The Flyer E-Newsletter: April 2014



David Headshot

Dear Friends,

As this month’s Flyer flies into your inbox, birds are flying across the country in their spring migrations. Warblers, tanagers, buntings, grosbeaks, orioles, vireos, and thrushes fill the North American woodlands with song, color, and activity making Spring the perfect season to get out and visit your local refuge.

Some of our staff had a chance to visit Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland earlier this month, but unfortunately they were a little too early to see any songbirds. They did, however, manage to see a captive flock of whooping cranes which are part of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey on captive propagation of endangered species.

Joining the staff at Patuxent was a group of special visitors from Russia on a month-long educational trip to the United States. The Flora and Fauna Group of the Eurasia Foundation and the Refuge Association provided a group of emerging and advanced conservation professionals from Russia a series of tours and workshops where they learned about on the ground conservation, the economic benefits of the Refuge System, and about how to maintain a conservation/visitation balance.

While our Russian guests were traversing the nation seeing first-hand the economic and social value of refuges, the Friends of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa were touting the benefits of their local refuge at a Lobby Day at Iowa’s State Capitol. Meanwhile, several Friends and partners travelled to Capitol Hill to testify at Public Witness Day about the need to adequately fund refuge operations and maintenance. It heartens me to know that their voices are making a difference with lawmakers at all levels.

As you can see, Spring is an incredibly active time – for the Refuge Association and for migrating birds. I hope you get a chance to experience this magical season at your local refuge!




David Houghton


Patuxent Visitor Center | Emily Paciolla
Patuxent Visitor Center | Emily Paciolla

One might not think there are wildlife refuges in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the closer refuges is Patuxent Research Refuge. Visiting Patuxent coming from Washington, D.C. is like traveling to a completely different world. Getting past the traffic can be quite challenging, but is well worth it. Going from the hustle and bustle of our nation’s capital, to the quiet serene refuge is quite the contrast. The wonderful Refuge Manager, Brad Knudsen was kind enough to give a couple members of the Refuge Association staff and visitors a tour of the refuge. Read more...

General Information about the Refuge

Established in 1936 by President Franklin Roosevelt, Patuxent is the only refuge whose purpose is specifically to support wildlife research. Many different habitat types exist on the refuge, some early successional stages scrub shrub, forest, meadow, and wetland habitats. Since there are no natural lakes in Maryland, all of the water bodies on the refuge are man made, providing wildlife habitat and also places for research studies. Luckily, the refuge is open for visitation and welcomes about 230,000 visitors a year.

So what kind of research is being done?

Initially, the refuge was set up as a companion research center with the adjacent Beltsville Agricultural Research Center to study how to keep wildlife from damaging crops. Researchers then recognized that wildlife populations, waterfowl specifically, were declining. Subsequently, the partnership shifted focus and began to study how to practice agriculture to help wildlife populations.

A whooping crane at Patuxent | USFWS
A whooping crane at Patuxent | USFWS

Currently, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) performs about half of the research on the refuge. The other half is done by local universities, federal agencies such as USDA, and other state agencies that look at vector monitoring, disease transmission surveys, bird banding,  and contaminants studies. The longest running study on the refuge is a bird breeding census started by Chandler Robbins that has been going for 53 years. These long running studies are incredibly important for determining trends in populations and habitat changes that can affect wildlife.

One of the more interesting studies is being done on a captive flock of whooping cranes. The USGS is looking at captive propagation for endangered species. We will discuss this in further detail in an upcoming blog post- keep an eye out!

Habitat Camp

One of the standout programs on the refuge is called Habitat Camp. It is a week long camp partnered by local schools and the refuge for fourth and fifth grade students. For many of the students, this camp is their first exposure to nature. The first half of the week is spent on the refuge where the students get hands on experience learning about wildlife and habitat. They get to examine aquatic samples, walk through the forest, and get outside to experience and enjoy nature. Once they are back at the school for the second half of the week, the students apply what they learned in the field, to an area that is much more familiar to them- their school. The students look for signs of habitat and natural areas around the school, and discuss why habitat and the environment are important while thinking about what it takes for us to survive and keep our environment healthy.

Birding for the Blind

It may sound counterintuitive, but you don’t have to be able to see to go birding. The Birding for the Blind allows the visually impaired to experience birding  first hand out on the refuge. This program happens once a year, and always received rave reviews from its attendees. The program has participants touch and feel the birds, learn about their habits and behaviors, and then get outside where they can listen to bird songs and try to identify them. The program is an excellent opportunity for those who are sight impaired to be able to experience what it’s like to go birding.

