Along the Natchez Trace

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Happy Birthday NWR!

The National Wildlife System will be 109 years old on March 13th.  Teddy Roosevelt, a true outdoorsman, and the (then) President of the United States recognized the need to set aside land to protect the habitat of endangered species.  The first refuge was Pelican Island NWR, in Florida.  At that time, the stylish ladies wore hats with big plumes of egret feathers.  The egrets and other birds were being slaughtered to provide these feathers.  

Now, 109 years later there are over 150 million acres of land that comprise 556 refuges and 38 wetland management districts. Every state in the USA has at least one refuge.  The philosophy of the Refuge System is "Animals First, People Second".  Each refuge has its specific focus...  a plant, animal, habitat...  something that is endangered. 

The first refuge that I even heard about was Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.  That was in April, 2001 and we were on our way to Alaska.  Just by chance we picked up a volunteer application even though at that time our plans were to return to Ohio on our return to the Lower 48.

As the summer moved on, we thought about continuing our travels and sent in that application we'd got months ago.  We had no idea that the Bosque was a very popular place to volunteer at and that there was actually a waiting list.  But just about the time we were ready to head out, we got a phone call asking if we were still interested in winter positions.  Seems a couple who were scheduled had an emergency and had to cancel their plans.

Of course we said yes, and our service with the National Wildlife System began in October, 2001.  Since that time we have worked in 10 different states, and have visited around 200 refuges.  (I used to keep better records....  kind of lost track a few years ago)   We have volunteered at more than one refuge in a state, and were fortunate to be on the Centennial Team in Arizona in 2003...  visiting all 9 refuges on a 10 day tour.
In the beginning we didn't go back to the same refuge twice...  there was just so much to see and to learn and to do ...  and we wanted to do it all.  We don't volunteer year-round.  In fact, we took a couple years off from volunteering at all.  And we do go back to the same Refuge sometimes.

Before digital cameras became so available,  I used film....  and so for the first few years, all my photos are stored in albums and are in storage in Ohio.  The pictures I've gathered for this blog were taken at 5 different refuges...  all very different ....  And in each refuge our "duties" have been quite varied.

Cameron Prairie NWR - SW Louisiana
We loved the birding here...  spoonbills, ibis, herons...  and alligators as well.
That's me in an airboat...  we had a fantastic tour of Lacasine NWR in that boat.  Clockwise, there's a flock of ibis overhead...  then a photo of the tractor that Bill got stuck in the mud...  then a photo of a heron rookery...  Next is a picture of the Bills...  Bill Wethington and Bill Hartwig, who was then the Chief of Refuges... and of course...  an alligator.

Fish Springs NWR, Utah
Bill spent most of his days loading and hauling gravel to improve the roads.  I worked on scanning old documents and photos...  and we did a lot of bird-banding.  Mist Nets....  song birds....  except in the upper left is a nighthawk that was madder than all-git-out over getting caught.  We were 63 miles from the nearest grocery...  drove that dirt road in the lower right picture. Yep... that's a herd of sheep out there...  there were also wild horses.  We drove once a week to Dugway Proving Grounds to pick up the refuge mail, get our groceries from the commisary and borrow books from their library.  The white dog is Bo Peep...  a Great Pyrennes who wandered into our site.  That dog could run down a jack rabbit! 

J Clark Salyer NWR, North Dakota
More bird banding...  only this time it's Rocket Nets and ducks!  Every morning before daylight we'd be out along the water edge... waiting to see if there were enough ducks to make the project worthwhile.  With a lot of teamwork, we'd band 1-2,000 ducks in just a few hours.  The refuge manager invited the local high school and college classes to come help.  He was great with these kids...  even the middle school girls who'd say "Ick....  ".  Those yellow rain suits are REAL important...  I mean... you're covered in duck poop real fast!

Crystal River NWR, Florida
These pictures are of a manatee rescue.  See the lower left picture?  The manatee has been hit with a boat propeller.  It really messed up her buoyancy abilities...  she couldn't dive or stay underwater.  Since a mantee weighs so much, this takes real team effort to get them out of the water and into the "manatee ambulance".  (middle lower)...  And, once you get them in there, you transport them to the Manatee Hospital at Lowrey Zoo, which is in Tampa.  About 70 miles south....  A long drive when you are driving a converted horse trailer with an injured manatee.  The upper left photo is when we got her to the hospital.  It was just like a "people" ER...  vitals taken, measurements of everything and finally she was put into a huge holding tank.  We found out later that she survived and was able to be set free again. 

