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  • 25 Jul 2013 3:00 PM | Anonymous

    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:


    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)

    Visit for more stories like this.

  • 25 Jul 2013 2:00 PM | Anonymous

    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.”


    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)

    Visit for more stories like this.

  • 12 Jul 2013 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    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

    This story was originally published in the Liberty Vindicator:

  • 17 Jun 2013 9:37 PM | Anonymous

    Giving Nature a Hand

    By Jim Kurth

    Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System

    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.

    For more stories like this, visit

  • 17 Jun 2013 9:35 PM | Anonymous

    Waterfowl Habitat Grows

    More than 9,000 acres of waterfowl habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System were among the proposals approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which okayed $28 million in funding to conserve, restore and enhance vital wetlands.  

    “Conserving wetlands is one of most important things we can do to ensure our land and wildlife remain healthy,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who attended her first meeting in her role as chair of the commission.

    The commission approved close to $4 million in projects for land purchases and leases on three refuges with funds raised largely through the sale of Federal Duck Stamps.  In addition, the panel approved $23.7 million in grants through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act to protect, restore or enhance nearly 89,000 acres of habitat for migratory birds in the United States and Canada, leveraging $28.5 million in matching funds. 

    The three refuge projects are:

    •  Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.  Approval to acquire 81 fee acres of quality waterfowl habitat in the river floodplain for $44,700.  These bottomland hardwoods and associated wetlands benefit a wide variety of waterfowl, including mallard, wood and mottled ducks.

    •  Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. Price approval and approval for a boundary addition on 489 lease acres for $1,750.The commission also supported a price re-approval of $22,350 on leased land that it previously approved in September 2012.  Since then, the state of Montana reassessed the lease value, which increased by 102 percent.  The new price is now locked in for five years. The refuge and the wider land area support high breeding densities of lesser scaup and trumpeter swans.

    •  Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. Approval to acquire more than 3,200 acres in fee title for $3.76 million will almost complete the current footprint of this refuge.  The refuge provides high quality habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl.

    The commission had previously approved funding for the 2013 U.S. Small Grants Program.  Forty-six grants were selected under the program, totaling $3 million and leveraging $7.6 million to conserve 52,145 acres of wetland and associated habitats in 29 states from coast to coast.

    Among the projects funded through the U.S. Small Grants Program was Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District, MN, which will restore and enhance 24,748 acres to increase nesting cover for migratory waterfowl. 

    For more stories like this, visit:

  • 17 Jun 2013 8:30 PM | Anonymous

    Special Delivery: Wildlife

    Caution: Saving a species may require heavy lifting – literally picking up wild animals and moving them long distances. Big animals. Small animals. Skittish, furtive or aggressive animals. Regardless, the same biological rules apply: To better the odds of survival, rare species need more than one population base and the widest gene pool possible.

    This spring, Northwesterners got a glimpse of the challenges involved when U. S, Fish and Wildlife Service staff netted, sedated and trucked 49 endangered Columbian white-tailed deer from Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-Tailed Deer to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, 60 miles southeast in Washington state. The deer were moved to protect them from the threat posed by an eroding dike between the Columbia River and Hansen Refuge: If the dike failed, flooding might otherwise wipe out the species. A few deer were even flown a short distance by helicopter, suspended by slings. 

    Because national wildlife refuges protect hundreds of rare species, they often find themselves in the animal moving business. They’ve been in it at least since 1907 when the Service transported 15 native Plains bison by rail from the New York Zoological Society to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. The animals “were the seed stock for the bison we manage here today,” says refuge manager Tony Booth.  

    Wildlife conservationists don’t move animals casually. “Anytime you capture an animal and move it, there’s a risk,” says Kate O’Brien, a wildlife biologist at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine, part of a coalition working to relocate and captive-breed the increasingly rare New England cottontail. “You have to consider: Does the benefit outweigh the risk? You need a pretty good reason to move a wild mammal.”

    Refuge biologists have lots of good reasons. They “translocate” wild animals to breed them; reintroduce them to historic habitats; try to keep them off the “endangered” list; minimize unfriendly run-ins with humans; rescue them from disease, drought or development; introduce them to areas where climate warming is creating new habitat. “The first choice is always to protect existing habitat,” says O’Brien, “but that can’t always be done.”

