Tag Archives: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Introducing Nancy Finley, Refuge Manager at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

This summer, Nancy Finley joined the fabulous team at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia as the new Refuge Manager. Nancy is joining the Service in the northeast from the National Park Service in Nebraska. To get to know Nancy a bit better, we’ve asked her a few questions: here’s what she had to say!

1. How did you become interested in pursuing a career in environmental conservation?

I was always the kid that was outside and mucking around with things. I would always be bringing home some animal I found, alive or dead, creating some squeamish moments for my poor Mom. We lived on the coast and I was constantly in the water.

In high school, a biology teacher was working on his Ph.D. He was researching why diamondback terrapin populations on this barrier beach were declining, and because he was still teaching and needed assistance in the field, he created field internship opportunities. I jumped at the internship and started going out to the beach with him every day after school, every weekend, and all summer. At 14, I was one of his primary go-to field hands and put thermistors in turtle nests, radio tracked turtles, monitored for nesting, did beach profiles. You name it, I was there. I loved it, and was hooked on conservation ever since. I worked with him through the completion of his doctorate, and years after, we are still in touch and still laugh about some of the old days! I am grateful to him for exposing me to science in a formal way, and I entered college knowing exactly what I wanted to be – and never turned back.

A juvenile diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is released by Chesapeake Bay Program staff at Ferry Point Park in Kent Narrows, Md., on July 17, 2010. (Photo by Alicia Pimental/Chesapeake Bay Program)

What do you enjoy most about working in the conservation field?

I am a hands-on gal for the most part. That is why I love working in applied sciences, where you can see the results of your decisions and can adjust as need be to make things better. Both National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offer a great opportunity to do a variety of jobs within the job. I was up at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore acting as the superintendent this last fall, and this wicked storm came through with sustained 40 knot winds and gusts over 100 knots. It was an incredible storm to watch, very powerful. It pushed a good bit of Lake Superior into the area that the park headquarters sat on and knocked down a lot of trees. I stayed at the office until about 10 p.m. that night, getting pumps going to remove water that was coming up through the basement of this historic Coast Guard station. Volunteers came in from town and helped us remove trees from the cross country ski trails so that they would be up and running quickly. Staff from all programs just worked together to get the job done with the community, and we helped with issues in town, as well. These moments of pulling together with the staff and the community are just so gratifying. I try to make every day like that in small ways; you don’t need a major event to keep those philosophies close at hand.

How do you think Chincoteague will be different from your previous experiences?

Every place I have been is so different,  and I really enjoy learning new things. I have lived in coastal areas that are important tourist destinations, but I think Chincoteague is unique in that it is in a generally rural area, and then suddenly gets this influx of visitors. I think that is something to consider in balancing visitor enjoyment with the needs of the community and, of course, protection of resources at the refuge. I have a lot to take in and learn.

What kind of experience do you want visitors to have at the refuge?

I would like them to really see the place for what it was intended, a place to experience wildlife, specifically migratory waterfowl, experience the unique coastal habitat, take in the salt air, and relax. I know Chincoteague is known for the beach but there is so much more to see and I would like to see visitors have those other experiences too. But yes, also come to recreate and have fun, that is important too.

What are your favorite outdoor hobbies?

I like to do anything outside. My husband and I fish and boat, although that’s been a challenge in Nebraska! I like to walk a lot with my four year old golden retriever as my sidekick – he is the beautiful one in the family.

Do you have a fun story or memory you would like to share?

I was doing aerial surveys for sea turtles off the coast of Virginia in an old de Havilland Beaver and I was very focused on the line I was surveying (and seeing lots of sharks down there). But all of a sudden I hear the plane start sputtering and coughing and I look over at the pilot and he is holding a knob in his hand. The knob was the switch that switched from one fuel tank to the other, and it broke! Thankfully after the tank switched over, the plane stopped coughing. Pheww!

Freedom Hunters: Outdoor experiences serving those who have served

On Veteran’s Day, and every day, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife thanks veterans for their service. The Service is an acknowledged leader in veterans’ hiring – using every program and hiring authority available to introduce veterans to careers in conservation. In fact, about 20 percent of our workforce has served in the military (link to photo album of our veterans). We thank them for their dedication and sacrifice in the military, and their continued contributions to their country in civilian roles. 

To mark this day, we share this story from Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.

Charles Sands has served his country in both military and civilian roles. The two overlap when he facilitates hunting programs for veterans and their families at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. That is his sweet spot.

For the past four years, Chincoteague has partnered with the non-profit organization Freedom Hunters to offer disabled veterans and their families a chance to hunt on the refuge free of charge. The two organizations share a common goal of getting people outdoors.

Ranger Charles Sands and Jacob, a program participant, sighting in a crossbow.

The veterans and their families take part in a two-to-three-day hunt program. Three programs are offered annually: one on Chincoteague Refuge and two smaller ones on Eastern Shore of Virginia Refuge.  The program creates a relaxing space for veterans to gather for meals and fun activities, fostering relationships with loved ones and the veteran community while enjoying the great outdoors.

As a veteran and park ranger at the refuge, Charles Sands has been a part of the Freedom Hunters program in two capacities — as a Fish and Wildlife Service employee helping provide these opportunities, and as a former participant. The Freedom Hunters program is close to the hearts of the folks who facilitate the event, and Chase hopes participants love the experience as much as he did.

