines by blowing or falling embers from the main fire. Wildland firefighters must routinely monitor for spot fires, which can occur miles away, depending on weather conditions.
Smoke management: Decisions and actions taken by wildland firefighters, land managers and air quality regulators, especially during prescribed fire, to minimize or divert smoke from settling into populated or high-traffic areas. This prevents health and safety hazards, such as poor air quality or impaired visibility. Managing smoke is more difficult during wildfires. It sometimes involves scientific monitoring of particulate levels and public notice of air quality.
Cohesive Strategy: An initiative of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture in which governmental and non-governmental organizations collaborate to manage wildland fire by responding to individual wildfires, supporting fire-adapted communities, and restoring and maintaining fire-resilient lands. It is officially known as the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.
Photo: USFWS Fire Crew working on wildfire on McFaddin NWR, 2013
For more stories like this visit: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/
FOAR Partnering with Audubon Texas for Waterbird Surveys, Volunteers Needed
The Friends of Anahuac Refuge (FOAR) is partnering with Audubon’s Texas Estuarine Resource Network (T.E.R.N.). TERN supports the Texas coastal areas, including 177 coastal islands. The goals of this partnership are to conduct monthly free workshops to train volunteers to identify waterbirds on or near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and to provide free guided field trips. This waterbird monitoring project is needed to first establish a baseline of numbers of birds and secondly to use the information to manage waterbird populations by species. Collected information will be shared with wildlife professionals such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (including the Anahuac NWR) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The program is designed to train individuals to conduct monitoring with a group or independently. These activities will then support continuing education so new birders are learning to identify waterbirds better, and experienced birders are sharing their knowledge with new or intermediate birders.
One of the first workshops will be the T.E.R.N. monitoring workshop to teach volunteers how to collect information on waterbird monitoring at the refuge and other sites. The workshop will be approximately two hours and will be paired with a 1-2 hours field trip to become comfortable with identifying birds and filling out the census form. Each survey takes 20 minutes to conduct and more than one location could be visited.
The second workshop will focus on identification of colonial waterbirds such as egrets, herons, Black Skimmers, cormorants, pelicans, ibis, etc. and how to identify these birds in breeding and winter plumage, or as juveniles. The workshop will be followed by a 1-2 hour field trip. This workshop was recently conducted in Galveston County and was a huge success with 30 people attending.
We need your help to get started on this exciting and important project. Come join novice and experienced birders to observe waterbirds and record theirs numbers and behaviors. I’m looking forward to all of us gaining experience and knowledge and to learn of new areas for birding.
For more information about volunteering for this project on the refuge,
please contact Travis Lovelace at (409) 252-3454 or (409) 277-9112 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Refuge Rangers Fight Myths about Creepy Crawlies and Other Wildlife
It’s not just snakes. Other wild creatures inspire exaggerated fears, too: bats; spiders; birds; fish – yes, fish.
In the course of greeting tens of thousands of visitors a year, rangers on national wildlife refuges bump up against many such bugbears. They know which natural–world denizens invariably make some people flinch or go ewww.
One thing they’ve noticed: Whether it’s because today’s visitors tend to live more indoor lives than past generations or watch too many TV survival shows, fears of nature are flourishing -- in all ages.
“We’re seeing more kids sheltered and afraid,” says Ashley Inslee, a biologist at Bosque del Apache Refuge in New Mexico. “Even college kids interested in conservation haven’t been out hunting, fishing, hiking. They’ve seen TV shows or National Geographic and think being outdoors is cool, but it can be uncomfortable at first.”
Different tactics are called for at Florida’s J.N. “Ding” Darling Refuge, where gators are star attractions. “There should be a natural fear we have of them, and they of us; it’s a good thing to be fearful of a large predator like an alligator,” says supervisory refuge ranger Toni Westland. But she puts visitors’ fears in perspective. “We tell them we’re not going to have alligators jumping out of bushes. It’s safe. But it’s only safe because we respect wild animals and don’t feed them.”
Some visitors want to beat back old fears. Mary Stumpp signed on this winter as a volunteer at crane-filled Bosque del Apache Refuge undefined an odd choice for someone with a lifelong fear of birds. Her task: using a tractor to mow corn for feeding sandhill cranes. Slowly, she grew accustomed to seeing flocks overhead. Writes Stumpp, “I began to see the cranes not as a threat but as beautiful creatures. To my surprise, I began to care about them…”
To help anxious visitors, refuge staffers share some proven tactics:
Admit fears of their own. Visitors may be surprised to hear refuge staffers aren’t all fearless. Bosque del Apache Refuge’s deputy manager Aaron Mize owns up to a fear of heights and snakes.
