The Flyer E-Newsletter: July 2014



David Headshot

Dear Friends,

As summer rolls on, you are no doubt taking advantage of the long days to get outside and enjoy our incredible wildlife refuges. We certainly have been, and this month’s Flyer features a terrific refuge in New Jersey, a stone’s throw away from New York City. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is home to the first-ever Department of Interior designated wilderness, and offers an impressive line-up of wildlife so close to the city.

Great Swamp was also the setting for the first ever Friends peer-to-peer coaching session, hosted in June by Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The two-day event offered a great opportunity for Friends in the mid-Atlantic region to meet in person to discuss organizational issues, learn best practices and share practical ideas and tips. It was the first of four sessions to be held around the country.

Down south in Florida, the Refuge Association organized a meeting this month between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, Refuge System Chief Jim Kurth, and several Florida groups to discuss science-based land acquisition in the Everglades, an important topic for everyone interested in conserving important wildlife habitat as well as a unique cultural heritage in central Florida.

Meanwhile, we’ve been closely monitoring FY15 budget negotiations on Capitol Hill. The Department of Interior spending bill that was approved by the House Appropriations Committee is a bit of a mixed bag, with some good news for Refuge System funding, but it includes some terrible riders that don’t belong in a spending bill. We’ll have to see what the Senate version of the bill looks like; we expect the Senate Appropriations Committee to hold a mark-up before the August recess.

Summer is a great time for re-charging and re-grouping. To that end, we’re updating our records.  If you are not subscribed to receive this monthly flyer in your email click here. If you have any questions, feel free to email

Have a great week and don’t forget to get out and enjoy your local refuge!



David Houghton


Great Swamp: Wilderness in the City

Boardwalk and Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge | Christine McGowan
Boardwalk at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge | Christine McGowan

When people think of wilderness, they often picture the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or another magnificent landscape far from the hustle and bustle of city life.  And yet, the Department of Interior’s first ever designated wilderness area sits just 26 miles from New York City’s Times Square.

Tucked away behind suburban New Jersey neighborhoods and major interstate highways is Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, a 7,768-acre refuge where visitors can discover everything from black bears and coyotes to the federally endangered bog turtle and an impressive 244 species of birds.

In fact, Great Swamp is somewhat of a mecca for birders during spring and fall migrations. More than 170,000 visitors a year make use of the refuge trails and viewing areas to spot migrating songbirds and waterfowl flowing through the landscape.

“It’s a real gem,” says Dave Sagan, visitor services specialist at Great Swamp. “In the fall, it’s so cool to see the amazing number of waterfowl migrating through.” Read more...

The refuge is named after the geography it sits within – a giant bowl left by glaciers that was once a huge lake. The swamp is what remains, and its habitat is ideal for many species of wildlife.

But Great Swamp almost became an airport. In the late 1950s, an effort to build a new metropolitan airport to serve New York and New Jersey was met with fierce opposition by local residents who banded together to create the Great Swamp Committee. They raised enough money to purchase 2,600 acres that would have been developed. Instead, they turned it over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage as a wildlife refuge. Today, the visitor’s center is named after the founder of the Great Swamp Committee, Helen Fenske.

River at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge | Christine McGowan

In 1968, more than 3,000 acres of the refuge was designated wilderness – the first such designation of any public land by the Department of Interior. The area is open to the public, offering a rare wilderness experience in an area surrounded by major metropolitan cities.

Spend a day at Great Swamp, and you’re almost guaranteed to see an impressive array of local wildlife: turtles, snakes, frogs as well as songbirds, waterfowl and many mammals. Two federally endangered species – the Indiana bat and the bog turtle – are found on the refuge, as well as the state endangered blue-spotted salamander.

The refuge offers easy boardwalk hikes as well as wilderness terrain where no motorized vehicles or power equipment are allowed.

Reaching New Constituents

While popular with many “traditional” refuge users, Great Swamp is making big efforts to appeal to more diverse constituents, such as inner-city school children in nearby New York City and Newark.

“It’s a culture shock for them,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, visitor services manager. When students from neighboring cities experience the sights and sounds of the natural world for the first time, “they go from nervous to excited. And they always go away more inspired.”

Great Swamp staff and volunteers, with the help of Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, travel to local schools, but they also are able to bus school kids to the refuge.

Trail at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge | Christine McGowan
Trail at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge | Christine McGowan

The Friends group helps provide funding for buses, but also provides volunteers to lead walks and help chaperone students exploring the wilderness area. “They might be streetwise, but they’re not wilderness wise,” said Rosenberg.