    You think relocating deer is tricky? Try moving 800-pound Alaska brown bears (with a bad habit of raiding campgrounds) or 600-pound caribou (flown 300 miles from Nelchina to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on the Kenai Peninsula, where they’d previously been wiped out). In cases involving these and other large carnivores such as panthers and wolves, the first trick is catching them while minimizing risk to wildlife and operations staff.

    Smaller mammals − prairie dogs, rabbits, squirrels, pronghorn – are easier to capture, but high-strung and must be released quickly to avoid stress injuries. Timing matters. Rabbits are “easiest to trap in winter, when food is limited and you can see their trails in the snow,” says O’Brien. Also, “you want to “trap them before breeding season. You don’t want disturb them if they’re pregnant or have young.”

    When endangered species are involved, operational hurdles include the preparation, publication and review of detailed project proposals. It took three years of such effort before staff could move 24 endangered Sonoran pronghorn 90 miles from Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona in 2011 and 2012. The final rule, says Jim Atkinson, a wildlife biologist at Cabeza Prieta Refuge, “spells out what we can do and where, and how it will affect all stakeholders.” The project goal: to augment the existing pronghorn population through captive breeding and establish new populations in the animals’ historic breeding range. “We don’t want to have all our eggs in one basket,” says Atkinson. “It’s a hedge against bad years for drought or climate change in any one area. Having more than one population means a greater hedge against extinction.”

    Tagging lets biologists track the health and movement of animals after their return to the wild. Once pronghorn are caught and sedated, for example, biologists attach an ear-tag and radio collar.


    Where tagging is too costly or labor-intensive – as it is with prairie dogs – scientists find other ways to follow transplants. Staff at Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana have relocated more than 2,600 prairie dogs. In 2007, they moved 800 to repopulate colonies after an outbreak of plague – a recurrent prairie dog threat. Leaving them where they were would have doomed the colony, says senior refuge wildlife biologist Randy Matchett. It also would have hurt other species that depend on prairie dogs, such as endangered black-footed ferrets. (When you’re a predator, you’re only as healthy as your prey.)


    Captured prairie dogs were dusted for plague-carrying fleas, then trucked to a new site, pre-dug with underground burrows. There, cages protected them for three or four days while they acclimated. Then they were released in groups of 100 or more. “Because they are social animals and communicate with each other, we’ve learned they do better in large numbers,” says Matchett. “Their whole life revolves around not being eaten.”

    Will the new colony succeed? Measurements will provide an answer. “We can map the colony by walking around the perimeter of all the burrows,” Matchett says. A year from now, a healthy colony will occupy more space. But there’s a caveat: Even if the colony thrives, Matchett knows it’s just a matter of time before plague reappears and he must rescue the animals again.

    That’s the age-old challenge for wildlife conservationists: staying ahead of threats, when possible. And knowing when it’s not. Alaska brown bears offer a lesson in the latter. Brown bears that raid campgrounds are being moved less these days, says John Morton, supervisory fish and wildlife biologist in Alaska. “We realize that even when we move them a long ways away, they will still come back.”


    U. S, Fish and Wildlife Service staff netted, sedated and trucked endangered Columbian white-tailed deer from Julie Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-Tailed Deer to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, WA, to protect them from the threat posed by an eroding dike between the Columbia River and Hansen Refuge. Some were translocated by helicopter. Photo by Julian Hansen

    For more stories like this, visit

  • 17 Jun 2013 6:00 PM | Anonymous

    Service Proposes to Return Management and Protection of Gray Wolves to State Wildlife Professionals Following Successful Recovery Efforts
    Mexican wolves in Southwest would continue to be protected as endangered subspecies


    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the list of threatened and endangered species. The proposal comes after a comprehensive review confirmed successful recovery after management actions undertaken by federal, state and local partners following the wolf’s listing under the Endangered Species Act more than three decades ago. 


    The Service is also proposing to maintain protection and expand recovery efforts for the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in the Southwest, where it remains endangered.


    Under the proposal, state wildlife management agency professionals would resume responsibility for management and protection of gray wolves in states with wolves. The proposed rule is based on the best science available and incorporates new information about the gray wolf’s current and historical distribution in the contiguous United States and Mexico. It focuses the protection on the Mexican wolf, the only remaining entity that warrants protection under the Act, by designating the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies.


    In the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, the gray wolf has rebounded from the brink of extinction to exceed population targets by as much as 300 percent. Gray wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct and Western Great Lakes Population Segments were removed from the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 2011 and 2012.


