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Thank the birds and the bees for your holiday table

By Cynthia Palmer

American Bird Conservancy

A beekeeper grabs dead bees during a demonstration against the use of bee-killing pesticides in front of the ministry in Sofia, Bulgaria, on April 22, 2013. Beekeepers gathered to protest and to call for a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are hazardous to bees. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

A beekeeper grabs dead bees during a demonstration against the use of bee-killing pesticides
in front of the ministry in Sofia, Bulgaria, on April 22, 2013. Beekeepers gathered to protest
and to call for a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are hazardous to bees.
(Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Rooted in gratitude for a good harvest, Thanksgiving is a day of togetherness and feasting for many Americans. It is a time to wipe the dust off Grandma’s delicious recipe cards or to head to the Deli Fresh grocery aisles for savory string beans and pumpkin pie. For many, Thanksgiving is the purest and most important holiday of all, unblemished by the commercialism that threatens to tarnish Christmas and other celebrations.

Behind the scenes, however, the cornucopia of foods for which we give thanks is now under siege, in part due to a new and insidious class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, or “neonics.” First introduced in the U.S. in 1994, the neonics quickly became the most widely used insecticides on Earth, applied to two-thirds of the world’s croplands. Virtually all the corn in this country is grown from neonic-coated seeds, as are many grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Unfortunately, these neonic insecticides are killing bees, butterflies, birds, and quite possibly bats and other wildlife. As such, they are a direct threat to our Thanksgiving meal, wiping out the tiny buzzing “field hands” that pollinate hundreds of crops—roughly one-third of the foods we eat. Pollinators play an essential role in our Thanksgiving celebrations—from the squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and other vegetables to the nuts, pumpkin desserts, apple pies, and cranberry sauce.

Even minute amounts of neonics are enough to kill the bees. The neonic coating on a single corn seed can kill over 80,000 bees. Bees that don’t succumb immediately face other effects: reduced memory and navigation, immune problems, developmental shortcomings, and diminished foraging ability. These impairments are as good as death to the parent colony.

Concerned about the impacts on bees, in 2013 American Bird Conservancy reviewed 200 studies, including 2,800 pages of industry research obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Our assessment concludes that the neonics are lethal to birds as well. A single corn kernel coated with a neonic can kill a songbird. And as little as 1/10th of a coated seed per day during the egg-laying season can impair reproduction.

The ABC report also looks at aquatic insects, which are critical to avian aerial insectivores such as swifts, swallows, and nighthawks whose populations are now in decline. We conclude that the levels of these chemicals in our waterways are already high enough to kill the aquatic invertebrate life on which so many birds depend.

These findings are buttressed by the strikingly high levels of neonics found in a new review of surface water data from nine countries, and also by a recent study by Dutch researchers, published in the journal Nature, which noted that the higher the concentration of the pesticide in the surface water, the greater the decline in bird populations. A 2014 meta-analysis by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides evaluates 800 peer-reviewed studies and confirms this spiral of unintended consequences.

Seed Tech Revolution

Neonics are part of a revolution in seed technology that has transformed American agriculture in recent years. Giant agribusiness companies including Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta control the commercial biotech market for seeds. They coat the seeds in neonics and embed them with genetically engineered (GE) traits such as immunity to Roundup herbicide, enabling farmers to use large amounts of weed-killers without harming their crops.

The companies maintain strict licensing agreements controlling the use of their coated, GE-impregnated seeds. For many crops such as corn and canola, it can be near impossible to find untreated seeds on the market. Attempts to clean and re-use seeds from prior years are landing farmers in court facing battalions of industry lawyers.

In encrusting our seeds in systemic insecticides, the chemical and seed conglomerates are transforming the way agriculture is done in this country. Neonic seed treatments are a pre-emptive strike; we are blanketing our lands with chemicals even when there is no pest to be found within 100 miles. This is a damaging reversal from integrated pest management, the approach to agriculture that says you monitor for pests, do all you can to prevent pest outbreaks, and apply conventional chemicals only as a last resort.

