2015 Free Admission Days at National Parks

America’s Best Idea—the national parks—is even better when it’s free!

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are nine more reasons to enjoy national parks next year.

Circle the dates on the calendar and plan your trip—America’s 401 national parks will offer free admission on nine days in 2015, including several holidays.

The 2015 entrance fee-free days are:

January 19: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

February 14-16: Presidents Day weekend

April 18 & 19: National Park Week’s opening weekend

August 25: National Park Service’s 99th birthday

September 26: National Public Lands Day

November 11: Veterans Day

“Every day is a great day in a national park, and these entrance fee free days offer an extra incentive to visit one of these amazing places,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

“As we prepare to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016, we are inviting all Americans to discover the beauty and history that lives in our national parks.”

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A national park may be closer to home than you think. National Park Service sites are located in every state and in many major cities, including New York City which is home to ten national parks. They are places of recreation and inspiration and they are also powerful economic engines for local communities. Throughout the country, visitors to national parks spent $26.5 billion and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013.

Only 133 of our country’s 401 national parks usually charge an entrance fee.

If you’re planning a trip that includes multiple national parks, you might consider the $80 annual pass that provides entrance to all national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and many other Federal lands-more than 2,000 in all. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is offered free to all active duty military members and their dependents. Information on these and other pass options is available online.

Fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession, and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

Generally, 133 of the 401 National Park Service have entrance fees that range from $3 to $25. While entrance fees will be waived for the fee free days, amenity and user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours will still be in effect.

Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other Federal land management agencies that will offer their own fee-free days in 2015 are:  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service. Please contact each for dates and details.

The National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service also participate in the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass programs. These passes provide access to more than 2,000 national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, grasslands, and other federal lands. Four passes are available:

Free annual pass to current military members and their dependents

Free lifetime pass for U.S. citizens with permanent disabilities

$10 lifetime senior pass for U.S. citizens aged 62 and over

$80 annual pass for the general public

Details

National Park Service

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for 84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites in America’s 397 national parks.

Website: www.nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.

For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.

1. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache is Spanish for “woods of the Apache,” and is rooted in the time when the Spanish observed Apaches routinely camped in the riverside forest.

An hour from Albuquerque, a 12-mile auto loop along refuge impoundments offers great views of the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains. From late October through early spring, see huge flocks of sandhill cranes and snow geese fly out at dawn to feed in fields and return at dusk to roost in the marshes.

In November the annual Festival of the Cranes is a premier birding event. Organized by the Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, the 26th annual Festival of the Cranes is scheduled for November 19-24, 2013. This will be the YEAR OF PHOTOGRAPHY; plan to take advantage of the optics, camera, printing, and eco-travel expert onsite.

Wildlife to Observe: Thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, Ross’s geese, and ducks.

Continue reading →

Phone: (575) 835-1828

Website: fws.gov/southwest/refuges/newmex/bosque

Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofthebosque.org

Festival of the Cranes: festivalofthecranes.com

2. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida's most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida’s most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is known for its abundant birdlife and is a major destination for birders from throughout the world. Over 320 species have been documented so no matter what season you visit, you are likely to see a variety of birds.

The peak season for birding is between October and April with optimum conditions occurring from December to February. The best place to see wildlife is along the Black Point Wildlife Drive. The 7-mile, one-way drive follows a dike road around several shallow marsh impoundments and through pine flatwoods.

Seven walking trails are routed through a variety of wildlife habitats and provide additional wildlife viewing opportunities.

The 17th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is scheduled for January 22-27, 2014.

Wildlife to Observe: Waterfowl (in season), wading birds (including roseate spoonbills), shorebirds, and raptors. Alligators, river otters, bobcats, various species of snakes, and other wildlife may be visible as well.