Fun Facts about Patuxent Research Refuge:

  • One of the manmade water bodies on the refuge | Emily Paciolla
    One of the manmade water bodies on the refuge | Emily Paciolla

    Has the longest, most varied hunting season in all of region 5, the Northeast region of the United States.

  • Has one of the first net zero/carbon neutral government residences on a refuge
  • Some sycamore trees are nearly 200 years old
  • In the 1930s, before GPS existed, Norway spruce trees were used on the refuge as markers, and many of the trees are still alive and well
  • There are about 23 refuge staff members and over 175 other staff (mostly researchers) that work on the refuge
  • 7,000 students come to the refuge for environmental education each year
  • 2-3,000 visitors come for continuing education programs each year
  • Patuxent is a popular destination for dignitaries and politicians due to its proximity to Washington, D.C.

If you are ever in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, you should definitely visit Patuxent Research Refuge. With an incredibly friendly staff and such a unique purpose, it’s something you don’t want to miss! 


Throughout the month of April, the National Wildlife Refuge Association hosted a group of very special visitors. The Flora and Fauna Group of the Eurasia Foundation and the Refuge Association provided a group of emerging and advanced conservation professionals from Russia a series of tours and workshops where they learned about on the ground conservation, the economic benefits of the refuge system, and about how to maintain a conservation/visitation balance.

Aryuna, Anna, Liubov, and Yury in front of Crater Lake, OR | Ron Cole
Aryuna Radnaeva, Anna Zavadskaya, Liubov Volkova, and Yury Gorshkov in front of Crater Lake, OR | Ron Cole

On the tour were four Russian conservationists, Aryuna Radnaeva, Anna Zavadskaya, Liubov Volkova, and Yury Gorshkov. Aryuna grew up along the shores of Lake Baikal. She is a graduate student with a degree in law and plans to pursue an environmental law degree in the United States. Anna has a PhD in biology and is a naturalist and educator at the immense Kamchatka Reserve in the Russian Far East. Liubov is a Professor at a University in St. Petersburg who hopes to instill a sense of importance and connection between the seemingly artificial and natural extremes to her students. Yury is an experienced manager and leader of the Raifa Reserve in central Russia with a PhD in biology and has published numerous scientific papers and books.

Three PhD’s and an environmental lawyer – how do you provide an educational yet interesting itinerary for such a travelled and distinguished group? Easy. Take them to national wildlife refuges! Read more...

Their trip started at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Tulelake, California. There, Park Ranger Steve Rooker and acting Project Leader Greg Austin provided an overview of the Klamath Basin Complex. They described its importance to the Pacific Flyway to over 400 species of fish and wildlife, and to people as an important recreation destination.  They also discussed the challenges of endangered species, Tribes, and farmers all competing for scarce water.

The next day the group went to Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Lava Beds National Monument in Tulelake, California. Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge is unique among refuges in that commercial agriculture is one of the legislated purposes of the refuge. Our Russian guests found it amazing that laws would allow such practices on a refuge, but they were equally amazed that over the past eight years, through innovation and creativity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and agribusiness have found a compromise by synergistically rotating wetlands and croplands to achieve both wildlife and farming benefits. These efforts have helped remove chemicals from over 22,000 acres of farmland, improve water quality and increase farming profitability through organic agriculture. The Russians agreed this was a great example of finding solutions through cooperation and meaningful partnerships.

Following their trip to Oregon, they were off to Refuge Association Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Desiree Sorenson-Groves, the Refuge Association’s Vice President of Government Affairs, brought in some members of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) to speak with the Russians. Anna asked about how the Refuge System handles the balance between conservation efforts and visitation. From her standpoint as a scientist, she said she wants to keep visitors out for the most part. But at the same time, she understands that without visitors, no one will know about these amazing places, and no one will want to protect them. The Refuge System struggles with this issue as well, and each refuge has its own answer to that question as each is very unique. Anna and CARE members discussed different possibilities and what has been done in the past, such as only allowing visitation in very small parts of the refuge. The Russians were also interested in how the Refuge System brands itself. In Russia, the public lands system is not very well known among the general public. They took some suggestions about how the Refuge System promotes refuges. In regards to the economic benefits of refuges, all of the Russians were thrilled to hear that refuges return an average of $4.87 for every $1 appropriated.

