FRIENDS OF ANAHUAC REFUGE
By Jim Kurth
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System
Things seem like they are getting back to normal after the 16-day government shutdown. I know that was a stressful time for all.
For U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, I'm not sure who was more frustrated -- those few who worked or the majority who was told they couldn't. Volunteers and Friends weren't allowed to help. People couldn't visit and enjoy their national wildlife refuges. Hunting trips were missed. Wildlife festivals and special events, including National Wildlife Refuge Week, were cancelled. Lots of important work didn't get done.
Let's hope we never do that again.
Perhaps the only good thing was welcoming people back. Service Director Dan Ashe was at our Headquarters Office early that day, meeting employees at the door and thanking them for the work they do. I know that scene was repeated over and over throughout the Refuge System. As we get back to work, we are faced with uncertain and challenging times.
Just before the shutdown, I sent Director Ashe a memo highlighting the effects of the budget cuts we have endured over the past three years. It pained me to describe how we were doing far less prescribed burning, wetland restoration and invasive species work than we had in the past. Our volunteer hours dropped by 8 percent because of inability to support them. Visitation continues to increase, putting additional pressure on employees to provide services. It doesn't appear that budgets are going to improve anytime soon. So while we hope for the best, we make plans for additional cuts.
Friends of wildlife refuges have probably seen these changes on your own refuge: more visitors, more demand, less staff to do the work. You have probably stepped forward to carry more tasks, whether welcoming visitors, helping with wildlife surveys, or getting on a tractor. We can't do our work without you. Not only do you bring innovative ideas, but you bring a public voice for the Refuge System.
In my 34 years of working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I can hardly think of a time when Friends’ perspective and voices have been needed more. Thanks for all you do for the Refuge System.
For more stories like this, visit
The Banking On Nature report released this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that national wildlife refuges are a good investment for American taxpayers and a boost to local economies. It found that...
...for every $1 Congress provides in funding to run the National Wildlife Refuge System, almost $5 on average is returned to local communities.
Anahuac NWR was one of 92 refuges selected for the report that shows a remarkable trend of increased visitation to refuges and increased economic contribution to local communities. Not only is it great that visitation has increased, but the increase occurred during the height of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. From 2006 to 2011, refuge visitation across the country increased by 30 percent and overall economic output from refuges increased by 22 percent, resulting in an annual $2.4 billion returned to local economies every year.
Anahuac NWR is a just a portion of the economic benefits created by the National Wildlife Refuge System. In addition to the $2.4 billion the refuge system generates, refuges brought in over 46 million visitors in 2011, a 30% increase from 2006. They create 35,000 jobs annually and produce nearly $800 million in job income for local communities.
FWS anticipates the upward trend in refuge visits and local economic stimulus will continue. However, the National Wildlife Refuge Association and over 230 refuge Friends groups are concerned that with recent budget cuts and more on the horizon, visitation will decrease as refuges close to visitors due to lack of staff and resources.
450 staff positions across the country are at risk to be cut by the end of next year with further budget reductions. Hunting and wildlife watching programs could end and volunteer efforts will be limited due to lack of staff to provide oversight. Nearly 20 refuges may lose their staff completely.
Anahuac NWR is a substantial economic driver that is at risk of losing it capability to provide benefits to the area. This is where being a Friends member makes a difference. We are a voice for the refuges and you are needed to make us heard. The Visitor Center, the almost completed Visitor Information Station, hunting, fishing, volunteer work days, and events like Fishing Day and the upcoming Expo are all at risk for being eliminated in the future with further budget cuts. Contact your representatives and share this report with them.
Information above gathered from the Banking on Nature report and the National Wildlife Refuge Association
You might be wondering how a government shut down will impact our 561 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. To begin with – they will all be closed to the public. This includes hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, school trips – anything. Employees or refuge volunteers may NOT volunteer their services. If you are a Friends member or refuge volunteer, if you have anything you might need from the refuge itself, you should get it today. You will not be allowed on the refuge until the government opens again. If you have an upcoming celebration for Refuge Week (October 13-19) and it occurs on a refuge, it will be contingent on the government opening back up – you should make plans with refuge staff on what to do in case the government stays closed for several days, a week or longer. And, should the refuge open in time for your festival, know what your plans are to go forward. Some FWS staff are “essential” and will be working and available via e-mail and phone – but the vast majority of staff are not essential and will NOT answer e-mails or phone calls; they could be fired if they do.
