U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Update - Sept 2021

Mesha Wood- USFWS Ranger


Steigerwald Lake NWR

Steigerwald Reconnection Project


As fall approaches, it is hard not to think about the seasonal changes in progress; schools returning to session, leaves starting to change color and drop, cooler temperatures, shorter days, and the migration of both salmon and wintering waterfowl; and all that brings.


As the hatcheries upstream (visit Little White Salmon NFH website to learn more) from us begin to plan for fall salmon spawning, the contractors for the Steigerwald Reconnection Project continue to work to reconnect Gibbons Creek to Steigerwald Lake; to also benefit salmonoids and healthy salmon populations. Later this month, Gibbons Creek will be moved to the newly constructed channel and reconnected to Steigerwald Lake to support those efforts.


With a blessing for safe passage from Sam Robinson, Vice Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, and with the help of many volunteers and staff,  in early August another fish salvage was conducted. Nearly 5,000 lampreys were salvaged and relocated within the site; for a total of over 13,000 lampreys relocated to date. That is in addition to the 5,000 plus bony fish and nearly 100 mussels that have been salvaged, according to our onsite staff! Later this month the final salvage will take place before the lake is reconnected to the river, marking another major milestone of the project, and another step closer to us reaching our goal of helping salmon and wildlife thrive.


Throughout this project, salmon frequently have been spotlighted as a key species that will benefit from it (we even put one in the project logo!). The fish salvages, however, have reminded me that there are lots of other less often highlighted but important species of wildlife that this restoration projects supports. Thus, I wanted to share with you some things I have learned about one of those species, the Pacific lamprey in hope you too will seem them as a rising star among the wildlife that call Steigerwald NWR home.



Question of the month what is a lamprey?


(C)USFWS, Adult Lamprey (not from SRP project)

(C)USFWS, Adult Lamprey (not from SRP project)


It is a type of:

A) Eel

B) Shark

C) Fish 


--

They look like a water snake or worm and without knowing better, I might say upon seeing one that it is an eel...but it is in fact a fish!


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (OFWO) explains that "Lampreys belong to a primitive group of fishes that are eel-like in form but lack the jaws and paired fins of true fishes. Pacific lampreys have a round sucker-like mouth, no scales, and gill openings. Identification of lampreys depends largely on the number, structure, and position of teeth found in adult lamprey. Adult Pacific lampreys are characterized by the presence of three large anterior teeth and many smaller posterior teeth on the oral disc. As ammocoetes (larvae), Pacific lampreys are difficult to distinguish from other lampreys."

(Source: OFWO)

 

Lamprey being a fish and all, to me then meant that a fish ladder would be set up for lamprey to pass as well. I was wrong. Did you know that fish ladders and culverts suitable for salmonids to pass through often are an additional barrier for lamprey due to sharp corners, fast moving water without adequate resting areas and limited substrates to suction to, to aide in their passage?  Due to these obstacles, Lamprey often don't even attempt to pass over fish ladders at all! 


By removing the fish ladder from Steigerwald Lake NWR and reconnecting the Columbia River to Steigerwald Lake, lamprey will have a better chance at passage and hopefully support increased populations. Despite the large number salvaged throughout the project, overall, Pacific Lamprey have declined within the Columbia River basin and are a species of concern according to OFWO. And thus, they took need our attention and restoration efforts such as the Steigerwald Reconnection Project.


If you are taken back by their sharp teeth, and haven’t fallen for this primitive fish just yet, rest assured that lamprey contribute to the ecosystem in many ways. One of which is acting as a food source buffer for animals that predate salmonoids as well, an alternative snack for hungry River otters and other wildlife that predate salmon. 


Source: USFWS Pacific Region Twitter. Photo Credit: Talia Rose

Source: USFWS Pacific Region Twitter. Photo Credit: Talia Rose


There are a lot of reasons to help support lamprey populations and I hope to better highlight this fascinating species along with the many other species that will benefit from the project through our visitor services and future community programming. Until we can  gather again to learn, if you want to learn more about lamprey, visit the Pacific Lamprey story map developed by the Service here and make sure to visit the Oregon Zoo's Lamprey Exhibit  on your next visit.



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Other Visitor Updates:

The Refuge is getting a refresh - we aren't just talking about the wetlands but the visitor experience as well. 

When the Refuge was open, most of you probably accessed the refuge from the main entrance off WA SR-14 (which has moved further west but will remain directly off SR-14). However, how many of you have walked from downtown to the dike/levee trail to the Refuge? Or how many of you knew the Refuge trail system extends west of Red Tail Lake for over a mile and that when walking the dike/levee trail that you were walking on the Refuge?