What is really quite extraordinary is that—despite the enormous scale on which they are used—there is scant evidence that neonics are actually increasing agricultural productivity. The EPA released its own analysis of soybean production on Oct. 16, concluding that “there is no increase in soybean yield using most neonicotinoid seed treatments when compared to using no pest control at all.”

The EPA review confirms what we have been telling the agency all year: that despite the enormous scale on which they are used, neonic seed coatings are not increasing agricultural yields. Scientific studies on corn, canola, and other crops show similar results, as documented by a recent Center for Food Safety assessment of independent peer-reviewed efficacy studies. The farmers pay for the costly treated seeds; the beekeepers bring home dead hives; and the birds, butterflies, and other wildlife die. The only benefit is to the handful of multinational biotech conglomerates, which accrue enormous profits.

Equally absurd is that, even though neonics are applied to hundreds of millions of acres in the U.S.—up to 95 percent of those lands via coated seeds—the EPA fails to require any registration of neonic seed treatments, or any enforcement in cases of misuse. EPA misinterprets its 1988 “treated article exemption,” 40 CFR § 152.25(a), to overlook the fundamental definition of a “treated article”: the pesticidal effects must not extend in significant ways beyond the article itself.

In the case of coated seeds, typically only 5 or 10 percent of the active ingredient is absorbed by the plant. The rest either blows away as dust during mechanized planting—killing the bees directly—or washes into the soil and ultimately the groundwater. EPA’s failure to require stringent testing and approval protocols for neonic seed coatings is a significant loophole, while its failure to track use and impacts helps perpetuate the myth that these chemicals can be used safely.

Birds don’t take a holiday and nor do bees. Their protection demands that we do away with policies that allow excessive use of ineffective and dangerous pesticides. Closer to home, as we prepare for our celebrations, let’s help save our pollinators by choosing carefully what we put in our shopping baskets and on our plates. We can help grow the market for sustainable, healthy, pesticide-free agriculture and help shrink the market for chemical intensive, neonic-contaminated products.

And as we give thanks for the bounty on our tables this Thanksgiving, let’s remember the birds and bees that made it all possible.

Cynthia Palmer is the director of pesticides science and regulation for the American Bird Conservancy in Washington, D.C.

 

Enter the BirdSpotter Photo Contest

Your backyard bird images could win great prizes!

 

Gary Mueller of Missouri submitted this photo of a Lego feeder that was the Judge's Choice during the first week of the contest.

Gary Mueller of Missouri submitted this photo of a Lego feeder that was the Judge’s Choice during the first week of the contest.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdSpotter photo contest is underway! The contest is sponsored by Vanguard and offers weekly prizes for the photos that receive the most votes on the contest website. Special “Judge’s Choice” photos are also recognized.

BirdSpotter is being run through the Project FeederWatch citizen-science project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. FeederWatch participants keep track of their feeder birds from November through April and report what they see online. This information helps scientists learn more about the changes in bird distribution and population numbers in North America over time.

Each Wednesday from now through February 11, 2015, a new BirdSpotter photo theme will be posted, such as “birdbaths” or “chickadees only.” You can upload one entry per week and then vote for your favorite photo. The winners will be announced on Monday morning. Each weekly winner receives a prize pack from Vanguard that includes binoculars, plus gifts from the Cornell Lab.

Voting for the top three photos from among all the weekly winners begins February 18. The grand prize winner receives Vanguard binoculars, scope, tripod, and backpack as well as more prizes from the Cornell Lab including a Charlie Harper print.

See full contest rules and the list of prizes on the contest website. You don’t have to be a Project FeederWatch participant to enter—but if you do sign up for the project you’ll be joining tens of thousands of other FeederWatchers who report their feeder visitors to help scientists learn more about our favorite backyard birds. Visit www.FeederWatch.org.

 

Greater Prairie-chicken season opens Nov. 15

Annual prairie-chicken season opens with changes for 2014

The regular prairie-chicken season opens on the third Saturday in November, which is Nov. 15, 2014. However, this year, hunters will see a significant change in where prairie-chickens may be hunted. Kansas is home to two species of prairie-chickens. The Greater Prairie-chicken is common in the Flint Hills of east-central Kansas and the Smoky Hills of northcentral and northwest Kansas. The southwest region of the state is home to the Lesser Prairie-chicken, which was listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last March. Three years of severe drought resulted in poor habitat and declining numbers of Lesser Prairie-chickens.

