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More than removing fences: Friends of Nevada Wilderness

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A fiend holding up some recently removed barbed wire fencing at Sheldon NWR. Photo credit: Aaron Collins/USFWS

Since 2003, the Friends of Nevada Wilderness removed nearly 200 miles of barbed wire from Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. The fence was abandoned livestock fence that was never removed, though livestock are no longer allowed on the refuge. They’ve also removed several tons of abandoned water trough and other refuse!

The Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge protects more than half a million acres of high desert habitat for large wintering herds of pronghorn antelope, scattered bands of bighorn sheep, and a rich assortment of other wildlife.

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Mule deer are one of the many species, including pronghorn antelope and greater sage grouse, that depend on Sheldon NWR. Photo credit: Megan Nagel/USFWS

The landscape is vast, rugged, and punctuated with waterfalls, narrow gorges, and lush springs among rolling hills and expansive tablelands of sagebrush and mountain mahogany. Elevations on the refuge range from 4,100 to 7,200 feet. Annual precipitation rarely amounts to more than a dozen inches, creating a harsh environment where a wide variety of wildlife manages to thrive.

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A friend coiling up barbed wire fencing left behind, before this land became a refuge. Photo credit: Aaron Collins/USFWS

The Friends are a vital part of the refuge and protecting this special place. They have assisted the Service in making noticeable and important strides toward restoring, protecting, and preserving wilderness values in one of the largest intact areas of native sagebrush habitat in the Great Basin.

In addition to assisting with the removal of fencing and refuges, the Friends have assisted in collecting valuable resource information for monitoring the condition and recover of springs and riparian habitats.

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A before and after of an important and scarce riparian area on the refuge. Photo credit: USFWS

They’ve also secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in matching contributions and grants to support projects within the Refuge.

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John Kasbohm, Sharon Netherton (Friends of Nevada Wilderness), and Kevin Foerster. Photo credit: Aaron Collins/USFWS

The Pacific Region’s Refuges Chief Kevin Foerester and Sheldon-Hart National Wildlife Refuge Complex Project Leader John Kasbohm recently visited the Friends to thank them for all of their hard work to protect this special refuge - and it’s wildlife and habitat. Without our Friends, the Refuge wouldn’t have been able to accomplish as much for conservation.

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The Friends of Nevada Wilderness celebrating 50 Years of Wilderness. Photo credit: Aaron Collins/USFWS

If you want to help protect a special and a unique place, the Friends annually hosts a Refuge volunteer event for citizens from throughout the Pacific Region to accomplish a variety of projects including fence removal, habitat protection exclosures, boundary posting, and weed removal.  

Thank you Friends of Nevada Wilderness for helping protect wild Sheldon NWR! 

Summer School for Teachers

Aren’t teachers supposed to have the summer off?  Well, that is not the case for Dr. Healani Chang, a faculty member of the University of Hawaiʻi, Mänoa Campus, who spent her summer reaching out to teens and working hand in hand with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   Dr. Chang was awarded one of the Service’s Faculty Fellowships, partnering with the National Wildlife Refuge System and the local Hawaiʻian community to engage, teach and practice “Hana Kupono” or Hawaiian etiquette. 

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Where in the World is the Deputy Regional Director?

Deputy Regional Director for the Pacific Region Richard Hannan spent five days at work in the wilds of Saskatchewan, Canada, banding migratory waterfowl traveling south along the Central and Mississippi Flyway. Working with the Canadian Wildlife Service, other partners, and volunteers, they banded birds with a strip of plastic or metal placed around a leg. The information collected from these banded bird will be used to inform and coordinate conservation and waterfowl management in the flyway. The Central and Mississippi Flyways are two of four (including the Pacific and Atlantic) that extends south from Alaska and Canada all the way across the North American continent, including Mexico. Many species fly all the way to South America! Working with our international partners is an important part of the Service’s work to conserve migratory birds.

Deputy Regional Director Hannan kept a daily journal of his experiences while in Canada. The work of banding birds isn’t glamorous – mud, insects, heat and waterlogged boots are just some of the hazards involved. But those hazards don’t stop Service employees and volunteers from getting this important work done for bird species.

Read on for Deputy Regional Director Hannan’s daily account of what he calls his “dream assignment.”

