AMIGO - the FAMI Newsletter September 2020
There is a lot going on at your favorite National Wildlife Refuge, and this newsletter brings you news of exciting things to come, and an update from FAMI
As of April, the Aransas NWR Visitor Contact Station has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Refuge is open for visitors, and the entry fee has been waived. All public areas are accessible, but restroom facilities are porta-potties, near the Visitor Contact Station, the Fishing Pier and at the base of the Tower. 

The exciting news of the summer is that groundwork has started for the new Visitor Center (see recent photo below), to replace the old building that sustained hurricane damage in August 2017. The road to the old parking area has been blocked off, with a temporary road made to the restrooms across from the Visitor Contact Station. 

The road to the parking area will continue behind the new building and rejoin the main refuge road a short distance beyond the Alligator Viewing Area. There are plans for more trails around the new center, including a path from the building down to the existing platform for viewing alligators in Tomas Slough.

Expect to see some changes when you next visit the Refuge!

News from the Refuge
New Facilities:
Design is nearly complete.  Construction is underway for foundations, parking lots, roads, and maintenance yard paving. The foundation work includes plumbing and conduit work of underground utilities into buildings. Design work has started for exhibits and landscaping. 
        
Facilities on Matagorda Island - A scope of work was completed for Matagorda Island facilities that includes a new maintenance shop/bunkhouse, wellhouse/generator building, fuel station, chemical building, general storage, boat dock vehicle garage, repair of boat house, and repair of bulkhead (north and south end docks).  Archaeological clearance is complete. A request for additional funds has been submitted for this project so solicitation for design and build contract would follow once funds are available.

Shoreline Protection Project - Being completed through a cooperative agreement with Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program (CBBEP). This project will help protect 4 miles of Aransas NWR shoreline, including Dagger Point. CBBEP hired Anchor QEA in 2019 to engineer and design this project. Anchor is responsible for securing permitting and other environmental requirements of this project. Seagrass bed and oyster bed surveys were completed this past spring to help determine the best placement for the breakwater structures designed to protect our shoreline.

Matagorda Island levees and water control structures - Also part of the cooperative agreement with CBBEP who has hired HDR for this project.   HDR has done an overall assessment of the inner levee in West Marsh area of Matagorda Island, but funding available will only cover a portion of what is needed to restore the damaged levees and water control structures. They plan to begin construction in April of 2021.

Dredging of Air Force Channel leading to Matagorda Island - The USFWS currently has a contract (same contract that cleaned up the storm surge debris) in place to have the barge channel to Matagorda Island dredged. The contractor for this project is awaiting US Army Corp of Engineer permit for this project. This project is very important to our operations on Matagorda Island including new facilities construction, levee restoration, and habitat management activities.

Myrtle Foester Whitmire levee and water control structure repair - The USFWS has a cooperative agreement with Ducks Unlimited for this project for the repair of levees and canals and replacement of water control structures (approximately 18 miles of levees and 11 miles of canals). DU has a deadline of August 28 for bids to be submitted for this project and will most likely have a selection made by next week. Construction on this project would probably commence in early October.

Habitat Management Activities :

Refuge staff have mowed and disced moist soil units at Myrtle Foester Whitmire (Units 6, 6A, and 2) to prepare them for wintering waterfowl. Areas with dense stands of cattail were also treated with herbicides.

ACE interns were hired in June to assist with invasive species treatment (includes native nuisance species) on the refuge. They will be working on the refuge through mid November. Species treated include Chinese Tallow, saltcedar, cattail, Phragmites, mesquite, and huisache. 

Approximately 360 acres on the Tatton Unit infested with mesquite were treated using herbicides. This project was accomplished through a cooperative agreement between the USFWS and CBBEP to benefit coastal prairie habitat.
 
Fire management staff have been prepping fire management units for summer burn units to benefit whooping cranes. Unfortunately we are currently in a fire preparedness level 5 (PL5) nationwide because of wildfire activities in the western states and our current COVID-19 situation so we will most likely not be able to accomplish these burns until conditions improve and contingency resources are available.

Visitor Services/Volunteer Activities:

Spending lots of time working with contractors on building design, now moving on to the beginning stages of exhibit design.

Trail work being done on Heron Flats. First phase is adding substrate to raise trail in wet spots. Next phase is placement of posts for bridge across slough, with final phase of building bridge hopefully complete this winter.

Refuge hunts moving forward with slight modifications. We will not have check station and cooler available this year due to construction, so hunters will access refuge via Refuge Back Gate Road.

Received kickstarter grant for new entrance and orientation signage from Headquarters. New branding effort underway to make the FWS more relevant and recognizable to all audiences.

Thanks to Visitor Services Manager Laura Bonneau for these updates!

FAMI NEWS: Nature Store

The FAMI Nature Store had been doing great business, with lots of customers during the Whooping Crane Festival in Port Aransas, and also the many visitors to the refuge last winter. But COVID-19 and suspension of volunteer activities at the refuge put an end to that! 

At this time of year, we would usually be getting ready for the HummerBird Celebration in Rockport, but this year’s events will be virtual. Thus, no vendor show for the FAMI Nature Store and Outreach table. We are sorry to miss meeting current members, recruiting new friends and telling visitors about the great things to see at the refuge. Use this link to find information about the virtual HummerBird Celebration.

In these strange and unprecedented times one thing is for sure – the hummingbirds (and other birds) will be migrating through the Texas mid-coast soon, so stock up on sugar and get those feeders ready.

We have some new inventory ready for when the Nature Store can re-open, including greeting cards with an original illustration by FAMI member and Refuge volunteer Rebecca Stapleton. 

Pollinator Garden

The FAMI pollinator garden at the Refuge is currently off-limits to volunteers and visitors as it is immediately adjacent to the worksite for the new building. So, there are no workdays scheduled, and when last seen the garden was getting happily overgrown with native plants, both welcome and unwelcome (sticker burrs!).

As soon as we get approval to start work in the garden again, calls for assistance will be sent out. Board member Linda Frank has a copy of the original plans for the garden and will use these to guide the restoration of the garden.

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp - aka Duck Stamp

The Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, more commonly known as the Duck Stamp Act, was signed by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1934. Under this act, all waterfowl hunters aged 16 or older, must buy and carry a current stamp. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar from duck stamps (currently sold for $25) goes into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to purchase or lease wetlands and wildlife habitat for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The program has been called one of the most successful conservation programs ever established. Since 1934, over 1 billion dollars has gone into the fund to protect more than 6 million acres of habitat. And some of those dollars were used to purchase the land now protected by the Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Not just for hunters, the purchase of a federal duck stamp is a great way to invest in conservation, as the many acres of conserved habitat benefit numerous species in addition to waterfowl. A duck stamp is also an annual pass to refuges that charge entrance fees.

The 2020-2021 stamp was released in June and is available for purchase at this website.


Thank you for your support!


We do not list individual donors without permission, but we greatly appreciate everything we receive. You can contribute to our general fund or specify that you want your donation to go to a special purpose (link to donation page on FAMI website).
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We love our volunteers, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteer activities on the Refuge are suspended.

Technical assistance with the website and newsletter is welcomed, and please send any news, photos and articles of interest to FAMI members for future newsletters to the Newsletter Editor

Thank you!