As a result of the listing, the Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission established two prairie-chicken units. The Southwest Prairie-chicken Unit, where lessers are found, is closed to all prairie-chicken hunting. The Greater Prairie-chicken Unit, which includes northwest, northcentral and eastern portions of Kansas, is open to Greater Prairie-chicken hunting. A map may be seen at www.ksoutdoors.com or in the 2014 Kansas Hunting and Furharvesting Regulations Summary.

The Greater Prairie-chicken hunting season is open Nov. 15, 2014-Jan. 31, 2015. The daily bag limit is two and the possession limit is four times the daily bag limit. During the regular prairie-chicken season, hunters commonly pass shoot birds early in the morning and late in the afternoon as they fly from grasslands to feed fields. The challenge is finding the right field and getting into a position where birds may fly within shotgun range. Perhaps the biggest challenge is hitting the birds that are always flying “faster than they look.”

Greater Prairie-chicken numbers are highest in the Smoky Hills region of northcentral Kansas, and numbers should be improved compared to last year in the Flint Hills. In addition to a hunting license, prairie-chicken hunters must purchase a prairie-chicken hunting permit, which is available online and wherever licenses are sold for $2.50. The permit allows biologists to survey hunters and gain more accurate harvest information for management purposes.

New Jersey bill could allow a “commercial” deer season

By Daniel Xu

The OutdoorHub

Do you think you have a great recipe for venison jerky? If you live in New Jersey, a bill may soon allow you to sell it as well.

Is allowing commercial deer hunting a good idea? Some lawmakers in New Jersey are trying to overturn the state’s ban on hunters selling deer meat, and they are getting support from some ecologists. According to the Asbury Park Press, a bill was introduced into the General Assembly earlier this year that would do just that, and is currently waiting for a hearing in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

To say that the bill is controversial would be an understatement. Some ecologists believe that allowing individuals to sell harvested venison will get more people into the woods to help control the rising deer population. Others, however, believe that the return of commercial hunting will only recreate the far-ranging consequences caused by overhunting in the early 1900s.

“Anybody who lives in MonmouthCounty and is driving around is able to see a deer population that has exploded,” Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth), who is sponsoring the bill, told the Asbury Park Press. “I’m concerned about the high number of Lyme cases and I’m also very concerned about the car accidents, half of which occur between October and December.”

The exploding deer population in the East Coast is not only a road and health hazard, ecologists are warning that the deer are degrading forests as well, which could lead to mass starvation for the animals. Supporters of a commercial deer season also point to the fact that almost all of the venison that Americans enjoy in restaurants or local grocery stores come from captive deer farms. In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported last year that about 85 percent of all commercially-sold venison in the United States actually comes from New Zealand. Casagrande and her supporters say that it makes little sense to import deer meat into New Jersey when the state is currently grappling with an overpopulation of whitetail deer.

Not everyone agrees, however, and in a rare occurrence, sportsmen’s groups and animal right organizations have found themselves on the same side of the issue—if for different reasons. Many hunters say that revisiting the same strategies that led to the overhunting of deer in the East Coast is a very bad idea. All 50 states have placed restrictions on the sale of deer meat, with laws stretching back to the early twentieth century. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection explicitly states that it is “illegal to sell deer meat, deer antlers or any part of a deer except deer hides, tails and the lower portion of the legs,” in the state.

To combat the rising deer population, hunters and wildlife biologists instead advocate for increased awareness of the problem, and promoting hunting as a valuable activity in the state. Animal rights activists oppose the bill for much the same reasons, but offer an alternative solution. Instead of hunting the deer either way, they instead call for non-lethal population control methods such as sterilization.

The bill, AB A3039, is still waiting to be heard by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee before it can move forward. If passed, hunters will be able to apply for a commercial hunting license which not only allows the sale of deer meat, but also meat from small game such as beavers, raccoons, and otters.

