April Photo Contest Winner

Why It Matters” – April Winner!

  • People standing around an endangered plant
  • hiker on trail in a montane rain forest
  • people gathered in front of sign for Hakalau Forest
  • Volunteer at Hakalau Forest
  • Volunteers resting in Hakalau Forest
  • Magnificent tree

Ken Kupchak’s post of Hakalau Forest NWR was the April winner. Ken shared that the Refuge is “a place to hang out, contemplate, share with a “Friend” in the most special places around.” Ken is always posting interesting photos of this incredible Refuge so check the Facebook page often.

Map of Hawai'i

Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1985, consists of 2 distinct parcels. The Hakalau Forest Unit is a 32,830-acre parcel on the windward slopes of Mauna Kea on Hawai’i Island. In 1997 the USFWS purchased 5,300 acres south of Kailua-Kona, on the slopes of Mauna Loa, which became the Kona Forest Unit. In 2019, an additional 10,000 acres were added to the Kona Unit through the purchase of McCandless Ranch lands adjacent to the original parcel, making the total acreage for the Kona Forest Unit 15,448 acres.

The higher elevation Hakalau Forest Unit contains some of the finest remaining stands of native montane rain forest in Hawai’i and habitat for 29 critically endangered species including 7 birds, 1 insect, 1 mammal and 20 plants found nowhere else in the world. Currently, it is the only place in Hawai’i where native forest bird populations are stable or increasing.

The lower elevation Kona Forest Unit is predominantly ‘ōhi‘a (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees with an understory of nonnative trees & shrubs & home to a number of endangered birds, plants & one insect. This area was home to the last wild pair of ʻalalā (Corvus hawaiiensis) in 2002. The primary purpose of this unit is to protect, conserve and manage this native forest for threatened or endangered species.

The Friends organization was established in 2006 and provides vital fundraising, volunteer and advocacy support to help make Hakalau Forest NWR one of the most significant refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The mission of the Friends of Hakalau Forest (FOHF) is to support the USFWS’s efforts at the Hakalau and Kona Forest Units in terms of preserving, protecting and restoring the biological diversity at both locations, while simultaneously providing opportunity for wildlife-dependent recreation such as birding or photography, education, cultural experiences and scientific research.

orange and grey bird

FOHF has contributed directly to the quality of habitat at Hakalau Forest NWR by such efforts as providing volunteer labor to propagate and out-plant native trees and rare plants, conducting weed control efforts and by raising funds for the construction of much needed facilities including a 10,000-gallon tank to store water for the plant nursery and a new roof for the Volunteer Cabin.

Congratulations Ken and the Friends of Hakalau Forest NWR!

Hawai’i ‘akepa photo by Ellen Schwene

Continue ReadingApril Photo Contest Winner

March Photo Contest Winner

Why It Matters” – March Winner!!

Jim Osborn’s post of the Bluebird Box Project at Crab Orchard NWR, IL, received the most likes in March. Jim wrote that thanks to this project at the Refuge, the species is making a comeback. Jim shared photos of Volunteer Rick Whitecotton, who along with his wife Ruie regularly monitors 19 of approximately 100 boxes on the Refuge. Other volunteers monitor the rest. One of the photos shows a nest with 6 new eggs! What a great project to help this beautiful bird!

  • Bluebird eggs in a nest
  • nesting box with a bluebird nest
  • person checking a bluebird nesting box
  • rock bluff
  • Jeep driving along dirt road through a forest
  • People bird watching
  • people fishing at a pier
  • Building

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, located in southern Illinois, was established in 1947. The Refuge’s 44,000 acres of land and water contain a wide diversity of flora and fauna. Major habitat types on the refuge include hardwood forest, agricultural land, grazing units, brushland, wetlands, and lakes. The Refuge provides significant resting areas for migratory birds utilizing the Mississippi Flyway. Wintering numbers of Canada Geese can peak at 200,000. A total of 700 plant species, 245 bird species, 33 mammal species, 63 fish species, and 44 reptile and amphibian species have been documented on the refuge.

The western 24,000 acres of the Refuge provide a wide range of recreational opportunities and include a 4,050-acre wilderness area. The eastern portion, 20,000 acres, is a wildlife sanctuary, and public use is limited. Industrial activities on the Refuge range from manufacturing and storage facilities to administrative offices. Many buildings now housing industries were used in the manufacturing of explosives during World War II, and they are still used for military ordnance production today. The concrete igloos built for munition storage are now leased to private industry for storage of many types of products.

