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Repeat Season and Familiar Refuges

Repeat Season and Familiar Refuges

By: Nicole Stagg and Justin Gole

Thanks for coming back to read about the next four refuges on our awesome adventure! This period starts what we affectionately refer to as the “repeat season,” as we will visit all four of these refuges more than once, and vicariously, so will you!


We arrived at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) on Lake Erie after a long drive from Maryland. We learned that we had just missed out on “The Biggest Week in Birding,” when an estimated 70,000 visitors flowed through the refuge and surrounding lands to view the migrating neotropical birds that pass through every year. While we missed the heaviest influx of visitors, we did not miss the neotropical birds. Nicole has been trying to add at least one new bird species to her ID guide at each refuge we have visited. Ottawa so far holds the record for new birds in her book. Birds she has added include the Baltimore Oriole, the Blackpoll Warbler and Warbling Vireo.

Baltimore Oriole on feeder behind Ottawa’s Visitor Center, May 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg

 When not surveying, we spent some time trimming the grass around the refuge and Nicole earned the nickname “Weed Whacker” from the refuge volunteers. The wildlife drive is open sporadically, but we made the most out of the time we were able to spend out there, and were lucky enough to see a bald eagle and a sandhill crane in flight at the same time! We were not able to capture a great picture of either of them but we did let a visitor with a longer distance lens know where the eagle was, and he appreciated the tip!

Bald eagle at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, May 2018. Photo by: Nicole Stagg

The following weekend Justin’s parents visited Ottawa NWR and drove through the wildlife drive. They managed to get stuck behind a road block of trumpeter swans, and after listening to a symphony of swans for about a half hour, a truck came through and broke up the traffic jam.

Trumpeter Swans on the Wildlife Drive at Ottawa NWR, May 2018. Photo by: Nicole Stagg

Our next stop was the first urban refuge opened in America, John Heinz NWR at Tinicum. This thousand-acre refuge, located right next to Philadelphia International Airport, was truly was a unique experience. While the drive was only a few hundred miles from Ohio, we were in an entirely different world. Every single day at John Heinz there was one or more school groups that visited, and we helped supervise and guide them through activities such as archery, fishing, dipnetting, and wildlife identification. We even got to participate in archery ourselves, although we realized we should not quit our day jobs!

After one of the school groups left, Justin got to practice a few rounds with refuge staff and interns before the evening crowd showed up, June 2018. Video by: Nicole Stagg

We have had great experiences with visitor service programs at all of the refuges we’ve visited, but we were especially blown away by the volume of outreach and education work that is done at John Heinz. Virtually every single day there was at least one different group that showed up, but what really made an impression on us was the “Philly Nature Kids” program. These school groups make multiple visits throughout the year, and refuge interns and staff go to the schools for educational programs and the end of year graduation ceremonies.

The students were given a budget and free reign to come up with a project of their choice. We were lucky enough to be there at the end of the school year to see many of these finished projects, including a trash cleanup project, a pollinator garden, bird houses built on school grounds, and an educational booklet created and “mass-produced” for students in lower grades. It was truly inspiring to see the passion for nature being instilled in the Philly Nature Kids!

Ranger Sean Brinninger teaching a school group about trees and how to identify them, June 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg

Since we were staying in the great city of Philadelphia, we had to do some tourist activities! We started by getting Philly cheesesteaks at the Reading Market before walking downtown to see the Constitution Center, Liberty Bell, and other historical landmarks. At the Benjamin Franklin Museum, we saw how an old fashioned printing press works. We took plenty of pictures at each place we visited, but the best photo of the day was probably the one we took at Love Park.

Nicole and Justin at Love Park in Philadelphia, June 2018.

Next we took a trip through the heart of the northeast, driving through New York City and eventually winding up at Great Meadows NWR right outside of Boston. The most visited section of the refuge, the Concord Unit, is located just minutes away from historic locations such as Minuteman National Park and Walden Pond, which is famous for being the home of Henry David Thoreau while he wrote his book Walden.

We got to experience the annual River Fest at Great Meadows NWR, which is a large outreach program they hold at their headquarters location as part of a larger weeklong event hosted with several other organizations. Dozens upon dozens of people poured in to go fishing with their families as well as participate in other activities such as yoga, animal exhibits, singing, and painting. Rick Roth and the Cape Ann Vernal Pool Team took the stage at the end of the event, and we got to witness one of the best educational programs of our young lives, and made a long yellow friend in the process!