FWS overall estimates that it will take a half day to shut down most operations; they anticipate that they will need another 100 employees from across FWS that will stay up to 8 hours, and in some cases more, to assure property is secured. Of the approximately 3500 Refuge System staff, about 310 are considered “essential”. Throughout the entire FWS, essential staff include animal caretakers, who must feed and care for live animals; refuge management personnel who are expected to protect federal property and public safety; essential infrastructure personnel who are essential to providing support services, such as information technology and building security to other excepted employees; and law enforcement officers, including refuge law enforcement and special agents. FWS will not retain staff at every refuge, but will have a Refuge Manager or Federal Wildlife Officer at every station with on-site staff, including major refuge complexes.
For more information, read the FWS Shut Down plan and Fact Sheet which includes not only refuges but endangered species, fisheries, fire programs and others:
Fact Sheet: http://www.doi.gov/shutdown/fy2014/upload/FWS-Fact-Sheet.pdf
Original story posted here: http://refugeassociation.org/2013/09/government-shut-down-and-national-wildlife-refuge-system-what-happens/
A Look Back … Harold Benson
Harold Benson and his wife, Betty, had just bought a house near Washington, DC, when Harold said, “we’re going to North Dakota.”
“There’s no trees out there, are there?” she asked.
“No, this is an opportunity for a new employee to go out and see if he can do anything,” he replied.
And so, in 1958, Benson began building the Small Wetlands Acquisition Program, which uses Duck Stamp proceeds and conservation easements to protect migratory bird and waterfowl habitat, mainly in the Prairie Pothole Region.
“Back in those early years,” recalled Benson in an oral history interview at the National Conservation Training Center, “we spent all the money we could spend, and I know, myself, I had taken almost 200 agreements the first year.”
Benson was born in Minneapolis in 1929. He graduated with a degree in forestry from the University of Minnesota before serving in the Korean War and beginning a 30-year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1958.
He was an early leader in two other major conservation efforts – the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan of 1986. He became the first assistant regional director for federal aid and endangered species, writing the first biological opinion on the Everglade kite. Later, as chief of refuges in the Southeast Region, Benson worked on the joint ventures that were critical to the success of the North American Plan. Charles Baxter, the first joint venture coordinator for the Lower Mississippi Valley, says Benson “had a personal interest in the success of the plan. And his management style was such that he came to basically every meeting … so I always had a supervisor that understood what I was doing.”
Benson received the Department of the Interior Distinguished Service Award in 1995. His pioneering leadership in the Small Wetlands Acquisition Program (SWAP) was recognized in 2008 when the Harold W. Benson Memorial Waterfowl Production Area was re-named in his honor at Chase Lake Wetland Management District in North Dakota.
Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative to Reach Millions with Conservation Connections
Recognizing that 80 percent of Americans live in big and small cities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has forged a multi-faceted Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative to make its programs reflect the diverse perspectives, values and cultures of America today. Ultimately, the Initiative will make the Service’s programs far more relevant to millions of Americans, giving them myriad ways to participate in wildlife conservation and recreation.
The Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative grows out of the Service’s Conserving the Future process, which set a strategic path for the National Wildlife Refuge System for the next decade or so. The Initiative is built on four major elements:
The first-time Urban Academy will train participants not only how to understand cultural diversity, but also how to overcome barriers, create partnerships, and understand and engage new audiences.
The first eight Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships, designed to help set the stage for expanding the nation’s conservation constituency, were established this year; three more will be established by 2015. The Director’s Order formally establishes the Urban Wildlife Refuge Designation and Partnership program, creating a new category of partnership-based lands that are neither owned by the Service nor governed by the Department of the Interior. Instead, they are in urban areas where people can enjoy outdoor experiences that foster connections with fish and wildlife resources and promote active engagement of people in the natural world.