Many members of the community may not know this, and may miss out on opportunities to observe wildlife, take photos, or engage in interpretation and educational opportunities; a few of the wildlife dependent recreation opportunities often only considered for the main portions of the Gibbons Creek Wildlife Art Trail. While the dike/levee trail offers difference uses (along this portion of trail, cycling, horseback riding, jogging, and dogs on leashes are compatible), we strive to increase the awareness of users of this stretch of trail about the benefit of the Refuge and the important role it plays in supporting wildlife.


As we work to create a safe and welcoming user experience at the Refuge that minimizes wildlife disturbance, we are taking into consideration the needs of the community; including what information you need to plan your visit, what you need to know at the trail head, and what you may want to learn while you are here. This update will include a new parking area, welcome kiosk,  entrance sign, and interpretive art.


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Ridgefield NWR

HQ Administrative building construction


As you can imagine, with supply shortages and the limits of COVID, while windows were recently installed, progress on the new building continues to move forward, but over a slower trajectory than anticipated. We are very appreciative of the contractors working to complete this project and ever more anxious to get settled in our new office when able.


With the HQ building construction wrapping up shortly, we will be continuing to focus on to Phase 2, the Community Nature Center. It has been a long-time vision for our community, and we look forward to moving that dream to reality. Visit Refuge 2020 for an update we recently shared about the project, including a timeline, milestones met to date, and plans to come.


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Seasonal Changes

The Kiwa Trail and Carty Lake Trail (the trail between Gee Creek and the Port entrance) will close for the season on October 1, 2021. Additionally at that time, we once again will ask that you remain inside your vehicle along the Auto Tour Route except at the Fee station and year-round viewing blind as geese, swans and numerous species of waterfowl return to our wetlands. Please remember golf carts are not permitted on the Auto Tour Route and that all traffic laws apply along it; so please buckle up and keep inside your vehicle (including moon/sunroofs), unlike those wild birds on our signs! This is for your safety as well and other visitors, and to help reduce wildlife disturbance. These seasonal changes/closures ensure our wintering migratory birds can safety make a stopover at the Refuge and rest up.


Geese

(C)USFWS, Geese enjoying the wetland


Your car is the perfect viewing blind - especially on rainy days! Stay dry and discover what birds you might see as the wetlands fill up. Or if you want to stretch your legs, the Oaks to Wetlands Trail on the Carty Unit remains open year-round. Look for not only the oaks to drop their leaves but plenty of acorns scattered along the trail; a great food source for many different animals including Columbia white-tailed deer, Scrub jays and various woodpeckers.


During this time (Nov - March) swans are also drawn to the wetlands where once all you saw was green heart-shaped plants (Wapato) growing in abundance. As the water hides the plants, swans are attracted to these areas to feast on them. Look for swans throughout out the Complex from the pedestrian bridge or Port, overlooking Carty Lake on the Carty Unit, at the viewing blind along the Auto Tour Route (yes, it is open year-round), or head east to the overlook along WA SR-14, to see them sitting on Franz Lake (at Franz Lake NWR which otherwise is closed to the public).


Wapato has also been planted during the restoration project at Steigerwald and when it reopens, swans are known to enjoy the wetlands along the closed seasonal trail but may be observes from the open trail or flying overhead.


Wapato2

(C)USFWS, Wapato


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In continued times of uncertainty, I look for joys to hold on to. I always love this time of year. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the rains are calming and help me sleep my best, the colder air allows me to dawn my favorite hoodies and jackets, and the sound of the Sandhill cranes in the distant fog, fields of geese gathering, and searches among wet leaf litter for salamanders, snails, and other treasures, always bring a smile to my face.


So, grab your raincoat (ok and umbrella if you prefer) and enjoy our open trails on the Carty Unit or sit comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt and watch what you from the comfort of your car along the Auto Tour - there is something for everyone (and preferred type of outfit) this time of year.



USFWS UPDATE for August 2021


Steigerwald Reconnection Project:

A few weeks back I was able to get onsite for the first time since March 2020. I joined my USFWS management team to get our boots dirty (it was quite dusty) and visualize first-hand needs forward for greeting you all next spring. 


Did you know that the previous art along the entrance from the levee trail to the seasonal trail "door" (on the eastern part of the refuge, just past the fish ladder) was designed to replicate the idea of a fish ladder? Many parts of the art trail were designed to engage our visitors to think more about the resources and site - but through unique art. While many pieces of the pervious art trail have a home on the new one, some don't make sense anymore due to the changed landscape and trail. In the coming months, the Refuge will be very busy working to establish new signage and ways to engage the public along the trail and we look forward to doing that with the community.  

