activities or programs related to the Big 6 uses: hunting, fishing, environmental education, wildlife observation, interpretation, and photography

September Photo Contest Winner

Jim Osborn with Friends of Crab Orchard NWR in Illinois is the winner of the September photo contest. Jim has a passion for photography and leads the Friends photography club in addition to serving on the board. Congratulations Jim!

Thanks for submitting photos of the first live Volunteer Appreciation Event at Crab Orchard NWR since COVID began. It looks like everyone had a great time! The refuge staff presented numerous awards to volunteers in appreciation for the thousands of hours that they donated to the refuge. Janie Pettigrew was named Volunteer of the Year.

The Friends of Crab Orchard Refuge are dedicated to working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the community to enhance use of the Refuge for wildlife conservation, recreation, agriculture and industry. The group was established in 2000 and has built a force of approximately 100 regular volunteers. The activities they support include:

  • Facilitating eagle tours
  • Assisting with interpretive programs
  • Installing a pollinator habitat
  • Enhancing refuge services including public use facilities
  • Sponsoring youth hunting and fishing days
  • Transporting students to the refuge
  • Conducting annual photo contest
  • Operating the Woodland Gift Shop

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (CONWR) was established on August 5, 1947 and is located in southwestern Illinois near Marion. CONWR is somewhat unique among wildlife refuges in that it is actually a vacation destination for many. The Refuge has four campgrounds, boating and fishing on three lakes, and welcomes hunters, naturalists, birders, hikers and photographers.

The refuge is made up of 44,000 acres of land that centers around Crab Orchard Lake. It has a great diversity of flora and fauna. The major habitats on the refuge include oak hickory upland forest, bottomland hardwood forest, cropland, grazing units, brushland, prairie, wetlands and lakes. The refuge also includes a 4,050 acre congressionally designated wilderness area.

Congratulation Jim!




Continue ReadingSeptember Photo Contest Winner

August Photo Contest Winner

Monarchs feeding on nectar plant

Karen Blakely Van Dyk shared beautiful images of monarchs and monarch caterpillars at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge.

River National Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve and enhance populations of wildlife and their habitats, to protect and enhance water quality, and to provide opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation and research. The refuge conserves the biological diversity of the Wallkill Valley by protecting and managing land, with a special emphasis on forest-dwelling and grassland birds, migrating waterfowl, wintering raptors, and endangered species. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan identifies the Wallkill River bottomlands as a priority focus area for waterfowl management within New Jersey.

Friends of Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge was founded in 2006 to support the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Refuge. Volunteers manage the activities of the Friends group and work in concert with Refuge staff to protect the environment and promote public awareness.

The Friends’ mission is to support the refuge through

  • Environmental stewardship
  • Educational and recreational opportunities for the public
  • Habitat management and enhancement
  • Land acquisition

Wallkill River NWR headquarters is in Sussex, New Jersey and part of the Lenape NWR Complex. The refuge encompasses over 6,000 acres of the Wallkill Valley, which used to be farmland and sod fields. Just 7 miles north of headquarters is the popular Liberty Loop Trail, which is a favorite spot for wildlife observation and photography. A portion of the trail is part of the Appalachian Trail and like the Winding Waters Trail are located in New York. In addition to these two walking trails there are numerous trail along the Wallkill River in New Jersey. You can also fish or kayak on Owens Pond or the Wallkill River. Visitors can also take an archery course or attend one of the many events held at the Refuge.

The Refuge has a variety of wildlife from amphibians to large mammals and is also a stopover for many migrating birds, including an occasional rare one.

Congratulations, Karen!

Photo credits:
Monarchs on liatris at Wallkill NWR by Karen VanDyk
Monarch caterpillar starting to crystallize by Kaen VanDyk

Continue ReadingAugust Photo Contest Winner

July Photo Contest Winner

Copperhead at the Big Branch Marsh NWR, in Lacombe, LA by Sue Wilder

The July Photo Contest theme was “Reptiles & Amphibians”. Friends members shared photos of these cold-blooded creatures in honor of World Snake Day. Sue Wilder with the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc. submitted the winning photos of a copperhead taken while she was collecting data for the Gulf Coast Phenology Trail at the Big Branch Marsh NWR, in Lacombe, LA.

Big Branch Marsh NWR is one of nine refuges in the Southeast Louisiana Refuge Complex. Our Friends group, Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc. seeks to support our wildlife refuges. From staffing educational events to planting wetland plants towards restoration efforts, our Friends group is there. We have a small but mighty group of volunteers and members who love to support all things refuges.

The principal purpose of our Friends organization is to engage in promoting better awareness, appreciation, and conservation of the natural environment of the Southeast Louisiana Refuges Complex: to promote programs and services that will enhance the quality of the refuges, and to work with other agencies and organizations to raise funds and direct resources towards visitor services, educational, interpretative, and environmental projects which, without assistance, would not be accomplished solely through the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2021, we celebrated our 25-year anniversary.

Some of our well known events on the refuge include the Bayou Gardens Open House in the spring, our Youth Fishing Rodeo Event in early Summer and our most popular, our Wild Things Celebration in the fall. With recent Covid-19 restrictions our activities have been limited for the last two years we were able to help support “Boo on the Bayou”, a driving tour of not-so-scary wildlife stations (Bats, Owls, Snakes, Alligators, and Spiders – oh my) to educate children (and adults) about wildlife conservation while keeping socially distant. We look forward to the days when we can open our doors fully

Congratulations, Sue!

Copperhead at the Big Branch Marsh NWR, in Lacombe, LA by Sue Wilder

Photo credits: Sue Wilder with the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc.