From left to right: Anna, Aryuna, Desiree Sorenson- Groves (Refuge Association), Brad Knudsen (Refuge Manager), Liubov, Emily Paciolla (Refuge Association), Aaron Britton (Refuge Association), Yury
From left to right: Anna Zavadskaya, Aryuna Radnaeva, Desiree Sorenson- Groves (Refuge Association), Brad Knudsen (Refuge Manager), Liubov Volkova, Emily Paciolla (Refuge Association), Aaron Britton (Refuge Association), Yury Gorshkov

While in the DC area, the group visited the Patuxent Research Refuge in suburban Maryland, where they learned about how research is conducted on refuges, and how the land is managed in such an urban area. Yury and Aryuna noted that the public lands they work on in Russia are in very urban areas as well. To learn more about Patuxent, be sure to check out the “On the Refuge” section of this Flyer!

After a quick trip to Utah and Wyoming, the Russians were off to their final destination – Texas. A former U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee, Jared Brandwein, was there to show them the beauty of the refuges in the South. The group took a tour of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge where they learned about wildlife observation, photography, and environmental conservation – and even experienced an airboat ride. Wildlife observation and photography are popular among refuge visitors, so it was helpful for the group to see how these activities are managed, and apply those lessons at home.

The trip proved educational for all, and was a wonderful reminder of the common purpose of conservation around the world.



Earlier this month, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, hosted “Public Witness Day”, an opportunity for Americans from all over the nation to speak to decision makers about priorities for funding for natural resources.  This year, two members of refuge Friends groups testified about the need for additional funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System and land acquisition and one rancher from the Partners for Conservation testified for additional funding for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program – a successful program where the Service works directly with private land owners, oftentimes on lands adjacent to refuges.

Mr. WIlliamson and Mr. Streubertor on the steps of the Capitol after testifying | Emily Paciolla
Mr. WIlliamson and Mr. Streufert on the steps of the Capitol after testifying | Emily Paciolla

This subcommittee is one of the only committees to offer a day like this. Public Witness Day gives American citizens from all walks of life and backgrounds the opportunity to request funding for priority programs such as public lands, arts, and Native American issues. It is democracy in action, giving organizations and individuals the ability to speak directly to the lawmakers who write the funding bills for all programs within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as numerous other natural resource agencies. Any American citizen is able to submit testimony and apply to testify. The Refuge Association and CARE have both submitted testimony, as well as several Friends groups.

Chosen to testify were Bobby Williamson from the Friends of the Wichitas in Oklahoma, Randy Streufert from the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges in Virginia, and Terry Mansfield, a board member of Partners for Conservation and a private landowner based in Washington State. All three have very unique backgrounds, but came with the same message- increased funding for refuges. Read more...

Mr. Williamson has a long history with the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. This is where he was born and grew up while his father worked there. Now, he spends a large amount of time volunteering. In his testimony, Mr. Williamson explained the diversity of the friends members, poor, well to do, black, white, Republican, and Democrat and how they all come together and agree on one thing- they love and support the refuge. “I have hiked 1200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Done rim to rim to rim on the Grand Canyon. Hiked in half our National Parks. When I tell my wife about the places I see she smiles. She knows that I will always come back to the Wichitas where I have always been. And she’s right.”

Mr. Streufert, also a member of a Friends group, had a very different perspective and reason for loving his local refuges (Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck NWR, Occoquan Bay NWR , and Featherstone NWR). A recent retiree after working in public service for 39 years, Streufert held a senior management position for over 20 years, and is also an Army veteran. For the past year, he has been a member of the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, contributing many volunteer hours on the refuge. The refuges that Mr. Streufert volunteers at are prime examples of urban refuges since they are surrounded by the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Streufert went on to explain the high population of service members with four military bases in the surrounding area and how important they are to wounded and rehabilitating soldiers. Refuges are “precisely this type of environment that is critical to the healing process for Wounded Warriors…Our veterans and their families have earned the best of what our government can provide.”

Mr. Mansfield on the steps of the Capitol after testifying | Emily Paciolla
Mr. Mansfield on the steps of the Capitol after testifying | Emily Paciolla

Terry Mansfield on the other hand, is not a member of a Friends group, but a rancher and private landowner whose ranch is near a refuge in Washington. Established in 2008, Partners for Conservation embodies a grassroots movement of private landowners working with agencies, non-profit organizations, and policymakers to collaborate on conservation projects for present and future generations. It represents the voices of 21st century conservation and the collective effort to support working landscapes through voluntary, incentive-based public and private programs. Mr. Mansfield explained the vast importance of private and public sectors working together, and that it is very successful when done appropriately. He was very supportive of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program as he explained that “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can’t do it alone”. Many endangered and threatened species rely on private land, making the partners program even more important.