- Mesha, USFWS Park Ranger, Ridgefield NWRC


Time to come home art at seasonal trail

Alt Text: A brown metal door with the Blue Goose logo of the National Wildlife Refuge System on it behind four brown powder coated metals art pieces in ground with words cut out of each that say Time to come home. and are in the shape of a fish ladder. The background is a lush tree lined trail with green grass. 

(c)Jared Strawderman


Other project updates:

Recently contractors turned on the lights and waited until it was outside of peak travel times along SR-14 to test the levee closure structure. This test installation of the floodwall connected the concrete wall on the north with the earthen levee on the south. The closure structure spanned across SR-14, causing a brief closure to both directions of traffic during the test. 


This was an important milestone in the project, as safety for the local community has been a high priority of the project. By testing this closure structure, project leads were able to see what would need to take place in the event of a large flood, to help reduce flood risks to our neighbors, the Port of Camas-Washougal, and the Washougal wastewater treatment plant. While this project benefits wildlife in many ways, the Refuge continues to work to provide benefits from this major restoration effort to our visitors and community as well.


We will be sharing more about the test in an upcoming blog. Visit Refuge2020.info for more information and pictures to come.


Closure structure across hwy 14 at night.

Alternative text: Under backlit night skies, two contractors walk towards each other as the closure structure spans SR-14 in the background, connecting the south and north levees.

(c)USFWS / Eric Anderson, Closure structure test


Question of the Month:

The Steigerwald Reconnection project remains on schedule to be completed, while there is still quite a bit to be done (even after the milestones met!). Can you guess how many cubic yards of soil have been moved to date throughout the project? USFWS Deputy Project leader, Eric Anderson, estimates that we moved _____  so far.

A) ~250,000

B) ~550,000

C) ~700,000

D) ~150,000


Cubic Yard Formula photo

Need to calculate cubic yards so you know how much mulch, bark or soil to get for your own home project? Use an online calculator to help! For reference a 7x4' raised bed garden uses about 1 cubic yard of soil. Answer to question: C- 700,000 Cubic Yards have been moved to date. 


Get on site and see the Project firsthand:

While we will remain closed to the public until the Refuge reopens in the spring of 2022, you can plan to get onsite if you are willing to get dirty (and possibly wet)


These opportunities will be led by our partner and lead project contractor, LCEP. For more information, visit LCEP's website for upcoming events.


Ridgefield NWR

The Kiwa Trail reopened and is now accessible for the remainder of its typical open season (May 1 - Sept 30). Visit the Refuge to meander this short loop trail now that the Sandhill Crane Colt has left the area. We appreciate all our visitors for helping this threatened species thrive.


The Headquarters office for the Refuge Complex is nearly completed. If you visit the Carty Unit of Ridgefield NWR, you will see cedar siding on the building and the newly developed parking lot for staff. The lower parking lot and vault toilet will remain accessible to the public until phase two of the headquarters site plan, which includes the Community Nature Center and accompanying site is developed (tentatively to begin in FY2023).


Moving day for the new office is projected for some time this fall/winter. Staff are very excited to have a new larger space that will enhance the work we all do and provide new opportunities to engage with the community. Visit Refuge2020.info in the coming weeks for a project update on the Refuge headquarters and the future Community Nature Center.


As the sun begins to set, from a  blue to golden sky, the cedar-siding of the new HQ is lit up. Fencing and orange traffic cones show that the site is still an active construction site.

Alt text: As the sun begins to set, from a  blue to golden sky, the cedar-siding of the new HQ is lit up. Fencing and orange traffic cones show that the site is still an active construction site. 

(c)USFWS/ Mesha Wood


Waterfowl Hunt Program

Ridgefield's annual waterfowl hunt program will resume, in alignment with Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife's 2021-2022 hunt season this fall. 


Hunting is a recreational use that is determined to be wildlife dependent and thus offered at many Refuges within the National Wildlife Refuge System nationwide. This may be confusing to some, but did you know that hunting is both a wildlife management tool and outdoor tradition? Or that revenue generated from Duck stamp sales, licenses, and excise taxes on hunting equipment and ammunition, over the last century, have helped purchased and conserve millions of acres of wetland habitat (including a large percentage of Ridgefield NWR)?.


While you may not agree with hunting or even hunting on a Refuge, we welcome you to visit the Ridgefield Hunt website after August 20th, 2021, to learn more about the program and hunting regulations enforced to help to ensure wildlife populations are sustainable. If interested in getting involved in the program, you will also find more information there as well. 