    “From the moment a species requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act, our goal is to work with our partners to address the threats it faces and ensure its recovery,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “An exhaustive review of the latest scientific and taxonomic information shows that we have accomplished that goal with the gray wolf, allowing us to focus our work under the ESA on recovery of the Mexican wolf subspecies in the Southwest.”


    The Service will open a 90-day comment period on both proposals, seeking additional scientific, commercial and technical information from all interested parties. Relevant information received during this comment period will be reviewed and addressed in the Service’s final determination on these proposals, which will be made in 2014.


    The Service must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, within 45 days of the publication in the Federal Register. Information on how to provide comments will be made available in the Federal Register notices and on the Service’s wolf information page at

    The Service’s proposal is supported by governors and state wildlife agency leadership in each of the states with current wolf populations, as well as those that will assume responsibility for managing wolves dispersing into their states, such as Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and North Dakota.

    The Service’s comprehensive review determined that the current listing for gray wolf, which was developed 35 years ago, erroneously included large geographical areas outside the species’ historical range. In addition, the review found that the current gray wolf listing did not reasonably represent the range of the only remaining of the Mexican wolf population in the Southwest.  


    Gray wolves were extirpated from most of the Lower 48 states by the middle of the 20th century, with the exception of northern Minnesota and Isle Royale in Michigan. Subsequently, wolves from Canada occasionally dispersed south and began recolonizing northwest Montana in 1986. In 1995 and 1996, 66 wolves from southwestern Canada were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.


    In 2002 the Northern Rocky Mountain population exceeded the minimum recovery goals of 300 wolves for a third straight year, and they were delisted in the Northern Rocky Mountains in 2012 and Western Great Lakes in 2011. Today, there are at least 6,100 gray wolves in the contiguous United States, with a current estimate of 1,674 in the Northern Rocky Mountains and 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes.


    The number of Mexican wolves continues to increase within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. During the 2012 annual year-end survey, the Mexican wolf Interagency Field Team counted a minimum of 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, an increase over the 2011 minimum population count of 58 wolves known to exist in the wild.


    In addition to listing the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies, the Service proposes to modify existing regulations governing the nonessential experimental population to allow captive raised wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in the Apache and Gila National Forests east central Arizona and west central New Mexico, and to disperse into the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area in the areas of Arizona and New Mexico located between I-40 and I-10.


    Read what supporters of the Service proposal are saying at

    For more information on gray and Mexican wolves, including the proposed rules, visit

    For more stories like this, visit

  • 07 Jun 2013 2:00 PM | Anonymous

    By: Kim Vetter of CHART

    The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on FM 563.

    The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on FM 563 in Wallisville.

    Touch an alligator hide. Learn about the mystery of migration. And, take a ride through the Southeast Texas marsh on an airboat used to during the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

    You can do all of this and more at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Farm To Market Road 563 in Wallisville. My 2-year-old daughter and I recently spent a couple of hours at the center and had a blast.

    Before going inside, we – OK, mainly I – learned a lot about the refuge and its surroundings from several colorful outdoor displays. My daughter, meanwhile, joyfully pointed to the ground and shouted, “OCEAN,” since the concrete beneath her feet was painted blue to resemble the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

    Outdoor displays at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.

    Outdoor displays at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.

    After about 10 minutes of exploring and a potty break (the public restrooms at the center are very clean), we decided to go inside and check out what the visitor center had to offer, which is a lot.

    The center’s main room is full of wildlife exhibits and environmental education kiosks.

    A Red-Tailed Hawk hangs above a kiosk about chenier woodlots while a Great Egret sneaks behind a patch of cordgrass mounted on a display about saltwater marsh.

    Nearby, various songbirds perch on a cartoon-like tree that’s part of an exhibit about migration. The exhibit includes a small wetland packed with ducks and shorebirds.

    Two prominently displayed exhibits cover tools for a healthy habitat, how humans continually reshape the landscape around them, and the unintended consequences of non-native species.

    My daughter’s favorite spread, however, was tucked neatly in a corner and was about the American alligator.

    Called the Alligator Incubator, the camouflage hut has two alligator hides hanging from one of its walls, an alligator skull on another, and several educational displays describing the reptile’s life cycle.

    Visitors can take with them a brochure chock full of fun alligator facts such as the longest documented alligator was taken in 1890 from Louisiana and measured 19 feet 2 inches long and weighed nearly 2,000 pounds.