In past years the testimony of Friends and partners made a lasting impact on committee members that led to increases in Refuge System funding. Congressmen and women listen to their constituents, making Public Witness Day the perfect avenue to support the National Wildlife Refuge System.



Recently, several board members of the Friends of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge attended the Iowa Environmental Council’s Environmental Lobby Day at the Iowa State Capitol. Stan Kuhn, Jonathan Yentis, and Joan Van Gorp joined almost 40 different organizations including Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Sierra Club, Trees Forever, Iowa Conservation Education Coalition, Iowa Audubon to lobby in support of Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP). The goal for 2014 is to have the program funded at $25 million.

Council Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg, center, addresses the assembled crowd at Environmental Lobby Day, March 18 | Friends of Neal Smtih NWR
Council Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg, center, addresses the assembled crowd at Environmental Lobby Day, March 18 | Friends of the Neal Smtih NWR

The Friends spoke with legislators, visitors, and other organizations about the need to fund the REAP program. They also hosted an exhibit about their organization and the value of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge to the local economy. A 2012 study by Iowa State University identified 31,000 Iowa jobs and more than $3 billion in annual spending due to outdoor recreation in the state.

By attending Lobby Day not only did the Friends display their commitment to a safe, healthy environment for Iowans, but they were able to increase awareness about the refuge, the REAP program, and the economic benefits of outdoor recreation. Read more...

Friends are the Best Advocates

Friends groups play many roles. Not only do they provide hands on assistance with maintenance of their local refuge, running outdoor education programs, working in the nature store, and helping with other tasks on the refuge, but they also play a critical role advocating for the Refuge System.

In fact, their voice on Capitol Hill is critical to secure adequate funding to maintain and operate refuges. To see Friends in action, check out this month’s Inside Washington section about two Friends representatives who travelled to Washington, DC to testify on Public Witness Day in support of robust refuge funding.

Lobbying is just one of the many important roles refuge Friends groups play. Their voices make an enormous difference, and the Refuge Association is grateful for Friends who speak out on behalf of America’s wildlife refuges.


Earth Day on Refuges

Nesting Nene Geese on Oahu- First Time since 1700s

Eradication of Invasive Species on Midway Atoll NWR

Getting Kids Outside

Secretary Receives Support for Decision on Izembek

The Birding Community E-Bulletin April


Refuge Manager

Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland

Brad Knudsen | Emily Paciolla
Brad Knudsen | Emily Paciolla

The Refuge is Best Known For: Being the only refuge in the system that has a specific purpose of supporting wildlife research.

The Refuge’s Best Kept Secret is: The refuge itself. Even though there is a large urban population in the surrounding area, a lot of people don’t know that they have such a wildlife haven right in their own backyard.

The Most Interesting Species in the Refuge is: The captive flock of whooping cranes. USGS is conducting research on captive propagation for endangered species, and the refuge provides the land base where it all happens (~300 acres).

Favorite Activity in the Refuge is: Wildlife Observation. One evening while out with my two teenagers about an hour before sunset, we saw 2 bald eagles, 5 beavers, a marsh hawk, Canada geese (200-300), and heard frogs calling.

The Best Time to Visit the Refuge is: Springtime is a favorite time for visitors because of the migrating birds. It’s best to visit during early mornings, and in the evenings.


Friends, are you connected?

RefugeFriendsConnect graphic is a membership site that is managed by NWRA and a group of volunteers. If you are a Friends group member or are refuge staff working with Friends you are welcome to join.


Keep an eye out for these upcoming events: 

White-tailed Deer with a female Cowbird perched on its head | Stephen Maxson
Stephen Maxson


April 22: Earth Day and release of “Restoration Returns” report by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

April 28-30: Partners for Conservation comes to Washington, D.C.

May 2: The Refuge Association Presents Rep. John Dingell with Lifetime Achievement Award

May 10: International Migratory Bird Day

May 11: Mother’s Day

May 23 : Deadline to submit written testimony to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee (INSTRUCTIONS)

May 26: Memorial Day


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The National Wildlife Refuge Association is on the cutting edge of wildlife habitat conservation and citizen engagement in the United States. But we need your help to advance our work protecting large landscapes, educating decision-makers in Washington, and mobilizing refuge Friends in support of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Please make a generous donation today! Flyer Masthead Photo Credit: Kestrel, Wade Dowdy

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