Monday, December 21, 2009

Ocelot update - South Texas refuges newsletter

FALL 2009 NEWSLETTER

Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Friends of the Wildlife Corridor

List of Contents:

President's Message: Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
President's Message: Friends of the Wildlife Corridor
Adopt An Ocelot for the Holidays!
Kayaking the Lower Laguna Madre
Rio Reforestation -- What's Good for Ocelots is Good for Wildlife
Save the Date: FWC Annual Meeting, Ocelot Conservation Festival
Contact Information

** President's Message: Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR **
Kayak Program: In an effort to get visitors out to the refuge during the summer, the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge started a new program -- kayaking on the Laguna Madre. The Friends were able to do this program with the help of a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (see article below). To learn more about the kayak program, visit the Friend's website.

Annual Meeting: At our Annual Meeting in September Shane Wilson and I swapped positions.I accepted the role of President and he of Vice President. Laura de la Garza is Treasurer and Madeleine Sandefur is Secretary.We also added a new Board member, Michael Rodriguez, of Brownsville who will be a great addition.He is from Brownsville where he is a partner with the Law Offices of Michael Rodriguez P.L.L.C.Other Board members include Dr. Tom deMaar, Keith Hackland, Sonia Najera and Bob Severson.


Festival: The FLA are preparing for the Ocelot Conservation Festival which will be Saturday, February 13 in Harlingen at the Marine Military Academy.We are currently seeking sponsors for the festival and have raised nearly $6K, which is about half of what is needed.We are also in need of volunteers if you would like to support a worthy cause.All of the monies raised by the festival are used to purchase trip cameras, radio collars, telemetry equipment and other important tools used for ocelot research.


RBWI: This year we are really fortunate to be working with a new organization, the Rio Bravo Wildlife Institute. RBWI is really stepping up the effort to draw attention to the plight of ocelots on a national scale, as well as wildlife conservation issues here in the Valley.They are supporting the ocelot festival in many ways, including hosting a gala of which part of the proceeds will go to ocelot recovery efforts. Check them out at www.rbwi.org.


President's Message: Friends of the Wildlife Corridor
Land Acquisition: This past year was really productive for the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor.We were able to purchase three separate tracts of land totaling 32 acres.While small in acreage, these tracts are important in that they connect existing Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR tracts and/or were in-holdings in the refuge.These acquisitions actually help create greater connectivity within the wildlife corridor.


Rio Reforestation: Elsewhere, FWC helped sponsor Rio Reforestation, which was a real success despite the rain.Approximately 500 volunteers planted 17,000 trees/shrubs on 25 acres of LRGV NWR.Please be sure to attend the annual meeting which will be January 6 at noon at the Santa Ana NWR Visitor Center.


Annual Meeting: We will mail and e-mail ballots and/or you can attend the meeting.There will be a free tram ride at 2pm after the meeting.Thanks for your support this past year and, with your help, we are looking forward to protecting and restoring more habitat in the year to come!


Adopt An Ocelot for the Holidays!
If you are looking for a great gift for the holidays, adopt an ocelot! The Adopt An Ocelot program helps buy radio collars, trip cameras and many other important tools used to help in the recovery of this highly endangered species. Adopt for yourself or for a child, family, classroom, work place, or the person who has everything! You/they will receive a certificate of adoption, photo of the adopted cat, ocelot print and other fun ocelot ‘stuff'. You can adopt on line at www.friendsofsouthtexasrefuges.org or call 956-784-3607.


Kayaking the Lower Laguna Madre
Nancy Brown, Public Outreach Specialist, South Texas Refuge Complex


From a kayak, the water looks as if it is in a bathtub, smooth and still.It's shallow and feels comfortably warm.Only there are undulating sea grass beds beneath you, leaping fish around and an occasional caracara watching you go by with what appears to be a mild curiosity.It's the lower Laguna Madre, one of three hypersaline lagoons in the world and it borders the shore of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).

"We had to figure out a way to get people out on to it," said Stacy Sanchez, Park Ranger for the refuge."Kayaks were the obvious answer."


With the help of a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, the Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR (Friends) purchased a small fleet of sit-on-top kayaks to conduct seasonal environmental education tours on the lower Laguna Madre.After recruiting volunteer guides and conducting some exploratory trips, the public was invited to participate in the half-day kayak trips.


"We've never done this before and to our knowledge no one else has either," said Sanchez."We weren't sure there would even be an interest but we wanted something that would bring people out to the refuge during the summer."The maiden voyage was set for Saturday, August 22, 2009 and the Friends and staff waited to see what the response would be.


The first trip was booked within a week.The kayakers included young children, grandparents, couples, individuals and a lot of guides."Our volunteer guides were so excited about this program that we had a 1:2 guide to participant ratio," said Sanchez.


Prior to departure, guides gave the 12 participants a well-rehearsed introduction to kayaking that incorporated tips to keep them comfortable and safe in their boats, including "If you capsize, just stand up."This is because the average depth of the lower Laguna Madre is two and a half feet.