Phone: (321) 861-0668

Website: fws.gov/merrittisland

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival: spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org

3. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma

Mount Scott at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: panoramio.com/kecid)
Mount Scott at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: panoramio.com/kecid)

Take a three-mile drive to the top of Mt. Scott for a stunning panoramic view of the Wichita Mountains. Interspersed between mountain peaks, visitors may view some of country’s last untilled native prairie, where bison and cattle roam among the cross timbers—remains of dense growth of oaks and greenbriar that once covered parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

Every September the Annual Bison Roundup culls the animals for testing and separation into groups for sale, donation, or return to the herd.

Another scenic driving option is SR-49, which extends about 20 miles through the refuge. Both roads are part of the Wichita Mountains National Scenic Byway.

Wildlife to Observe: Texas Longhorn cattle, bison, elk, deer, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, prairie dogs, turkey, bobcat.

Phone: (580) 429-3222

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Wichita_Mountains

Friends of Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: friendsofthewichitas.org

Please Note: This is Part 4 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 1: Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 2: Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

Part 3: Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

Read More

Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.

For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.

4. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Aerial view of "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: USFWS/Susan White)
Aerial view of “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: USFWS/Susan White)

The J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. It is world famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations.

The four-mile-long Wildlife Drive is presently closed for repaving with an anticipated reopening of October 1.

The Sanibel Island route winds through mangrove forest, cordgrass marsh, and hardwood hammocks, offering close-up views of wading birds, shorebirds, seabirds, waterfowl, and raptors. Bicycling is also popular on Wildlife Drive, part of the island’s system of multi-use trails.

In October the annual “Ding” Darling Days is a premier birding event. Organized by the Friends of the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, “Ding” Darling Days is scheduled for October 20-26, 2013.

Wildlife to Observe: Roseate spoonbills, wood storks, reddish egrets, little blue herons, yellow-crowned night-herons, anhingas, white pelicans, red knots, marbled godwits, bald eagles, otters, bobcats, and alligators.

Phone: (239) 472-1100

Website: fws.gov/dingdarling

Friends of “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge: dingdarlingsociety.org

“Ding” Darling Days: dingdarlingsociety.org/dingdarlingdays

5. Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

river-s-tour1The 5,300-acre Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge contains a lush mosaic of wetlands, grasslands, riparian corridors, fir forests, and Oregon white oak woodlands.

On the shore of the Lower Columbia River, a 4.2-mile gravel loop road crosses fields, wetlands, sloughs, and forests—easily the refuge’s most popular visitor destination.

An auto tour provides a sense of the refuge landscape while making it easy to spy birds and other wildlife, especially at an observation blind. The River ‘S’ Discovery Auto Tour route is a one-way 4.2-mile loop on graveled road that is open every day to vehicles during daylight hours.

An Informative Audio Tour CD is available at the Visitor’s Station at the entrance to the Discovery Auto Tour Route and also at the refuge headquarters.

Organized by the Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Birdfest is scheduled for October 5-6, 2013.

Wildlife to Observe: Migrant bird species such as sandhill cranes, as well as resident bird species such as mallards, great blue herons, and red-tailed hawks. Coyote, raccoon, skunk, beaver, and river otter are occasionally seen.

Phone: (360) 887-4106

Website: fws.gov/ridgefieldrefuges/ridgefield

Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge: ridgefieldfriends.org

Birdfest: ridgefieldfriends.org/birdfest

A wonderful bird is the pelican...  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A wonderful bird is the pelican… © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 1: Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 2: Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

Part 4: Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Worth Pondering…

A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

—Dixon Lanier Merritt

Read More

Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.

For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.

6. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Stretching eight miles along Delaware Bay and covering 16,251 acres, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for wildlife. (Credit: USFWS)
Stretching eight miles along Delaware Bay and covering 16,251 acres, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for wildlife. (Credit: USFWS)

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge protects one of the largest remaining expanses of tidal salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region. The refuge, located along the coast of Delaware, is mostly marsh, but also includes freshwater impoundments and upland habitats that are managed for other wildlife.

A 12-mile wildlife drive cuts across man-made pools, salt marshes, mudflats, woodlands, and upland fields. Spring brings migrating waterfowl, wood warblers, and shorebirds. Summer draws herons, egrets, avocets, black-necked stilts, and terns. Fall and winter months provide resting and wintering grounds for Canada geese, snow geese, and a mix of waterfowl. Birds of prey are seen all year long.