A hunter and his 3-year-old daughter emerge from the field after a day of waterfowl hunting at Ridgefield NWR on Feb. 6.

Alt text: A hunter and his 3-year-old daughter emerge from the field after a day of waterfowl hunting at Ridgefield NWR on Feb. 6.

(c) USFWS/ Juliette Fernandez



USFWS UPDATE for May 2021


Steigerwald Reconnection Project:

The Columbia Dike Trail closure moved closer to Index to allow critical work to be completed by our contractors. The closure is to keep both you and the crews safe and allow contractors the ability to work effectively and efficiently with their time. Please respect this closure so that they can do their job and get us one step closer to opening again.


Levee work continues as both setback levee work has been renewed along with the lowering of the east-west dike. Did you know, a lot of variables had to be in place to carry this work forward including river level, snow pack and the forecast? You can learn more by following us on social media and seeing our sharing of LCEP's explanation. 


Scrapers from project contractor, Rotschy, Inc., begin removing the portion of the existing Columbia River levee.  (May 12, 2021)

First pass of the scrapers removing the dike (C)LCEP from (May 12, 2021)


Complex Headquarters Administration Building and Community Nature Center:

In April, the Refuge and the design team were able meet for the first time onsite and discuss several things including: entrance signage and wayfinding, transition area from bridge to west side of Refuge, layout of the site, and EE shelter on the west side of the bridge and have held multiple Community Focus Groups to engage the community in the design and planning. As we develop plans and designs we are committed to seeking community involvement and look forward building this together. The Center is programmed to be funded for as early as 2023 and the design taken to 100% by the end of this fiscal year.


The Admin building continues to take shape. With walls going up and concrete poured around the site during the previous closure you can really see the site vision coming into play. Staff look forward to the possibility of opening it and returning to the site, possibly before the new year.


The Community has been engaged in multiple focus groups to share their needs for the site of the new Community Nature Center.  Through these conversations we have learned many needs of the community that we are taking into consideration as we work with the design team. The Refuge plans to continue community engagement for visitor enhancements across the Refuge Complex and hope you will all share with us continued needs and visions you have. 


Cedar siding going up on the US Fish and Wildlife Refuge Administrative Building at Ridgefield NWR (April 19, 2021)

Cedar siding nearly completed, (c)USFWS/Mesha Wood


Ranger Question of the Month:

What is the largest mammal spotted at Ridgefield NWR consistently over the last few weeks?

- Coyote

- Columbian White-tail Deer

- Cow

- Horse


If you guessed Horse you are correct. Our Cooperative Farmers are back on site along with their trained dogs and horses, and of course their cattle. While you may not see the horses as often in the public areas, the cattle are likely visible at times from along the Auto Tour Drive, and if you don't believe us, roll down your window and see if you can hear them (or possibly smell them).



Cow managed by farmers at Ridgefield NWR as part of Cooperative Agriculture to meet wildlife management objectives

Cow #18 (C)USFWS/Mesha Wood

Cooperative agriculture — partnering with farmers and ranchers to meet wildlife management objectives — is a long-standing practice on national wildlife refuges (50 CFR 29.2). Cooperative agreements between the Fish and Wildlife Service and farmers or ranchers may permit grazing by cattle or the growing of grain, hay or other crops at a refuge. The refuge benefits by producing food for wildlife or by improving natural habitat. The farmer profits by harvesting and selling some of the crop. The rancher gains access to grazing land.

Cooperative agriculture is used on refuges only in situations where the Service cannot meet its resource management objectives through the maintenance, management or mimicking of natural ecosystem processes or functions. (https://www.fws.gov/refuges/get-involved/landowners/cooperative-agriculture.html)

 

We are glad to have this crew join us again for another grazing season. They are invaluable to our mission and what we can achieve together. The cattle will depart the Refuge in early October as fall migration begins. Cooperative Agriculture was an important part of management of Steigerwald previously, but has been halted during the Steigerwald Reconnection Project. 


Trail Tip:

Ticks are out! Don't let them burrow in! As you wander trails near and far, this is a reminder to always check for ticks. Learn more how to protect yourself at: https://www.doh.wa.gov/communityandenvironment/pests/ticks


....But don't let them scare you. There are plenty of reasons to get out as also are Turkey Vultures, nesting Purple martins and Osprey,  Columbia White-tailed deer fawns, and turtles on the sunny days (at Ridgefield!).


