FRIENDS OF ANAHUAC REFUGE
In at the Start
By Jim Kurth
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System
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.
For more stories like this, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/
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
A strain of naturally occurring soil bacteria tested on national wildlife refuges and other western lands may soon offer a safe new way to manage cheatgrass, an aggressive plant pest.
Cheatgrass is a Eurasian invasive plant 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 of the west, cheatgrass is spreading at the rate of thousands of acres per day, endangering many animal species and habitats. 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 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 National Wildlife Refuges Complex in Washington.
In addition to the Service, 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 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 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 Refuge in Idaho. In December 2012, the 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, that is being tested by other researchers,” says Fred Wetzel, Service national wildland fire and emergency response advisor and ACK55 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.”
Many land managers recognize that control of this invasive grass will require more than one management method.
Ann C. Kennedy, a soil microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, discovered ACK55 and devised a method to apply it. Kennedy stresses ACK55’s safety. She says the native soil bacteria inhibit just three grass species: cheatgrass, medusa head and jointed goatgrass. All are invasive species in 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.
By applying ACK55 in the fall, scientists aim to give the cold-loving native bacteria time to colonize the soil before the spring growing season. “One of the issues with cheatgrass is it greens up early in spring, so it gets a head start on other plants and outcompetes them,” says Gregg. “What we’re trying to do is remove that competitive edge so native plants can survive.”
Working with the EPA, the Service and an interagency 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. Diaz-Soltero sees licensing as five or more years off. “The registration process is long, and it’s science,” she says. “We have to do the work systematically and thoroughly, dealing with challenges and questions as they arise.”
Invasive cheatgrass is spreading In the Great Basin and elsewhere, fueling wildfires and disrupting fragile ecosystems. Service biologist Michael Gregg believes that a strain of naturally occurring soil bacteria can be effective in managing cheatgrass. (Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service)
A new U.S. Geological Survey study, using data collected at national wildlife refuges and other sites, found a steep drop in the numbers of frogs, toads and salamanders across the country. The study shows widespread species declines even in protected areas such as refuges.
On average, amphibian populations studied vanished from habitats at a rate of 3.7 percent each year. At that rate, these species would disappear from half of their current habitats in about 20 years. More threatened species disappeared from their studied habitats at a rate of 11.6 percent each year. At that rate, these species would disappear from half of their current habitats in about six years.
Scientists with the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative analyzed nine years of data from 34 sites − including 10 national wildlife refuges – and covering 48 species. The refuges were: Buenos Aires, AZ; Coldwater River, MS; Great Bay, WI; Neal Smith, IA; Rachel Carson, ME; Upper Mississippi River, MN, WI, IL, IA; William L. Finley, OR; Eastern Massachusetts; Canaan Valley, WV; and Klamath Marsh, OR.
“Amphibians have been a constant presence in our planet’s ponds, streams, lakes and rivers for 350 million years or so, surviving countless changes that caused many other groups of animals to go extinct,” said USGS Director Suzette Kimball. “This is why the findings of this study are so noteworthy; they demonstrate that the pressures amphibians now face exceed the ability of many of these survivors to cope.”
The study found declines even in species presumed to be relatively stable and widespread. Declines were documented nationwide, from the swamps in Louisiana and Florida to the high mountains of the Sierras and the Rockies.
“Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said USGS ecologist Michael Adams, the lead author of the study. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”
The study did not evaluate causes of decline, but researchers speculated disease and climate warming were among contributing factors. The decline in amphibian numbers affects humans because amphibians control pests, provide medicines, feed other animals and help make ecosystems work.
The study – reportedly the first to measure the rate at which amphibians are disappearing – was published in the journal PLOS ONE: http://bit.ly/13LZcRu
A recent U.S. Geological Survey study found a rapid decline in the population of amphibians nationwide. This spring peeper frog is sitting on a leaf at West Virginia’s Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, one of 10 refuges involved in the study. (Ken Sturm/USFWS)
By Susan Morse
What have 30 years of research and monitoring on Maine seabirds taught us? That the marine environment is changing fast. That ocean birds may be failing to adapt. That few threats – from ocean warming and offshore energy development to competition from commercial fisheries − could have been foreseen when Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge staff began the work in the early 1980s.
For the work, the refuge received a 2012 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence.