Established in 2000, the Friends of Crab Orchard Refuge have worked collaboratively with the Refuge staff and the community to fundraise, provide volunteer services and support Refuge programs. The Friends are dedicated to enhancing use of the Refuge for wildlife conservation, conservation, recreation agriculture and industry. The Friends have over 180 members and operate the Woodland Gift Shop. They also support the Pollinator Gardens at the Refuge, eradication of invasive botanical species on the Refuge and creation of new habitat. The Friends have also purchased kayaks, archery equipment, picnic tables and more for the Refuge.

Congratulation Jim and the Friends of Crab Orchard NWR!

Continue ReadingMarch Photo Contest Winner

February Photo Contest Winner

Lisa Jansen-Rees has shared several photos of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and her post this month was the winner for February. Lisa wrote in her post “the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge matters because its unspoiled beauty gives us a glimpse of our history. And while many artists try to capture that beauty on canvas, nothing beats experiencing the sites, scents, sounds, and feel of walking through God’s country”. Mike and Cathy Ward’s stunning sunset photo at Caddo Lake was included with the post.

  • Wichita Mountains
  • Lake Elmer Thomas Trail Wichita Mountains
  • Mural welcoming people to Oklahoma
  • Sunset as Caddo Lake

Also in January, Lisa shared another reason the Refuge matters. Health studies indicate spending time in nature increases feelings of calmness, increases endorphin levels and dopamine production, restores capacity for concentration and attention, reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels, reduces irritability and decreases feelings of isolation. The WMWR includes 8,570 acres of designated Wilderness area where people regularly go to “lose their minds and find their souls.”

Wichita Mountains is one of the oldest, most prestigious national wildlife refuges in America. Set aside in 1901, Wichita Mountains was originally established as a forest reserve. President Theodore Roosevelt redesignated the area in 1905 as the Wichita Forest and Game Preserve created “for the protection of game animals and birds and shall be recognized as a breeding place thereof.” Encompassing 59,020 acres (about 90 square miles), the refuge manages 22,400 acres for public use and 8,570 acres of Wilderness.

The Refuge is located about 20 minutes northwest of Lawton, Oklahoma and attracts between 1.52 and 1.72 million visitors each year. The Refuge hosts a rare piece of the past – a remnant mixed grass prairie, an island where the natural grasslands escaped destruction because the rocks underfoot defeated the plow. Worn by time and nature, the Wichita Mountains loom large above the prairie in southwest Oklahoma—a lasting refuge for wildlife. Best known for its roaming herds of bison, longhorn, and Rocky Mountain elk, Wichita Mountains also offers quality opportunities for wildlife dependent recreation including fishing, bird watching, wildlife photography, hiking, camping, and kayaking.

The Friends of the Wichitas was loosely formed in the late 1980’s, near the time the USFWS started it’s Friends Initiative, by a group of faithful Refuge volunteers with a vision for the future. Since that time the FOW has filed its 501c3 certificate with the state of Oklahoma, updated its charter and policies with the help of CORFA and the NWRA, opened a very popular Nature Store within the Visitors Center, funded historic restoration, led extremely popular public tours on behalf of Refuge management, and regularly boasted approximately 300 members strong.

Congratulation Lisa and the Friends of the Wichitas!

Continue ReadingFebruary Photo Contest Winner

January Photo Contest Winner

Becca Bryan’s post about the Florida Panther NWR and interesting photo collage was the winning post for January. Becca explained “Why It Matters”:

The Florida Panther NWR matters to families of all kinds! Our native wildlife uses the refuge for more than just a refuge away from the busy roads and noisy humans. It is 26,000+ acres of safe, quiet space where family making and raising takes place.

  • Marsh rabbit eating leaves
  • crested caracara on a pine tree branch
  • Bobcats romping in a swamp
  • eastern Lubber grasshopper on a stick
  • gopher tortoise
  • sea turtle hatchlings

Established in 1989, Florida Panther National Wildlife is located within the heart of the Big Cypress Basin in Southwest Florida. It encompasses the northern reach of the Fakahatchee Strand, the largest cypress strand in the Big Cypress swamp. This Refuge protects core habitat for the endangered Florida panther and all native wildlife who roam within this top predator’s habitats.  

The Florida panther once roamed throughout the southeastern United States. Today, they are confined to only five percent of their historic range. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge provides critical habitat for these ghost cats, but more needs to be done to restore their population. on.

For hundreds of years, towering cypress trees up to 130 feet tall and 25 feet in circumference dominated the landscape of what is now Florida Panther NWR. In response to World War II, logging of cypress trees throughout the Big Cypress basin started in 1944. An average of 1,000,000 board feet per week were harvested from the swamp using temporary railroads. The logging operations started in what is now Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and moved north through the refuge area. By 1957, the last of the trees were harvested, except for those found in the Corkscrew Audubon Preserve. Slowly the cypress swamps have recovered as a new generation of cypress replaces the fallen giants.

The Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge is an amazing organization providing funding and many volunteer hours in support of the Refuge. The Friends work to safeguard the Refuge through education, outreach, advocacy, and being an active partner in Refuge projects. They are also focused on protecting the native flora and fauna found in the Florida Panther NWR and its partner refuge, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Friends’ projects center on restoring the Florida panther and its habitat within its historic range.

The Friends support education within the community by providing funding and volunteers for outreach efforts. This includes volunteering at over 30 events annually to educate the general public about the plight of the Florida panther and the importance of the Refuge, funding “Living with Panthers” brochures and motorist cards, participating in the annual Florida Panther Festival and funding a Refuge intern position for public outreach.

The Friends are also currently fundraising for the development of a new visitor center on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. This building will replace the current USFWS office and include exhibits and interactive learning opportunities for visitors. Along with the new visitor center, improvements will include interpretive and backcountry trails, ranger-led tours, and a wetland viewing platform. This project aims to raise public awareness about sustainable resources for endangered and threatened species, habitat connectivity, and water quality and flow.

The Friends’ advocacy campaigns focus on facilitating northward range expansion and protecting existing panther habitat in southwest Florida by advocating for acquisition and preservation of environmentally-sensitive lands, opposing the development of prime panther habitat north of the Florida Panther NWR, supporting the establishment of the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and joining the No Roads to Ruin Coalition to oppose the development of three new toll roads in the heart of panther territory. Collisions with vehicles are the #1 human cause of death for Florida panthers.

Sponsoring “Save the Panther Day” at the annual Refuge open house, guiding tours of the Refuge, funding interpretive signs on Refuge trail and hosting special events at the Refuge are just a few more ways the Friends support the Refuge.

You can see again why this Refuge like all the other National Wildlife Refuges truly “matters”. From protection of the beautiful Florida panther, outreach to the local community and educational opportunities for visitors, we see again how critical it is for Refuges like these to be protected and fully funded.

Congratulation Becca and the Friends of Florida Panther Refuge!

Continue ReadingJanuary Photo Contest Winner

December Photo Contest Winner

  • River surrounded by trees
  • Pine flatwoods with deer-tongue blooming
  • Great Egret fledglings
  • Freshwater pond in hardwood swamp
  • Sun setting over former burial ground
  • Creek surround by marshes and palm trees
  • Beach at North Key in florida

Peg Hall’s post with Ann Kamzelski’s photo of the Lower Suwannee NWR in Florida was the winning photo for the December contest.

Friends of Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys NWRs is lucky to have two quite different refuges to support, under a single management.

The Cedar Keys NWR was established in 1929 to help protect shore birds, which at the time were being taken in huge numbers for their plumage which was highly valued by the millinery business worldwide. The 900-acre refuge, made up of on 13 islands provides breeding grounds for thousands of ibises, egrets, spoonbills, pelicans, herons, and other shore birds.

The Lower Suwannee NWR was established 50 years later in 1979 to protect the water quality of the historic Suwannee River, 20 miles of which bisects the Refuge at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. The flow of the Suwannee feeds the estuarine waters of the Gulf, habitat for the Gulf sturgeon and feeding grounds for resident and migratory shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl. The land had been heavily logged before becoming a refuge. The Refuge is working to restore and protect the bottomland hardwood swamps and forests along the Suwannee.

The Lower Suwannee Refuge also includes Shell Mound, an archaeological resource prominent as a civic-ceremonial site from about A.D. 400 to A. D. 650. The location held a burial site aligned with the setting sun on Winter Solstice.

What is our all-volunteer, 22-year-old Friends group doing now?

  • Celebrating Winter and Summer Solstice
  • Conducting Native Plant, Butterfly, and Photo Walks and creating trailside interpretive panels and new guides for visitor favorites such as gravel biking
  • Having outreach booths at local festivals and working to acquire a mobile outreach center to take the story of the Refuges to where the people are
  • Designing unique merchandise for our pandemic-inspired Online Store, with board members fulfilling orders from home
  • Acquiring grants to help restore Vista, a 14-acre former in-holding that the donors, who are members of Friends, turned over to the Refuge at our 2022 Annual Meeting.
  • Providing an extensive website with a blog, bios of Friends board and Refuge staff, a list of Friends members, descriptions of places of interest to visit on the Refuges, guides to seeing the Refuges from your kayak, maps and brochures for many Refuge areas and trails, a primer to butterflies of the Lower Suwannee Refuge, and a link to our widely-distributed and popular email News Brief
  • Participating in CORFA initiatives!

Congratulation Peg and Ann!

Continue ReadingDecember Photo Contest Winner