Tag Archives: us fish and wildlife service

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.”

Malheur, Little Pend Oreille NWRs Benefit From Mystery Woman’s Will

Editor’s note: As we’ve reported here before, hunters stand heads and shoulders above most when it comes to conservation and buying into the mission, and while birders feel just as strongly, without mechanisms like the Pittman-Robertson Act and duck stamps, their linkage with funding wildlife habitat isn’t as strong. But here’s the story of one birder whose generosity will help others enjoy three Northwest national refuges and several others across the West.

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

By Brent Lawrence

Nobody really knew Rita Poe until she died.

She moved through the final years of her life with little apparent interaction with others. Few people could recall the tall, thin woman with salt-and-pepper hair and brown eyes. She died at age 66 in her home – a 27-foot travel trailer parked in the shadows of the Olympic Mountains – of colon cancer on Nov. 16, 2015.

Though Rita’s life came to a close, her legacy will live on for generations thanks to her final act of astonishing generosity.

NANCY ZINGHEIM MADE IT HER MISSION TO LEARN MORE ABOUT RITA POE, WHO STAYED AT HER RV PARK NEAR PORT TOWNSEND, WASHINGTON, BEFORE DYING IN NOVEMBER 2015 OF COLON CANCER. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

With no known friends or heirs in her final years, Rita’s closest connection was Nancy Zingheim, the manager for SKP RV Park in Chimacum, Washington, where Rita had parked her Airstream during the summer of 2015. Their only encounters were when Rita would come in to pay her lot rent or an occasional wave on the street when she walked her dog, an Italian greyhound/basenji mix named I.G.

Then in September, Rita showed up with a question for Nancy: “Will you be the executor of my will?” Nancy agreed.

Rita died a few weeks later, and Nancy got her first look at the will. It was as generous as it was surprising: give almost everything — nearly $800,000 – to eight National Wildlife Refuges and four parks across the West.

On the list were three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges from her home state of California, with one refuge in each of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Texas. The four others recipients were state and national parks from Texas and Wyoming.

Rita’s legacy started Nancy on a path that culminated with a 4,000-mile “trip of a lifetime” during which she learned about wild spaces and public lands, and what made them meaningful to Rita.

A USFWS MAP HIGHLIGHTS THE TOUR OF NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES THAT  ZINGHEIM TOOK TO BETTER UNDERSTAND POE’S INTEREST IN THEM AND WHY SHE WOULD LEAVE MONEY TO EACH. (USFWS)

Between December 2015 and April 2017, Nancy researched each refuge and park online. She called them with questions, intent on making sure that each refuge and park would live up to Rita’s expectations.

The biggest obstacle for Nancy was fighting to collect $374,000 owed to Rita from a long-ago inheritance. Once Nancy won that battle and the money came in, she could have considered her work nearly done. Someone else might have simply written the checks.

But not Nancy.

Over the months of searching through Rita’s paperwork and photos, Nancy started to know Rita on a deeper level. The last photo Nancy found of Rita was from a 1981 Texas driver’s license. Nancy discovered that Rita was born on October 20, 1949 in California and that she once held a nursing license, but couldn’t determine where or when Rita worked. Nursing may have been what Rita did at some point, but it was clear that it wasn’t what fulfilled her. There was an empty spot in Rita’s soul that could only be filled on public lands.

A SAGE GROUSE DISPLAYS AT FROSTY MALHEUR NWR. POE WOULD TAKE HUNDREDS OF IMAGES OF WILDLIFE BUT NARY A SELFIE, ACCORDING TO USFWS. (USFWS)

Rita’s devotion to the places that left a mark on her was infectious, and Nancy was determined to see firsthand where Rita’s final act of generosity was going. “I had never heard of a (National Wildlife) Refuge,” Nancy said. “I wanted the money to go to what Rita would have wanted.”

So in April 2017, Nancy took two weeks of vacation and headed south in Rita’s truck to visit six of the National Wildlife Refuges. It was a final trip that Rita would have loved, Nancy said.