For more stories like this, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/
In at the Start
We recently focused our Refuge Update newsletter on some of our newer refuges, and it brought back great memories of the early days of my career when I had the opportunity to work on three new refuges. I began my career with the Fish and Wildlife Service in late 1979 at Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. The first land was purchased in 1975; staff showed up two years later.
When I arrived, land acquisition was progressing quickly. The staff had grown to six, all of us younger than 35. We used an old FEMA trailer as our office. I shared one of the bedrooms as an office with the other assistant manager. We couldn’t stand up at the same time because our chairs would collide and trap our legs under the old battleship gray, military surplus desks.
We didn’t care. We had important work to do.
The cranes numbered fewer than 40 birds. They had been pushed to the brink of extinction because of ill-conceived plans to drain the Gulf coastal savanna, exclude fire, and convert them to slash pine plantations. In 1981, there were only two nests and only one chick was known to have fledged. We began the slow process of restoring habitat and reintroducing fire.
The first release of cranes raised from a captive flock at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center took place in 1981. When I left Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge in 1983, we didn’t know whether we could save the birds from extinction, but I felt our work might make the difference.
Today the picture is much brighter. A record 39 nests were found this year. The refuge has a sophisticated fire program that has greatly improved habitat, and an outstanding biological program that not only tracks how the cranes are doing, but has also learned a lot about other creatures that live in the savannas and wetlands.
I know budgets are a real problem for folks in the field, but it’s hard not to recognize the tremendous progress that has been made. I had a lot of fun back then, working with great people for a great cause. I am proud of my many colleagues who have carried on the work over the past 30 years – at Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge, and at Bogue Chitto and Bon Secour Refuges, which we administered from Mississippi immediately after they were established.
Working on a new refuge reminds me of being a parent: You never tire of watching your kids grow, and you marvel at the things they accomplish.
By Dan Ashe, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The past few years have been a time of immense change for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as we have begun to transform our organization to meet the enormous conservation challenges of the 21st century.
We are proud of our heritage – more than 150 years of “Conserving the Nature of America,” led by visionaries such as “Ding” Darling and Rachel Carson, and driven by the work of thousands of past and present conservation professionals.
But we have to be more efficient and effective to sustain and expand our successes in the face of increasing habitat fragmentation and degradation, a changing climate and other growing global conservation challenges. That’s why we’ve put so much effort into developing our surrogate species approach to strategic habitat conservation and into implementing Conserving the Future for the Refuge System.
I know our new Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, will help us achieve our conservation mission despite obstacles in front of us.
She will surely carry on the great legacy of former Secretary Ken Salazar. Secretary Salazar was, and is, a friend not only to me but to the entire Service. He was at our side in Madison in July 2011 when we set our course for the Refuge System. Under his leadership, we established 10 national wildlife refuges. He energized President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative and spearheaded the National Blueways System.
History will regard him as a conservation hero, and he leaves an outstanding legacy to Secretary Jewell.
Importantly, Secretary Jewell recognizes the work of public servants and understands the vital role of public service in our nation’s life. I was happy and proud that in her first town hall with Interior folks she talked about the importance of diversity and noted the strides the Service has made.
To echo Secretary Jewell, we must ensure that public lands and their stories are relevant “to all Americans, not just a subset of Americans, and it begins right here and doing the job here at Interior and setting the right example.”
The Secretary began her career as a petroleum engineer. She later worked in exploration and production and moved on to the world of commercial banking, serving as an energy and natural resources expert. She then shifted her focus again, leading outdoor retailer REI.
She understands the importance of the connection between Americans and our natural resources – and the need to balance energy development with strong wildlife and habitat protection. I’m looking forward to her ideas for managing energy development on refuges and public lands while reconnecting Americans with their natural heritage.
And Secretary Jewell is an avid sportswoman with a love for the outdoors. I was at Nationals Park watching a baseball game recently and the beer man actually echoed one of Secretary Jewell’s most important ideas. He told me: “If you can’t have fun at work, go home!” Too often, we become wrapped up in process and lose sight of the joy of conservation and the outdoors. The Secretary has challenged us to have fun at work. She knows that we work on important issues but understands the need to avoid taking ourselves too seriously.
