The National Wildlife Refuge System, the nation’s largest network of lands and waters dedicated to wildlife conservation, is facing a staffing crisis that threatens its ability to protect biodiversity and provide recreational opportunities for all. Despite being essential for protecting endangered species, conserving habitats, and connecting communities with nature, the Refuge System has lost over 800 permanent positions since fiscal year 2011, resulting in an enormous 25% loss in capacity.
In response to this dire situation, the National Wildlife Refuge Association is focusing its efforts in the 118th Congress to raise awareness of this issue and secure the necessary funds to sufficiently staff the Refuge System.
Join Director of Government Affairs & Public Policy, Libby Marking, on March 30th for a conversation about the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Refuge Staffing Campaign.
Testimony For The House of Representatives Appropriations is due next Friday, March 17th, by 5 pm ET
The National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses more than 850 million acres of lands and waters across America’s 568 National Wildlife Refuges, including 5 Marine National Monuments. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to fulfill its obligation to the Refuge System’s 59 million annual visitors and diverse wildlife on a budget of a mere 59¢ per acre.
As Congress begins the appropriations process for fiscal year (FY) 2024, it is important that those who love the Refuge System let them know how critical increased funding is for refuge funding in FY2024. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies has called for written public witness testimony on the budget to be submitted by next Friday, March 17, 2023 by 5 pm ET. This is an opportunity for Refuge Friends organizations and individuals to tell the Subcommittee about the funding needs and lack of staffing of the Refuge System. Please take part in this process to ask that they fund the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance fund at $1.5 billion in FY2024 appropriations.
To help you through this process, the National Wildlife Refuge Association has drafted sample testimony and provided instructions for providing the testimony to the Subcommittee. Please note that a Witness Disclosure Form and an attached resume/cv must also be included with your testimony.
Back in July 2020, we began our letter to the regional director like this: “We have recently learned that our Park Ranger/Naturalist will soon be leaving Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge for another position…. We will miss her but wish her well in her new position, for which she is uniquely qualified. This does, however, raise concerns for us concerning the position she leaves behind. In these unsettled times regarding funding, health, and politics, we are anxious that ‘our’ position be filled in a timely manner. We understand that other refuges have funding and personnel needs, but we believe that this Black Bayou position is a top performer.”
Now, in January of 2023, we are still without a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) ranger (or any other staffer) at our refuge. Don’t get me wrong—our manager and other staff are great—dedicated and skilled at their jobs—but they are stretched ridiculously thinly over multiple refuges. The result is sadness and frustration that we can no longer offer the services that we used to offer our community—the community that from the beginning has supported this refuge with its money, volunteers, and goodwill. But we do what we can, and we’ve learned some valuable lessons about our community.
Communityis the operative word. The Friends of Black Bayou (FoBB) are still plugging along, keeping the visitor center open (though now just on weekends rather than the previous seven days a week). The FoBB board has now begun to have in-person monthly meetings instead of only Zoom meetings, and plans are to resume regular public program meetings as well. We still support our USFWS partners financially and with volunteer labor. We are incredibly lucky to have a resident volunteer who has taken on responsibilities far beyond what any volunteer would normally be expected to do, keeping our Conservation Learning Center open for several hours every day and taking care of our live-animals.
Community support of our refuge is apparent in other ways. Groups such as both of our local Chambers of Commerce (Monroe and West Monroe) have contacted politicians on our behalf, and the local Museums/Attractions Association has done the same. So far, the letters and direct conversations haven’t resulted in the hiring of a new refuge ranger, but we haven’t completely lost hope. Here’s why–during the past year:
We celebrated our 25th anniversary, with the help of numerous community, university, and scout groups, at our annual Fall Celebration.
For his Eagle Scout project, a local Boy Scout organized his troop to clean out invasive species from the pond adjacent to the Visitor Center.
Local medical school students had a WAR (Wilderness Adventure Race) at the refuge, teaching teams of students how to handle wilderness medicine scenarios.
FoBB participated in BLEND on the river—serving peach smoothies at this Arts Council festival and getting new members signed up.
We held our 15th annual refuge photo contest—always a favorite among adults and children.
We funded an annual luncheon to thank the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) employees, who have helped immeasurably while the USFWS is so short-staffed.
The LDWF held its popular Hunting and Fishing Day at the refuge, and plans are in the works for the community’s Earth Day celebration to be held there this spring.
We’ve continued our monthly First Saturday Kids events, introducing children to animals such as turtles and snakes, enjoying nature-oriented arts and crafts, and hiking on the refuge.
Listing all this makes me feel a bit better about what we’ve been able to accomplish even without a Refuge Ranger onsite, but I sometimes worry because our volunteer efforts will never be optimized without an USFWS staffer coordinating them, much less providing the environmental education so needed by our area children. But that’s the situation here and at many refuges around the country. Like you other Friends, we’ll keep on working and supporting one another however we can.
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.
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
Educational and recreational opportunities for the public
Habitat management and enhancement
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.
Photo credits: Monarchs on liatris at Wallkill NWR by Karen VanDyk Monarch caterpillar starting to crystallize by Kaen VanDyk