Santa Ana NWR in Jeopardy

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) of Texas is under assault. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its contractors have been taking soil samples, surveying portions of the refuge, and making other preparations in and around the refuge to build a huge and intrusive border wall. Apparently, work has been ongoing on the refuge for several months, but nothing was said to the public, until information leaked earlier this month.

 
We are taking action on this issue, as are many other groups. We ask that you help (see the end of this article).
 
Photo: USFWS

Santa Ana NWR protects 2,088 acres of unique habitat along the banks of the Rio Grande. The refuge was originally created in 1943 to protect migratory birds, and fully 94.9% of its property has been acquired through Stamp/MBCF dollars. The refuge rests on vital land, and it is estimated only 5% of the native landscape still exists in the LRGV.

 
The refuge is home or a crucial stopover site for some 400 bird species that have been seen there, including migratory waterfowl, raptors, warblers, and a suite of "South Texas specialties" that are Mexican in character and barely range into Texas.  Other wildlife species – from rare mammals to herps and butterflies – call the area home. Moreover, Santa Ana NWR is central to a complex of natural hotspots in The Valley that draws county-level economic income of over $465 million per year and accounts for 7,000 jobs from eco-tourists and avi-tourists in the four-county region along the Rio Grande.
 
An estimated 95% of the land on the Mexico border in Texas is privately owned. By starting the border-wall in the Santa Ana NWR, the Trump Administration wishes to avoid the logistical predicament of working with private landowners to build a wall in their backyards.
 
Photo:  USFWS

The Administration is also aiming to use the REAL ID Act of 2005 to bypass environmental protections and processes that would normally be applied to a construction project of this nature. Standard environmental and wildlife laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act would be bypassed to expedite construction.

 
If the border wall through Santa Ana NWR gets a free pass, planned as it is through the elevated border levee (under the jurisdiction of the International Boundary and Water Commission) that traverses the refuge, then nearby properties up- and downriver for at least 25 miles are at risk. The plans include a totally cleared buffer zone of 50 yards (including a service road) on the south side of the wall.  Sections of the proposed wall will also impact parcels of the associated Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, and even Texas state properties (such as Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park) and county properties, as well as private properties along what is generally considered to be a broad wildlife corridor.
 
The National Wildlife Refuge System and our border refuges should not be splintered up simply because the land is owned by the federal government. These lands have been preserved for solid wildlife management reasons, and it is unconscionable that this Administration would consider building a wall through these lands without serious public process or discussion.
 
A serious investigation on the long-term biological and economic impacts of the border wall in this area is in order, including the impact on the refuges, other public lands, and adjacent properties. The current plans at Santa Ana are not only an assault on a much-beloved NWR, they constitute a taking of Stamp-invested property. Therefore, included in any assessment should be a compensation element, enough to make the area biologically productive, commensurate with the investments already made over the years at Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuges. Beyond that, compensation made to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (where Duck Stamp dollars are deposited) is also justified.
 
Security along the border, of course, is important, and some wildlife-compatible fencing is justified. Still, the currently suggested wall and accompanying south-side cleared buffer may not actually contribute to security. There are probably better ways to address the issue under these circumstances; USFWS Law Enforcement could be enhanced for all parcels of the Refuge System in the LRGV.
 
Unfortunately, the plans are proceeding in this area without asking for input from the very people who ought to have priority – American citizens, taxpayers, Duck Stamp buyers, community stakeholders, and users.
 
Texas Senator John Cornyn (R) has remarked on this environmentally sensitive issue that it is "imperative for federal officials to consult with local leaders on what the appropriate solutions might look like." He added that a physical border wall "is only a piece of the puzzle" and that "it may well be that rather than a physical wall in some of these places that technology will allow the Border Patrol to do its job just as effectively."
 
Nonetheless, the current Administration seems to be advancing with this ill-advised border wall despite objections. 
 
You can express your opinions and access a model letter to reach Congress on this important issue from the National Wildlife Refuge Association, a model you are encouraged to edit to indicate your own specific concerns.
 
Calling your Representative in the House and Senators is also highly recommended.
 
On this map, you can see how some immediate properties upriver from Santa Ana NWR connect with the refuge. Implications for other properties – some  many miles upriver and downriver – are considerable. Any planned wall construction on the levee –  marked as "Elevated" here and at some places a mile or more inside the U.S. –  almost serves to relinquish territory southward between the levee/border wall and the river.

