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John Heinz NWR Enhancements Earn Union Sportsmen’s Alliance 2019 Project of the Year Award

August 21, 2019 in Conservation News, General, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

 

Union volunteers’ efforts to enhance visitors’ experiences at the nation’s first Urban National Wildlife Refuge earned the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) 2019 Project of the Year Award.

Located just six miles from downtown Philadelphia, the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge conserves critical wildlife habitat of the Tinicum Tidal Marsh. With 35 million people living within a two-hour drive, the refuge also offers tremendous opportunities for connecting community residents with the outdoors.

John Heinz NWR welcomes 260,000 visitors annually with a wide variety of interpretive programs and recreational activities including fishing, kayaking, hunting and wildlife watching. It also serves as a living classroom, offering environmental education and outreach programs that touch the lives of 17,000 area youth each season.

Unfortunately, funding and staff shortages left a number of maintenance projects at this urban treasure undone. When USA Conservation Advisory Committee member Connie Parker learned that parts of the refuge infrastructure were in dire need of attention, she connected the USA with Department of the Interior (DOI) Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aurelia Skipwith. 

In turn, Skipwith was instrumental in connecting the USA with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, who administer the National Wildlife Refuge System, and getting the project started. Organized through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground (WBG) conservation program, these efforts have completed a series of improvements.

Union volunteers spent nearly 700 hours completing a series of projects to improve visitor experiences at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2018, union volunteers from four Philadelphia-area locals donated nearly 700 hours of skilled labor valued at more than $36,000 to make critical road repairs, install a new non-motorized boat launch and restore a popular wildlife observation tower. Machinery usage valued at $20,000 pushed the total project value over $56,000. With work continuing in 2019, the value of refuge enhancements that benefit local residents continues to climb.

Volunteers from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 14, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 21, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 542 and United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local 30 donated their time and varied trade skills to the project.

“Our engineers came in to stabilize and resurface the refuge’s wetland loop road while the construction and painting crews worked on the kayak/canoe launch and tower,” said John Stahl, volunteer project leader and apprenticeship training director for Insulators Local 14.

Volunteers scraped and repainted the double-deck observation tower, one of the refuge’s oldest and most-used features, and rebuilt its deteriorating access walkway. They also installed a support foundation for a new floating boat launch and constructed a hinged walkway that allows the platform to rise and fall with tidal fluctuations. 

Such improvements were godsends to refuge staff and will enhance the experience of all visitors. “What these volunteers did here really benefits the public by making sure we have safe and equal access for everyone who comes to visit,” said John Heinz Refuge Manager Lamar Gore. “If we didn’t have these skilled volunteers through the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, we would have to close some things down for longer periods of time. These guys help us keep things moving, which means people can continue to fully appreciate this space.”

“We’re very honored to support the National Wildlife Refuge System’s efforts to protect our precious natural areas for current and future generations of Americans to enjoy,” said USA Director of Conservation and Community Outreach Forrest Parker. “And we are proud of the many union volunteers and their selfless dedication to restoring these features that are so important to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Their accomplishments truly deserve the recognition the Project of the Year Award brings. 

“Every one of the people who donated their free time to work on this great project deserves credit,” Stahl said during the award presentation at the USA’s recent Fundraising Gala in Washington, D.C. “Because coming together as union brothers and sisters to support our communities is what it’s all about. And I think that’s what the presentation of this award really shows. I’m very proud to be part of a brotherhood that cares enough to give back.”

The DOI has also acknowledged the importance of such public-private partnerships. On September 29, 2018, the USA joined DOI officials at John Heinz NWR to celebrate the first Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day and kickoff of refuge-enhancement projects. A coalition of partners including Pure Fishing, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Plano Synergy supported the event.

Refuge improvements included the creation of a launching dock for kayaks and canoes.

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, National Wild Turkey Federation Join Forces For Conservation

June 26, 2018 in Conservation News, Press Release

NWTF

(L-R) USA Director of Conservation and Community Outreach Forrest Parker and NWTF VP of Conservation Ross Melinchuk signed the agreement pledging the organizations’ cooperation on conservation and the protection of North America’s outdoor heritage.

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding pledging cooperation on a variety of efforts benefiting conservation and the preservation of North America’s outdoor heritage.

Finalized June 26, 2018 at the 85th Annual Midwest Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Directors’ Meeting in Bismarck, North Dakota, the agreement outlines strategies to collaborate on campaigns targeting wildlife habitat protection and enhancement, public access, mentorship, outreach and education.

“This partnership is a perfect example of how two very different organizations can unite to influence the future of conservation while increasing mission delivery for both,” said Forrest Parker, USA director of conservation and community outreach.

“We are blessed with highly skilled union volunteers, who each year donate thousands of hours to conservation projects and outreach events across the nation,” he continued. “Our friends at NWTF are also doing amazing things in communities around the country. We are honored to help increase the impact of these efforts, while showcasing the dedication and unwavering commitment of the American union worker.”

The two groups are already joining forces in Michigan, where USA volunteers from the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) Ford Michigan Ramp Team are building NWTF Turkey Tract Kiosks for placement on game management areas around the state. The kiosks, created as part of the USA’s flagship conservation program—Work Boots on the Ground (WBG)—promote public access to quality turkey hunting, educate the public on the benefits of habitat management and conservation, and help build a connection between hunters and the local community.“

We are excited about formalizing our partnership with USA through this MOU and look forward to accomplishing great things together across the landscape via conservation delivery and in support of our hunting heritage,” said Brian Zielinski, senior director of conservation operations for NWTF’s Eastern Region.

Zielinski added, “This is a unique opportunity to combine resources as both organizations have a dedicated base of members and volunteers who are passionate about leaving a legacy and ensuring that both conservation and hunting traditions remain intact for future generations.”

The USA-NWTF alliance comes on the heels of similar agreements between the USA and other conservation partners including fishing industry powerhouse Pure Fishing and upland conservation champion Pheasants Forever. The USA also recently forged partnerships with industry leading product sales group Outtech and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting and restoring the nation’s aquatic resources by increasing participation in fishing and boating.

“We are excited to see where these partnerships lead,” said Parker. “Thanks to the dedication of our skilled union volunteers, the USA is uniquely positioned to be a ‘power’ partner for our allies. There is no doubt that a decade from now, these American union workers will be recognized as a driving force for conservation, who played a profound role in preserving our outdoor heritage.”