The refuge, which comprises more than 50 islands, is using the research and monitoring data to manage seabird colonies and, it hopes, stem the birds’ decline.
Consider the Arctic tern. Its 36,000-plus-mile annual migration from Antarctica wintering grounds to Maine breeding grounds is the world’s longest; the bird makes the equivalent of two round trips to the moon in its 30-year lifetime.
Small light-sensing units called geolocators have documented the distance flown. But in recent years, counts of Arctic terns have dropped by 42 percent, from 4,224 pairs in 2008 to 2,467 pairs in 2012. “There are fewer pairs of Arctic terns breeding in the Gulf of Maine, and those terns that do breed are producing fewer chicks,” says refuge biologist Linda Welch.” They’re doing very poorly.”
Some researchers suspect climate change is disrupting the birds’ food chain. “So it might be the birds can’t find enough food to rebuild their body stores and regain the energy they need to fly from Antarctica all the way back to the coast of Maine in good enough shape to start breeding again,” says Welch.
Or take the great shearwaters that summer in the Gulf of Maine. Satellite tags show the large birds forage across the entire gulf – not just near the coast, says Welch. She hopes developers will consider that when deciding where to place proposed offshore wind farms.
Tracking devices may help researchers determine why some Maine seabirds can’t find enough fish to feed their chicks. Arctic terns forage for herring and other small fish at the water surface; unlike puffins and razorbills, they can’t dive. The refuge’s Machias Seal Island once hosted the largest tern colony in the gulf. But in 2007, a fish shortage led 3,500 tern pairs to abandon their nests. “They haven’t raised any chicks since,” says Welch.
Other Maine colonies are having similar trouble. While the problem appears worst for Arctic and roseate terns, puffins and razorbills are affected. Puffins are generally still able to produce chicks, but often those chicks are smaller, says Welch.
Marine productivity levels, currents and water temperature all influence fish distribution. Increased Arctic ice melt could also affect water chemistry and fish location. “It’s not an easy problem,” says Welch.
New tracking technology is making seabird research easier. But interpretation of movement patterns, population changes and productivity rates relies heavily on visual data painstakingly collected over the past 30 years. It’s not glamorous work. Each summer, seasonal technicians live on the colonies and monitor the seabirds. They document how many pairs return to the colony, how many eggs are laid, how many of those eggs hatch, how often chicks are fed, and which species of fish are brought to the chicks. Researchers compare notes with U.S. and Canadian conservation partners also monitoring the gulf.
“Having a long-term monitoring effort has been critical to our understanding of changes in productivity and seabird diet,” says Welch. “For example, with the Arctic terns, we had 25 years of population growth. Now we have five years of population decline. Our management actions haven’t changed. Our predator control actions haven’t changed. So we know something else has changed.”
PHOTO CAPTION:Arctic tern counts have dropped sharply in recent years at Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which received a 2012 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence for its seabird research and monitoring. The tern’s 36,000-plus-mile annual migration from its Antarctica wintering grounds to its Maine breeding grounds is the world’s longest. (USFWS)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced the recipients of the Environmental Leadership Awards.
These awards recognize the Service's offices and employees for their exceptional achievements in sustainable design/green buildings, recycling, waste/pollution prevention, energy efficiency and renewable energy, environmental management systems, environmental cleanup/restoration, minimized petroleum use in transportation, and green purchasing.
This year's awards were given in four main categories: Refuge of the Year Award, Hatchery of the Year Award, Facility/Office Environmental Leadership Awards and the Individual Environmental Leadership Award.
The Texas Chenier Plain National Wildlife Refuge Complex’s Winnie Depot and Visitor Center-Headquarters have each received the Facility/Office Environmental Leadership Award for ‘Building the Future.’
"These two facilities are representative of the forward thinking leadership and innovation within the Service and demonstrate our commitment to protecting the environment through green construction," said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Director for the Southwest Region. "We are committed to doing our part to protect wildlife and their habitat and this is exemplified in the design and construction of these facilities."
The Winnie Depot, located in Winnie, Texas, has the capacity to serve as a command center in the event of an emergency and was built to withstand hurricane-force conditions.
The Lead in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver-rated facility includes more than 17 acres and 13 buildings and is a built example of design innovation, operational efficiency and sustainable practices.