Ranger Charles Sands helping a hunter scope in her crossbow. Photo credit: Max Lonzanida/USFWS

“My favorite thing about the hunts and events we help out with is seeing the joy that our warriors get from spending time with other veterans,” says Sands. “Also, witnessing the veterans enjoying hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation with like-minded individuals, or people that might be going through the same struggles they are.”

The program provides all of the equipment needed to participate in the hunt, including motorized chairs or other specialized equipment, tailoring accommodations to the group’s needs and requests. The veterans’ skill levels can range from novice to advanced, from folks who have never hunted before to experienced hunters who want to get back into it. Each participant is matched with a mentor to guide them through the elements of hunting, including safety, checking and processing game, and anything else they may like help with.

Successful Freedom Hunters at Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Max Lonzanida/USFWS

The impact of the program is profound, boosting morale and touching the lives of both the veterans and the organizers.

In expressing his passion for the program, Sands recounts the following incident:

There was a wife whose husband had unfortunately died, and she reached out to Freedom Hunters, and said, ‘My son is asking me about hunting. My husband was big into duck and goose hunting, but I have no idea about it, and he really wants to learn.’ After hearing the story, the Freedom Hunters took the teenager out, supplied him with decoys and the proper equipment, and put him with a guide.”

“A group like that I can back up, in my personal life, and in my work.”

The guidance and support doesn’t end with the hunt.  Freedom Hunters checks in with veterans and families periodically to see how they are doing and offer to take them out to various other events, including sailing and fishing.

Veterans can learn more about the Freedom Hunters program through Facebook, at the group’s website, and visiting Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.  Although there are sometimes repeat participants, the program is in high demand, and organizers try to rotate different veterans and families so that everyone gets the opportunity to get out and enjoy this one-of-a-kind experience.

In 2013, Freedom Hunters awarded Chincoteague Refuge a plaque and an American flag for the refuge’s hard work “accomplishing the mission of getting America’s heroes back outdoors.” They are proudly displayed in the refuge’s visitor center.

Freedom Hunter leaders have awarded Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge staff for their work helping veterans.

Charles Sands doesn’t need physical acknowledgments, however. His reward comes from sharing his love of the outdoors with his fellow veterans and seeing those who have served their country enjoy its natural resources.

Following is a list of hunts for veterans on national wildlife refuges in the Northeast Region, with contact information:

Veterans Fishing Program in Western Massachusetts: USFWS contact: ​Jen Lapis, Visitor Services Specialist, Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, 413-548-8002 x8114.

Wounded Warrior Turkey Hunt in Maryland:  USFWS contact: Brad Knudsen, Refuge Manager, Patuxent Research Refuge, 301-497-5580.

Annual Disabled Veterans Fishing Event in New Jersey:  USFWS contact: Ken Witkowski, Biological Science Technician, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, 973-702-7266 ext. 14.

Freedom Hunter Program in Virginia and Rhode Island:  Virginia– USFWS contact: Charles Sands, 757-336-6122 x 2315. Rhode Island– USFWS contact: Karrie Schwaab, Deputy Refuge Manager, Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 401-213-4402.

Veterans Fishing Day in Northern Maine:  USFWS contact: Amanda Hardaswick, Federal Wildlife Officer, Northern Maine National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 207-454-7161.

Wheelin’ Sporting Hunts in New Jersey: USFWS contact: Chelsea Utter, Wildlife Refuge Specialist, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, (973) 702-7266 x18.

Recognizing Officer John Ross

Today we’re giving a big shout out to John Ross who was recognized as the Service’s regional Federal Wildlife Officer of the Year in 2017. Ross, like his peers, enforces laws to keep refuge visitors safe and to protect wildlife. He is the first law enforcement officer to receive this regional recognition twice.

Ross has worked at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for 12 of his 19 years of service. The refuge spans 112,928 acres in Virginia and North Carolina, and, in addition to covering that area, he covers law enforcement needs at three other refuges in the region. Ross began his career at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, one of the country’s most visited refuges.

Map of Great Dismal Swamp NWR

Known for his team spirit and his ability to bring people together, Ross sets an “example of helping everyone on the staff with everything such as maintenance, visitor services, fire, forestry, and biological programs, all while maintaining the integrity of his own program.” said a colleague nominating Ross for the award.

Regional Chief of Refuge Law Enforcement, Gary Andres says Ross is an exemplary officer with the exceptional ability to work well with others, including his team. Ross’ duties are diverse and include training new officers entering the field from the police academy, serving as a critical incident stress mentor, working with state game wardens and other Service law enforcement agents on cases, running the refuge’s deer hunt, and many other things.

Congratulations, Officer Ross! And a special thank you to our regional law enforcement officers today and every day.

Animal encounters come with the territory when you’re a federal wildlife officer. One day Officer Ross was called upon to move a rattlesnake from a trash can, where it had found a warm spot to curl up. He secured the snake and put it in the backseat of his car. A little while later as he was driving, he saw in his rear view mirror that the snake was escaping the cage. Some quick thinking and a blast of the AC, and the snake retreated for the rest of the ride. In addition to snakes, Ross has moved alligators to more remote locations.