Author Archives: tmlama

About tmlama

Tanya is a Pathways Biological Career Intern at the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She is also a doctoral student in conservation genomics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Tanya enjoys cycling, gardening and the great outdoors.

Bienvenidos a McKinney NWR

Ivette first joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Yale graduate and a summer intern through our Hispanic Access Foundation partnership. She’s now joined the team full time at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, and is making great strides in connecting with the local Hispanic community in New Haven, CT.

The transition from my summer internship to working full-time at McKinney has been great. I am thankful for the supportive staff who constantly check-in with me and provide me with the necessary resources and guidance to succeed. As the New Haven Urban Wildlife Refuge Coordinator, my responsibilities include collaborating with partners such as Yale Peabody Museum and New Haven Parks, providing environmental education at local New Haven schools, establishing new connections with community organizations, and engaging underrepresented audiences. I love working primarily on the urban wildlife refuge partnership because every day I get to do something new. One day I’m helping cleanup an island, the next I’m attending a conference, and then I get to lead activities in Spanish at the Peabody. I am also very excited because McKinney has recently gone bilingual on Facebook. Check us out!

Earlier this fall, Ivette represented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at ¡Fiesta Latina!, an annual event at the Yale Peabody Museum that celebrates Hispanic culture. The Museum has been an integral participant of the New Haven Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, established to connect urban communities with the National Wildlife Refuge System and nature. The event, held on October 8th, featured family activities, crafts and live music, and was attended by more than 2,250 visitors!


Ivette manned an interactive and informative station featuring pelts and bilingual information about Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mission.

The visitors loved learning about the animal pelts, tracks, and scat. It was a rare opportunity for many of them to feel the pelts of local CT wildlife. They also enjoyed learning the Spanish name of each animal (beaver-castor, fox-zorro, coyote-coyote, skunk-zorrillo, and raccoon-mapache). My favorite part was when a visitor refused to touch any of the pelts because she had a slight fear of the animals, but after chatting about the importance of protecting wildlife she felt comfortable enough to touch the pelts.


The majority of visitors at the event were unaware of the USFWS and the National Wildlife Refuge System, but once they heard about all the opportunities refuges have to offer they were very excited to learn about their local refuge. A lot of them brought home maps of the refuge and couldn’t believe they didn’t know about this hidden gem in their backyard. A lot of visitors mentioned that they were looking forward to bringing their families to view the salt marsh at Stewart B. McKinney.

¡Fiesta Latina! served as a great opportunity for Ivette and other Service employees to share our mission and invite Latino families to visit their local refuge. Since the event, Ivette and other members of McKinney NWR staff have participated in a number of community service events and received a number of inquiries about how the Service can tie in to events at local community and school organizations. Most recently, McKinney NWR hosted a Fall Foliage walk, and Ivetta assisted Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity with a cleanup event at Norwalk Shea Island.

Check back soon for an update from Michael Bonilla, another Hispanic Access Foundation superstar whose work has expanded at at Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership.

A History of the Federal Duck Stamp

by: Mark Madison, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Historian

Sadly for our more imaginative readers, I have to report  that the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp  or rather, the “Duck Stamp” is not something you use to mail a duck.  However, it is something the American people have used very successfully to save our ducks and other waterfowl.  At its most beautiful and simplest it has been our most useful tool to save our waterfowl heritage for future generations.

The origins of the Duck Stamp date back to 1934 and our Chief of the Biological Survey, Jay “Ding” Darling.  Darling and the Duck Stamp both entered our agency in 1934, a seemingly inauspicious year of economic and ecological disaster as the Depression and Dust Bowls blanketed North America.  Just as farmers in the Great Plains were displaced by the droughts and dust, so too migratory waterfowl saw their prairie potholes dry up and disappear losing their critical locations to breed, feed, and rest in the so-called “Dirty Thirties.”  In the midst of this most dire period, a new conservation leader emerged in our agency to literally lead us out of the growing Great Plains desert—Ding Darling.


Ding Darling hunting

Darling was a critic of the New Deal, a Republican friend of Herbert Hoover, and eventually a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning editorial cartoonist.  So he seemed an unlikely choice to head a New Deal Conservation agency like the Biological Survey.  And he was hesitant noting:

“I certainly did not want the job.  A singed cat was never more conscious of the dangers of fire than I was of the hazards in trying to get anything done in Washington.”

But his love of waterfowl overcame his distrust of Franklin Roosevelt when he agreed to take over as Chief of the Biological Survey in 1934.  Darling’s tenure as Director lasted a mere 20 months but it set the Duck Stamp and the refuge system on a new path for the next 82 years.


Roseate spoonbills at today’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Photo: Harold Wagle, finalist NWRA 2012

Six days after taking office, the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act was passed, a bill Darling had long championed, providing ongoing funds for migratory bird habitat acquisition.  Funded by duck hunters, this Act created the Federal Duck Stamp Program, which almost immediately provided substantial funding for the purchase of wetlands across the country.  It is easy for us looking back to underestimate the impact of this little stamp in 1934.  First, it is striking that waterfowl hunters, of which Darling was one, had agreed to impose a voluntary tax on themselves to support their feathered friends.  Second, the fact that Duck Stamp monies were annual funds meant the agency had for the first time an ongoing continual source of funds to strategically acquire wetlands.  This had never happened before and it was a revolutionary idea.


2013 Youth Waterfowl Hunt in the Huron Wetland Management District. This event provided hunters ages 12-15 an opportunity to learn about migratory birds, their habitats, calls, decoys, and waterfowl hunting techniques. Photo: Chuck Pyle/ USFWS

The new Duck Stamp needed an image immediately and Darling the artist hastily drew 6 quick sketches on the cardboard frames used for stiffening dry-cleaned shirts, the best available material in his office at the time.  Colonel Sheldon, the Bureau’s Chief of Public Relations, inadvertently took these drafts to the Bureau of Engraving which selected one and made it into the first duck stamp. Darling felt his hastily sketched image of a mallard hen and drake landing in a marsh were not grand enough art for the first duck stamp and he was furious.  He noted, “I could have murdered Colonel Sheldon and all the Bureau of engraving personnel and every time I look at the proof design of the first duck stamp I still want to do it.”  No doubt Darling wished he could have busted Colonel Sheldon down to Private.  You can see the first duck stamp and an early engraving and judge for yourselves, but I think Darling was being too critical.   When I look at the little stamp I join millions of hunters, bird lovers, and the birds themselves in seeing the most beautiful image he ever created.

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Brush and ink drawings of Mallards by Jay N. “Ding” Darling. Photo: USFWS Duck Stamp Collection

In its first year, 635,001 duck stamps were sold and with new funds coming in it was time to find some habitat for the ducks, for as Darling noted: “ducks can’t nest on picket fences.”  In less than two years, Darling and and the Biological Survey helped create 45 new refuges, and protect more than 1.5 million acres of land across the continent.   A vast system of waterfowl refuges were created along migratory flyways.  The refuge system was growing faster than any time since Theodore Roosevelt had created the first refuge in 1903.  With the expansion of the refuge system, a symbol was needed so that when people visited a national wildlife refuge they would know they were on sacred ground, a covenant between the American people to protect their wildlife.  Once again Darling drew a simple sketch hardly guessing it would become another widely reproduced and admired icon–the flying blue goose that is now found on more than 500 refuges crossing the continent on more than 100 million acres.  How fitting that this visionary artist, who helped design the duck stamp and refuge blue goose sign, has shaped our vision of how wildlife can be conserved.  Darling both conceived and illustrated a conservation vision we are honoring this evening 75 year’s later.


A short-eared owl perches atop a National Wildlife Refuge sign featuring the classic blue goose, illustrated by J.N. “Ding” Darling Photo: Jason Murphy/ USFWS

The Duck Stamp itself  evolved as our ideas about nature evolved.  It became a contest in 1949 and in 1989 the Junior Duck Stamp Program began. What has remained unchanged is the vision of millions of Americans putting their wallets where their values are by purchasing individual stamps to protect our precious national wildlife resource.

So how to conclude in looking back at the origins of the Duck Stamp?  First, it is one of the few governmental initiatives that we can say without irony, is for the birds. What began as a quickly sketched $1 stamp has raised more than $800 million and acquired 5.7 million acres of habitat in all 50 states—that is a lot of bucks for ducks.