The wildlife drive passes five short walking trails, three with 30-foot-high observation towers.

Wildlife to Observe: Snow geese, northern pintails, warblers, dunlins, dowitchers, avocets, black-necked stilts, yellow warblers, purple martins, red tailed hawks, and bald eagles.

Phone: (302) 653-9345

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Bombay_Hook

Friends of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofbombayhook.org

7. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Four short (less than 0.5 miles each) and two longer (1.5 – 4 miles) hiking trails are available adjacent to the wildlife drive or Refuge headquarters. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Four short (less than 0.5 miles each) and two longer (1.5 – 4 miles) hiking trails are available adjacent to the wildlife drive or Refuge headquarters. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Straddling the Pecos River, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a wetland oasis inhabited by a diversity of wildlife. Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.

The eight-mile Wildlife Drive/Auto Tour Loop is one of the better ways to observe wildlife.

Four short trails and two longer hiking trails are available adjacent to the Refuge Headquarters and Wildlife Drive.

Organized by the Friends of the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the 2013 Dragonfly Festival will take place on September 7.

Wildlife to Observe: Take advantage of the overlooks for great views of flocks of sandhill cranes and Ross’ and snow geese, or to spot the coyotes and red-tail hawks criss-crossing the wetlands. Drive slowly and watch for basking spiny softshell turtles, coachwhip snakes, and checkered whiptail lizards. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented.

Continue reading →

Phone: (575) 622-6755

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Bitter_Lake

Friends of Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofbitterlake.com

Dragonfly Festival: friendsofbitterlake.com/2013-dragonfly-festival

8. National Bison Range, Montana

The largest North American land mammal in existence, American bison were a key species of the Great Plains—their grazing habits helped establish the distribution of grasslands in the Plains. The current bison herd is maintained at approximately 350 animals. (Credit: USFWS)
The largest North American land mammal in existence, American bison were a key species of the Great Plains—their grazing habits helped establish the distribution of grasslands in the Plains. The current bison herd is maintained at approximately 350 animals. (Credit: USFWS)

Follow the one-way steep and winding 19-mile gravel road up Red Sleep Mountain for stunning grassland views with herds of bison, antelope, elk, big horn sheep, and deer. From the top, see the Mission Mountain range of the Rockies and enjoy panoramic views of Mission Valley. You can also access two short walks. In general, the Red Sleep Mountain Drive is open from mid-May to early October.

Due to the steepness of roads and tightness of switchbacks, no vehicles over 30 feet in length are allowed on Red Sleep Mountain Drive. They may access the shorter West Loop, Prairie Drive, and Winter Drive. No trailers of any kind may travel Red Sleep Mountain Drive.

Wildlife to Observe: Antelope, elk, mule deer, bison, mountain sheep, eagles.

Phone: (406) 644-2211

Website: fws.gov/refuge/national_bison_range

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 1: Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 3: Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

Part 4: Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

Read More

Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.

For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.

10. Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan

Photographers do a wonderful job at capturing the beauty of Seney National Wildlife Refuge. (Credit: fws.gov/Dawn Kopp)
Photographers do a wonderful job at capturing the beauty of Seney National Wildlife Refuge. (Credit: fws.gov/Dawn Kopp)

Seney National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.

The refuge is located in the east-central portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, halfway between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.

A seven-mile ride along Marshland Wildlife Drive leads past wetlands and open water and through deciduous and coniferous forests in the Great Manistique Swamp, an old lumbering area. The road passes three wheelchair-accessible observation decks with viewing scopes.

The tour route is open during daylight hours from May 15 through October 15. The route does not accommodate large recreational vehicles. Bicycles are permitted on the auto tour route.

Wildlife to Observe: Beaver, river otters, bald eagles, osprey, common loons, Canada geese, sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, black bear, turtles, and songbirds.