Find out what they know. At Patuxent Refuge, staff meets students on familiar turf before a refuge visit, and throws softball questions: “Do you spend any time outside? What’s your favorite animal?” Staff also invites students to confide fears in writing so they are not embarrassed in front of classmates.
Don’t dissemble. To a child nervous about snakes, you might try: ‘There are snakes here, but we almost never see any. That’s because they’re shy, and they can feel the ground tremble, and they go and hide when they hear people coming.’
Educate about feeding a wild animal. Remind people that wildlife loses their fear of humans if regularly fed by visitors. And tell them never to challenge wildlife.
Let kids adjust at their own pace. Let young people decide if they want to touch a live frog or snake. Respect youngsters’ rights to say “no”. Some refuge staff appoint an anxious young visitor to become their assistant for a day.
Show enthusiasm. Students see that you’re not afraid and they respond. When a youngster sees salamanders and turtles and responds, ‘Oh gross,’ that’s your chance to say, ‘No, they’re so cool,” and explain why.
These kids at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, AZ, are none too sure that they want to get near that snake, harmless as it is. Photo by Andrea Brophy.
For more stories like this, visit: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/
By Jim Kurth
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System
I sometimes wonder how many professions can claim to have friends like we do.
I doubt there are “Friends of the IRS” or “Friends of Podiatrists.” Not that those aren’t noble enterprises, but I doubt that they would draw a loyal following.
What is it about our profession that draws people to volunteer their time and offer money to help? Honestly, it really isn’t about us. People care about the wildlife they find at national wildlife refuges. There is a special sense of place that refuges evoke. People experience more than mere “fun” at refuges. They find deeply personal meanings that are essential to self-identity.
You will hear people talk about “the swamp” or “the beach” or “the marsh” as if there were no others. They talk about my refuge with a reverence and a sense of stewardship. Our Friends and volunteers have a personal relationship with these special places and the wild creatures that live here.
I remember a volunteer who was the first treasurer of the Seney Natural History Association, the Friends organization at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Harold Peters was an 86-year-old retired game warden. He came in every day to count the money from the bookstore and deposit it in the local bank. He would recount stories about his career – stories a lot older than I was.
He told me about the time he was on patrol during the second week of deer season when a big snowstorm blew in and his Model A Ford was stuck in the backwoods all winter. He went back in the spring to discover that porcupines had eaten the wooden spokes off of all the wheels.
His stories were the stories of his connection to the place, and he wanted to share those connections with me.
Refuges draw people from local communities together for a common cause. Many times local communities have rich histories with places that are now called national wildlife refuges. The culture of communities is often anchored in a long-standing relationship with the land. Friends groups are special communities that share a strong connection to their refuge and its wildlife.
These two characteristics – a sense of place and a sense of community – are the essential keys to effective stewardship. Conservation is like politics: All effective conservation is local.
Our Friends and volunteers are the essential core of support for effective conservation. Their collective efforts make a huge difference for the National Wildlife Refuge System. And they know how to have fun. They have my thanks and admiration.
For more stories like this, visit: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/index.html
I&M Plans: Useful Game Changers
Last spring, at Little River National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in a strip mall in Broken Bow, OK, eight U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees pored over every known survey conducted at the refuge. It’s a scene that will be repeated at hundreds of refuges and wetland management districts over the next five years.
Little River Refuge was one of five refuges in five regions that agreed to pilot the development of individual refuge inventory and monitoring (I&M) plans. The others were Muscatatuck Refuge, IN; Rachel Carson Refuge, ME; Kodiak Refuge, AK; and Anaho Island Refuge, NV. Morris Wetland Management District in Minnesota recently became the first WMD to hold a similar workshop.
They were doing so because Refuge Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) Policy signed in January requires each station to write an I&M plan that identifies surveys to be conducted in the next 10-15 years. The plans will look beyond refuge boundaries to examine landscape-scale conservation potential. The plans also will enable current and future refuge staff members to understand which surveys were conducted and why.
Survey protocols will be reviewed for scientific rigor, and the policy includes a peer-reviewed handbook, How to Develop Survey Protocols.
The policy also adds an important practical aspect to monitoring.
“It’s not just the monitoring that we have always done, but monitoring intended to inform and influence management decisions – that’s the game changer. To do that, the data must get analyzed, and the results must get written up,” said Mark Chase, director of the Natural Resource Program Center in Fort Collins, CO, where the I&M program is based.