A version of this post first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of Wingtips.

The 2017-2016 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp

The new 2017-2018 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, also known as the Duck Stamp, was released at a ceremony at Bass Pro Shops in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Friday, 23 June 2017.

James Hautman, a skilled wildlife artist from Chaska, Minnesota, had had his stunning artwork chosen last September to grace the current stamp. His work was chosen among 152 art pieces at a contest evaluated by five judges. This painting of three flying Canada Geese is now the third Duck Stamp to be priced at $25.

This is also the fifth time that Jim Hautman's waterfowl artwork appears on a Federal Duck Stamp. (He ties his brother, Joseph, in having artwork appearing five times on the stamp.) Jim's art previously appeared on the stamps for 1991-1992 (Black-bellied Whistling-Duck), 1995-1996 (Mallard), 1999-2000 (Greater Scaup), and 2011-2012 (White-fronted Goose).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service produces the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp, which sells for $25. The annual proceeds collected can run to nearly $42 million, depending, of course, on the number of stamps sold. The money goes to conserve wetland, bottomland, and grassland habitats for the National Wildlife Refuge System for the benefit of waterfowl as well as other birds and wildlife. Investments of stamp dollars have gone into securing habitat at 253 different National Wildlife Refuges and have helped preserve about three million additional acres in the smaller Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs).

The Federal stamp program has existed since the mid-1930s. While waterfowl hunters, 16 years of age or older are required to purchase stamps in order to hunt migratory waterfowl, anyone can contribute to conservation by buying Duck Stamps. In addition to serving as hunting license and conservation tool, a current Federal Duck Stamp is also a free annual pass into any National Wildlife Refuge that charges an entry fee. Since all of the proceeds are used to conserve habitat for birds and other wildlife, birders, nature photographers, environmental educators, and other outdoor enthusiasts regularly buy Duck Stamps to help ensure that they can always enjoy wildlife at their favorite wild places.

Basically, buying a Duck Stamp is one of the simplest ways that anyone can support bird habitat conservation in this country. The program remains one of the most successful conservation tools ever created to protect habitat for birds and other wildlife. We invite you to learn more about the stamp and the stamp program by looking through our website.

One last thing: with the release of this new stamp, the Department of the Interior released a listing of five cool things about the Duck Stamp.

Support a Campaign for the Stamp

 

There are many ways to help support the growth and appreciation of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp. The print public service announcement (PSA) for the Stamp shown here is just one way. There are many others we recommend for your consideration. 

Join our Friends Group and support its work.

Don't just buy the Stamp, display it. Get a stamp in a plastic holder for your personal use, or purchase blank holders in bulk for your organization, club, or group.

Stay connected!

See the many materials that are available to help support the Stamp, including posters, the PSAs and a listing of the "top ten reasons" to buy the Stamp.

You and your refuge friends group, duck club, birding club, or photography club can sell Stamps.  The best way is through consignments from Amplex.

Write an article in support of the Stamp for your nature/bird/hunting organization, using materials provided here.

Except where noted, web site content by Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

This license allows sharing and a right to adapt the written materials, with appropriate credit.

Read even more: follow our links for related information and activities to support the Stamp.

Let us know what you think and how we can all do better to advance the cause of the Stamp.

Let us know if you want a speaker at your event, convention, conference, to speak on the importance of the Stamp.

Your Duck Stamp Dollars at Work

The image at left shows a Stamp-associated sign – "Your Duck Stamp Dollars At Work" – at an emergent marsh at the Pondicherry Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildife Refuge in Jefferson, New Hampshire. (You can see Cherry Mountain in the background, part of the White Mountain National Forest.)  Almost 30 percent of the Pondicherry Division has been acquired through Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF) dollars. The MBCF is where Stamp dollars are held prior to investment.

You can access an invaluable listing of every National Wildlife Refuge that has received funding through Stamp dollars here (updated as of April 2016). This involves 252 refuges in the lower 48 states.

Another way to look at the data is via the following interactive map of refuges across the country, prepared by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The map is color-coded according to the percentage of land in each that was acquired with Duck Stamp/MBCF money.