Phone: (906) 586-9851

Website: fws.gov/refuge/seney

9. Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota

The diverse habitat types found on Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge—mixed grass prairie, river valley, marshes, sandhills, and woodlands—support an abundant variety of wildlife. (Credit: USFWS/Marlene Welstad)
The diverse habitat types found on Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge—mixed grass prairie, river valley, marshes, sandhills, and woodlands—support an abundant variety of wildlife. (Credit: USFWS/Marlene Welstad)

The 19-mile Refuge Backway follows the gently rolling hills of upland prairie, offering excellent views of the wooded draws of the Des Lacs Valley with great scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. More than 250 species of birds, including waterfowl, raptors, and many other migrants, have been seen there, along with deer, moose, and other mammals.

Also along the Backway is the trailhead for Munch’s Coulee National Recreation Trail, a mile-long loop with a universally accessible section; the trail provides panoramic views and opportunities to see wildlife close-up.

Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge was officially named one of America’s top 500 Globally Important Bird Areas (IBA) by the national non-profit organization, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), in recognition of its significance in the ongoing effort to conserve wild birds and their habitats.

Wildlife to see: Mergansers and snow geese in the spring and fall, several species of grebes in summer, as well as wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and moose.

Phone: (701) 385-4046

Website: fws.gov/jclarksalyer/deslacs

Details

National Wildlife Refuge System

The 2013 Federal Duck Stamp. Robert Steiner, an artist from San Francisco, Calif., is the winner of the 2012 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. (Credit: fws.gov)
The 2013 Federal Duck Stamp. Robert Steiner, an artist from San Francisco, Calif., is the winner of the 2012 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. (Credit: fws.gov)

The National Wildlife Refuge System protects wildlife and wildlife habitat on more than 150 million acres of land and water from the Caribbean to the Pacific, Maine to Alaska.

National wildlife refuges provide habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 1,000 species of fish. More than 380 threatened or endangered plants or animals are protected on wildlife refuges.

Each year, millions of migrating birds use refuges as stepping stones while they fly thousands of miles between their summer and winter homes.

The Refuge System is a division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the Department of the Interior.

Phone: (800) 344-WILD (9453)

Website: fws.gov/refuges

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 2: Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

Part 3: Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

Part 4: Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Worth Pondering…

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Eagle

Read More

Birding IS Big Business

Birdwatching is among America’s most popular recreational activities…and growing.

Scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Birding? Ask the 47+ million birdwatchers in America why they love birds, and you’ll likely get a range of replies as diverse as the birds themselves.

With colors and songs that can stop you in your tracks (just about anywhere), equally colorful and evocative names, and life stories replete with amazing feats of speed and stamina, not to mention the power of flight, birds are an exciting gateway to the natural world, right outside your door.

A new economic impact analysis suggests that Arizonans now have a billion more reasons to appreciate birds and wildlife, according to a Tucson Audubon news release.

Arizona’s unique combination of geography and climate supports a whopping 400+ bird species—that’s about half the total of all the bird species that can be found in the U.S. and Canada, in just 1 percent of the land area. Diverse and distinctive, Arizona’s birdlife features many species found nowhere else this side of the border, virtually guaranteeing a slot on many a birders’ bucket list.

Combine this with a cultural heritage, ample RV Parks and campgrounds, first-class destination services, and a plethora of unique wildlife experiences accessible from Tucson, and it’s no wonder the area is recognized as one of the top birding and nature destinations on the continent attracting ecotourists from all over the world.

Birders Mean Business

Acorn Woodpecker in western oak woodlands at Ramsey Canyon near Sierra Vista.. Their social lives are endlessly fascinating: they store thousands of acorns each year by jamming them into specially made holes in trees.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Acorn Woodpecker in western oak woodlands at Ramsey Canyon near Sierra Vista.. Their social lives are endlessly fascinating: they store thousands of acorns each year by jamming them into specially made holes in trees. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BIG business! You might be surprised to learn that Watchable Wildlife recreation in Arizona has a larger economic impact than hunting, fishing, golf, or even the Gem Show.

