A SERVICE OF THE OUTDOOR WIRE DIGITAL NETWORK
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2018
The first sighting of a fall Snowy Owl in the Lower 48 canít be too many days away; photo by Paul Konrad
Dad! Stop! I see one! My father pulled over and we piled out of the old Saab. I quickly set up my spotting scope and scanned the expansive marsh grasses at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. From the window of the car I spotted the telltale profile of a Snowy Owl – a dab of white in the otherwise gray salt marsh. Just yesterday we’d bumped into the local judge at our post office. He was a bird authority and the news of the week was that the Snowys were at the Refuge. So, here we were, in search of our first Snowy Owl.
“Oh, man! I can’t believe it!” I finally found the white spot in the marsh and, instead of a Snowy Owl, it was a white sign, emblazoned with a blue goose profile, indicating the boundary of the national wildlife refuge. Ever the good father, Dad noted that it was a “very owl-like sign,” if he did say so himself.
Just a few minutes later we came across the real thing – a magnificent Snowy, not 75 yards out in the marsh. I can still see those luminescent yellow eyes today, peering out at us. We stayed for 15 minutes, the three of us – Dad, me, and the owl – gawking at each other.
The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, was only a 40-minute drive from my home in Rockport, Massachusetts, but it was a world away. It was, after all, a NATIONAL wildlife refuge, set aside from all other areas near us for its extraordinary bird and wildlife values. Known locally as Plum Island, its varied habitats were a magnet for birds and birders, what with tidal marshes, dunes, beaches, swamps and thickets. For a young birder, it was thrilling to visit and meet dozens of other birders, all sharing sightings and tips.
Forty years later, national wildlife refuges still thrill me. When travels take me to a new area, my planning always begins with a quick search to see if there is a refuge nearby. I know there will be great habitats, good birds and friendly birders.
The World’s Premiere System of Public Lands
to Protect and Conserve America’s Wildlife
That’s a bold boast for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make, but if you’ve been birding at a refuge recently, you know it’s a valid claim. Peppered across the country are 567 Refuges and 38 wetland management districts conserving more than 150 million acres. Unlike other public lands, our national wildlife refuges were protected just for wildlife and, in most cases, birds.
Starting in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt declared Florida’s Pelican Island as the first refuge, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to protect some of our most important locations and species.
An estimated 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 species of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 1,000 species of fish have been recorded on our nation’s refuges. In all, more than 380 species of threatened or endangered plants and animals are protected on wildlife refuges.
And People Too
It’s no accident that people are highlighted in the wording of the mission statement of the federal agency that manages national wildlife refuges: 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.
The National Wildlife Refuge System website explains that 47 million people visit our refuges each year, generating $2.4 billion in economic impact to communities and supporting 35,000 jobs. That’s an important message that birders should always promote: Refuges are good for birds and for people’s pocketbooks. One simple, effective conservation message we can deliver is to remind local merchants that we are in their community – spending money on gas, meals and other things – because of the refuge.
Birders are not the only ones who benefit from refuges. Hunters, anglers, photographers, paddlers, hikers and many other nature enthusiasts consider refuges their destination of choice.
More than Just Refuges
Although the National Wildlife Refuge System is the most visible feature of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this federal agency plays many other key roles in protecting birds and wildlife. For example, the Service (and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) administers the Endangered Species Act. This means they determine which species should be considered Threatened or Endangered, and which should be removed from the list when sufficiently recovered. They also work with landowners to create programs that will benefit Threatened and Endangered species.
One of the most popular programs offered by the Service, called Partners for Fish and Wildlife, offers grants to landowners who undertake approved projects to improve habitats on their properties. This outreach is critical for bird conservation, because nearly three-quarters of the land in the United States is in private hands. National Wildlife Refuges are essential for conservation, but without additional protection on surrounding private lands, birds and other wildlife won’t thrive.
Take advantage of National Wildlife Refuge Week 2018 to visit one of our refuges. Better yet, consider getting involved at your local refuge as a volunteer. And support the National Wildlife Refuge System by purchasing a duck stamp! Proceeds from the $25 stamp are used to acquire lands important to all birds. Ask for one at your local post office, click on the ABA site advertised in this issue, advertised in this issuehttp://www.aba.org/stamp/ and see http://www.friendsofthestamp.org/
Don’t leave home without one – Duck Stamps provide free admission to national wildlife refuges too (although many refuges have free access). Looking for a great gift for a nature enthusiast? Give Duck Stamps!
For more about National Wildlife Refuge Week, visit https://www.fws.gov/refuges/visitors/RefugeWeek.html
To learn more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit www.fws.gov
Become a “Friend” of your favorite national wildlife refuge. Many refuges have active groups of volunteers, or Friends, who support the system in many ways. Becoming a Refuge Friend is one of the most rewarding, and enjoyable, positions you will ever have! Learn more atwww.refugeassociation.org
Article by Peter Stangel
Which refuge have you visited recently? Which refuge would you most like to visit some day? Share your favorite refuge stories and photos ateditorsTBW2@gmail.com