The "blue goose" icon of the National Wildlife Refuges.
Friends members are delighted that Refuge staff members are back!
Headquarters is open again, having been shuttered since before Christmas.
What difference did it make to our community to have our Refuge staff on furlough for 35 days?
Here are some of the ways it mattered for us.
During the shutdown, many Friends groups at other refuges took to using this logo.
No one could follow through on the Tree Planting contract. Tree planters will have to be rescheduled, around their other projects.
Invasive Species Mitigation
Friends volunteers could not work on the Refuges or use Refuge equipment as they usually do.
Opportunities for prescribed burns were lost. Staff could not attend the Southern Area Fire Academy, which is the only opportunity this year for multi-agency training across the SE and for staff to obtain advanced qualifications. Our Vic Doig is usually a lead instructor. Several local fire training tests were cancelled, as was the coastal wetlands fire symposium and the annual incident management team meeting.
Roads and Trails
Repair and grading of roads, needed after fall storms, was halted. In recent years, the mowing of road shoulders and trails has been carefully managed to promote wildflower enhancement for butterflies and other animals. This opportunity was lost.
Installation and replacement of signage to protect the Snake Key rookery, the birds and nests, was delayed in a critical month. The Refuge could not provide an airboat as it usually does for the Cedar Key Christmas Bird Count.
Operation Outdoor Freedom's Wounded Warrior 4-day hunt was held on the Refuge in January, however our staff members could not officially attend or represent the Refuge as they have in the past.
Outreach and Interpretive Programs
Each staff member had been scheduled to represent the Refuge at one or more festivals, community events, or public presentations. All their presentations and participation had to be cancelled.
Friends were not able to open the Welcome Desk for a month.
The boardwalk section of the trail, where Friends members walked last March after the Annual Meeting, remains uncleared and work on the boardwalk itself could not begin.
Public Health, Water Quality
At both Shell Mound and Shired Island, public toilets were closed for 35 days. These facilities are important to protect public health, and water quality for the commercial shell fisheries. If another shutdown occurs, the Refuge will seek an exemption to keep them open. It was a saving grace that the region had weekly rain and the the grounds were already supersaturated.
An Eagle Scout and his 20-person crew held a maintenance and cleanup project. Refuge staff were prohibited from helping. During a shutdown, furloughed staff may not "volunteer" on any Refuge property.
Vandalism Illegal Hunting
Staff could not patrol or monitor. The lack of a federal wildlife law enforcement officer for the Refuge exacerbated this problem.