Columbia White-tailed Deer feeding in a field next to the Auto Tour route at Ridgefield

Columbian White-tailed deer grazing in field along the River 'S' Auto Tour at Ridgefield NWR (C) USFWS/ Mesha Wood

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Update - Sept 2021

Mesha Wood- USFWS Ranger


Steigerwald Lake NWR

Steigerwald Reconnection Project


As fall approaches, it is hard not to think about the seasonal changes in progress; schools returning to session, leaves starting to change color and drop, cooler temperatures, shorter days, and the migration of both salmon and wintering waterfowl; and all that brings.


As the hatcheries upstream (visit Little White Salmon NFH website to learn more) from us begin to plan for fall salmon spawning, the contractors for the Steigerwald Reconnection Project continue to work to reconnect Gibbons Creek to Steigerwald Lake; to also benefit salmonoids and healthy salmon populations. Later this month, Gibbons Creek will be moved to the newly constructed channel and reconnected to Steigerwald Lake to support those efforts.


With a blessing for safe passage from Sam Robinson, Vice Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, and with the help of many volunteers and staff,  in early August another fish salvage was conducted. Nearly 5,000 lampreys were salvaged and relocated within the site; for a total of over 13,000 lampreys relocated to date. That is in addition to the 5,000 plus bony fish and nearly 100 mussels that have been salvaged, according to our onsite staff! Later this month the final salvage will take place before the lake is reconnected to the river, marking another major milestone of the project, and another step closer to us reaching our goal of helping salmon and wildlife thrive.


Throughout this project, salmon frequently have been spotlighted as a key species that will benefit from it (we even put one in the project logo!). The fish salvages, however, have reminded me that there are lots of other less often highlighted but important species of wildlife that this restoration projects supports. Thus, I wanted to share with you some things I have learned about one of those species, the Pacific lamprey in hope you too will seem them as a rising star among the wildlife that call Steigerwald NWR home.



Question of the month what is a lamprey?


(C)USFWS, Adult Lamprey (not from SRP project)

(C)USFWS, Adult Lamprey (not from SRP project)


It is a type of:

A) Eel

B) Shark

C) Fish 


--

They look like a water snake or worm and without knowing better, I might say upon seeing one that it is an eel...but it is in fact a fish!


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (OFWO) explains that "Lampreys belong to a primitive group of fishes that are eel-like in form but lack the jaws and paired fins of true fishes. Pacific lampreys have a round sucker-like mouth, no scales, and gill openings. Identification of lampreys depends largely on the number, structure, and position of teeth found in adult lamprey. Adult Pacific lampreys are characterized by the presence of three large anterior teeth and many smaller posterior teeth on the oral disc. As ammocoetes (larvae), Pacific lampreys are difficult to distinguish from other lampreys."

(Source: OFWO)

 

Lamprey being a fish and all, to me then meant that a fish ladder would be set up for lamprey to pass as well. I was wrong. Did you know that fish ladders and culverts suitable for salmonids to pass through often are an additional barrier for lamprey due to sharp corners, fast moving water without adequate resting areas and limited substrates to suction to, to aide in their passage?  Due to these obstacles, Lamprey often don't even attempt to pass over fish ladders at all! 


By removing the fish ladder from Steigerwald Lake NWR and reconnecting the Columbia River to Steigerwald Lake, lamprey will have a better chance at passage and hopefully support increased populations. Despite the large number salvaged throughout the project, overall, Pacific Lamprey have declined within the Columbia River basin and are a species of concern according to OFWO. And thus, they took need our attention and restoration efforts such as the Steigerwald Reconnection Project.


If you are taken back by their sharp teeth, and haven’t fallen for this primitive fish just yet, rest assured that lamprey contribute to the ecosystem in many ways. One of which is acting as a food source buffer for animals that predate salmonoids as well, an alternative snack for hungry River otters and other wildlife that predate salmon. 


Source: USFWS Pacific Region Twitter. Photo Credit: Talia Rose

Source: USFWS Pacific Region Twitter. Photo Credit: Talia Rose


There are a lot of reasons to help support lamprey populations and I hope to better highlight this fascinating species along with the many other species that will benefit from the project through our visitor services and future community programming. Until we can  gather again to learn, if you want to learn more about lamprey, visit the Pacific Lamprey story map developed by the Service here and make sure to visit the Oregon Zoo's Lamprey Exhibit  on your next visit.



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Other Visitor Updates:

The Refuge is getting a refresh - we aren't just talking about the wetlands but the visitor experience as well. 

When the Refuge was open, most of you probably accessed the refuge from the main entrance off WA SR-14 (which has moved further west but will remain directly off SR-14). However, how many of you have walked from downtown to the dike/levee trail to the Refuge? Or how many of you knew the Refuge trail system extends west of Red Tail Lake for over a mile and that when walking the dike/levee trail that you were walking on the Refuge?