What do you think? Should you be able to sell meat from the deer your harvest, or could that open the door to a host of problems for hunters and wildlife? Let us know your comments.

Second Cover Crop Survey Confirms Yield Boost

On Tuesday, November 18, USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program released the results of the 2013-2014 Cover Crop Survey, which assesses the benefits, challenges, yield impacts, and scale of adoption of cover crops. The North Central Region of the SARE program worked with the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) to survey more than 1,924 farmers across the country (44 states in all), many of whom have grown cover crops. The results of the survey confirm that farmers are seeing multiple benefits from cover crops, including increased yields of corn and soybeans following the cover crop.

Of the 1,924 farmers who responded to the survey, 630 provided data comparing corn yields from fields that did have cover crops to corn yields from fields that did not have cover crops. Similarly, 583 farmers provided data comparing soybean yields from fields that did and did not have cover crops. When a cover crop was planted before corn, corn yields increased by an average of five bushels per acre, or 3.1 percent. Farmers who planted a cover crop before planting soybeans saw an average soybean yield increase of 4.3 percent.

These yield increases, while significant, are lower than the yield increases found in last year’s Cover Crop Survey (9.6 percent for corn, and 11.6 percent for soy). According to Rob Meyers, Regional Director of Extension Programs for SARE, “much of the difference in yield impact between the two years of surveys may be attributed to the drought in 2012, which highlights the moisture-management benefits of cover crops.”

Key Findings

According to SARE, key findings of the survey include:

♦ Of 1,427 cover crop users who identified the three cover crop benefits they desired most, 74 percent chose increased soil organic matter, 51 percent cited reducing soil erosion and 35 percent said they hoped cover crops would reduce soil compaction. Controlling weeds appealed to 28 percent, while providing a nitrogen source was chosen by 23 percent and nitrogen scavenging by 17 percent. Increases in yield in the following cash crop came in close behind with 16 percent.

♦ The most popular cover crop species were winter cereal grains—including winter wheat, cereal rye and triticale—used by 73 percent of the 1,600 farmers who answered this question. Legumes, which could include clover, winter pea, vetch and others, were used by 55 percent, while an equal percentage planted brassicas such as oilseed radish, mustards, rapeseed, turnips and related plants. Annual grasses (which could include annual ryegrass, sorghum, sudangrass, oats and similar plants) were planted by 53 percent of the respondents, and multi-species mixes were used by 34 percent of the growers.

♦ Nearly half, or 48 percent, of 1,691 farmers reported using a herbicide to terminate their last cover crop. Tillage was the choice for 21 percent of the respondents. Selecting cover crops that winter kill was the top strategy for 20 percent, and mowing was employed by 10 percent. Only one percent reported using a roller-crimper, and 6% replied “Other.”

♦ In the 2013-2014 survey, the mean difference in yield for corn among farmers with 0 to 3 years of experience in cover crops was an increase of 2.04 bushels per acre, while farmers with 4 or more years of experience in cover crops reported a mean increase of 6.76 bushels per acre.  A similar pattern was evident in soybeans. Farmers with 0 to 3 years of cover crop experience reported a mean increase of 1.09 bushels per acre, while growers with 4 or more years of experience in cover crops saw a mean increase of 2.84 bushels.

♦ Median seed costs, with data “tails” removed, were $25 per acre. As with the seeding/establishment costs, regional data breakdowns of seed costs showed a wide range by geography, from a median seed cost of $25 per acre in the Midwest to a median of $40 per acre in the West.

♦ 88 percent of respondents who answered a question about barriers to adoption said that cover crop adoption is always limited or somewhat limited by the cost of cover crops; 81 percent said that cover crop adoption is always limited or somewhat limited by a perception that they are tough to terminate; and 72 percent said that adoption is always limited or somewhat limited by a perception that cover crops reduce yields in the following cash crops. Other barriers include a lack of access to planting equipment and lack of information about the practice.

♦ The top three challenges identified by cover crop users were time and labor required, establishing the crops, and seed cost. Time and labor was also the leading barrier to cover crop adoption among non-users.

