Protecting Our Wildlife Refuges

Refuge E-Update is brought to you by the National Wildlife Refuge System Headquarters to provide information that is of interest to field managers, agency and program leaders, and others. Please share with staff members who may not be on the distribution list. Refuge System’s FY 08 Budget Advancing on Capitol Hill Now that Congress has returned from its Memorial Day break, the fiscal year 2008 budget is near the top of Capitol Hill’s agenda. The House Appropriations Committee on June 7 allotted the Refuge System $451 million for operations and maintenance, $56 million more than requested in the President’s budget; the committee’s recommendations most likely will be taken up by the full House in mid-June. If passed by both the Senate and the House, this would be the largest annual Refuge System budget ever. Senate action is expected to follow shortly. As in the House, the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Refuge System will prepare a bill for the full appropriations committee. Next comes a round of debate and votes on the Senate floor. Once both the House and Senate have approved their spending bills, any differences will have to be reconciled by a conference committee. The Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) and Refuge Friends organizations have spent hours talking with Capitol Hill lawmakers about the Refuge System budget. The $451 million funding level for the Refuge System is also the amount advocated in a “Dear Colleague” letter signed by more than 80 members of the House of Representatives, including the four chairs and co-chairs and many other members of the Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus. But given the many demands on the restricted pool of money Congress has to work with, there is no way to predict the final budget figure for fiscal year 2008. Congressional Information Session Set for June 25 Two veterans of the Refuge System will give Congressional staff an appreciation for the strong relationship refuges have with local communities and the public during the second formal Congressional briefing to be held by the Refuge System this year. Mark Musaus, chief of the Refuge System Division of Visitor Services and Communications, and National Visitor Services Specialist Maggie O’Connell, who just moved to Headquarters from Bosque del Apache Refuge, will be making the presentation June 25. Titled "Wildlife: Right Next Door," the briefing will highlight more than a dozen wildlife refuges to illustrate the diversity of wildlife within the National Wildlife Refuge System, the numerous recreational opportunities available to visitors, and the fact that visits to national wildlife refuges have real economic impact on surrounding communities. Information about the economic impact is being drawn from the 2004 “Banking on Nature” report. Congress Moves to Ban Landing Strip Near Pocosin Lakes Refuge The House of Representative has voted to block the building of a Navy practice landing field near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. Separately, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a measure that includes language that would award the Navy $5 million toward researching a location elsewhere in North Carolina or Virginia. The legislative moves follow extensive public hearings where scores of witnesses — among them Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall — raised strong concerns about the strip, which Navy pilots would use to practice aircraft carrier touchdowns. Many North Carolina officials have strongly urged the Navy to aim its bulldozers at an alternative location in the state. Pocosin Lakes provides wetlands for migrating waterfowl and is home to two endangered species, the red wolf and the red-cockaded woodpecker. Revving up for the Next Transportation Reauthorization Measure We are getting close to the home stretch in the years-long process of framing the next surface transportation reauthorization bill, due to be unveiled in February 2009. On July 24, the Department of the Interior’s budget office and the White House Office of Management and Budget will receive a briefing on the Refuge Roads Program’s broad reauthorization white paper. In September, after the Refuge System’s reauthorization recommendations have been finalized, the Refuge Roads Program white paper will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration to help in developing the Administration’s reauthorization recommendations. Determining the Refuge System’s transportation objectives — a procedure that involves, among many other steps, gathering updated information about our transportation assets, the cost of replacing or maintaining them, and the dollars needed to make much-needed improvements — has been under way since 2004. We have big stake in the outcome; the current bill, which extends through Fiscal Year 2009, provided significantly more funds for our Refuge Roads program, including roads, bridges, parking lots, trails and busses. The Big Sit! ™ Coming to Refuges It started in 1992, when the New Haven, Connecticut, Bird Club began holding an annual event called The Big Sit! ™. By 2006, the idea had spread to 164 The Big Sit! circles registered in 36 states and nine countries besides the United States. Now the idea is coming to national wildlife refuges for Refuge Week. This free event is a fun way to collect data and bring together your community as they form circles – literally – to count birds and get to know some part of your refuge. Here’s how it works: The Big Sit! starts at midnight on October 14 and runs all day on Sunday until midnight. (By the way, no one has to sit in the circle for the entire 24 hours.) After the refuge manager approves the idea, have people bring chairs, their favorite foods and drinks, binoculars and a birding guide for the event. Find a great spot on the refuge where you can mark out a 17-foot circle. Bird sightings can only be made from within the circle. If a bird is too far, then someone can leave the circle to make certain identification. Tally the number of species observed and send your results to http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/site/funbirds/bi..., the official Big Sit! Web site. Registration is free, and this is a great chance to hold an activity that will interest youngsters and probably even the media. Questions? Contact Paul Baicich, 410-992-0736 or by e-mail at [email protected]. 1,000th National Recreation Trail Honors Late Refuge Manager One of own — Rich Gaudagno, former refuge manager at Baskett Slough Refuge — was a hero on 9/11, and now one of the Refuge System’s premier trails bears his name. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne designated the trail on Basket Slough Refuge as America’s 1,000th National Recreation Trail (NRT) on May 30. Altogether, 40 trails — 14 of them on national wildlife refuges — received the prestigious NRT designation. Interior Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett and Pacific Region Director Ren Lohoefener were among those who helped dedicate the Rich Gaudagno Memorial National Recreation Trail during ceremonies June 9, National Trails Day. The trail, which Guardagno helped design and build, winds around a butte and ends at an observation deck that provides sweeping views of upland forests, wetlands and grasslands. Gaudagno died on Flight 93, whose passengers fought the terrorists who had hijacked the plane and planned to crash it into the nation’s capital. In designating Rich Guadagno Memorial Trail, Secretary Kempthorne noted, “No other national trail designated this year has such a powerful message.” Third Year of RAPP Gets Underway Come mid-July, we will begin the third year of the Refuge Annual Performance Plan (RAPP), which we use to plan field station performance and help integrate performance and budget within the Refuge System. RAPP was initially launched to help us analyze exactly how far we have come in achieving our vision and how much further we still have to go. It has produced some big-time dividends. For one thing, RAPP makes the Refuge System’s achievements and challenges clear to those who propose our annual budget. For another, it was a major factor in our improved scores on the Performance Assessment Rating Tool (PART). Meanwhile, we continue to refine RAPP. This year, field station managers will have one less password to remember; RAPP will use your Active Directory ID for logon to Enterprise Planner (the data entry system for RAPP). You can check out the latest and find your Regional RAPP Coordinator on the RAPP Web page, https://intranet.fws.gov/region9/refuges/OIM/pbm/. Have questions? Contact Gary Krauss, National RAPP Coordinator (703-358-2347). Okefenokee Swamp Featured on New Postal Service Stamp A new international stamp spotlighting the Okefenokee Swamp — most of which is protected by Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge — is the most recent addition to the U.S. Postal Service’s Scenic American Landscapes series. The swamp occupies 438,000 acres in southeastern Georgia and northeast Florida, and about 402,000 acres are within Okefenokee Refuge. Scenic Byways Associated with Wildlife Refuges Awarded Improvement Grants The Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byways Program has approved more than $100,000 in grants to enhance designated byways associated with national wildlife refuges in Wisconsin and Alaska. Just under $58,000 has been earmarked for an observation deck along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway in Wisconsin, part of which extends through Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Once completed, the deck will provide visitors with unobstructed views of two important Mississippi River floodplain habitats — a sand prairie and a woody backwater marsh. The second grant, close to $49,000, will underwrite a project involving a stretch of Alaska’s Marine Highway — a ferry service with 3,500 miles of routes — associated with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and other refuges along the Aleutian Peninsula. With an eye toward future improvements, project leaders will assess and inventory interpretive opportunities along the route and develop interpretive themes and stories. Information about the Scenic Byways grant process and schedule can be found on the National Scenic Byways Community Web site. Two Young Scholars in Coral Reef Policy and Management Since 2004, the annual Governor Tauese P.F. Sunia Memorial Coral Reef Conservation Summer Scholarship, established by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (CRTF), has provided two outstanding college students from the U.S. insular areas and Hawaii with the opportunity to work at the headquarters of federal agencies involved in coral reef management and policy. This year’s scholars — Semoya Phillips of the University of the Virgin Islands and Austin Shelton of Hawaii Pacific University — arrived on June 3 to work with the Refuge System, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Program and the CRTF Secretariat. The Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for managing approximately 3 million acres of coral reef habitat in 13 refuges throughout the Caribbean, Hawaii and the Pacific. Cultural Resources Course Set for Mid-August A Cultural Resources overview will be offered at NCTC during the week of August 13th. The course will cover topics such as how best to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act as well as Archaeological Resources Protection. An interesting mix of speakers has been invited. They include Service archaeologists and tribal liaisons, the Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer, a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center instructor and an Assistant U.S. Attorney with experience in prosecuting cultural resource cases. A field trip to Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland is on the agenda. For more information, contact Eugene Marino, 703-358-2173 or [email protected]. To sign up for the course, please visit https://doilearn.doi.gov/ Message from the Chief On August 31, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina agreed with the Fund for Animals in its lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He found that we had not adequately considered the cumulative effects of opening or expanding hunting programs on 37 national wildlife refuges cited in the lawsuit, originally filed March 2003. Thankfully, the judge did not close any hunting programs. Instead, he asked both sides to suggest remedies. We did, and we’ve done a lot of work since the judge’s 2006 ruling. We sought to fulfill NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) requirements, which the lawsuit said we had violated, by requiring all 37 refuges cited to complete Environmental Assessments on their hunting proposals. We informed the court that by May 31 we also would complete Environmental Assessments for 30 refuges not cited in the original suit, but opened to hunting since the suit was filed, and for seven other refuges where the opening of hunting was proposed for the 2006-2007 season. In total, we completed Environmental Assessments on 74 refuge hunting programs by the May 31 deadline that we ourselves set. Now, we have filed our report and the Environmental Assessments with the District Court, and we are awaiting a final ruling from Judge Urbina. We are proud of the 300-plus world-class hunting programs conducted by national wildlife refuges in fulfillment of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act. We are equally proud of how we meet our stewardship responsibility for the fish and wildlife species that find their homes on national wildlife refuges. We will let you know as soon as we learn Judge Urbina’s final ruling. -- Geoff Haskett