But one of the main things we did at Crystal River was prepare the crane pens for the annual flight of Whooping Cranes brought down by ultra-light planes from Neceda NWR in Wisconsin.  This is an on going program and each year the endangered whooping crane population gets a little stronger.

Sevilleta NWR, New Mexico

We've volunteered here several times.  It's just one of those places that keeps calling us back.  Most everyone who knows of refuges has heard of the Bosque del Apache NWR, which is about 30 miles south of Sevilleta....  and the Festival of the Cranes is a HUGE annual event.  BUT...  the Sevilleta NWR consists of FOUR different biomes! The diversity is tremendous!  But then, it consists of 230,000  acres!!!!  It is home to everything from bear and mountain lions to pronghorn antelope and oryx.  Oryx were imported by White Sands Proving Grounds in the 1950's to provide "sporting entertainment" to the men there.  But, of course, they multiplied, got loose...  and are now as far north as Belen, NM.  That Mexican Grey Wolf in the middle right picture lives there too.  But...  in captivity.  There are huge holding pens up in the Pino Mountains where they breed, and raise their young before being released in the Gila Nat'l Forest area in Arizona.  The lower left picture shows the judging of the Junior Duck Stamp contest.  This is a national program that encourages anyone from kindergarten through age 18 to enter their original artwork.  The standards and criteria are quite high...  not an easy contest to win.  Each state winner goes to the national...  which, in turn is judged and then the winning artwork is made into the Junior Duck Stamp of the year. 

The middle picture is of Dale Hall (National Director at that time), Bill, me, and Benjamin Tull, Region 2 director.

One really fantastic event that The Friends group has each year is... Dinner on the Mesa.  This is the most elegant meal... cloth, silver...  the works!...  live music....  and everyone is driven to the top of the mesa...  view is FANTASTIC...  dinner is served...  and the daylight turns to dusk...  Sunset! You better believe it!!!!  Worth the $50 a plate!  (I took hundreds of photos, Bill drove truckloads of people and helped with the setup...  ours was complimentary!)

Aroostook NWR, Maine
We started volunteering here in 2003.  Actually, we were working at Moosehorn NWR, about 150 miles south, (the manager is over both refuges) and the maintenance men there were taking turns driving up to Aroostook to work.  We took our turn and never went back.  Aroostook was once the Caribou Air Station...  the place where the nuclear weapons were housed during the cold war.  (middle right photo shows some old bunkers that housed the bombs).   When the base closed the gov't decided to make it a refuge.  That was in 1998....  chain link fences needed to come down, buildings needed demolished, contaminents needed cleaned up...  on and on and on....  We have been here maybe 5 summers since 2003 and each year we see more and more wildlife. That upper middle picture is of a moose in the road, taken from our motorhome.  The middle picture of a baby bear I saw scarfing down berries from a cherry tree.  The lower right of a cow and calf moose in the marsh early in the morning.  The lower right is of a school group we took on a tour.

We go back here because we are so interested in the changes...  in the development...  in whether or not it will EVER become really open to the public.  So many issues...  so much to do.

I love the upper left picture.  Steve, the ass't manager, is presenting Bill with his 10,000 hour pin accompanied by a certificate of appreciation. 

Which pretty much brings me right to the point of all this....

The National Wildlife System loves their volunteers.  Funding is always a problem.  I know, what isn't, when the gov't is involved....

But...  if you've ever had the inclination to do any volunteering, check out the Refuge System...  There's a place for everyone, no matter what your skills are.
You might be surprised at what you will get in return!

So...  Happy 109th Birthday!

I hope you'll be around for a long time!

That's all for Today....


  1. What wonderful information! 109 years old... and yes... please be around for a very long time.

    Really enjoyed reading this...

  2. This is so interesting! Mark and I really enjoyed visiting Aroostook NWR last summer.

  3. You have done this country proud with not only your volunteering but this great information. Bravo!

    Just BS!(Bob and Sue)

  4. Great post ... I always wonder if I have the skills to volunteer at one of these places. Looks like there might be. Easier for Mui who is such a handyman he can turn his hand to pretty much anything.

  5. What interesting experiences you have had! Cheers for you both and the great work you have done for our National Wildlife Refuges. They couldn't do what they do without the help of volunteers like you.