Southwick Associates, a fish and wildlife economics and statistics firm, reports the total economic effect from 2011 watchable wildlife activities in Arizona to be $1.4 billion ($1.1 billion by residents and $314.6 million by visitors).

Southwick’s analysis is based on raw data from the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. In this survey, “wildlife watching activities” include observing, photographing, or feeding wildlife.

When birders and other wildlife watchers visit, they spend money—mostly on lodging, food, and transportation. Local participants contribute, too, with equipment purchases like optics, camera gear, birdfeeding supplies, and other tools of the trade.

These expenditures have increased since 2001, despite economic instability; in 2011, Arizona residents spent a total of $665 million on watchable wildlife recreation, while visiting wildlife watchers from out-of-state poured $183.7 million new dollars into the state economy.

Original expenditures by wildlife watchers generate rounds of additional spending throughout the economy, resulting in additional indirect and induced impacts that are commonly called the multiplier effect. Economic activity associated with both the direct spending and multiplier effects impacts is the total economic contribution resulting from the original expenditures.

Locally, watchable wildlife recreation has a total economic impact of $330 million, and supports about 3000 jobs in Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise counties.

Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival

American goldfinch at San Pedro House,  San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Sierra Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
American goldfinch at San Pedro House, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Sierra Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore and enjoy the beautiful and fascinating Sonoran Desert and Sky Islands at the third annual Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival, August 14-18, 2013.

Workshops include Beginning Birding, Learning To Use a Field Guide, Fall Migrants, and Hummingbird ID.

Tucson Audubon

Tucson Audubon promotes the protection and stewardship of southern Arizona’s biological diversity through the study and enjoyment of birds and the places they live.

Tucson Audubon connects people to their natural environment. Focusing on birds and other wildlife, they inspire and motivate people to conserve natural resources in southern Arizona for use and enjoyment by all.

Tucson Audubon is a full-service community conservation organization bringing together people with a common interest in birding and the natural world.

Address: 300 E University Blvd, #120, Tucson, AZ 85705

Phone: (520) 629-0510

Website: tucsonaudubon.org

Worth Pondering…

I love this region and its birdlife…I love the varied seasons of this country… especially that green time in August when the thunderstorms roll through and when birds are abundant everywhere from the grasslands to the high peaks.”

—Kenn Kaufman, keynote speaker, 2011 Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival

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6 New National Wildlife Refuges Established

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announces the establishment of six new national wildlife refuge units during the past year and the renaming of a seventh in honor of a late Fish and Wildlife Service director by laying commemorative planks on a walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first refuge.

Commemorative planks on a walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation's first refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Commemorative planks on a walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Each time we establish a new national wildlife refuge, we set aside a treasured landscape, conserving our priceless fish and wildlife and their habitat not only for this generation but for future generations,” said Salazar.

“We also provide a place for people to connect with nature through fishing, hunting, hiking and other outdoor recreation. This not only restores the spirit and refreshes the mind but also supports economic growth and jobs in local communities.”

Last year, more than 47 million people visited the nation’s 561 national wildlife refuges, Salazar noted. These visits generated over $2.6 billion in economic activity and supported more than 36,000 jobs.

During the Pelican Island ceremony, Salazar added planks to the walkway that now commemorates all 561 national wildlife refuges. The new planks include:

Valle del Oro National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
This urban refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was established through the acquisition of 390 acres of Valley Gold Farms, a former dairy and hay farm. It is within a 30-minute drive of half of New Mexico’s population, providing ample outdoor recreation and education opportunities. With its outstanding birding and outdoor recreational opportunities, Valle del Oro will also be an economic engine for local communities.

Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, New Mexico

Planks on the walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge now commemorates all 561 national wildlife refuges. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Planks on the walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge now commemorates all 561 national wildlife refuges. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This refuge near Mora, New Mexico, will ultimately protect and manage up to 300,000 acres of one of the most significant grassland landscapes of North America. The refuge is possible because of a generous donation by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust of 4,200 acres. The Thaw’s donation of the ranch and their support for ongoing environmental education, research, and habitat management in north central New Mexico will provide endless opportunities for the local community to connect or reconnect with the great outdoors.

Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin & Illinois
This refuge, located in southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, will restore wetlands, prairie, and oak savanna as well as provide new and expanded recreational opportunities for environmental education, interpretation and other wildlife-dependent recreation for the estimated 3.5 million people within 30 miles of the project area.

Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, Colorado & New Mexico
This refuge, made possible by the donation of easements by Louis Bacon on his Blanca and Trinchera ranches, will conserve a wildlife corridor in the Southern Rockies in south-central Colorado and far northern New Mexico that spans some 170,000 acres. When completed, the two easements will represent the largest donation ever to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Swan Valley Conservation Area, Idaho & Wyoming
The Montana refuge helps connect the Canadian Rockies with the central Rockies of Idaho and Wyoming. The Fish and Wildlife Service established the refuge in partnership with landowners who voluntarily entered their lands into easements. It will protect one of the last low-elevation, coniferous forest ecosystems in western Montana that remains undeveloped and provide habitat for species such as grizzly bears, gray wolves, wolverines, and Canada lynx.

Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
The Fish and Wildlife Service worked in voluntary partnership with ranchers and other stakeholders to create this refuge that combines traditional public land acquisition strategies with conservation strategies for private working lands. The refuge and conservation area ultimately will include a 50,000- acre publicly owned national wildlife refuge and 100,000 acres of land that will remain in private ownership under conservation easements. It will connect existing conservation lands; create wildlife corridors; enhance water quality, quantity and storage; protect rare species; and provide opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation.

Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi

The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the national wildlife refuges of the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In February 2012, Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, located just south of Starkville, Mississippi, was renamed the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee Wildlife Refuge to memorialize one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s greatest leaders. The late Sam Hamilton was the Service’s 15th Director from September 2009 to February 2010. Under his leadership, vision, and guidance, both as Director and the Southeast Regional Director for 12 years, the service began moving away from opportunistic conservation in favor of landscape-level conservation to protect entire ecosystems.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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2013 Fee Free Days at National Parks & Federal Lands

From sea to shining sea, the United States has some of the most breath taking national parks and scenic wonderlands. Every national park has very important significance embedded into the landscape and has been passed down for generations now and ones to come.

Whether you prefer to hike Zion (Utah), photograph the wonders of Arches (Utah), wander in the paths of the Anasazi at Aztec Ruins (New Mexico), explore the desert scenery and granite monoliths of Joshua Tree (California), or tour an ancient cave dwelling at Mesa Verde (Colorado) moving outside is good for you and offers a chance to explore these special places.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To encourage Americans to explore America’s natural beauty, rich history, and culture, Secretary of the Department of Interior Ken Salazar announced that more than 2,000 national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and other federal lands will waive admission fees on 13 days in 2013.

“Our national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and other public lands offer every American a place to enjoy outdoor recreation, learn about our nation’s history and culture, and restore our souls and spirits by connecting with the natural beauty and wildness of our land,” Salazar said in a news release.

“By providing free admission, we are putting out an invitation to all Americans to visit and enjoy these extraordinary treasures that belong to all our people.”

Tourism and outdoor recreation are powerful economic engines in communities across the country.

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreation on federal lands provided 440,000 jobs and contributed $55 billion to the economy in 2009. Each year, over 280 million national park visitors pump $31 billion into local economies, supporting 258,000 jobs.

“We have a fantastic network of public lands that provides world class recreational opportunities, showcases our nation’s rich and diverse history, and features some of the most incredible scenery around,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

“The fee-free days will give both first time and repeat visitors a good reason to spend time exploring these remarkable places.”

Mark your calendar for these fee-free days in 2012:

January 21: Martin Luther King Jr. Day (participating agencies: National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service)

April 22-26: National Park Week (participating agency: National Park Service)

June 8: Great Outdoors Day (participating agency: U.S. Forest Service)

August 25: National Parks Service Birthday (participating agency: National Park Service)

September 28: National Public Lands Day (participating agencies: National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service)

October 13: National Wildlife Refuge Day (participating agency: Fish & Wildlife Service)

November 9-11: Veterans Day Weekend (participating agencies: National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service)

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entry fees are actually pretty reasonable. According to the NPS website 265 of the 397 national parks NEVER charge an entrance fee.