Many members of the community may not know this, and may miss out on opportunities to observe wildlife, take photos, or engage in interpretation and educational opportunities; a few of the wildlife dependent recreation opportunities often only considered for the main portions of the Gibbons Creek Wildlife Art Trail. While the dike/levee trail offers difference uses (along this portion of trail, cycling, horseback riding, jogging, and dogs on leashes are compatible), we strive to increase the awareness of users of this stretch of trail about the benefit of the Refuge and the important role it plays in supporting wildlife.


As we work to create a safe and welcoming user experience at the Refuge that minimizes wildlife disturbance, we are taking into consideration the needs of the community; including what information you need to plan your visit, what you need to know at the trail head, and what you may want to learn while you are here. This update will include a new parking area, welcome kiosk,  entrance sign, and interpretive art.


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Ridgefield NWR

HQ Administrative building construction


As you can imagine, with supply shortages and the limits of COVID, while windows were recently installed, progress on the new building continues to move forward, but over a slower trajectory than anticipated. We are very appreciative of the contractors working to complete this project and ever more anxious to get settled in our new office when able.


With the HQ building construction wrapping up shortly, we will be continuing to focus on to Phase 2, the Community Nature Center. It has been a long-time vision for our community, and we look forward to moving that dream to reality. Visit Refuge 2020 for an update we recently shared about the project, including a timeline, milestones met to date, and plans to come.


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Seasonal Changes

The Kiwa Trail and Carty Lake Trail (the trail between Gee Creek and the Port entrance) will close for the season on October 1, 2021. Additionally at that time, we once again will ask that you remain inside your vehicle along the Auto Tour Route except at the Fee station and year-round viewing blind as geese, swans and numerous species of waterfowl return to our wetlands. Please remember golf carts are not permitted on the Auto Tour Route and that all traffic laws apply along it; so please buckle up and keep inside your vehicle (including moon/sunroofs), unlike those wild birds on our signs! This is for your safety as well and other visitors, and to help reduce wildlife disturbance. These seasonal changes/closures ensure our wintering migratory birds can safety make a stopover at the Refuge and rest up.


Geese

(C)USFWS, Geese enjoying the wetland


Your car is the perfect viewing blind - especially on rainy days! Stay dry and discover what birds you might see as the wetlands fill up. Or if you want to stretch your legs, the Oaks to Wetlands Trail on the Carty Unit remains open year-round. Look for not only the oaks to drop their leaves but plenty of acorns scattered along the trail; a great food source for many different animals including Columbia white-tailed deer, Scrub jays and various woodpeckers.


During this time (Nov - March) swans are also drawn to the wetlands where once all you saw was green heart-shaped plants (Wapato) growing in abundance. As the water hides the plants, swans are attracted to these areas to feast on them. Look for swans throughout out the Complex from the pedestrian bridge or Port, overlooking Carty Lake on the Carty Unit, at the viewing blind along the Auto Tour Route (yes, it is open year-round), or head east to the overlook along WA SR-14, to see them sitting on Franz Lake (at Franz Lake NWR which otherwise is closed to the public).


Wapato has also been planted during the restoration project at Steigerwald and when it reopens, swans are known to enjoy the wetlands along the closed seasonal trail but may be observes from the open trail or flying overhead.


Wapato2

(C)USFWS, Wapato


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In continued times of uncertainty, I look for joys to hold on to. I always love this time of year. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the rains are calming and help me sleep my best, the colder air allows me to dawn my favorite hoodies and jackets, and the sound of the Sandhill cranes in the distant fog, fields of geese gathering, and searches among wet leaf litter for salamanders, snails, and other treasures, always bring a smile to my face.


So, grab your raincoat (ok and umbrella if you prefer) and enjoy our open trails on the Carty Unit or sit comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt and watch what you from the comfort of your car along the Auto Tour - there is something for everyone (and preferred type of outfit) this time of year.



USFWS UPDATE for August 2021


Steigerwald Reconnection Project:

A few weeks back I was able to get onsite for the first time since March 2020. I joined my USFWS management team to get our boots dirty (it was quite dusty) and visualize first-hand needs forward for greeting you all next spring. 


Did you know that the previous art along the entrance from the levee trail to the seasonal trail "door" (on the eastern part of the refuge, just past the fish ladder) was designed to replicate the idea of a fish ladder? Many parts of the art trail were designed to engage our visitors to think more about the resources and site - but through unique art. While many pieces of the pervious art trail have a home on the new one, some don't make sense anymore due to the changed landscape and trail. In the coming months, the Refuge will be very busy working to establish new signage and ways to engage the public along the trail and we look forward to doing that with the community.  