A photovoltaic system provides solar power to the entire complex and is expected to save approximately 990,000 pounds of CO2 emissions over the course of 30 years. Localized HVAC units reduce unnecessary energy use, as does the orientation of the building, the use of extended overhangs to provide shade, and the use of natural ventilation and lighting.
The Vehicular Wash Bay is built to retain virtually all of its used water, filtering and recycling it to be reused. This system allows the vehicle’s exterior and under-carriages to be cleaned helping prevent the spread of invasive species.
In addition, storm water runoff for the site is drained to a surface pond (also used as an aesthetic feature), which also serves as the reserve fire tank for fire suppression.
The Depot includes a 15-person bunk house, Wifi, high speed internet, and is fully accessible. It is designed to house a hurricane response team, as well as host Service training and small conferences. It is closed to the public.
The Texas Chenier Plains Refuge Complex Office and Visitor Center, located in Anahuac, Texas, serves as the headquarters for Anahuac, McFaddin, Texas Point and Moody National Wildlife Refuges.
The 16,200 square foot facility includes a 5,500 square foot visitor center with an active environmental education and interpretative program and facilities to support 22 full-time staff, including a wildland firefighting team. The facility has a Gold LEED rating, the only such facility in the Service’s Southwest Region.
Some of the more prominent features that led to a Gold rating include the solar photovolatic system and solar hot water system, the use of automated HVAC systems and lighting systems, and the use of LED lights.
These designed systems resulted in a reduction of 37% energy reduction based on the 1999 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers standard.
Other measures used to reduce the energy costs of the building included the use of a breezeway that separates the office from the visitor center. The breezeway design allows for additional exhibits and information kiosks and provides comfort to the visiting public without increasing the building’s heating and cooling spaces.
In addition to energy efficiency, the facility features a number of water saving systems, including low-flow toilets that serve the visiting public, refuge staff and volunteers and resulted in at least 18,000 gallons of water saved in 2011. A 5,000-gallon cistern captures rainwater used to maintain the visitor center’s landscaping comprised of native plants adapted to the environment.
As part of its overall management, the facility recycles materials from the office operation, as well as from visitors. The amount collected during 2012 included 1,500 pounds of mixed paper, 110 pounds of plastic containers, 70 pounds of corrugated cardboard, 300 individual batteries and 326 pounds of aluminum.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.
This story was originally published in the Liberty Vindicator:
Giving Nature a Hand
Mother Nature is pretty good at taking care of herself.
Ecosystems are full of forces that provide for renewal. Some occur annually, like flooding in bottomland hardwoods. Others are periodic, like fire in longleaf pine forests. There are infrequent, catastrophic events – major hurricanes, stand-replacing wildfires, tornadoes and derechoes – that reset the clock on natural succession of the landscape.
As our population continues to grow and more wild life habitat is converted to human uses, the fragmented landscape often prevents the ecosystem from functioning naturally. These fragmented lands, which include most of our national wildlife refuges, require management that mimics the ways natural landscapes function.
Over the years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed a wide variety of management practices to assure refuge lands provide healthy and vibrant habitat.
We have studied the ways that natural disturbances – like the ones described in a recent focus section of the Refuge Update newsletter – help shape ecosystems.
We have continued to learn and adapt our land and water management practices to accommodate such disturbances. No one manages land for wild life better than the Service staff working on national wildlife refuges.
At Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, where I started my refuge career in 1979, the coastal savannas the cranes depend on were so degraded that the birds were on the verge of extinction. We found only two nests in 1981. Timber companies had tried to drain the land, convert it to pine plantations and keep fire out.
Over the past 30-plus years, the refuge has worked hard to return fire to the landscape, restore natural hydrology and remove the pine plantations. The landscape has returned to its more natural state, and the birds have responded.
I saw on Facebook that the refuge had already found 15 crane nests by mid-April, and there’s plenty of time for more to be found. When bad budgets and big bureaucracy start to wear us down, it helps to remember stories like this can be found throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Ira Gabrielson told us in 1941 that “the conservation battle cannot be a short, sharp engagement, but must be grim, tenacious warfare – the sort that makes single gains and then consolidates these gains until renewed strength and a good opportunity makes another advance possible.”
Keep up the good fight.
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