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Deputy Regional Director Richard Hannan, decked out in hip waders to trap and band ducks in Canada, calls this field work opportunity a “dream assignment.” In his hands is a blue-winged teal. Credit: USFWS

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Clean boating made easier in Pasco

New pump-out service at the Columbia Marine Center protects people, water, wildlife

Boating just got cleaner and easier for the growing fleet of fishermen, duck hunters, and pleasure boaters on  the Columbia, Snake and Yakima Rivers in Eastern Washington. With grants provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Washington is improving water quality at the Columbia Marine Center by installing its first-ever pump-out station in Pasco’s Slagel Park to remove sewage from onboard holding tanks for proper treatment and disposal.image

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A Dam Crack’d: How the Fractured Wanapum Spillway Brought Us Together

By: Stephen Lewis, Hydropower and Energy Coordinator/USFWS

Fall Chinook are one of the five species of salmon in the water system impacted by the Wanapum Dam. Photo credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

I’ve seen many interesting things during my nearly 15 year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but as I travelled back from visiting Wanapum Dam for an assessment of a cracked spillway pier, I thought to myself, “How does a crack in such a large dam go undetected for so many years; and how could this happen, since Wanapum consists of so many thousands of yards of concrete?”  Did somebody forget to carry the one, when calculating how much concrete was needed during the original construction of this dam?

On February 28, 2014 Grant Public Utility District personnel, the owner and operator of the Priest Rapids Hydroelectric Project (including Wanapum Dam),  discovered a 75-foot long, 2-inch wide crack in one of the spillway piers at Wanapum Dam (Figure 1).  I know what you’re thinking!  Could the dam breach in this scenario??  Well, the answer is no, since Grant PUD took immediate action and vastly reduced the water pressure behind the dam by lowing the water elevation in the reservoir.  Reducing the water pressure actually closed the crack significantly.  This type of drastic action is not good for hydroelectric production at Wanapum Dam, especially if you want your lights to come on at your home. 

As a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who works on passing fish upstream through hydroelectric projects, my attention turned quickly to assessing whether or not fish can still pass upstream through this maize of concrete infrastructure at Wanapum Dam to the next upstream hydroelectric facility.  It turns out that reducing the water elevation in the reservoir behind Wanapum Dam leaves the fishway exits for adult migrating fish high and dry.    This means fish could enter the downstream side of the fishway, but would encounter a precipitous drop into the Wanapum Reservoir (Figure 2).  The solution became very complex, especially when record numbers of salmon on their way to their natal tributaries above Wanapum Dam are quickly approaching.   You would think that the Grant Public Utility District could simply fix the crack in a short amount of time and raise the reservoir elevation back to its original level, right?  Not so!  The Grant Public Utility District, in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other resource agencies, and associated tribes needed to think of a clever solution in a short amount of time.

Figure 1.  Location of Wanapum Dam crack at spillway 4 shown at normal water elevation.  Photo credit:  Grant County PUD

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“Play, Learn, Serve, Work”: Lessons in Dedication and Dissection From a Young Volunteer

After two years of participation as a Youth Fisheries Academy camper, Lydia Lawrence expressed interest in volunteering for this U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service educational program (description at the conclusion).  We were impressed by her motivation, commitment and enthusiasm, so we signed Lydia on (with parental consent) to serve as an instructor’s aid for the Fish Anatomy & Physiology learning station.  Her role was to assist the educational instructor with station set-up, instruction and break-down.  Lydia did a great job and love getting hands wet (and slimy) with the coho salmon dissection demonstrations as well as assisting campers with their individual dissections of rainbow trout (all hatchery specimens).  Lydia’s experience is a perfect example of the Department of Interior’s “Play, Learn, Serve, Work” youth initiative in action.  Perhaps she will become a Service employee one day….  The following is her story.

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Photo: Lydia concentrates as she removes and inspects a lens from a fish eye. Credit: Loretta Brown

This summer I was a volunteer for the Youth Fisheries Academy camp. The day before camp I went in to the lab to practice dissection. I met one of the people I would be working with, Alex, and he showed me what he was working on: seeing what fish ate. Then I started the dissection. At first we talked about what is on the outside of the fish slime, scales, fins and what they do and are called.   Then we cut open the fish and dissected the fish. We talked about the parts inside the fish and let me tell you something: It was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!! 