I am excited to work with Secretary Jewell and know she will bring a great, fresh and fun perspective to the Interior Department and conservation in America.
Visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/ for more stories like this.
The times, they are a-changin’. In fact, the times have already changed in the U.S.
Today, 80 percent of residents live in big and little cities, far removed from the rural communities that brought close connections to wildlife. Caucasian Americans are projected to be 47 percent of the population in 2050, compared to 85 percent in 1960. Hispanic Americans will make up nearly 30 percent of the population in 2050, up from just 3.5 percent in 1960.
The Conserving the Future Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative is one way the Refuge System is working within the context of change. The initiative is assembling strategies to help the Refuge System build sustainable support among a new conservation constituency.
“How do we teach a new generation to love the land when pavement is what they usually meet?” asked Marcia Pradines, co-chair of the Urban Initiative implementation team. “How do we help children find inspiration in nature when they spend so much time indoors and plugged in? Those are just the questions the Urban Initiative is designed to answer.”
Urban Academy: Measuring Up to Standards of Excellence
The Urban Academy, Sept. 23-25 at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia, is one element of the Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative. There, more than 20 Friends will join about 150 participants to learn not only how to understand cultural diversity, but also how to overcome barriers, create partnerships and to understand and engage new audiences.
Central to the Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative are the Standards of Excellence to help refuges better serve urbanized communities. The Standards will be open for public comment through most of September on http://americaswildlife.org/.
Equally central to the Wildlife Refuge Urban Initiative is establishment of seven Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships this year and three more by 2015. The partnerships enable the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with key community organizations to expand the nation’s conservation constituency. The seven partnerships are:
PHOTO CAPTION: One of seven new Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships will bring a conservation message to Masonville Cove, a poor neighborhood in Baltimore. Here, children fish at the cove, an inlet of Chesapeake Bay. (Courtesy of National Aquarium)
To combat mortality rates of little brown bats, biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies have investigated the potential for using decommissioned military bunkers on national wildlife refuges as artificial hibernacula for imperiled bats affected by white-nose syndrome. The disease is responsible for 75 to 90 percent declines in the species population since 2007.
In December 2012, 30 hibernating little brown bats were collected from two hibernacula in New York and Vermont and placed in a bunker for hibernation at Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge in northern Maine. In March 2013, biologists found that, although there was mortality among the bats, abandoned military bunkers can create suitable habitat and may provide a useful strategy to conserve bats affected by white-nose syndrome.
Close up of little brown bat with white-nose fungus, found in New York in 2008.
Photo courtesy of Microbe World
I can hardly believe it has been more than two years since we held the Conserving the Future conference in Madison, WI. I think back on that event when I need inspiration. There were so many powerful speeches, so much enthusiasm and so much hope for the future. It was a lot of work, too.
It was a stressful week for me personally. My mother called Wednesday morning to tell me Dad had been moved to hospice. I thought I was going to have to leave that day. He rallied a little bit, so I stayed. I was with him the following Thursday when he died.
Life gives us all moments that are inspirational and precious, others that are difficult and defining. But we always have to move forward.
We have done a great job of capturing the spirit of Madison in our vision document, Conserving the Future. More important, we have made great progress in implementing that vision. Our Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative is taking shape; our strategic growth policy is under Directorate review; a new communications strategy has been drafted; our inventory and monitoring program is growing. The list of accomplishments is impressive. You can find out more at Conserving the Future Progress web site.
Much remains to be done. Yet, the fiscal challenges we face are daunting. We are going to have fewer people and fewer dollars over the next couple of years. We spent two years crafting a vision for the future of the National Wildlife Refuge System that aspires to do more, not less. But we also spent those years defining what is important.
We laid out a vision of how refuges fit into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s science-based, landscape-scale conservation framework. We reflected on how we must remain relevant in a changing America and build a connected conservation constituency. We described the leadership it would take. Our vision for conserving the future is focused. We can go as fast or as slow as circumstances allow. But we are moving forward; there is no looking back. So stay focused and positive – because our work is incredibly important.
View the Conserving the Future Vision
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