Tag Archives: ridgefield national wildlife refuge

Inaugural Ridgefield NWR Veterans Waterfowl Hunt A Success

THE FOLLOWING IS A STORY FROM THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

From an ADA-accessible blind at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Sal Trujillo watched as the first rays of sun peeked above the surrounding hills. Flocks of mallards, pintails and tundra swans soon filled the sky.

IRAQ WAR VETERAN SAL TRUJILLO PEERS OUT FROM A BLIND DURING THE INAUGURAL RIDGEFIELD NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE VETERANS WATERFOWL HUNT HELD LAST WEEKEND. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Trujillo and 10 other U.S. military veterans celebrated Veterans Day with their first waterfowl hunt as a part of the inaugural Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Veterans’ Waterfowl Hunt.

GEESE WING OVER THE VANCOUVER-AREA N.W.R. WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY SET ASIDE MORE THAN 50 YEARS AGO FOR DUSKY GOOSE HABITAT FOLLOWING THE CATASTROPHIC LOSS OF THE SPECIES’ ALASKAN BREEDING GROUNDS IN AN EARTHQUAKE. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“Getting veterans into the outdoors is so important,” said Trujillo, who started fishing five years ago through a Fallen Outdoors/Community Military Appreciation Committee of SW Washington fishing event for veterans. Trujillo has since bought his own boat and takes other veterans fishing. After his successful day in the field at Ridgefield NWR, he hopes to do the same with waterfowl hunting.

DECOYS SIT ON SHEETWATER AT RIDGEFIELD. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“The outdoors allows veterans to focus on something new, and clear our minds from daily life. This is a great opportunity to learn something new and make new friends. Plus, we’ll eat what we harvest,” said Trujillo, who served five years in the Army 101st Airborne, including a deployment in Iraq.

JENNIFER AND DOUG HAWKINS, WHO ARE BOTH ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY AT JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, POSE WITH A MIXED BAG OF BIRDS ON A GLORIOUS SUNNY SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON WEEKEND. THE SERVICE’S BRENT LAWRENCE REPORTED JENNIFER HAD NEVER HUNTED WATERFOWL BEFORE, BUT PROVED TO “A DEAD-EYE SHOOTER. SHE SLAYED THEM.” (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

The hunt highlighted many of priorities laid out by Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, including increasing hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities on public lands, while also focusing on a commitment to the recruitment, retention and reactivation of hunters to support the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

SAL TRUJILLO AND HIS GUIDE FOR THE DAY, RICHARD HANNAN, A RETIRED USFWS REGIONAL DIRECTOR AND ACTIVE MEMBER OF WASHINGTON WATERFOWL ASSOCIATION, SHOW OFF THEIR HARVEST. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has increased hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities on public lands these veterans served to protect,” said Robyn Thorson, Pacific Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We can’t think of a better way than to honor these veterans on Veterans Day than by introducing them to waterfowl hunting and this fantastic urban National Wildlife Refuge. We hope today is the first in a long tradition of waterfowl hunts that expand to include more veterans over the years.”

DOUG HAWKINS ADJUSTS JENNIFER HAWKINS’ WEIGHTY WATERFOWL STRAP FOLLOWING THE HUNT. SHE LIMITED WITH SEVEN WHILE DOUG BAGGED FOUR OTHERS. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

The Lower Columbia Chapter of the Washington Waterfowl Association played an essential role in organizing the event, including coordinating guides and holding a special dinner for the veterans. Additional partners included Ridgefield American Legion Post 44, Fallen Outdoors, Community Military Appreciation Committee of SW Washington, Heroes Northwest, Cabela’s, Gerber Knives, Stein Distributing, Larry Hoff, Rose Real Estate and Evergreen Home Loans.