The Little River Refuge team spent a day putting each survey through a prioritization tool. The group looked hard at which surveys were critical to refuge operations and which were helpful but not vital. Turkey surveys scored low. Surveys for threatened American burying beetles ranked high because of an Endangered Species Act Section 7 requirement; they were selected for the I&M plan.
Paige Schmidt, an Oklahoma-based I&M zone biologist, described her approach to developing the Little River Refuge plan.
“I prepared by consulting with the policy to find what the requirements were, and then I assembled a team,” she said. “We wanted someone from the national office to answer policy questions, the Southwest Region I&M coordinator to help ensure consistency across the region, and other local colleagues who could both lend experience on the subject matter and learn from the experience of Little River.”
Bill Pyle, supervisory biologist at Kodiak Refuge, said the refuge’s 2007 comprehensive conservation plan and recent science review “provided a framework that really expedited development of the I&M plan. We just modified objectives to consider new factors like climate change.”
The Midwest Region starts with habitat monitoring plans and takes I&M plans a step further. “We do a cost-benefit analysis, and ask the refuge staff to estimate the amount of time they have to do surveys,” said zone biologist Sean Blomquist. The region develops sets of survey combinations, and the refuge selects the surveys that best meet high priority information needs and can be accomplished with available staff.
Anaho Island Refuge, with I&M team assistance, used the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation to ensure surveys were aligned with refuge objectives.
Little River Refuge manager David Weaver was pleased with the process, recognizing that it’s important to have a clear and concise plan for current and future staff members.
“You have a document that is going to be usable,” he said. “I can read through this is an hour or two, and it’s easy to follow and understand.”
As Climate Changes, So Do Fire StrategiesAs warmer temperatures and drier conditions in much of the United States have led to earlier and longer-lasting fires, some wildland fire managers have modified firefighting tactics, taken steps to reduce public health hazards and adjusted the timing of seasonal hiring.
“In the words of hockey player Wayne Gretzky, we skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been,” said Refuge System fire ecologist Lou Ballard. “In addition to planning for climate change, even when managing an ongoing fire, we must anticipate what the weather and [vegetation] fuel loading will allow us to do and where those points of control or protection exist.”
In the Southeast, firefighters on forested wetlands have faced several large wildfires in recent years – including two each at Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Georgia’s Okefenokee Refuge, and one each at Pocosin Lakes Refuge and Alligator River Refuge in North Carolina. These fires produced sustained smoke and embers smoldering as deep as eight feet into organic peat soils.
To address the challenges, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fire specialists Sue Wilder and Kelley Van Druten gathered 50 experts for a 2½-day symposium at the Coastal North Carolina National Wildlife Refuges Gateway Visitor Center in Manteo late last year.
The symposium covered priority wildlife needs, hydrology and sea-level rise resiliency projects, fire danger rating for organic soils, mineral cycling/subsidence and accretion as well as management concerns, challenges and best management practices related to fire.
A key symposium finding was the need to continue work with partners and neighbors to install more water control structures at refuges. Such devices allow refuges to reduce saltwater intrusion into wetlands, specifically at Alligator River Refuge, and move in fresh water during drought conditions. That keeps peat from drying out and becoming flammable at refuges like Pocosin Lakes and Great Dismal Swamp.
Additionally, as sea-level rise increases salinity in soil, forested wetlands are dying and being replaced by salt-tolerant shrubs and then marsh. During this transition, standing or fallen dead trees increase fuel for wildfires. Land managers are experimenting with ways to decrease saltwater intrusion and slow these changes, including planting salt-tolerant tree species and installing special water control structures.
Furthermore, managers are focused on soil subsidence and accretion studies to help identify the right frequency and extent to use prescribed fire to stimulate plant productivity and biomass accumulation in peat soils. The resultant soils may help combat rising sea level. However, if burns are conducted too frequently or burn too hot, then biomass will not accumulate. Because peat soils are major source of carbon sequestration, if prescribed burns go too deeply into the soils, carbon is released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
“Alligator River was established to protect forested wetlands, so we want to hold onto them as long as we can,” said Van Druten, a wildlife refuge specialist for North Carolina Coastal Plain Refuge Complex. “We are really struggling to find that balance between burning for either [reduced] fuels or habitat management, without adding that additional stressor that is going to tip the scales and push the habitat irreversibly towards shrub and then marsh.”
CAPTION The 2011 Pains Bay fire at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina is one of several fires in the Southeast in recent years that have produced sustained smoke and embers smoldering as deep as eight feet into organic peat soils. (USFWS)
For more stories like this, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/
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