National Wildlife Refuge System Strategic Growth Policy

In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released the final strategic growth policy for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The policy frames the growth of the Refuge System according to the following three priorities:

– Recovery of threatened and endangered species

– Implementation of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan

– Migratory Birds of Conservation Concern

The National Wildlife Refuge System is the America’s largest and most diverse collection of public lands and waters dedicated to wildlife conservation. The Refuge System was established in 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt used an Executive Order to set aside the five-acre Pelican Island in Florida as a refuge and breeding ground for birds.

Since then, it has grown into a nationwide network that includes remote coral atolls, expansive wilderness and wildlife oases near many large U.S. cities. Currently, the Refuge System includes more than 560 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts covering over 150 million acres. More than 418 million acres of marine national monuments are also included in the system.

The Refuge System continues to grow through a land acquisition program that secures the highest quality habitats, or those that could be restored to high quality habitats.

The final policy reflects input from a wide variety of stakeholders including not-for-profit organizations, industry, states and individual members of the public.

The final strategic growth policy published in the Federal Register on January 15, 2015.

source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

USFWS Birdwatching Events – February 2015

The following list includes bird festivals and other events that will be held on or near U.S. National Wildlife Refuges in February.

Winter Wings Bird Festival
February 12-15, 2015
Klamath Falls, OR
The four-day festival offers visitors the chance to visit nearby Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Crater Lake National Park and other Klamath Basin birding hotspots.

San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival
February 13-15, 2015
Vallejo, CA
The festival includes field trips to San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Florida Scrub-Jay Festival
February 28, 2015
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, FL
The festival celebrates the only bird species unique to the Sunshine State. Florida scrub-jays are found at Hobe Sound, Lake Wales Ridge and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuges. Enjoy live music, guided nature walks, live animal displays, children’s crafts and environmental exhibits.

Whooping Crane Festival
February 19-22, 2015
Port Aransas, TX
“America’s Birdiest Small Coastal City” hosts a festival that includes a field trip to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to see cranes in their winter habitat.

source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Winter Wildlife at U.S. National Wildlife Refuges

Despite cold temperatures, snow, and ice, many U.S. national wildlife refuges offer a variety of wildlife watching opportunities during the winter season. Many national wildlife refuges contain scenic nature trails that can be explored on foot, snowshoe, ski, or sled. Some refuges even provide free equipment for day trips. Other options include sleigh rides and self-guided vehicle tours.

Snowshoeing and Cross-country Skiing Areas:

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska)
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge contains 16 miles of forested ski and snowshoe trails.

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge (Idaho)
Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge contains four trails plus a 6.2 mile auto tour route (closed to vehicles in winter) where visitors can snowshoe and cross-country ski.

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (Maine)
Snowshoe the one-mile Carson Trail to view common eiders, bufflehead, Canada geese, common loons, and other birds.

Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge (Massachusetts)
Together, Assabet River Refuge, Great Meadows Refuge, and Oxbow Refuge, contain more than 25 miles of ski and snowshoe trails.

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge (Michigan)
Located near Saginaw, Michigan, Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge contains 17 miles of refuge trails are open to snowshoeing and skiing. Explorers may encounter bald eagles, white-tailed deer, red fox, eastern cottontails, and other wildlife.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Minnesota)
Near Bloomington, visitors can experience snowshoeing at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Snowshoes are provided free when six inches or more of snow is on the ground.

Rydell National Wildlife Refuge (Minnesota)
Cross-country skiers can explore seven miles of wide, groomed trails at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge. Wildlife includes white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, fishers, and more.

Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge (Minnesota)
Eight miles of trails are open to cross-country skiing at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge (New Hampshire)
At Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a two-mile trail leads to Great Bay. A shorter trail leads to Upper Peverly Pond. Wildlife includes bald eagles, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and red fox.

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge (New York State)
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge  contains 7.5 miles of ungroomed ski trails and 2.5 miles of ungroomed snowshoe trails, plus 3.5-mile Feeder Road, which is open to both skiing and snowshoeing.

Audubon National Wildlife Refuge (North Dakota)
Look for white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasants and bald eagles on the 8-mile auto tour route or the one-mile Prairie Nature Trail. The refuge has snowshoes for loan, Monday through Friday.

Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge (North Dakota)
This refuge contains 7.5 miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Erie National Wildlife Refuge (Pennsylvania)
Erie National Wildlife Refuge contains 4.5 miles of posted trails are available for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge (West Virginia)
Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge contains 31 miles of trails and roads are open to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The neighboring White Grass Ski Touring Center offers regular Snowshoe Discovery Tours, which lead onto the refuge.

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (Wisconsin)
At Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, five miles of ungroomed snowshoe trails are open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. A two-mile ski loop is open seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset. Visitors can borrow adult or child-size snowshoes at the visitor center.

Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge (Wisconsin)
Visitors to Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge can enjoy cross-country skiing on four miles of ungroomed trails.

Winter Wildlife Tours:

National Elk Refuge (Wyoming)
At National Elk Refuge, visitors can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride to view wintering elk. Sleigh rides operate daily except Christmas Day. Visitors can also take self-guided vehicle excursions on the refuge. Bison, hawks, eagles, deer and other wildlife may be sighted from the refuge road.

source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

2014 Christmas Bird Count

In mid-December, annual bird counts will begin in U.S. national parks. One of the longest running citizen science events in the world, the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) began in 1900. It provides reliable data that help demonstrate the importance of national parks to birds.

National parks in almost every state will host bird counts this year. The parks, with more than 40 listed by Audubon as Important Bird Areas, provide essential habitat for one or more species of breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds.

Each year, the CBC mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteers in more than 2,400 locations. The 2014-15 count dates fall between December 14th and January 5th. When compiled, the results will be posted at

Christmas Bird Counts include:

Dec 14, 2014: Yosemite National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Congaree National Park, Biscayne National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Glacier National Park

Dec 15: Badlands National Park

Dec 20: North Cascades National Park and Zion National Park

Dec 27: Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Dec 29: Everglades National Park

Jan 3, 2015:  Hot Springs National Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Park

January 5: Lava Beds National Monument

January 10: Point Reyes National Seashore (for kids!)

Additional Christmas Bird Counts are planned for Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park, Death Valley National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Yellowstone National Park, and Big Bend National Park.

source: National Park Service

U.S. National Park System Expansion

The U.S. National Park System will receive the most significant expansion in nearly three decades. Newly approved legislation includes the establishment of seven new national park sites, the expansion of nine national park sites, and the extension of 15 National Heritage Areas.

It also authorizes the National Park Service to study Civil War battlefield grounds in Mill Springs, Kentucky; areas related to the Buffalo Soldiers, often considered the original guardians of our national parks; and other important places for future national park consideration. Once President Obama signs the bill, it will officially become law.

Highlights of the legislation include:

Approval of Nevada’s Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument as a new national park site, once home to the Ice Age fossil remains of lions, bison, gargantuan mammoths, dire wolves and saber tooth cats.

Approval of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park as a new national park, with sites in Washington, New Mexico, and Tennessee, where under a veil of secrecy workers built the world’s first production-scale nuclear reactor—and created a lasting impact on world history.

Approval of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York, sites important to the life of the legendary Underground Railroad conductor who led many enslaved people to freedom.

Approval of Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico as a new national park site, where scientists come to study one of the world’s best examples of a resurgent caldera and its large eruptions and visitors come to explore the streams, mountain peaks, old growth timber, and rich tribal heritage.

Expansion of Gettysburg National Military Park to include the Gettysburg Train Station in Pennsylvania, famed for bringing President Abraham Lincoln to the area to deliver the Gettysburg Address.  The train station also served as a field hospital during the battle.

Expansion of Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve to add 4,000 additional acres of federal land to the existing monument to better protect the larger watershed and the cave system.  President William Howard Taft originally protected 480 acres of this area in 1909.

Expansion of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas to better preserve important cultural and historic resources associated with the Spanish Colonial era (1513 – 1821).  Visitors will now be able to see crops growing on the Spanish colonial farm fields and witness a working irrigation system (acequias).

Study the possible inclusion of a national park site to tell the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American troops that played a key role in protecting Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks before the National Park Service was formed. The soldiers built roads, created maps, extinguished fires, prevented the logging of sequoia trees, and kept poachers out of the parks.

Protection of land and the headwaters of the Flathead River, adjacent to Glacier National Park, by precluding future mining and drilling activity through the North Fork Watershed Protection Act.

source: National Parks Conservation Association

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