Justin and Nicole posing with a yellow burmese python at River Fest, June 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg, Justin Gole

Justin had the opportunity to tag along for Blanding’s turtle nest monitoring and was lucky enough to witness one turtle’s egg laying efforts first hand. A night spent walking miles in search for these important four legged friends was well worth it, and the coolest part of this learning opportunity was relocating the eggs about a meter because they had been laid in an ant hill.

Blanding’s Turtle with tracking code on shell and freshly laid eggs, June 2018. Photos: Justin Gole

From Massachusetts, we drove south along the coast to Prime Hook NWR in Delaware. We were lucky enough to be staying two blocks from the ocean in Rehoboth Beach and spent many mornings and evenings on the sand. Justin got to spend his birthday, July 4th, baking like a crab on the seashore.

One of the primary user groups at Prime Hook were crabbers, and we managed to make many friends on lazy Delaware mornings sitting out at Fowler Beach. We watched many different techniques for catching crabs including: standard crab traps, fishing with chicken wings, and simply scooping them up in the current from the bridge.

Atlantic Blue Crab too small for harvest in the Fowler Beach parking lot at Prime Hook NWR, July 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg

Perhaps the highlight of our time in Delaware was running into our old roommates from Blackwater NWR, Dan and Lindsay! They are part of the Rapid Demo team for the Saltmarsh Habitat & Avian Research Program (SHARP, https://www.tidalmarshbirds.org). We had spent a few days with them at Blackwater, and we managed to see them on first day at Prime Hook and then again the next morning as they were emerging from the marshes. The following day we got together with them and enjoyed some merriment at Dogfish Head Brewery.

Reunion at Dogfish Head Brewery, July 2018.
(from left) Chris Sayers, Dan Rochocinco, Justin Gole, Emily, Nicole Stagg, Lindsay Forrette
Photo: Lindsay Forrette

We will be visiting all of these refuges again starting in August with what we call our “Season of Repeats”. We can’t wait to see how these refuges will change while we are gone and we look forward to reuniting with the friends we have made. We are excited for our next batch of refuges and can’t wait to start the repeat season with our second visit to Great Meadows in our next blog!

 

Gators and Eagles and Bison, Oh My!

Gators and Eagles and Bison, Oh My!

By: Angelica Varela and Michelle Ferguson

The Road Warriors are back with our second round of four new refuges. We were excited to dive into these locations where the wildlife was a bit bigger than the little songbirds we’d become accustomed to. This stretch of visitor surveying took us down to Louisiana, up through Kansas and North Dakota and over to Michigan, adding roughly 3000 miles to our journey.


Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

We were met with a large batch of southern hospitality at Big Branch Marsh NWR in Louisiana. Complete with a crawfish boil, coffee, and beignets, we quickly felt welcomed in. An ecosystem new to both of us, we were in awe of the Spanish moss decorating the marshland. One of the primary activities visitors enjoyed here on the refuge was kayaking. Early one Monday morning, we went kayaking for ourselves on the bayou out to Lake Pontchartrain. Belting Disney songs along the way, we turned around the riverbend and came face to face with the resident 12-foot American alligator, Joe. This was the furthest up the river anyone had seen him this season. The locals were all fairly calm and snapping photos as Joe sauntered past, while the two of us had utter shock painted across our faces. The rest of our of time in Louisiana we enjoyed exploring the French Quarter and Magazine Street in New Orleans, soaking up the rich historic culture before heading to the prairies of Kansas.

Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, May 21, 2018. Photo by: Kevin, Canoe and Trail Adventures

Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge

Kansas greeted us with beautiful rolling grasslands and some amazing wildlife. Our backyard was hustling and bustling with the familiar sound of the Bobwhite quail. Although the bunkhouse did not have TV or Wi-Fi, we found that our back porch was a much better alternative as we watched the white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasants, and cottontails munch away in the prairies. We were also visited by a bull snake that lingered outside of our porch soaking up the sun during the day. The staff told us of some bald eagles that made residence at the wildlife refuge, so we kept our eyes to the sky in hopes of seeing such a prideful bird. After spending an afternoon driving around Kirwin Reservoir, we not only discovered the tree that was home to the bald eagle nests but also witnessed one eagle fly right over our car holding a fish in its talons!

Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge, June 4, 2018. Photo by: Angelica Varela

Belted Kingfisher looking over Kirwin Reservoir, Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge. June 7, 2018. Photo by: Michelle Ferguson

Sullys Hill National Game Preserve

We quickly fell in love with Sullys Hill NGP as we drove in the first day and found that the bison had been waiting for us to arrive. The herd had four new calves with them, which we learned are called “red dogs.” We grew awfully fond of the herd, making sure to go through the wildlife drive each evening to say goodnight to our bison friends as well as the elk, pelicans, and prairie dogs. Seriously, we drove it every night, 14 days in a row. We were not the only ones who were fond saying goodnight to the refuge wildlife, many of the the visitors we encountered during our evening sampling shifts also drove through the refuge after work to say their farewells. We enjoyed watching the sun set over the rolling plains around Devils Lake; North Dakota had some of the best sunsets we’ve seen on our journey thus far. When we weren’t sampling for the visitor survey, we discovered fun places to visit around the area, including the Geological Center of North America in Rugby, ND. We also stepped into Canada for a few hours and spent an afternoon enjoying the International Peace Gardens.

Bison herd at Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, June 15, 2018. Photo by: Angelica Varela

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

On our drive to Shiawassee NWR in Michigan, we decided to make a much needed rest stop in Duluth, Minnesota. We enjoyed the cool air and the pine trees along Lake Superior, and stretched our legs by touring around the Lake Superior Maritime Museum. It poured rain for our first 24 hours at Shiawassee. We took a driving tour around the wildlife refuge, an activity most visitors we met partook in here. Fawns, muskrats, and goslings were out, thankful for the wet weather. Cass River was one of our visitor sampling locations for our project, and on the 4th of July after a morning of surveying we got the chance to be visitors ourselves. To celebrate the holiday the refuge staff invited us onto a boat on the Cass River where we watched the fireworks display sparkle above us. We also participated in the refuge’s family backyard day event where the community came out to explore Shiawassee NWR.

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, June 29, 2018. Photo By: Michelle Ferguson

It is humbling the places we have gotten to visit so far for this project, and to see how vastly different the ecosystems are in each refuge we work. From alligators and pheasants to bison and eagles, we are getting a chance to see everything the National Wildlife Refuge System has to offer. With the diversity of each refuge, we’ve found they are each united by adventurous visitors, many of whom have graciously participated in our survey efforts and have been a joy to talk to. We are excited to let you into our world so stay tuned for more fun and unique adventures.

From yours truly,

Angelica Varela and Michelle Ferguson, Road Warriors

Behind the Scenes at Wildlife Refuges

Behind the Scenes at Wildlife Refuges

By: Kylie Campbell and James Puckett

Growing up we both spent lots of time at wildlife refuges, and always had the impression that these areas were largely left to function on their own with little human intervention. The first two months of our cross country tour of the National Wildlife Refuge System have opened our eyes to how wrong we were!  We’ve had the pleasure of serving alongside staff members “behind the scenes” at multiple refuges and we are proud of how we’ve helped wildlife and improved visitors’ experiences on the refuges. The wide array of management strategies that we’ve seen have changed our perspectives dramatically and given us a deeper appreciation for the hard work that refuge staff puts in for the benefit of communities and wildlife.

The first refuge we visited was Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Minnesota. This refuge is home to a diversity of species from beavers and muskrats to herons and sandhill cranes. At Sherburne we got our first glimpse at how important public lands are to the communities around them. One couple was particularly memorable; they visited the refuge almost every day that we were out sampling and they were so excited to share their favorite memories and photos of the refuge with us.

James surveys a visitor at Sherburne NWR. The prairie on the right side of the road shows evidence of the recent prescribed fire while the left side of the road shows how quickly plants regenerate after an earlier burn. May 2018. Photo by: Kylie Campbell

When we arrived at Sherburne NWR, refuge staff was just finishing a prescribed burn. It was fascinating to learn about the benefits of fire and rewarding to share this knowledge with curious visitors. It was astounding to see how fast the plants grew back in just the two week period that we spent there. The prescribed burns help maintain the native Oak Savannah habitat that has been diminished from 50 million acres prior to European settlement to less than 30,000 acres currently. Restoring this fire-dependent habitat is critically important for many endangered and threatened species. Fire is key to these restoration efforts because it opens up the canopy and removes invasive species. We learned that after refuge staff burns an area, they often reseed it with native wildflower seeds to help restore prairie habitat. We never would have guessed the level of planning and management that goes into these systems!

Also at Sherburne, we were able to shadow the biologist while he did rounds to check the water levels and adjust the water control structures as needed in various pools across the refuge. We learned how different bird species and their food sources need precise water levels, and laughed with the biologist when he described how beavers often disagree with the water management plans and attempt to dam up the water control structures.