- Mesha, USFWS Park Ranger, Ridgefield NWRC


Time to come home art at seasonal trail

Alt Text: A brown metal door with the Blue Goose logo of the National Wildlife Refuge System on it behind four brown powder coated metals art pieces in ground with words cut out of each that say Time to come home. and are in the shape of a fish ladder. The background is a lush tree lined trail with green grass. 

(c)Jared Strawderman


Other project updates:

Recently contractors turned on the lights and waited until it was outside of peak travel times along SR-14 to test the levee closure structure. This test installation of the floodwall connected the concrete wall on the north with the earthen levee on the south. The closure structure spanned across SR-14, causing a brief closure to both directions of traffic during the test. 


This was an important milestone in the project, as safety for the local community has been a high priority of the project. By testing this closure structure, project leads were able to see what would need to take place in the event of a large flood, to help reduce flood risks to our neighbors, the Port of Camas-Washougal, and the Washougal wastewater treatment plant. While this project benefits wildlife in many ways, the Refuge continues to work to provide benefits from this major restoration effort to our visitors and community as well.


We will be sharing more about the test in an upcoming blog. Visit Refuge2020.info for more information and pictures to come.


Closure structure across hwy 14 at night.

Alternative text: Under backlit night skies, two contractors walk towards each other as the closure structure spans SR-14 in the background, connecting the south and north levees.

(c)USFWS / Eric Anderson, Closure structure test


Question of the Month:

The Steigerwald Reconnection project remains on schedule to be completed, while there is still quite a bit to be done (even after the milestones met!). Can you guess how many cubic yards of soil have been moved to date throughout the project? USFWS Deputy Project leader, Eric Anderson, estimates that we moved _____  so far.

A) ~250,000

B) ~550,000

C) ~700,000

D) ~150,000


Cubic Yard Formula photo

Need to calculate cubic yards so you know how much mulch, bark or soil to get for your own home project? Use an online calculator to help! For reference a 7x4' raised bed garden uses about 1 cubic yard of soil. Answer to question: C- 700,000 Cubic Yards have been moved to date. 


Get on site and see the Project firsthand:

While we will remain closed to the public until the Refuge reopens in the spring of 2022, you can plan to get onsite if you are willing to get dirty (and possibly wet)


These opportunities will be led by our partner and lead project contractor, LCEP. For more information, visit LCEP's website for upcoming events.


Ridgefield NWR

The Kiwa Trail reopened and is now accessible for the remainder of its typical open season (May 1 - Sept 30). Visit the Refuge to meander this short loop trail now that the Sandhill Crane Colt has left the area. We appreciate all our visitors for helping this threatened species thrive.


The Headquarters office for the Refuge Complex is nearly completed. If you visit the Carty Unit of Ridgefield NWR, you will see cedar siding on the building and the newly developed parking lot for staff. The lower parking lot and vault toilet will remain accessible to the public until phase two of the headquarters site plan, which includes the Community Nature Center and accompanying site is developed (tentatively to begin in FY2023).


Moving day for the new office is projected for some time this fall/winter. Staff are very excited to have a new larger space that will enhance the work we all do and provide new opportunities to engage with the community. Visit Refuge2020.info in the coming weeks for a project update on the Refuge headquarters and the future Community Nature Center.


As the sun begins to set, from a  blue to golden sky, the cedar-siding of the new HQ is lit up. Fencing and orange traffic cones show that the site is still an active construction site.

Alt text: As the sun begins to set, from a  blue to golden sky, the cedar-siding of the new HQ is lit up. Fencing and orange traffic cones show that the site is still an active construction site. 

(c)USFWS/ Mesha Wood


Waterfowl Hunt Program

Ridgefield's annual waterfowl hunt program will resume, in alignment with Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife's 2021-2022 hunt season this fall. 


Hunting is a recreational use that is determined to be wildlife dependent and thus offered at many Refuges within the National Wildlife Refuge System nationwide. This may be confusing to some, but did you know that hunting is both a wildlife management tool and outdoor tradition? Or that revenue generated from Duck stamp sales, licenses, and excise taxes on hunting equipment and ammunition, over the last century, have helped purchased and conserve millions of acres of wetland habitat (including a large percentage of Ridgefield NWR)?.


While you may not agree with hunting or even hunting on a Refuge, we welcome you to visit the Ridgefield Hunt website after August 20th, 2021, to learn more about the program and hunting regulations enforced to help to ensure wildlife populations are sustainable. If interested in getting involved in the program, you will also find more information there as well. 