CINDY LESCALLEET WHO ALONG WITH HER HUSBAND DAVE (BACKGROUND) RUNS THE CHECK STATION EXPLAINS WITH HER HANDS HOW THE ANGLE OF THE TAIL FEATHERS OF THE DUCK IN THE FOREGROUND IDENTIFIES IT AS A PINTAIL. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Richard Hannan, retired Assistant Regional Director for the Service’s Pacific Region and member of the Washington Waterfowl Association, guided Trujillo during his hunt. Hannan’s discussions with the veteran brought back a flood of memories.

RIDGEFIELD ALSO SERVES AS A WAYSTATION FOR PROTECTED SPECIES SUCH AS TRUMPETER SWANS AND IS HOME FOR RARE COLUMBIAN WHITETAIL DEER. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“I choked up a little when Sal shot his first duck and (my Chesapeake Bay retriever) Daisy brought it back to him,” Hannon said. “It reminded me of taking my dad hunting and introducing him to the outdoors I love, and that he never had the chance to experience because of the demands of the uniform (as a 30-year Navy veteran) and family.

DONNA PRIGMORE, OREGON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BRIGADIER GENERAL, SPEAKS WITH SAM DAVIS OF RIDGEFIELD AMERICAN LEGION POST 44 DURING A DINNER FOR THE HUNTERS, THEIR FAMILIES AND GUIDES AFTER THEIR DAY AFIELD. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

“Sal mentioned more than once how sometimes he and many other vets go to some dark places in their heads as a result of their service to our nation. By going outdoors he and others are able to push those thoughts away and heal. I think we created some great memories. I know it did for me.”

Retired Disabled Vet Building ADA-accessible Blinds At SW WA Refuges, Wildlife Areas

By Brent Lawrence

Rick Spring smiles even as the cold wind and rain blow across his face in the waterfowl blind at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. The call of cackling geese overhead and the sight of wildlife relax him as he pets Max, his yellow Labrador retriever who doubles as his certified therapy dog.

Being in the outdoors is where Spring finds peace.

RICK SPRING, A DISABLED NAVY VET, BOEING RETIREE AND MEMBER OF ONE OF WASHINGTON’S OLDEST FISH AND GAME CLUBS, THE VANCOUVER WILDLIFE LEAGUE, POSES WITH HIS SERVICE DOG MAX BY ONE OF SEVERAL WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE WATERFOWL BLINDS HE’S BUILT ON PUBLIC LANDS IN THE LOWER COLUMBIA. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

For many people, however, there are barriers to finding that outdoor enjoyment. A disabled Navy veteran himself, Spring knows that spending time hunting, fishing and hiking isn’t always a given for injured veterans or other people with disabilities.

That’s why Spring pours his passion for accessibility to the outdoors into building hunting and birdwatching blinds on federal and state lands that are compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. A Spring-made blind, for example, is big enough to accommodate two wheelchairs.

SPRING’S BLINDS CAN ACCOMMODATE TWO WHEELCHAIR-BOUND HUNTERS OR BIRDWATCHERS. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

He does it as a volunteer, donating countless hours to the cause.

“Before they were disabled, veterans were usually very active people,” says Spring, a Boeing retiree who also served as an E4 3rd Class Petty Officer for three years in the U.S. Navy, running ship-to-shore teletypes and crypto aircraft identification. “Then they get injured and they feel like their time in the field isn’t available anymore. Knowing that these blinds are available, it will help veterans move on and have prosperous lives. They want and need this experience.”

Spring is one of conservation’s good neighbors, creating opportunities that open the door to nature for people who otherwise wouldn’t get to see a flock of mallards coming in to land or even hear the wind whistle through the Douglas firs.

MAX SOAKS UP THE RAYS AT THE JOB SITE ON A WARM SPRING DAY. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Whether they hold a shotgun or a camera, those aiming to connect with nature need access to enjoy the outdoors, regardless of their physical abilities. That’s why Spring hopes to expand the use of his custom-designed blinds to Oregon and then to the national level so more people with disabilities can have access to the outdoors.