Views and 4-legged visitors at Portland-Vancouver refuges. June 2018. Photos by: Kylie Campbell

While all refuges are unique, something all of them have shared is the deep connections that visitors make to these spaces: we met a woman at Ridgefield NWR in Portland, OR who truly embodied this connection. She spent a while talking with us and she got emotional when she discussed how blessed she feels to be able to experience the wildlife at the refuge, from playful river otters to magnificent bald eagles. Her genuine gratitude was heartwarming and really opened our eyes to how the refuge system connects people to the natural world. Tualatin River NWR, also in Portland, is a great example of the importance of refuges to people in the area. It’s creation began with a grassroots effort in the community, when the people in the area recognized how quickly their open spaces were being developed. In 1990 a local citizen proposed the creation of a wildlife refuge, and the refuge was created two years later when a couple donated the first 12 acres of land to USFWS. The public continues to be heavily involved in the restoration efforts at Tualatin River NWR.

We worked alongside a team of volunteers at Dungeness NWR to trap and remove invasive European Green crabs. July 2018.

The third refuge that we visited in the Portland area was Steigerwald Lake NWR. The behind the scenes work at this refuge is still in the planning process, but will dramatically improve habitat for salmon and other wildlife once completed. Currently, the refuge is separated from the Columbia River by a large dike. Refuge staff are planning to breach part of this dike and restore connections between the Columbia River and its floodplain to improve habitat. It sure will be exciting to visit this refuge in the future and see how wildlife responds to these improvements!

While working on invasive green crab removal we spotted a Giant Pacific Octopus washed up in the mudflats. July 2018.

Across the refuges that we have visited we have been astounded by the effort that volunteers put in to help support the refuge. Without the hardworking hands of refuge volunteers, many refuge programs and projects would not be possible. In fact, a staff member at Dungeness NWR told us that last year their group of volunteers contributed enough hours to equal the time of five full time staff members.

It has been an amazing learning experience to understand and help with all of the different projects that go on behind the scenes in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Our experiences have shown us that management actually has a large role in ensuring that habitat is ideal for a diverse range of wildlife species and we’re looking forward to learning more as we visit more refuges!

Kylie Campbell

USFWS NWR Visitor Survey Intern

Kylie is recent Virginia Tech graduate with a passion for public land conservation and outdoor recreation. Kylie Campbell grew up playing in the streams on her family’s farm in Virginia, and this lifelong interest in water inspired her to pursue a degree in Water: Resources, Management, and Policy. Kylie aims to use her degree to understand and protect America’s water resources through a career in public service.

James Puckett

USFWS NWR Visitor Survey Intern

James Puckett is a also a recent Virginia Tech graduate. He is an avid outdoorsman and spends all his free time outdoors. He grew up on the tidal wetlands of North Carolina experiencing wildlife within estuaries. He studied Political Science and has two minors in Environmental Policy and Planning and Public Urban Affairs. He hopes to implement long lasting policies to improve natural areas and to protect nature for future generations to come.

As the Birds Fly

As the Birds Fly

by: Justin Gole & Nicole Stagg

We will be spending our time traveling along the Eastern Shoreline and the Midwest, and telling the story of how we migrate from refuge to refuge. Our trek across the country began with a 3-day drive from Fort Collins, CO to Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in New Orleans, LA. The first night on the road, we caravanned with another team heading to Hagerman NWR in Texas. A night of campfire songs and s’mores was a great way to kick off the survey season! The next morning we drove most of the day, stopping at Wichita Falls for a short side trip. As the sun set that night at Tyler State Park in Texas, we could hardly sleep in anticipation of arriving at our first refuge!

Nicole in front of historic Wichita Falls. March 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg

We arrived at Bayou Sauvage having traveled more than 1,300 miles. To put that into perspective, the previously endangered brown pelican, the state bird of Louisiana, can only travel about 300 miles in the same amount of time.

Bayou Sauvage is the 2nd largest urban refuge, located within New Orleans city limits, right on Lake Pontchartrain. Most visitors come to the refuge for birding, fishing, or exploring the trails. We were amazed to see the before and after pictures of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused to the old growth forest but the refuge staff and volunteers have done amazing work rebuilding the area. We got to contribute to the effort by participating in a cleanup day and left New Orleans with confidence that the refuge is on the mend!

