Tag Archives: Wildlife refuges

Finding Refuge in Restored Rivers


Wildlife refuges are often invisible to those who don’t seek them out. They stand on the periphery of the modern world, separated from the traffic and noise that has come to define our lives. But these havens serve an important function: not only do they provide sanctuary for animals, but they also give conservationists a chance to research, test, and develop best practices without interference from the outside world.

One of these best practices is restoring rivers to their natural state, which the Service and Partners do by upgrading aging infrastructure and using nature-like solutions to create suitable habitat for fish and wildlife. This story maps some of this work as it has been completed in the Northeast.

Since 2009, the Service and partners have removed or replaced more than 507 barriers to fish passage from Maine to West Virginia, reconnecting more than 4,020 miles of rivers and streams and 19,300 acres of wetlands. While some of this work has been supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, partners across the Northeast have matched the Service’s contribution at nearly 5 to 1, contributing $56.1 million to the Service’s $12.5 million to restore aquatic connectivity for wildlife and protect communities.

Meet Marcia Pradines, Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex manager

Marcia is the project leader at the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Maryland.  Marcia brings a wealth of knowledge from her diverse experiences with us and other conservation agencies. Learn more about Marcia and her goals for managing the refuges that comprise the Complex: Blackwater, Eastern Neck, Glenn L. Martin and Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuges.


What is your professional background and experience with the Service?

I joined the FWS Division of Migratory Bird Management in DC where I oversaw our national efforts to partner for bird conservation and was later Deputy Division Chief.  I then became the Division Chief for Visitor Services and Communications for the refuge system for over four years.  Working on “the people side of things” with all the Regions and refuges has been very rewarding.

What are some of your goals as a new project leader for the Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex?

 Our biggest threats include sea level rise and invasive species.  An important goal is dealing with marsh loss, and focusing our land protection within the Nanticoke Division and future areas for marsh migration.  Other goals include continuing to manage for migrating and overwintering waterfowl, as well as beginning to monitor and manage for the Northern long-eared bat after discovering the first ever on the Eastern Shore of Maryland a month ago.

We had over 200,000 visitors to the Complex last year, and this will grow with the opening next March of the new Harriett Tubman National Park and State Park adjacent to us. The landscape that shaped Harriett Tubman is intact today thanks to Blackwater NWR. We will also focus on opportunities to engage both new and regular visitors including hunting, birding, paddling and wildlife viewing, to name a few.

How is Chesapeake Marshlands preparing for the dramatic loss of wetlands due to sea level rise and the degradation of marshlands due to the nutria population? 

Blackwater NWR has lost over 5,000 acres of marsh since established in 1933.  Our approach is facilitating adaptation and resiliency through partnerships.  We partnered with APHIS Wildlife Services to eradicate the invasive nutria, with great success.  We also partnered with The Conservation Fund and Audubon Maryland-DC to develop a comprehensive sea level rise adaptation plan.  We are facilitating marsh migration into what is now upland habitat through controlling phragmites and focusing our land protection efforts where future wetlands will be.  We are also building resiliency into our marshes through living shorelines, restorations, and marsh thin-layering.


Marcia Pradines with FWS Northeast Region’s Rick Bennett, senior scientist, and Scott Kahan, Regional Refuge Chief as Miles Simmons, biological technician, ably gets the team to Martin National Willdife Refuge on Smith Island to view living shoreline readiness for future sea level and storm surges. Photo credit: USFWS

What do you believe is your greatest accomplishment with the FWS?  

 A highlight was spearheading the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program with the “Conserving the Future” vision team.  The primary goal is to engage new audiences in conservation. The Service’s mission ends with “for the continuing benefit of the American people.”  If people enjoy and care about wildlife, and realize how it benefits them, they will support conservation. This is a common goal now shared by the States, NGOs, and other countries.

Marcia would like you all to know more about these resources:

Planning for marsh migration at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater 2100: A strategy for salt marsh persistence in an era of climate change, 2013

Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex comprehensive conservation plan (2006) [Editor: ten year old document still a vital road map forward]

Increased use of renewable energy is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Credit: USFWS.


Oct. 29, 2012: Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to an estimated 8.1 million individual locations in 17 states, as far west as Michigan. Outages affected some areas for weeks, and often more remote locations – like those that tend to encompass wildlife refuges – remained without for longer or were forced to rely on whatever backup power generators they had on hand.

Power Line damage at Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge on Long Island. Credit: Todd Weston/USFWS.

Power Line damage at Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge on Long Island. Credit: Todd Weston/USFWS.

In the New York-New Jersey region, even some facilities that had generators found themselves faced with unexpected challenges like post-hurricane fuel rationing. This lasted an average of two weeks in the metro area and limited power supply, in many cases, to however much fuel had already been stockpiled. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Staff from the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, N.J. (only 25 miles from Times Square) found themselves driving as far as Pennsylvania to buy diesel for their generators. Other Fish and Wildlife refuges suffered in darkness for days after the super storm as well, including the Canaan Valley refuge in West Virginia, which was buried in over three feet of wet snow—a condition that did nothing to help keep power lines up in the region.

In response to extreme circumstances like those that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, backup and solar power system installations are planned for 18 U.S. Fish and Wildlife facilities throughout the Northeast region, including 17 refuges and the National Conservation Training Center in Shepardstown, West Virginia. The power projects form a unique subset of the Service’s Sandy recovery efforts—one that focuses keenly on resilience and preparation for projected future storms. They represent a substantial investment by the U.S. Department of the Interior in reliable emergency resources, and reaffirm its commitment to increasing federal facilities’ utilization of renewable energy sources.

After initially contracting out design work for a few planned power systems in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, Service engineers Mark Orton and Chuck Gess were tapped from within in an effort to speed up design and approval processes and save taxpayer dollars. The decision proved to be a good one, and now the power projects are nearing something of a critical mass, with many locations looking at installation by the summer of 2014.

Backup generators and photovoltaic solar power systems will be installed this year at 17 national wildlife refuges and the National Conservation Training Center.

Backup generators and photovoltaic solar power systems will be installed this year at 17 national wildlife refuges and the National Conservation Training Center.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service facility management specialist Kevin Ortyl, sites equipped with backup and solar power proved invaluable in the aftermath of the super storm.

“Those stations that had backup power during Hurricane Sandy, including those at Long Island and Rhode Island refuges, were a great resource for their local communities,” says Ortyl. “Their headquarters and offices were used to coordinate emergency responses, provide logistical support, make phone calls and even offer cooked meals and showers.”

Increased use of renewable energy is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Credit: USFWS.

Increased use of renewable energy is a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Credit: USFWS.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar power systems also represent an important part of the Service’s mission, he says.

“Solar PV and the need for alternative energy have always been important to FWS. The more we are off the grid and can lessen our carbon footprint, the better, and installing more solar PV is an ongoing opportunity to achieve this. Using a renewable resource such as the sun aids in our continuing effort to tread lightly.”

In addition to reducing the carbon output of Service facilities, solar PV will also save taxpayer dollars. At the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland, solar PV systems that Mark Orton designed are being installed at two buildings, and between them will save the refuge an estimated $6,210 in annual utility bills. Gess says that the systems he’s been designing will offset 40 percent of a building’s load (on average), though at least one PV system at Rhode Island’s Beane Point will provide 100 percent of its needs and will be totally off-grid.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to repair and restore public lands on the Atlantic coast since Hurricane Sandy impacted them in October of 2012. To learn more about the Service’s ongoing efforts to facilitate habitat recovery and build coastal resilience that helps protect communities, please visit http://www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy.