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Open Mic: Where the Birds are…

AT THE MIC: Barbara Volkle

Barbara, currently of Northborough, Massachusetts, is founding President of the Friends of Assabet River NWR and current president of the Brookline Bird Club.

It was 1988, and I’d found birding. I was out on a bird club trip in early summer to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. I remember looking out with joy and thinking how wonderful is this place. It dawned on me that this was a national wildlife refuge – that there are places like this all over the country, places that I can visit and go birding… I was in heaven!

Our passion for birds is joined to a passion for the places they are – where they nest, winter over, stop over during migration, rest and feed.

Merritt Island NWR, Florida.  photo from wikipedia

Our national wildlife refuges are those places. With 553 national wildlife refuges and its 150 million acres, the National Wildlife Refuge System is the backbone of conservation lands in the United States. From Ding Darling and Loxahatchee in Florida, to Seney NWR in Michigan, to Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, to Santa Ana and the refuges of the lower Rio Grande Valley as well as Laguna Atacosa and Aransas in Texas, from mountain to island to seacoast, birders know these special places. Many that we may not visit – Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Midway Atoll in the Pacific, Farallon National Wildlife Refuge in California – we know to be ecological treasures.

Mingo NWR, Missouri.  photo from wikipedia

Right now, a national conversation is taking place about the future of refuges. The result of this process will be a vision blueprint for action for the next decade. The last such document, Fulfilling the Promise, was published in 1999.

By April 22, you can provide your insights, comments, suggestions and feedback on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft vision proposal at or by email. You can read the blogs and join in discussion groups, and contribute your new ideas. Fact sheets/flyers for birders, are on the website for download. Next to HOME on the web page, use the dropdown menu under ABOUT to go to FACT SHEETS. Please add the April 22 deadline to anything you print and post!

As birders, all of us know the refuges of the National Wildlife Refuge System. We know them as places of solace, of adventure, of exploration, of familiarity, of what is truly still wild. We share a recognition of the special nature of these wild places and of the wild things that call them home.

We understand these are not just places we go birding, they are places of essential habitat. With this recognition comes responsibility. Our thoughtful comments extend beyond making refuges more birder-friendly to include comments and feedback regarding policy, management practice, visitor services and outreach. From our perspective as birders, we can provide critical insight. As visitors and volunteers, we can provide practical comments. Based on our knowledge of this system of essential habitat, we can provide public support.

Lower Klamath NWR, California. photo from wikipedia

Over the years since that morning at Parker River NWR, I became a volunteer and supporter of national wildlife refuges. I went on to serve as the founding President of the Friends of Assabet River NWR for ten years, a refuge opened to the public in 2005. I continue to advocate for refuges and refuge funding.

I know each of you reading this has your own memories of a refuge that are lifetime milestones.

Let’s bring this energy, our diverse experience, and wealth of knowledge about birds and birding to this national conversation by going to

Birders, join the conversation and comment by April 22!

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The ABA Blog's Open Mics offer an opportunity for members of the birding community to share their voice with the ABA audience. We accept all and any submissions. If you have something you'd like to share, please contact blog editor Nate Swick at [email protected]
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