Justin helping to collect trash at the Crabbing Bridge at Bayou Sauvage NWR. March 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg

Our 560-mile drive from Bayou Sauvage to Okefenokee NWR (in Native tongue “land of the trembling earth”) was completed in one day; this distance would have been a 2-day trip for the local Sandhill crane. Compared to Bayou Sauvage, Okefenokee is definitely a rural refuge. The clear night skies are well known, and people travel from around the world to gaze at the night stars, as well as see the gators and carnivorous plants. Okefenokee had Michigan native Justin trembling a little bit. While we saw over half a dozen alligators at Bayou Sauvage, that was nothing compared to Okefenokee where there are an estimated 100,000 gators on the more than 400,000 acres of refuge land!

Adult male alligator sunbathing at Okefenokee’s west entrance Stephen C. Foster State Park. April 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg

We had a great time at the refuge, attending a pizza and bonfire night for volunteer appreciation and frequently embarking on late night quests to find reptiles such as water and corn snakes.

We left Okefenokee and traveled 700 miles in two days, winding up at Crab Orchard NWR, which was established in 1947 as a haven for nesting Canada geese. The geese could have made the trip in less than one day, but we took a break and spent a beautiful evening with our supervisor Katie Lyon at Cheatham Lake outside Nashville, TN.

After our brief pit stop and reunion, we were welcomed into the tight knit community of Crab Orchard NWR. We were lucky enough to be invited to the annual volunteer banquet at Giant City Lodge (which was featured in the movie “Gone Girl”). The highlights of the evening included learning that volunteers contributed 20,853 hours during 2017, a trivia competition about the refuge, and a dazzling, customized rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend” by one of the members of the local Friends group sung to the refuge manager.

High water at Crab Orchard Lake Dam after a week of rain. April 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg

Crab Orchard NWR is a fisher’s paradise with three large lakes. A lake-record breaking 11.79 pound bass was caught the weekend before we came into town! Locals speculated that in order for a fish that big to be present, someone must have caught some bass in Florida, brought them up to Illinois and released them into the lake.

Our next refuge was Blackwater NWR in Maryland, where we managed to see a screech owl sticking its head out of a tree, several bald eagles, and osprey nesting over the water our first day when Blackwater Visitor Services Manager Ray was showing us around the refuge. Blackwater is home to 30-40 nesting pairs of bald eagles, and a couple hundred come to the refuge during summer months for feeding. The bald eagles roam the skies, traveling over 125 miles a day in search of food, so if you visit you will certainly see some if you pay attention!

During our time at Blackwater, Justin went out fishing several times to try and curtail the invasive snakehead population. Nicole went out on the Wildlife Drive most mornings determined to capture a better picture of the screech owl — and was met with success!

The Eastern Screech Owl at Blackwater NWR that Nicole was determined to get a photo of. May 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg

We also had the chance to take a trip to Assateague National Park to see the wild horses, and stopped at Crabcake Factory USA for crab cakes.

Wild horses found on the entrance road to Assateague National Park. May 2018. Photo: Nicole Stagg

All in all, our adventure so far has been better than we could have imagined and we are excited to share it going forward!

Justin Gole

USFWS NWR Visitor Survey Intern

Justin graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2015 with a Bachelors in Accounting. He spent a few years in Management for Huntington National Bank before making the shift towards following his passion for the great outdoors and leaving the world a better place than he found it.

Nicole Stagg

USFWS NWR Visitor Survey Intern

A south Louisiana girl, Nicole graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU). She majored in Natural Resource Ecology and Management with a focus in Wildlife Habitat. Last summer she served as an intern at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia and fell in love with the Refuge System. Nicole is interested in pursuing a career in human dimensions and environmental education.

Lime Kiln Trail – Sedona, Arizona

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During the week of January 11th, 2017, an ACE Arizona crew began trail maintenance on the Lime Kiln Trail in Dead Horse Ranch State Park. This 15 mile trail connects Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood to Red Rock State Park in Sedona. This historic trail was once used by horse drawn wagons to transport local produce, wine and bricks between communities in the Verde Valley.

 Jimmy Gregson, ACE Conservation Trainer and Coordinator, teaches new crew members about building sustainable trails.

Jimmy Gregson, ACE Conservation Trainer and Coordinator, teaches new crew members about building sustainable trails.

Today the trail is use by mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers looking to get out and enjoy the valley’s landscapes and travel along parts of the historic wagon road. In celebration of the US Forest Service’s 100th birthday in 2005 the trail was listed as a Centennial Trail. The ACE crew worked closely with the US Forest Service on this project.