Continue ReadingJuly Photo Contest Winner

Friends and CORFA Meet with USFWS Director Williams

screenshot of virtual meeting
Virtual meeting of Friends with Director Williams

When Martha Williams began her new role as Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service on March 8, 2022, the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates (CORFA) recognized an opportunity to connect and make sure the new director knew about Friends groups and all they do for federal partners and their communities. CORFA identified topics that they wanted to share with the director and then selected representatives of a few Friends organizations to present in a virtual meeting on July 5, 2022. These Friends, highlights, and requests from their organizations are outlined below:

*       Jim Stone, board member of Friends of the Wichitas (OK) told how the Friends helped to restore the historical Ferguson House, which was destroyed during a prescribed burn on Fort Sill in 2015. Jim also discussed how nature stores connect refuges with the community and build revenue for long-term support of the refuge. Further, he shared that Friends of the Wichitas assist with eradicating 120,000 invasive species annually. Finally, Jim made our guests aware of a staffing issue on his refuge. “With 2.3 million visitors per year to the refuge and two law enforcement officers, sometimes one of them has been detailed to another location to help with wildfires or hurricanes and it’s almost impossible to perform the functions that they need to, and that greatly affects everything on the refuge.”
*       Kathy Woodward, board member of Friends of Great Swamp NWR (NJ) told how the refuge was founded by local citizens who worked to save the land from becoming a jet port in northern New Jersey. Their Friends recruit and train volunteers to be at their visitor center and visitor contact station and staff volunteers at their boardwalk 7 days a week, year-round. Kathy also shared that they have created interpretive materials and guides, including a tree and shrub guide, auto tour guide, Jr Refuge Manager Program materials, and interpretive signs. The group has also accepted a bequest from the family of Chandler S. Robbins, the field biologist who first banded Wisdom the albatross on Midway Island, to create a viewing platform at Great Swamp NWR in his memory.
*       Aimee Arent, executive director of Friends of Ottawa NWR (OH) shared how her group worked closely with refuge staff to form a strategic plan and a joint vision for the future. Some of their goals included expanding habitat and outdoor recreation through land acquisition and public access projects. Aimee noted that they have purchased 69 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and prairies to date. Their first land acquisition project was the 40-acre Fox Nature Preserve, which they purchased with the help of a $100,000 donation in 2019.It is now open to the public, and later this summer, through grants and donations, the group will construct an ADA-compliant hiking trail. She also indicated concern for staffing on the refuge and asked for continued communication and partnership to help ensure that the Refuge System has necessary funding.
*       Jim Chapman, vice president, and Vicky Guerra, board secretary, of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor (TX) joined from Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande Valley NWRs. They shared that the Friends have revegetated more than 15,000 acres along the river and acquired seven tracts of land. They’ve also started native plant gardens at 40 local public schools. Their most urgent concern is the continued construction of the 86 miles of border wall, part of which will affect the Santa Ana Refuge. Border walls do not allow for any terrestrial wildlife movement back and forth across the river, creating a major habitat disturbance. Jim and Vicky asked Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland to urge the Secretary of Homeland Security to rescind the existing border wall waivers to defend their refuge lands and wildlife for present and future generations.
*       Finally, the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates briefly highlighted their work
connecting Friends across the country, supporting the Friends community, and advocating for the needs of the Friends and Refuge System.

Director Williams thanked the groups for their presentation and for what Friends do to support our refuges and hatcheries. She recognized that USFWS couldn’t meet their mission or reach as many people as needed without the help of Friends. We thank Director Martha Williams, Refuge System Chief Cynthia Martinez, and Deputy Director of Operations Wendi Weber for joining us and hope that this meeting was a good step toward continuing open communication between the Friends and Service leadership.

Continue ReadingFriends and CORFA Meet with USFWS Director Williams

June Photo Contest Winner

The June Photo Contest theme was “Celebrate Take a Hike Day” and “Get Outdoors Day”. Lisa Mayo with the Friends of Blackwater NWR submitted the winning photos of the Marsh Edge Trail at Blackwater NWR, Cambridge, Maryland, The Marsh Edge Trail is one of Lisa’s favorite trail at Blackwater NWR because it has great water views of the rivers at the refuge. It’s closed for part of the year due to nesting bald eagles and herons along the trail, but when it’s open to the public, everyone enjoys the trail and its awesome river boardwalk that the Friends helped fund with money we raised from our Wild Goose Chase women’s bicycle ride.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is the largest wildlife refuge in Maryland and was established in 1933 as a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. The Friends of Blackwater is a nonprofit citizen’s support group founded in 1987, assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff to carry out their educational, interpretive, and public use missions. One of the ways the Friends do this is by supporting maintenance of the land and paddling trails at the refuge. Most recently, the Friends built and installed six new bridges along the Woods Trail and installed bike racks at all the trailheads. The Marsh Edge Trail is a popular waterfront trail with an active eagle’s nest. For this trail the Friends paid for signage, Romtec toilet roof repairs and the installation of a scenic river boardwalk using proceeds from the Wild Goose Chase women’s bicycle ride, which is an annual event run by the Friends that has raised over $175,000 for the refuge. The Friends have also supported maintenance of the paddling trails at the refuge since 2003, and have raised money in the past to install kiosks and update signage along the trails. Helping to provide wildlife-friendly recreational access to the refuge has been just one way the Friends of Blackwater enjoy supporting refuge visitors. 

Congratulations, Lisa!

Photo credits: Lisa Mayo with the Friends of Blackwater NWR

Continue ReadingJune Photo Contest Winner