    One of several exhibits at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.

    One of several exhibits at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.

    In an adjoining room next to the Alligator Incubator, is where visitors can experience a simulated airboat ride through the refuge’s fresh and saltwater marshes.

    The eight-minute ride wasn’t working when my daughter and I were there but the volunteer on duty described the ride as both action-packed and tranquil.

    The first half of the ride is fast and weaves in and out of various parts of the marsh, highlighting its wildlife, the volunteer said. The second half is slower and showcases the marsh’s habitat.

    Both sound fun and are something I hope to do with my daughter during another trip to the visitor center.

    As for the rest of our recent trip, we spent it at the center’s gift shop. My daughter flipped through books and played with stuffed animals while I chatted with the volunteer.

    During my conversation with her and after some suggested subsequent reading, I learned the visitor center replaced one that was destroyed in 2008 by Hurricane Ike.

    The center opened in May 2011 and was built with $4million of Recovery Act money. Sitting on 16 acres about 30 miles outside of Houston, the visitors center is part of a larger complex that houses employees from the Texas Chenier Plain National Wildlife Refuge Complex as well as the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

    The complex is LEED Silver Certified, meaning its construction rating on a points system by the U.S. Green Building Council, exceeds mandated guidelines for efficient and energy saving design, construction and post-construction commission.

    The landscape surrounding the complex is in pristine condition as well and is welcoming to visitors who want to explore it.

    Just behind the outdoor displays near the visitor center’s entrance is a quarter-mile trail that snakes through the Cypress swamp that hugs Lake Anahuac. For more information about the trail go to

    For more information about the visitor center – which 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 – call (409) 267-3337.

    For more stories like this, visit

  • 09 May 2013 10:11 PM | Anonymous

    By Dan Ashe, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


    I recently came across an article my dad wrote for The Nature Conservancy Magazine in 1974, when he headed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Albuquerque Regional Office Division of Realty. I was a high school senior.

    The article, Genesis of a National Wildlife Refuge, tells about the work that went into establishing New Mexico’s Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, at 220,000 acres still the largest land donation in Service history.

    My father calls Sevilleta Refuge “fascinating in its physiographic diversity, at least to this native easterner.” He describes it as “a vast land of mountains, alluvial fans, piedmont bajadas, terraces, canyons, washes, arroyos, hills and ridges, sand dunes, and bosque lands.”

    He tells how overgrazing had hurt the lands and how they will “need help to recover their former productiveness.” He also talks about the partnership and “common objectives” with The Nature Conservancy, the Campbell Family Foundation and the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust that resulted in the refuge.

    I know Dad is intensely proud of Sevilleta Refuge, which these days attracts mule deer, pronghorns, black bear, lizards and many species of birds.

    The article shows the Service and many conservation partners, like TNC, at their best as they negotiated – even on Christmas day – to complete the donation. Land with an estimated value of $6 million to $12 million was sold for $500,000 to TNC, which conveyed it to the Service.

    The article reminded me of our people in the Mountain-Prairie Region who recently worked with Louis Bacon on the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in Colorado. Mr. Bacon’s donation of an easement on about 170,000 acres constitutes the largest single conservation easement donation in Service history.


    Closer to Sevilleta Refuge, Valle de Oro Refuge near Albuquerque and Rio Mora Refuge and Conservation Area in northern New Mexico were established last September. And early last year, our folks in Florida worked all out to get up and running Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area. In 2012, we also established Swan Valley Conservation Area in Montana and Hackmatack Refuge outside Chicago.


    Some of these new refuge units share a key difference from Sevilleta: The Service does not own the land. We are increasingly partnering with private landowners, who are excellent stewards of the land. We are developing conservation easements that provide important wildlife habitat while enabling these stewards to continue working the land as they have done for generations.

    And we’re trying to connect these privately-owned lands to our great public estate of national parks, national forests and national wildlife refuges, and state and local conservation areas. 

    We are making clear that conservation is not just the responsibility of the Service. We all have a stake in it, public and private sector alike.

    Dad, of course, knew this when establishing Sevilleta. He ends the article: More than anything else, to my thinking, the genesis of the Sevilleta Refuge is an example of what can be achieved when the private and public sectors work together.

    My father’s work lives on at places like Sevilleta Refuge. And he’s far from the only retiree – or current employee – who can say that. That’s what’s so great about working for the Service. We all contribute to the conservation of wildlife and wild places for generations to come.