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ACE crew worked closely with the US Forest Service Crew.

This project was a first for most of our corps members who just began with ACE at the start of the year. This team was led by Senior Crew Leader John Donovan. The crew was taken on a threatened species walk with the US Forest Service’s Wildlife Biologist and were shown Hohokam agave, Tonto Basin agave, heath leaf wild buckwheat, hualapai milkwort, ripely buckwheat, Arizona cliffrose and Verde Valley sage so that they could avoid damaging these plants during trail work.

ACE crew being taught by US Forest Service's Wildlife Biologist about the threatened plants along the Lime Kiln Trail.

ACE crew being taught by US Forest Service’s Wildlife Biologist about the threatened plants along the Lime Kiln Trail.

This is the third project in the Redrocks region and ACE plans to continue sending crews to the area until March. The crews will be maintaining the trail while preserving the threatened plant species and the historic rock walls throughout the trail.

San Andres National Wildlife Refuge

p1000492-2An ACE crew assembled from Utah and Arizona just finished a month at the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge. San Andres National Wildlife Refuge’s was established in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt ‘for the conservation and development of natural wildlife resources.p1000510-2

In the beginning the refuges main focus was on the declining population of big horn sheep. In 1941 there was an estimated 31-33 animals left in that area. This refuge is unique as it is within the boundaries of the 2.2 million-acre White Sands Missile Range, which restricts public access on these pristine lands.

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The crews main objective was to cut and treat Salt Cedar. Salt cedar Tamarix chinensis is a tree that is from Central Asia. It was introduced into the western United States for erosion control purposes in the early 1900’s and has spread throughout the western United States. Once established on the refuge it out competed and eliminated all other trees. It is found primarily along the refuge springs and streams. Large density of of these trees uses large amounts of water and will take over a spring to the point that the surface water often disappears. This can be detrimental to all native species that depend on the limited water in a desert environment. To combat it, refuge staff cut the trees and applies an herbicide.

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Restoration | Bitter Lake NWR

A crew of 6 just finished a month long hitch doing restoration work at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The Bitter Lake Refuge sits above an aquifer, running down from the Capitan Mountains to the west of Roswell NM, and eventually feeds into the Pecos River. ACE Corps member Peter Schaffer was part of the project and shared his experiences of the project.

Being monsoon season in the south west, the crew would watch storms form over the solitary peak outside of Roswell. Sadly, the rain rarely reached the refuge to cool the crew. However even though the rain was not always there to cool the crew, they did get to witness firsthand how the water falling in the northern range would be absorbed into the system, before being pushed up towards the surface forming brackish sinkholes and leached through spring-like vents and feeding creeks and rivers throughout the refuge. ACE Corps member Peter Schaffer stated that this refuge is “truly an unsuspecting place, and, as the refuge’s visitor center tour heavily emphasized, it really is an oasis in the desert. It may seem cliche, but a closer examination of the geographical properties of this place helped put this project’s importance in perspective for me.”

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The ACE crew worked with US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) refuge staff on many of the projects and began to understand how complex restoration work is. Peter explained: “Bitter Lake struck me as a great demonstration of how uniquely balanced the desert (or any ecosystem for that matter) can be for creating a plethora of life that has evolved in congruence with the terrain. The flora in the area love the brackish water; the bugs certainly don’t mind either. There are 5 endangered species on the [Bitter Lake] refuge, most of which live in and around these vents and sinkholes. They are dependent on the land and water with which they are so uniquely intertwined, and ACE’s efforts in the past few years have been within these areas, which had been heavily affected by invasive flora. While I have worked on other restoration projects that were in the early or middle stages of treatment, I began to see how this multi-year process of hard work can pay off in truly restoring and balancing these incredibly unique area around the refuge.”

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During the final days of the project, Corps members were able to plant native grasses along one of the creeks, and within the next year or two these species to proliferate. “It’s a good example of that tortoise/hare (or jack-rabbit) mentality, which has been hard for me to learn how to accomplish and improve upon while being in ACE. It seems that good restoration work requires an innately slow, careful touch in order to be successful. Missing a plant that can pollinate and spread seed over an area means that the end goal gets pushed back further. Treating ten miles of river in a day may sound good on a project report, but it may mean that the true goal of these kinds of projects was missed. I could see how ACE had fulfilled that necessity at Bitter Lake, and I hope that our crew continued in producing that high quality of work and diligence”, Peter added.

Thanks to the crew for their hard work on the project, and to Peter for taking the time to share his experiences.