♦ Of 419 respondents who answered a question about whether they managed their farm to provide forage for honeybees, 70 percent said they either planted bee-attractive plants to provide forage or managed their cover crops to provide forage for pollinators.

♦ In the three years preceding the survey year of 2013, cover crop acreage had increased by an average of about 30 percent per year among surveyed cover crop users. When farmers were asked to project their 2014 acreage, they forecast adding about 10 percent more acres of cover crops.

The increasing popularity of cover crops points to the great work that SARE has been doing for many years to assess, demonstrate, and publicize the benefits of cover cropping. We look forward to working with USDA and partner organizations to build upon the survey’s findings and promote the widespread adoption of cover crops.

Milford Nature Center to host holiday open house!

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Visitors can view displays, enjoy special treats, and shop for nature-themed gift items

 

The staff at the Milford Nature Center, 3415 Hatchery Dr., Junction City, invite you and your family to a holiday open house Sunday, Nov. 30 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can tour the nature center, enjoy refreshments, and register to win a birdfeeder. At 2 p.m., GearyCounty extension agent Chuck Otte will give a presentation on “Feeding Birds in Winter.” A special craft project will also be available for children to complete at the nature center. Admission is free.

Visitors can even finish their trip with some holiday shopping as the nature center will have great holiday gift and stocking stuff items available for purchase, including honey from the nature center’s bee hive.

Even if you can’t make the holiday open house, a visit to the MilfordNatureCenter is a great idea. The nature center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The center is closed on weekends from October to March.

For more information on this event and the MilfordNatureCenter, call (785) 238-5323.

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Landowner permission required to hunt private land.

Hunters must get permission to hunt private land whether it’s posted or not

 

Kansas is 97 percent privately owned, so most hunting occurs on private land. While there are more than 1.5 million acres of public hunting lands, including Walk-In Hunting Access, that represents only 2.5 percent of the land in Kansas. Landowners still provide access for most of our hunting opportunities. Kansas law requires all hunters to have landowner permission before hunting on private land whether the land is posted with “No Hunting” signs or not. If the land is posted with “Hunting With Written Permission Only” signs or marked with purple paint, hunters must have written permission from the landowner.

To avoid serious penalties and potentially harming landowner-hunter relations, giving all hunters a bad name, hunters should keep the following in mind:

Get landowner permission before accessing any private land for any reason. A convenient landowner permission card is available for download at www.ksoutdoors.com/Services/Law-Enforcement that hunters may use to document permission to hunt on private land.

Hunting from roads or railways without permission is a form of trespassing called criminal hunting; since the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) is one of 44 states in the Wildlife Violator Compact, conviction of trespass or criminal hunting may prevent the convicted person from enjoying hunting privileges in other states, as well.

Conviction of simple criminal hunting can result in a maximum fine of $500, plus court costs, and one month in jail on the first conviction. Additionally, the court can suspend or revoke license privileges for up to a year. A second conviction requires at least a one-year suspension of privileges in addition to any fines or jail time.

If you witness trespassing or illegal hunting, please call the Operation Game Thief toll-free hotline at 1-877-426-3843.

Dec. 3 marks opening day of firearm deer season

Hunters may pursue deer with firearms through Dec. 14, 2014

 

As November comes to a close, it can only mean one thing - it’s time to break out your blaze orange clothing and sight-in your rifle because the Kansas firearm deer season is almost upon us. From Dec. 3-14, hunters may pursue deer with any legal equipment, including any centerfire rifle and handgun; any gauge shotgun using slugs; and a muzzleloading rifle, musket, or pistol .40 caliber or larger and archery equipment.

All permits are valid during the firearm season; however, unit, species, antlerless and equipment restrictions listed on the permit are in effect. In addition to their deer permit, all hunters, unless exempt by law, must also have a Kansas hunting license. Hunters with archery permits must use archery equipment and hunters with muzzleloader permits must use muzzleloaders or archery equipment.