First stop was Merced and San Luis refuges in central California. Next up was Tule Lake Refuge in northern California, then Malheur Refuge in Oregon, followed by Camas Refuge in eastern Idaho. Nancy’s final stop was northeast Washington at Little Pend Oreille Refuge, her personal favorite.

LITTLE PEND OREILLE NWR IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (USFWS)

At each stop Nancy asked what the refuge needed and how they could best use the money. Most refuge managers suggested giving it to their respective Friends of the Refuge group, which would enable the money to be used on specific local projects per Rita’s intent. Malheur requested it go to the High Desert Partnership, a grassroots organization that brings together disparate groups to work collaboratively in the best interest of the refuge and the local community.

The possible projects are numerous. At Camas, for example, they need to replace dying trees around the visitor center for nesting and roosting birds, as well as finishing a pollinator garden. At San Luis and Merced, they need more family picnic areas.

MULE DEER PARADE THROUGH TALL GRASS AT MALHEUR NWR, WHICH IS OFF LIMITS TO BIG GAME HUNTING. (USFWS)

At Little Pend Oreille Refuge, they could leverage the money as matching funds for a bigger grant. “Maybe an overlook/observation point with an accessible trail,” refuge manager Jerry Cline said. “We want it to be something a visitor like Rita would benefit from.”

WHERE RITA POE’S MONEY WAS DISBURSED.
Camas NWR (Idaho) – $96,551.48
Little Pend Oreille NWR (Washington) – $48,275.74
Malheur NWR (Oregon) – $48,275.74
San Luis NWR (Calif) – $48,275.74
Merced NWR (Calif) – $96,551.48
Tulelake NWR (Calif) – $72,413.6
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge (Utah) – $48,275.74
Laguna Atascosta NWR (Texas) – $48,275.74
Hueco Tanks State Park (Texas) – $72,413.61
Choke Canyon State Park (Texas) – $48,275.74
Mammoth Hot Springs Campground, Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) – $120,689.35
Wild Birding Center (Texas) – $48,275.74

Nine days and thousands of miles later, Nancy arrived back home from her solo trip. She was exhausted, but happy to see her husband and new dog – I.G., which she took at Rita’s request in her final days.

I.G. THE ITALIAN GREYHOUND-BASENJI MIX THAT POE WISHED ZINGHEIM TO TAKE CARE OF AFTER SHE PASSED. (NANCY ZINGHEIM)

Nancy finally had a true understanding of National Wildlife Refuges, public lands and, perhaps most importantly, Rita. On the open roads of the West, Nancy discovered how the enigmatic Rita could find her peace on public lands.

“Only one person at any of the refuges remembered Rita, and it was because of her Airstream” Nancy said. “She’d go to the refuges and spend all day taking hundreds of pictures. There weren’t any (photos) of Rita; just the birds and animals she loved.”

And Rita passed that love for wildlife and wild lands on to Nancy. The nondescript stranger in lot #412 at the SKP RV Park changed her life for the better.

“She made me realize that we live in nature and there are animals all around us,” Nancy said. “How often do we take time to sit and watch them? I never stopped to realize the little things like when the birds arrive. I do stop and watch the animals now. … Your refuges are quiet and peaceful. If you’ve never been, you should go to a refuge and spend some time there for Rita.”

Tracy Casselman, the project leader for the Southeast Idaho Refuge Complex that includes Camas, didn’t know Rita. But he knows a lot of people like Rita who visit the refuges.

“Rita’s relationship wasn’t with people,” Tracy said. “Her relationship was to the refuges and public lands. She found her peace out there. Her generous gift will ensure that more people will enjoy our refuges in her memory.”

Nancy keeps her memory of Rita and her love of nature close. Rita asked that she be cremated and that her ashes spread in nature away from people. Nancy held on to her ashes for months before finding the right spot near her home.

“A friend found the spot on a hike, and the next day we hiked a mile into the woods and scattered her ashes and some flowers on a hillside overlooking a lake, the mountains and trees. She can hear the birds she loved. I say hello to her every time I drive past.”

No obituary.  No tombstone. Only a marvelous, shining legacy.

Please, carry on the spirit of Rita with a visit to your public lands.

Editor’s note: Brent Lawrence is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public affairs officer in Portland.