Rosenberg said the program makes a big difference for students who rarely get to experience outdoor learning. But like many programs, the biggest limiting factor is money. With recent budget cuts and staff reductions, it’s getting tougher to provide public programs and meet the refuge’s priorities around wildlife stewardship.

Great Swamp is in the process of completing its Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP). Rosenberg said the 15-year master plan will help refuge staff continue to balance it’s primary mission of wildlife management with various recreational opportunities such as birding, hiking and limited hunting, ensuring that activities are compatible with efforts to conserve wildlife. And, with several municipalities bordering the refuge, it’s essential the plan include input from local and state partners.

The comment period for the plan ended June 27, and Rosenberg said the refuge hopes to finalize it soon. To read more about the plan, visit the Great Swamp Website


From left to right: Jim Kurth, Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System; David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association; Mike Oetker, Deputy Regional Director, Southeast Region; Dan Ashe, Director, USFWS
From left to right: Jim Kurth Chief of the NWRS;
David Houghton, President of the Refuge Association;
Mike Oetker, Deputy Regional Director, Southeast Region;
Dan Ashe Director, USFWS

Early this month, the National Wildlife Refuge Association organized a meeting in Florida between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, Refuge System Chief Jim Kurth, and several local groups to discuss science-based land acquisition within the Everglades landscape.

Held at the Adams Family Ranch in central Florida, the meeting included representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Northern Everglades Alliance, the Sportsmen’s Trust, private landowners and others interested in protecting the Everglades.

Participants discussed their common interest in conserving land in the region, and shared ideas about how to solve some of the complex conservation challenges facing the Everglades. Hosted by one of Florida’s longtime ranch families, the Adams Ranch was an ideal location to showcase the important cultural heritage that is being preserved in central Florida’s vast ranchlands. Read more...

Why the Everglades are important

The Northern Everglades system is one of the largest, most complex natural systems in the world extending from the southern border of Orlando to the northern edge of Big Cypress National Park. The Northern Everglades provide clean water to more than 8 million people in South Florida. These wetland systems act as a large sponge that absorbs and cleans water, which reduces the need for billions of dollars in man-made water filtration infrastructure.

Not only do the Everglades provide clean water, they also provide habitat for wildlife as diverse as alligators, black bear, bald eagles, the Everglades snail kite, gopher tortoise, the endangered Florida panther and the critically endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow.

The Everglades also protect an American way of life. Cattle have been ranched in Florida since the 1500s. Large intact ranches in the heart of Florida’s Northern Everglades have conserved Florida’s natural and cultural heritage for hundreds of years. If these ranches fall victim to the long-range trend of commercial development in rural Florida, not only will America’s beef and farming industries suffer – a unique, rural American culture is also at risk.

Cattle ranching is a $4 billion industry in Florida, making it an important economic driver as well. Continuing a 500-year tradition, fourth and fifth generation ranch families manage over 1.7 million head of cattle on over seven million acres of land. Florida ranchers provide jobs, contribute to America’s food security with beef, citrus and other crops, and their lands provide habitat for the tropical wildlife that attracts sportsmen, birders and other wildlife enthusiasts.

During the meeting, Dan Ashe expressed strong support and commitment to the protection of the Everglades. He was impressed with the diverse groups that attended the meeting and said he is excited about the partnership between the states, federal government, as well as nonprofits and private landowners. 


capitol-hill-buildingHouse Interior Funding Bill is a Mixed Bag

On July 15, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the Fiscal Year 2015 spending bill for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, which provides funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System and numerous important conservation programs.

The best news coming out of the bill was a significant increase in the Refuge Fund budget from a usual $13 or $14 million up to $38 million. This is an enormous increase, and is very good news for the Refuge System. Because the federal government is exempt from taxation, refuges don’t pay local property taxes. The Refuge Fund is an annual appropriation designed to offset this tax loss by annually paying the local unit of government an amount that often equals or exceeds that which would have been collected from taxes if the property was in private ownership.

We’re also pleased to see the Refuge System operations and maintenance fund at $476.87 million, which is another step in the right direction and slightly above the President’s request. Many Refuge System budget items were funded at or close to what the Refuge Association requested, which is good news. Read more...

However, the bill contains a drastic reduction in land acquisition funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – a cut of 71% cut over current funding for the Service and some items that don’t belong in a funding bill:

  • A rider that removes the ability of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish new refuges or expand existing ones. We oppose this rider, as we believe local communities, not Capitol Hill, should be actively engaged in these important decisions.
  • A rider that postpones the listing decision for one year on the Greater Sage-Grouse. This sort of decision should be made based on sound science, not tacked onto a spending bill.