The lower Laguna Madre is one part of a larger system created by a coastal barrier island that extends from Louisiana all the way to the most southern tip of Texas and on into Mexico. At its most southern point in Texas, the lower Laguna Madre portion, there are very few freshwater inflows.The lack of any significant freshwater sources combined with the hot, dry climate and low annual rainfall is what makes the lower Laguna Madre much saltier than the ocean.The shallow depth and salty conditions promote the growth of seagrasses, which provide important habitat for a diversity of species.


Here is where you will find 37 of the 44 commercial and recreational fish found in the Gulf of Mexico, including speckled trout, flounder and redfish.The seagrass beds of the lower Laguna Madre are an important summer nursery for brown shrimp and offer shelter to an occasional Kemp's ridley sea turtle.And it is where eighty percent of the North American population of Redhead ducks spend their winter.


Another important feature of this system is its vast tidal flats.The extreme salinity prevents the growth of marsh grasses leaving the tidally influenced areas seemingly barren.In fact, these mud and sand flats provide critical nourishment and nesting sites to many species, including piping plovers, peregrine falcons and reddish egrets.


Out on the water, kayakers learn about the importance of the lower Laguna Madre.Reminders to paddle shallow and not disturb the seagrasses are a mantra.Discussions of migratory birds and nesting sea turtles are had while looking down into the water in hopes of seeing a stingray. And on the return, paddling along the refuge shoreline, participants have spotted white-tailed deer and various raptors perched on the Spanish daggers, including white-tailed kites.


"The wonderful thing is that we don't yet know if this will become a snorkeling, fishing or wildlife watching trip.Maybe all three of them," said Sanchez."However as the program grows, it will certainly be educational and fun for the public."


Locally, the Friends and the refuge hope to educate some, inspire others.Elsewhere, efforts have begun to have the lower Laguna Madre designated as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.Mexico has secured this important designation for its portion of the Laguna Madre.In the meantime, the lower Laguna Madre in South Texas is afforded some protection because of its neighbors:the Padre Island National Seashore extends about 90 miles along its eastern shore and on the western banks, the great South Texas ranchlands and the Laguna Atascosa NWR limit the potential damages incurred from the unbridled growth taking place in the most southern tip of Texas.


"People enjoy this trip for different reasons but they all walk away happy to have seen it," said Sanchez."We expect the kayak program will grow, which hopefully means good things for the lower Laguna Madre and all the critters that depend on it."


Rio Reforestation: What is Good for Ocelots is Good for All Wildlife!
The cold, dreary rainy day didn't keep nearly 500 volunteers from coming out to plant native trees and shrubs to benefit wildlife. The 18th annual Rio Reforestation!It was held Saturday, October 10, 2009 on a tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) along the Anzalduas International Bridge near the town of Granjeno. Volunteers planted 49 species of native trees and shrubs on 25 acres of what was barren ground.


Since 1994, thousands of Rio Reforestation volunteers have helped restore about 600 acres of habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.This restored brush not only improves quality of life for Valley residents, it supports an important nature tourism industry and will provide a place to rest, nest and feed for many species of wildlife for years to come.

It is estimated that 95% of the habitat in the Valley has been cleared.The National Wildlife Refuge System, an agency within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), has made restoring and protecting the brush in South Texas a top priority.Since 1979, the LRGV NWR has been buying land and planting native plantsalong the Rio Grande in an attempt to create a ‘wildlife corridor' that extends from Falcon Dam to Boca Chica.

There is one species in particular whose ability to move along the river is of interest and concern to the Service.The ocelot is a small jaguar-like cat whose range once extended from South Texas all the way up into Arkansas and Louisiana.Today, less than 50 ocelot remain in the United States and all are found here in South Texas. This is why the work being done by Rio Reforestation volunteers is so important.Volunteers are helping bring back the brush that supports not only the ocelot, but the many birds and butterflies that support the Valley's thriving nature tourism industry.What is good for the ocelot is good for all other wildlife species.

Many thanks to the sponsors who helped make this event possible, including Alliance for Community Trees, American Forests Global ReLeaf, Avant Premium Water, Excalibur EMS,H-E-B, Home Depot, KVEO-TV 23, Labbatt Food Service, RR Waste Solutions,Reddy Ice and the Rio Grande Delta Audubon Chapter. And thanks to the many schools who bravely brought their students out to participate! It was great to see all of those school buses lined up.

Rio Reforestation is one of the many events supported by the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor and its membership. Thanks for helping make it possible with your support!

Save the Date:
Friends of the Wildlife Corridor Annual Meeting – Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12pm Santa Ana NWR Visitor Center; FREE tram ride at 2pm for Friends members

Ocelot Conservation Festival – Saturday, February 13, 2010; Marine Military Academy in Harlingen; call 956-784-3607 to volunteer

Contact Information
Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR Friends of the Wildlife Corridor
22817 Ocelot Road Rt. 2 Box 204
Los Fresnos, Texas 78566 Alamo, Texas 78516

http://www.friendsofsouthtexasrefuges.org

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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org

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