There is also a lesson here about idealism.  Many of Darling’s initiatives involved a leap of faith, a belief that waterfowl hunters would voluntarily tax themselves to save their beloved ducks, that in the most dire era of the Depression people could be mobilized for aid to other creatures, and that the government could successfully solve a problem.  All of these leaps of faith came to fruition.  This provides a useful lesson that with enough faith we can achieve the impossible.

Or as the poet Emily Dickinson said much eloquently:

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune–without the words,

And never stops at all.”

On September 12, 2016, Minnesota artist James Hautman won this year’s Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest with his acrylic painting of Canada geese. The painting will be made into the 2017-2018 stamp,  which will go on sale in late June 2017.


James Hautman’s winning painting of Canada geese. Photo: USFWS

Rebekah Knight of Missouri, who previously won the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest, placed second. This year’s contest was held in Philadelphia at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and was also sponsored by the Friends of Heinz Refuge, Ducks Unlimited, Pennsylvania Game Commission, William Penn Foundation and National Audubon Society.


Second place – Rebekah Knight of Appleton City, MO, with a brant. Photo: USFWS

If you’re a supporter of conservation or the arts, a birder, a hunter, a hiker or just an outdoor enthusiast, you can purchase a duck stamp online or at your local post office or National Wildlife Refuge.

“I’m a HAF intern but I learned a whole lot”

Our Urban Program stems from the important need to understand what factors may facilitate or inhibit people in urban settings from connecting with wildlife and nature. Our interns this summer through Hispanic Access Foundation have been instrumental in helping us connect with Latino communities across the region from Eastern Massachusetts to Baltimore. They’ve been to city parks, neighborhoods, community gardens and meetings, schools and summer camps helping urban residents find, appreciate and care for nature in their cities, neighborhoods and beyond.

Thanks & congratulations to our 2016 cohort of interns for all their hard work and dedication. You’ll be a tough act to follow!

We recently gathered the interns, their supervisors, and leadership from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Hispanic Access Foundation for a final close-out to the summer.


We were hosted by Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and their great team of staff and volunteers

Each intern gave a brief presentation on their summer experiences and provided feedback for all parties who mentored and supervised them.


Michael Bonilla provided weekly environmental education programs on wildlife found in vernal pools,  or as he calls them, “wicked big puddles” at the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. He seamlessly connected with members of the Providence Latino community and provided a warm welcome to folks new or unaware of the National Wildlife Refuge System.


Amber Betances took a trolley and two buses —  a 90 minute commute to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge each morning. She connected with Philadelphia residents at community meetings and has shed some light on barriers to visiting the refuge, such as transportation. Her experience this summer will undoubtedly contribute to her budding career as a landscape architect.


Sabrina held her first bird, gave her first trolley tour, caught her first fish and kissed a lot of unsuspecting animals at Paxutent Research Refuge. More seriously though, she may have experienced the most professional and personal growth in the whole group and took all of those “firsts” completely in stride.

I had the opportunity to lead my own program called Flutter by, Butterfly for children ages five to seven. I focused on the basics of the butterfly — what/how they eat, their life cycle, and we also went on a short butterfly walk. Overall, running programs at the visitor center has been a great experience and I would definitely do it again!


Ariel provided some much appreciated environmental education for youth in Springfield at Forest Park. She joined ReGreen Springfield with a Skulls & Pelts program that allowed kids to explore native wildlife like bears and bobcats (and imaginary bob-bears and beaver-cats and whatever else they came up with).

If I had to choose one thing that empowered me the most during my internship, it would be the outreach and education work I did. I was able to connect with kids, younger and older, and get them excited, involved and talking about nature. I wanted the kids to see someone like me doing this kind of work and realize that it’s possible.


Wilson shared his love for birds with the general public and led a bunker tour in Spanish for a Latino family at Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. As a key member of the Visitor Services team, he welcomed new and recurring visitors to the Refuge and contributed to maintenance and field work whenever possible.


Ivette connected with a broad base of New Haven residents at the Yale Peabody Museum, and made guest appearances with Boy Scout and summer camp groups. She also put together a great event for Latino Conservation Week on behalf of Stewart B. McKinney NWR.


As a final project, the interns were tasked with the responsibility of assessing a potential “kayak trail” for visitors to Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. They also accompanied Refuge staff for an afternoon kestrel release and some bog turtle tracking.

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The interns participated in a kestrel release at Great Swamp NWR

Thanks & congrats again to our interns for a job well done. We can’t wait to see what you do next!