Neither of these riders should be included in an appropriations bill, and we’ll be urging Congress to remove them.

Here is a breakdown of the Committee’s Interior Appropriations Bill, along with the Refuge Association requests.

  • Refuge System Funding $476.865 million (Refuge Association ask: $476.4 million; FY14 funding is $472 m)
  • Partners for Fish and Wildlife $52 million (Refuge Association ask: $75 million; FY14 funding is $52.07 m)
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) $34.145 million (Refuge Association ask: $75 million; FY14 funding is $34 m)
  • Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act $3.66 million (Refuge Association ask: $4 million; FY14 funding is $3.6 m)
  • Multinational Species Fund $10 million (Refuge Association ask: $9.1 million; FY14 funding is $9 m)

Click here to view the full list of the Refuge Association Legislative Priorities for FY15.

This bill now heads to the floor for a House vote, and it’s unclear when – or if –  that will happen. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet released its version of the bill but we anticipate that it could occur the final weeks of July. Stay tuned for further updates. 


Participants at the Peer-to-Peer Coaching Session | Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
Participants at the Peer-to-Peer Coaching Session | Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

First-Ever Peer-to-Peer Friends Coaching Session Held at Great Swamp

A number of Mid-Atlantic Friends groups recently showed the real value of “Refuge Friends Connect” when they gathered for the first ever Friends peer-to-peer coaching session in New Jersey June 27-28. Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge hosted the first session out of four funded by a National Wildlife Refuge Friends Program grant administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

More than 50 people attended, including Friends members, refuge employees, regional and national refuge staff and representatives from the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Participants attended panel discussions on a variety of common issues such as board recruitment, building community partnerships, goal-setting and budget management, membership and communications. Read more...

Mamie Parker speaking at Peer-to-Peer Coaching Session | Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
Mamie Parker speaking at Peer-to-Peer Coaching Session | Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

The event’s keynote address was given by Mamie Parker, a former FWS leader and Refuge Association board member. Parker’s rousing speech focused on “radical collaboration,” a phrase she used to describe what successful people and organizations do in today’s ever-changing environment. Parker told a very personal story of her life growing up in the south, and moving to northern states at the beginning of her FWS career. She described her evolution as a FWS leader, the lessons she learned about collaborating with others, both professionally and personally. She encouraged attendees to embrace change and work together as leaders to develop solutions to the challenges facing their organizations.

The next Friends peer-to-peer coaching session will be held September 5-6 at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. For more information about the National Wildlife Refuge Friends Grant Program that provided funds for this session go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation site.


Friends groups that participated at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge:

Friends of Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, PA

Friends of Heinz Refuge at Tinicum, PA

Friends of Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, NJ

Friends of Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, NJ

Friends of Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, NJ

Friends of Forsythe, NJ

Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, NJ

Friends of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, DE

Friends of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, DE

Friends of Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, NY



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Visitor Services Specialist

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, New Vernon, NJ

Dave Sagan, Visitor Services Specialist at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge | Christine McGowan
Dave Sagan, Visitor Services Specialist at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge | Christine McGowan

The refuge is best known for: Turtles, snakes and frogs, and being such a wild place so close to New York City.

The refuge’s best kept secret is: The amazing diversity of wildlife and scenic areas, including 3,660 acres of designated wilderness.

The most interesting species on the refuge is: Bats – we have nine species of bats that can be found on the refuge, including the endangered Indiana bat.

Favorite activity on the refuge is: Birding. We have 244 species of birds documented on the refuge, and it’s so cool to see so many different species at once during migration.

The best time to visit the refuge is: April is probably the best time to visit, since the leaves have not yet come out, there are no bugs, and you can see an amazing number of different wildlife species, from birds to turtles to bears on the move.


We need your help!

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Does your refuge or Friends group partner with an outside group such as branches of the military, Native American tribes, other nonprofits, etc? We want to hear about it! Please email to share your story.

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

July 23: House Committee on Natural Resources, Hearing to discuss a possible Duck Stamp price increase and refuge expansion authority

July 29: International Tiger Day

August 1- September 5: Congressional Recess

September 1: Labor Day

September 3: 50th Anniversary of Wilderness Act

September 5-6: Peer-to-peer coaching session at Bosque del Apache NWR

September 6: Carl Garner Federal Lands Cleanup Day

National Wildlife Refuge Association


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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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