During the firearm season, all hunters must wear hunter orange clothing consisting of an orange hat and an orange vest that shows 100 square inches from the front and 100 square inches from the back. Camouflage orange clothing is legal if the number of square inches of orange is visible.

If you are a resident hunter and have yet to purchase a permit, you may do so wherever licenses are sold and online. Hunters must possess a permit that allows the harvest of a buck before they are eligible to purchase antlerless permits. Permits are now valid the same day of purchase.

Hunters should remember that all deer must be tagged before moving the carcass from the kill site. Certain permits, such as an antlerless whitetail permit, require that the head remain attached to the carcass during transport for sex identification, unless the hunter electronically registers the deer through the internet using photos taken at the harvest sight. Electronic registration is not required unless you want to bone out the carcass in the field and transport it without evidence of antlerless status attached.

For more information on current regulations and electronic registration, consult the 2014 Kansas Hunting and Furharvesting Regulations Summary, or visit www.ksoutdoors.com and click “Hunting/Big Game Information/Deer.”

 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron by Ted Beringer

Great Blue Heron by Ted Beringer

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Photo Credit: Ted Beringer

The Great Blue heron has a white face sporting a black eyebrow that extends back to two black plumes extending from the rear of its head.

The neck has black and white streaking down the front but is otherwise reddish gray. Mature or breeding birds have a dramatic plumage variety. The feathers on the lower part of the front neck form a long plume like a vest; it also has plumes on the lower back at the start of the breeding season. Immature birds have dull color, and lack plumes. The bill is dull yellowish, becoming orange briefly at the start of the breeding season, The lower gray legs become more orange during the breeding season. Whether hunting or resting on one leg, the Great Blue heron is a stately bird. When hunting it may stand motionless in shallow water, scanning for small fish. They also stalk with a precise, deliberate stride as they search for prey. This belies their agile ability to act rapidly with a thrust of their beak into the water, sometimes launching their entire body briefly into the air to follow prey with elaborate wing motions.

Diet: The primary food for the great blue heron is small fish, though it opportunistically consumes shrimp, crabs, aquatic insects, other small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, even turtles.

Its call is a surprising hoarse squawk that is often issued when disturbed while hunting. As it flies away appreciate the elegant six foot wingspan, its effortless, long slow wing beats, its long legs trailing behind. As it flies away, notice its head positioned to keep an eye on you.

The great blue heron adapts to a wide variety of wetlands, both fresh water and saltwater, marshes or swamps. They usually nest in trees near the water habitat where they feed. They are communal nesters that may establish a rookery of several nests with other herons to more than a hundred nests. Their nests, sometime 4 feet wide, are built of sticks. They abandon their eggs and chicks if nearby human activity becomes disruptive. Predators of eggs and nestlings include turkey vultures, ravens and crows, red-tailed hawks, black bears and raccoons. Great Blue herons will winter in the US east of the Rockies wherever there is unfrozen water with fish. Some migrate into Mexico and Central America in the winter. However in summer, it may migrate further north into Canada.

USA Today’s Readers’ Choice 10 Best Birdwatching locations

Describing it as an intense battle, USA Today wrapped up voting on November 10, and announced the long-awaited Readers’ Choice 10 Best Birdwatching locations.

See the results at: http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-birdwatching/

With diversity, natural beauty, conservation importance and convenience used as selection criteria, it is not surprising that four of the locations making the top 10 list are in the Service’s Southwest Region.

These locations include Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in New Mexico, Aransas NWR and the LowerRio GrandeValley in Texas, and Southeastern Arizona.

Birdwatching is becoming more popular around the world, with birdwatchers claiming that — while intellectually stimulating — it is also an effective stress-reliever. The best part is there is no learning curve. People of all physical abilities and ages can enjoy birdwatching.

Additionally, this nature tourism is an increasingly important source of economic growth to local communities.

The benefits don’t stop there. By spending some time studying behavior, migration patterns, and avian abundance, birdwatchers can take on the role of a scientist and help track changes to habitats.

This can make a significant contribution to protecting and preserving our natural environment. So unplug and get outside to visit your favorite National Wildlife Refuge and enjoy some stress-reducing birdwatching while helping the environment.