Details

National Park Service

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for 84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites in America’s 397 national parks.

Website: nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Outdoor Recreation Participation Increases

More than 90 million U.S. residents age 16 and older participated in some form of wildlife-related recreation in 2011, up three percent from five years earlier, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released last week.

Combining Birding and Photography with our life on the road is like enjoying pecan pie with Blue Bell ice cream for dessert following a turkey feast on Thanksgiving Day! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
In addition to nearly 30 bird species found nowhere else in the US, the Lower Rio Grande Valley is home to an astonishing concentration of more widespread birds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In total, wildlife recreationists spent $144.7 billion in 2011 on their activities, accounting for about one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

These findings come from the final national report with results from the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation released by the Census Bureau on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, according to a news release from the Census Bureau.

Conducted since 1955, the survey is one of the oldest continuing and most comprehensive recreation surveys in the U.S., collecting information on the number of anglers, hunters, and wildlife watchers, as well as how often they participate in wildlife-related recreation and how much they spend on these activities.

According to the survey, wildlife recreationists spent $70.4 billion on equipment, $49.5 billion on travel, and $24.8 billion on other items, such as licenses and land leasing and ownership.

The number of people fishing, hunting, or both rose from 33.9 million in 2006 to 37.4 million in 2011, with 33.1 million people fishing and 13.7 million hunting.

The Roseate Spoonbill uses its long, flat, spoon-shaped bill to strain small food items out of the water. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Roseate Spoonbill uses its long, flat, spoon-shaped bill to strain small food items out of the water. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The survey showed that 71.8 million people participated in at least one type of wildlife-watching activity, such as observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife.

Wildlife Watching Highlights
About 71.8 million U.S. residents observed, fed, and/or photographed birds and other wildlife in 2011. Almost 68.6 million people watched wildlife around their homes, and 22.5 million people took trips of at least one mile from home to primarily watch wildlife.

Of the 46.7 million people who observed wild birds, 88 percent did so around their homes and 38 percent on trips of a mile or more from home.

People spent $54.9 billion on their wildlife-watching trips, equipment, and other items in 2011 — an average of $981 per spender.

Fishing and Hunting Highlights
Of the 33.1 million people who fished, 27.5 million fished in freshwater and 8.9 million in saltwater.

The most popular fish sought by freshwater anglers, excluding Great Lakes fishing, were black bass (10.6 million anglers) and panfish (7.3 million anglers).

The most popular fish sought by Great Lakes anglers were walleye and sauger (584,000 anglers) and black bass (559,000 anglers).

About 1.9 million people ice-fished and 4.3 million fly-fished.

Anglers spent $41.8 billion on fishing trips, equipment, and other items in 2011— an average of $1,262 per angler.

Of the 13.7 million hunters that took to the field in 2011, 11.6 million hunted big game, 4.5 million hunted small game, 2.6 million hunted migratory birds, and 2.2 million hunted other animals.

Ninety-three percent of hunters used a shotgun, rifle, or other similar firearm; 33 percent used a bow and arrow; and 22 percent used a muzzleloader.

Nearly all hunters (approximately 94 percent) hunted in the state where they lived, while 14 percent hunted in other states.

Hunters spent $33.7 billion on hunting trips, equipment, and other items in 2011 — an average of $2,465 per hunter.

State reports with detailed information on participation and expenditures will be released on a flow basis beginning in January 2013, according to the release.

The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the initial data collection phase, the Census Bureau interviewed approximately 50,000 households nationwide to determine who in the household had fished, hunted, or watched wildlife in 2010 or 2011, and planned to do so again, states the release. In most cases, one adult household member provided information for all members.