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The next day was fun too. I helped setup the stuff for dissection (above photo), geo-cashing, and such.  We then met the campers and dissected the first fish.  There was this annoying little wasp flying around and it bothered me and the campers, so we all stood away from the table.  A few minutes later the wasp flew in my direction so I speed walked to the other side and doing so said “meh” and we all laughed. Then it was lunch time and my hands smelled really bad. We ate and worked out a new plan. We then had a new group and the new group laughed when Alex did his weird dance (demonstrating how fish use their fins to steer themselves). Then when he was describing the slime he said, “Booger like stuff” I laughed and so did the campers. Then that was the end of that day, one day down two to go. 

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The American West and Sage Grouse: Symbols of Open Land

Note: It’s Multilingual Monday! This post can be found in Spanish on our new Tumblr page, where conservation doesn’t get lost in translation. 

 Photo credit: USFWS

Envisioning the American West brings forth imagery of open vistas, red rocks, and barren landscapes. Often, tumbleweeds and cacti are what come to mind in relation to western plants. However sagebrush, an often overlooked aromatic shrub, plays an important role in these vistas – it acts as a nursery for many animals of this open area.  Sagebrush thrives in semi-arid environments, with cold winters and hot summers.  When you look out to what seems to be a sea of gray-green shrubs, it may give the impression of monotony, but a closer look reveals a great diversity of plants and animals.

 Photo credit: USFWS

 One of the stars of this habitat is the sage grouse.   Sage grouse can grow up to 2 feet tall and can weigh between 2-5 pounds.  The males are known for the bright yellow air sacks on their breasts and the white plumage around their necks.  They are also famed for their courtship dance.  These interesting birds can migrate up to 100 miles one way which would seem easy if they flew the whole time.  Instead, the birds hopscotch (walk and fly) across sagebrush habitat in order to make the long trek to leks where courting and nesting occur.

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New View at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Sunshine and blue skies encapsulated an event honoring our partners at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge on July 17th.  The Nature Conservancy, along with many others, helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquire two new parcels of land known as the Two Rivers Peninsula.  As a result, the entire Cannery Hill peninsula on Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge is protected for future generations of people and wildlife. 

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Photo Credit: Amelia O’Conner, USFWS

According to Service’s Pacific Regional Director Robyn Thorson, the message of the day was gratitude. Director Thorson expressed her gratitude by stating, “Partnerships are the backbone of our National Wildlife Refuges.  As clearly demonstrated today, they help establish and grow National Wildlife Refuges.  These parcels’ expansive rolling hillsides of lush upland forests, scenic views and two miles of estuary shoreline provide habitat for abundant plants and animals including migratory songbirds, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, black-tailed deer, bobcat, harbor seals and estuarine-dependent fish such as coho and Chinook salmon. We look forward to continuing the wonderful relationships established here as we nurture and manage the natural areas of the Nestucca Bay estuary for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people.”

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Photo Credit: Amelia O’Conner, USFWS

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A Refuge for All

Video Credit: Jenny de la Hoz, USFWS

 Paddling down the river, you enter a serene world of trees and birds.  As you start taking it in, you find yourself actually sitting still long enough to hear bird songs you haven’t heard.  It is a Refuge of peace you can’t believe exists just a few hundred feet from Oregon Coast Highway 101.  It is the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge and it is located just south of Lincoln City, Oregon.

 

Photo Credit: Jenny de la Hoz, USFWS

 This is a tour of the refuge – a bilingual Spanish and English tour (click here for the Spanish version of this article).  But it is just one of many two-hour tours the Refuge is offering all summer.  Some tours are bilingual and some tours are English only - but all are free.  All you have to bring your own canoe or kayak.  And if you don’t have, it’s easy enough to rent one in the area. (http://www.fws.gov/oregoncoast/siletzbay)

 

Photo Credit: Jenny de la Hoz, USFWS

 As the tour follows the curves of the river, the ranger explains that some of the birds we see use this area as a layover in their long migrations – some from as far away as Argentina.  Preserving this area as a place where birds can stop over helps their populations to flourish and allows visitors to see these animals in their natural environment.  Refuges are sanctuaries established to help all types of animals and plants live, breed, rest, and raise their young along scientifically established productive and essential pathways.  There are more than 560 National Wildlife Refuges and most are within an hour’s drive from most major metropolitan area. Some are free and some have a small fee.  Click on the following site to find one close to you and find your sanctuary. (http://www.fws.gov/refuges)

 

Photo Credit: Jenny de la Hoz, USFWS

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