A hunter and his 3-year-old daughter emerge from the field after a day of waterfowl hunting at Ridgefield NWR on Feb. 6.

Alt text: A hunter and his 3-year-old daughter emerge from the field after a day of waterfowl hunting at Ridgefield NWR on Feb. 6.

(c) USFWS/ Juliette Fernandez



USFWS UPDATE for May 2021


Steigerwald Reconnection Project:

The Columbia Dike Trail closure moved closer to Index to allow critical work to be completed by our contractors. The closure is to keep both you and the crews safe and allow contractors the ability to work effectively and efficiently with their time. Please respect this closure so that they can do their job and get us one step closer to opening again.


Levee work continues as both setback levee work has been renewed along with the lowering of the east-west dike. Did you know, a lot of variables had to be in place to carry this work forward including river level, snow pack and the forecast? You can learn more by following us on social media and seeing our sharing of LCEP's explanation. 


Scrapers from project contractor, Rotschy, Inc., begin removing the portion of the existing Columbia River levee.  (May 12, 2021)

First pass of the scrapers removing the dike (C)LCEP from (May 12, 2021)


Complex Headquarters Administration Building and Community Nature Center:

In April, the Refuge and the design team were able meet for the first time onsite and discuss several things including: entrance signage and wayfinding, transition area from bridge to west side of Refuge, layout of the site, and EE shelter on the west side of the bridge and have held multiple Community Focus Groups to engage the community in the design and planning. As we develop plans and designs we are committed to seeking community involvement and look forward building this together. The Center is programmed to be funded for as early as 2023 and the design taken to 100% by the end of this fiscal year.


The Admin building continues to take shape. With walls going up and concrete poured around the site during the previous closure you can really see the site vision coming into play. Staff look forward to the possibility of opening it and returning to the site, possibly before the new year.


The Community has been engaged in multiple focus groups to share their needs for the site of the new Community Nature Center.  Through these conversations we have learned many needs of the community that we are taking into consideration as we work with the design team. The Refuge plans to continue community engagement for visitor enhancements across the Refuge Complex and hope you will all share with us continued needs and visions you have. 


Cedar siding going up on the US Fish and Wildlife Refuge Administrative Building at Ridgefield NWR (April 19, 2021)

Cedar siding nearly completed, (c)USFWS/Mesha Wood


Ranger Question of the Month:

What is the largest mammal spotted at Ridgefield NWR consistently over the last few weeks?

- Coyote

- Columbian White-tail Deer

- Cow

- Horse


If you guessed Horse you are correct. Our Cooperative Farmers are back on site along with their trained dogs and horses, and of course their cattle. While you may not see the horses as often in the public areas, the cattle are likely visible at times from along the Auto Tour Drive, and if you don't believe us, roll down your window and see if you can hear them (or possibly smell them).



Cow managed by farmers at Ridgefield NWR as part of Cooperative Agriculture to meet wildlife management objectives

Cow #18 (C)USFWS/Mesha Wood

Cooperative agriculture — partnering with farmers and ranchers to meet wildlife management objectives — is a long-standing practice on national wildlife refuges (50 CFR 29.2). Cooperative agreements between the Fish and Wildlife Service and farmers or ranchers may permit grazing by cattle or the growing of grain, hay or other crops at a refuge. The refuge benefits by producing food for wildlife or by improving natural habitat. The farmer profits by harvesting and selling some of the crop. The rancher gains access to grazing land.

Cooperative agriculture is used on refuges only in situations where the Service cannot meet its resource management objectives through the maintenance, management or mimicking of natural ecosystem processes or functions. (https://www.fws.gov/refuges/get-involved/landowners/cooperative-agriculture.html)

 

We are glad to have this crew join us again for another grazing season. They are invaluable to our mission and what we can achieve together. The cattle will depart the Refuge in early October as fall migration begins. Cooperative Agriculture was an important part of management of Steigerwald previously, but has been halted during the Steigerwald Reconnection Project. 


Trail Tip:

Ticks are out! Don't let them burrow in! As you wander trails near and far, this is a reminder to always check for ticks. Learn more how to protect yourself at: https://www.doh.wa.gov/communityandenvironment/pests/ticks


....But don't let them scare you. There are plenty of reasons to get out as also are Turkey Vultures, nesting Purple martins and Osprey,  Columbia White-tailed deer fawns, and turtles on the sunny days (at Ridgefield!).


Columbia White-tailed Deer feeding in a field next to the Auto Tour route at Ridgefield

Columbian White-tailed deer grazing in field along the River 'S' Auto Tour at Ridgefield NWR (C) USFWS/ Mesha Wood