In the second phase, a sample of individuals identified as likely anglers, hunters, and wildlife watchers were interviewed; each individual had to be at least 16 years old and provided information pertaining only to his or her activities and expenditures.

All comparisons made in this news release are tested at the 0.10 significance level.

Worth Pondering…
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is a society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:

I love not Man the less, but Nature more

—Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

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Flip, the Stranded Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Returns to Texas

A juvenile female Kemp’s ridley sea turtle named Flip by her rescuers will soon be returning home to the Texas coast.

Flip will be transported by plane to Houston, Texas. After her arrival, SEA LIFE Dallas aquarists will transport Flip to ARK (Animal Rehabilitation Keep) in Port Arkansas, Texas. (Source: Sea Life Scheveningen Aquarium)

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the smallest and rarest sea turtle species and one of the most critically endangered species.

Flip was found injured and cold, stranded on the shores of Monster (near The Hague, Holland) by visitors to the beach, on December 10, 2011. She was weak, wounded, and had sand in her eyes.

Animal Rescue transported Flip to SEA LIFE Aquarium Scheveningen to begin a long rehabilitation process.

SEA LIFE aquarists treated her injuries and washed the sand out of her eyes. Flip started to swim later that day. She weighed 1.84kg (4 pounds). Flip was estimated to be two years old and she turned out to be female.

On January 9, 2012, the vet started extensive research regarding Flip’s health. X-rays were taken. This medical research determined that Flip did not have a long lasting injury and can be returned to her natural environment as soon as she is strong enough.

Two days later Flip had started eating for the first time since being rescued.

A short time later (January 21), several international partners started working together to bring the endangered sea turtle back home to the Gulf of Mexico.

Members of the Dutch media watch Flip the sea turtle, who was found stranded on the shores of Holland. Two Sea Life aquariums and other agencies brought her to Texas. (Source: Sea Life Scheveningen Aquarium)

Travel documents for Flip’s release were submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who required several months to process the application.

Flip received a chip in her neck on April 2 to enable identification following her release. She continued to eat well and her health remained stable.

Flip continued to grow rapidly and by early May she weighed 3.38kg (7.45 pounds). Medical research showed that Flip is female. Although Flip is a boy’s name, SEA LIFE Scheveningen continued calling her Flip. At this point she gained enough strength for her journey home and her release.

By June 25, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave SEA LIFE Scheveningen the permit for Flip’s release in the United States. SEA LIFE was now able to start the application process with the Dutch government for Flip’s transport to the United States.

Flip’s health continued stable; her weight was now over 4kg (8 pounds)—more than double the weight she had at her arrival at SEA LIFE Scheveningen.

Flip is set to fly non-stop from Amsterdam to Houston and is expected to arrive in early November.

She will then be transported by the SEA LIFE Aquarium Grapevine team to the Port Aransas Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK), where a health assessment will be conducted and she will be given time to acclimate to the Texas climate before being released back into the Gulf of Mexico.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is one of the smallest of the sea turtles, with adults reaching about two feet in length and weighing up to about 45kg (100 pounds).

The adult Kemp’s ridley has an oval top shell (carapace) that is almost as wide as it is long and is usually olive-gray in color. The carapace usually has five pairs of costal scutes.

Each of the front flippers has one claw while the back flippers may have one or two.

Kemp’s ridleys feed mostly on crabs, but their diet also includes marine invertebrates and plants, especially when they are young. Crab species consumed varies geographically. In south Texas, Kemp’s ridleys consume a variety of crab species.

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is one of the smallest of the sea turtles, with adults reaching about two feet in length. (Source: Sea Life Scheveningen Aquarium)

The Kemp’s ridley’s range is mainly in the Gulf of Mexico, but immature turtles, probably carried by the currents, often appear along the Atlantic coast, as far north as New England and Nova Scotia. Adults occur primarily in the Gulf of Mexico.

Historic nesting records range from Mustang Island, Texas in the north to Veracruz, Mexico in the south.

Worth Pondering…

In the end, we only conserve what we love.

We only love what we understand.

We will understand what we are taught.

—Baba Dioum, Sengalese poet

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