It’s impossible to quantify the impact ADA-compliant access has on disabled veterans, says Heath Gunns, outreach manager with Honored American Veterans Afield. The impact on an individual, however, is easy to see when you witness it first-hand.

“You’re a 19-year-old kid and you go to boot camp, where they build you up to think you can do anything. Then you get hurt and the first thing doctors do is tell you the things you’ll no longer be able to do. … That is wrong,” Gunns says.

“Disabled veterans just have to learn to do it differently and that’s where ADA-compliant blinds and other access opportunities come in. The outdoors can’t give them their legs back, but it can give them hope.”

A RIDGEFIELD NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE BLIND SITS NEXT TO A FLOODED FIELD. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Spring is determined to keep that hope alive for people with disabilities. He pulls in partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Vancouver Wildlife League, Washington Waterfowl Association, Northwest Steelheaders, and numerous businesses to make it all happen.

The Service manages the National Wildlife Refuges, where Spring does some of his best work.

In addition to the blind at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, two of his custom ADA-compliant blinds can be found at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and another at Vancouver Lake. Spring is a member of Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission ADA Advisory Committee, and he’s finalizing a proposal to build ADA-compliant blinds in each of the commission’s six state regions.

The importance of Spring’s work is underscored by a surprising statistic: 60 percent of requests for Washington’s reduced-fee or special-use permits come from disabled veterans. Overall, there’s a high level of public interest in ADA-compliant facilities, according to Sam Taylor, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s liaison to the seven-member ADA advisory committee.

“This is an amazing volunteer advisory group,” Taylor says. “They’re having a real impact on hunting and fishing opportunities in the state. Rick is doing some great work, and not only with the blinds. He’s also working on a shooting range that is ADA compliant and looking at some other opportunities for fishing piers.”

POSITIONED NEAR A TREELINE AND WATER, A RIDGEFIELD NWR BLIND SITS IN A GOOD LOCATION FOR DUCK HUNTERS AND OTHERS. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

That access-for-all-people policy plays an important role in public lands recreation. A recent Service report shows the outdoors has a strong allure. In 2016, an estimated 101.6 million Americans – 40 percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older – participated in hunting, fishing, wildlife-watching and related activities. The findings reflect a continued interest in engaging in the outdoors. These activities are drivers behind an economic powerhouse, where participants spent $156 billion in 2016.

Spring reached out to Jackie Ferrier, project leader at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex, last year to discuss opportunities for adding a new blind. They had never met prior to the call, but Ferrier quickly seized the opportunity to improve recreational opportunities for the public.

“We had a discussion about some of his work at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and we had an instant rapport. I realized we had an amazing opportunity to partner with him on this,” Ferrier  says. “He and his team of volunteers were amazing.”

Willapa Refuge plans to add another ADA-compliant blind once some habitat restoration is complete on a different part of the refuge.

“Access is a priority for us, and Rick will make sure it happens. He gets things done,” Ferrier says. Spring, she notes, is a part of the refuge’s hunter working group that provides input on hunting opportunities. “He’s an incredibly dedicated, positive and inspirational person to work with.”

“HE’S AN INCREDIBLY DEDICATED, POSITIVE AND INSPIRATIONAL PERSON TO WORK WITH,” SAYS WILLAPA NWR’S JACKIE FERRIER OF SPRING. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

When not helping veterans get into the field, Spring and Max bring that inspiration to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Vancouver. Two days a week they spend time with veterans and their families at the hospital, often devoting hours to patients in hospice care.

Just like he does in the hunting blind, Max will gently nudge his big yellow head alongside the hand of a veteran.

Spring watches as they slowly rub Max’s head with their fingers, hoping it brings them the same peace, hope and memories of the outdoors.

Editor’s note: Brent Lawrence is a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region in Portland. Governmental agencies and non-profit groups interested in connecting with Rick Spring’s regarding his blinds may contact the author at brent_lawrence@fws.gov.