Birder's Guide

MAY 2016

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 31 of 59

n At Kilauea Point NWR, visitors may observe Laysan Albatross, Red-tailed and White-tailed tropicbirds, Red-footed Booby, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Hawaiian Goose, and Great Frigatebird. Photo © Jason A. Crotty National Wildlife Refuges 30 Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community | May 2016 surrounded by farmland, urban areas, or other degraded habitats, refuges are often particularly important for birds and other wildlife, far be- yond their sometimes modest size. Accordingly, the FWS reports that more than 700 bird species have been observed on refuge lands. NWRs at- tract many people as well: 47 million in 2014, according to FWS. One of the most signifcant challenges for avi- an conservation is habitat loss. The refuge sys- tem preserves and, in many cases, restores key bird habitat. As of 2014, there were 562 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. Together, these units contained ap- proximately 150 million acres (234,375 sq. mi.) of protected land. Moreover, because of Duck Stamp purchases, other sources of federal funds, and donations, the system is continually grow- ing, both by the expansion of existing refuges and the creation of new units. As a result, the National Wildlife Refuge System is instrumental to bird conservation. The system's conservation mission and the birding opportunities uniquely available within the sys- tem provide a natural opportunity for birders to contribute, and many do. Volunteers have supported the refuge system for decades. Volunteer contributions are particu- larly important to the FWS, which plays bud- getary second fddle to the smaller but far more prominent National Park Service (NPS). On a per- acre basis, the FWS receives only a fraction of the funding of the NPS, and the FWS has more than a billion dollars in deferred maintenance on NWRs. Volunteering with Friends Groups In the late 1990s, the FWS and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, a nonproft that sup- ports the refuge system, committed to expanding the nature and scope of "Friends" groups. This suc- cessful program was called the Friends Initiative. The number of Friends groups increased from ap- proximately 115 in 1997 to approximately 230 to- day. There is now a Friends group for a majority of the staffed refuges nationwide, and some unstaffed refuges have groups as well. Friends organizations work closely with FWS employees to staff visitor centers, improve habi- tat, conduct wildlife research, raise funds, write grant proposals, and provide educational pro- grams, among other activities. Some Friends groups also organize birding festivals or other

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