    Our work matters. Our values endure. I’m proud of the work my father did, at places like Sevilleta; I’m proud of the work we are doing today, at places like the Dakota Grasslands; I’m proud of the foundations we are laying for those who will come after us. Our legacy is writ large on the landscape.

    For more stories like this, visit

  • 09 May 2013 9:00 PM | Anonymous

    Migratory birds throughout the Western Hemisphere received a boost in May when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe approved $3.5 million in grants for 27 collaborative conservation projects across the Americas. These Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act grants will leverage a 3.5-to-1 return for conservation, matching the Service’s investment with about $12.5 million in private funds.  


    The projects will conserve more than 250,000 acres of migratory bird habitat, stimulate critical research into declining bird populations, and fund outreach programs to raise local awareness of conservation issues and solutions.


    More than 350 species of Neotropical migratory birds migrate to and from the United States each year, including warblers, plovers, sandpipers, terns, hawks, flycatchers and sparrows. The populations of many of these birds are in decline, and several species are currently considered endangered or threatened as a result of habitat loss, pollution or climate change.


    “Birds provide millions of Americans with enjoyment and a real connection to nature. They also pollinate our crops and protect them from pests, and generate $11 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues each year through the birdwatching industry,” said Ashe.  “But while we may think of them as ‘our’ birds, they actually only spend part of each year in the U.S., and so to conserve them, we must work internationally with partners to protect their habitats and reduce threats across the Americas. This is what makes the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act so unique, important and effective; it funds collaborative conservation projects throughout these birds’ breeding and winter ranges.”


    Grants and matching funds received through the Act will support public-private partnerships to conserve Neotropical migratory birds and their habitats throughout their migratory ranges, from their breeding sites in Canada and the United States, to their wintering sites in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. This year’s grants will benefit hundreds of species in 15 countries.  Project highlights include:


    ·                  Bay of Panama: Located near the mouth of the Panama Canal beside the narrow isthmus between North and South America, the Bay of Panama is a critical migration and wintering site for more than 33 species of North American breeding shorebirds, including more than 30% of the U.S. population of the Western Sandpiper. The habitats these birds rely upon are highly threatened by development pressure from Panama City. In collaboration with 30 local organizations, grantee National Audubon Society will strengthen communications to local people about the importance of the Bay of Panama to the economy, to Neotropical shorebirds, and to environmental and human health.


    ·                  Asunción Bay: A total of 32 species of Neotropical migratory birds have been recorded in Asunción Bay, located along the northern outskirts of the capital of Paraguay. It is globally significant as a stopover site for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. The development of a coastal road has reconnected the urban population of Asunción with its natural heritage, but destroyed about 70% of the shorebird habitat in the bay. Local and national government agencies will work with NGO Guyra Paraguay to restore and manage 60 acres of priority habitats within Asunción Bay. Guyra Paraguay will hire reserve guards and train local people to be ecotourism guides, and engage with media to raise awareness for bay conservation.


    Seven projects are funded under a pilot program started in 2012 and designed to focus resources on a group of particularly threatened birds. By making a long-term investment in priority species and monitoring population improvements, these projects will allow the Service to learn, adapt and be strategic in how to manage conservation funding.  A pilot program highlight from this round:

    ·        The Endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler breeds in central Texas, and relies on pine-oak forests in Central America for its wintering grounds. Grantee Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza is partnering with an alliance of organizations in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua to increase the amount of Golden-cheeked Warbler wintering habitat under legal protection or being managed through sustainable agroforestry.  It will also establish a monitoring system for the species to develop measurable population objectives for a 5-10 year conservation plan.

    “The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act conserves Neotropical migrants for the benefit of people throughout the Americas,” said Jerome Ford, Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director for Migratory Birds. “By investing in priority species, key habitats, and successful conservation actions, we achieve the highest impact for each grant dollar invested and make a real difference for birds.”

    The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 2000 established the matching grants program to fund projects to conserve Neotropical migratory birds in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. Funds may be used to protect, research, monitor and manage bird populations and habitat, as well as to conduct law enforcement and community outreach and education. The Act requires a partner-to-grant dollar match of 3-to-1, but has achieved a ratio closer to 4-to-1.  For more information on funded projects for 2013 and previous years, visit

    For more stories like this, visit

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.


Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 1348

Anahuac, TX 77514

Refuge Office Address:

4017 FM 563, Anahuac, TX 77514

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