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

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

May Photo Contest Winner

The May Photo Contest winning photos were submitted by Lisa Mayo. These stunning photographs show Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Blackwater NWR, Cambridge, Maryland, enjoying the Red Columbine in the Refuge’s Butterfly and Beneficial Insect Garden, which is maintained by Refuge volunteers.

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. The Friends are an all-volunteer organization that is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2022. The Friends have over 500 members that contribute volunteer labor at the refuge, as well as fundraising and advocacy support. Among their activities are to help maintain land and paddling trails at the Refuge, staff events like the Eagle Festival, conduct free bird walks, support enhancements to the Blackwater NWR Visitor Center, raise funds, apply for grants, run several on-site wildlife cameras that are shared online, host the annual Wild Goose Chase Women’s Bicycle Ride, assist with biological surveys, staff the information desk, and manage the Refuge gift shop. In 2022, they held their first public photo contest and began offering public Night Sky Tours, using a powerful telescope the Friends purchased, and now operate in the dark-sky landscape of the refuge. With shrinking federal budgets, support by the Friends of Blackwater is vital to giving Refuge visitors the best experience possible.

I am so impressed by this Friends organization and all the projects and events they do to support their Refuge. Congratulations Lisa and the Friends of Blackwater NWR!!

Photo credit: Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Blackwater NWR by Lisa Mayo

Continue ReadingMay Photo Contest Winner

Friends Photo Contest Winner for March

There is a winner! Bob Glennon is the winner of the March Photo Contest whose theme was the “Refuge System’s Birthday. Friends were encouraged to show what makes their refuge unique.

Bob shared with us captivating photos of the early bloomers at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. These early bloomers will produce the berries the black bears that reside on the refuge. Bob, also captured a great photo of the black bear.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a 160,000-acre refuge on the mainland of Dare County in northeastern North Carolina. It was established in 1984 under the authority of the Emergency Wetland Conservation Act. The refuge is underlain by hydric (wetland) soils, most of which are deep organic (muck and peat) soils. The refuge was established to protect those wetlands and the pocosin plant community that exists there. The refuge is home to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s trust species migratory birds (waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and songbirds) and endangered species (red wolves). Black bears are a resident species and are a notable attraction to refuge visitors for wildlife observation and photography. The peninsula on which the refuge is located has the largest population density of black bears in North Carolina. The pocosin habitat has a dense understory of shrubs that produce an abundance of berries. Male bears (boars) can be seen year-round. Female bears (sows) bring their cubs out into open fields in May and they can be seen throughout the summer and fall.

The Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society manages 4 refuge stores at different refuges and coordinates 200 volunteers who donate an average of 25,000 hours of service every year on the area’s 9 refuges. The Society employs a full time store manager and volunteer coordinator. Volunteers staff the visitor centers and refuge stores; maintain buildings, grounds, and equipment; lead tours, and conduct programs.

Continue ReadingFriends Photo Contest Winner for March