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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Union Sportsmen’s Alliance Join Forces to Increase Public Access for Outdoor Recreation

June 30, 2020 in Conservation News, Press Release

John Heinz at Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge earned the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance 2019 Project of the Year Award. Pictured accepting the award with USA members are Refuge Manager Lamar Gore, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith and Counselor to the Interior Secretary Margaret Everson. Credit: USFWS. (This photograph was taken in August 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Agreement will Help Restore and Support Recreational Opportunities on National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) have reaffirmed an existing relationship that promises to benefit hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts for generations to come. A recently signed agreement builds on past successes between the Service and the USA by creating new volunteer opportunities for skilled union trades workers to engage in infrastructure and access projects on national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries.

The agreement will facilitate volunteer public service opportunities for USA members that will support outdoor recreation, environmental and recreational education and other opportunities on Service-managed lands. It also aligns with the administration’s commitment to maintain and expand recreational access on America’s public lands. Union volunteers will bring on the ground expertise and practical help needed to deliver our promise of access to all Americans.

For the 80 percent of Americans who live in or near cities, Urban National Wildlife Refuges provide vital access to nature and outdoor recreation, boosting residents’ health and well-being. The USA’s volunteer work at urban national wildlife refuges benefits these communities and cities helping to increase public access while benefiting the surrounding habitat.

“President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt have made increasing access to public lands for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities a priority,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith. “We’re thrilled to team up with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, and greatly value the efforts of their members in bringing access to public lands by addressing infrastructure and access projects.”

“We are honored to strengthen our support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Its commitment to improved recreational access and opportunities for all Americans is inspiring,” said USA CEO and Executive Director Scott Vance. “We are also grateful to Service Director Aurelia Skipwith and her team of professionals for believing in our mission and our unique abilities to help keep these efforts moving through challenging and daunting times.”

“The agreement will allow the USA and its nearly 300,000 union members to further improve Americans’ ability to access and enjoy these public resources,” said USA Director of Conservation and Communications Forrest Parker. “This improved access will come through our member-led conservation projects as well as outreach events that encourage people to embrace their outdoor heritage.”

With federal investment in infrastructure maintenance at approximately one-quarter of the level seen in the private sector, the Service relies heavily on volunteers to complete projects and execute programs that maximize public access and opportunities.

The USA is poised to fulfill that need through its Work Boots on the Ground program, in which union members volunteer their time and trade skills to complete critical conservation, public access, education, youth outreach and adult mentorship projects in communities across the country.

The USA’s ability to unite highly skilled union trades workers who are eager and willing to donate their time and talents has already supported a string of success stories at Service-managed lands. These include:

–  Construction of a 500-foot elevated boardwalk at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Liberty, Texas, representing a donation of more than 900 volunteer hours valued at more than $30,000.

–  Restoration of a 150-foot fishing and wildlife viewing pier on Champion Lake at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge – representing a donation of 320 hours of labor worth nearly $15,000.

–  Restoration of access roads and a wildlife observation tower, as well as construction of a non-motorized boat launch on the Tinicum Tidal Marsh at John Heinz at Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia — accomplished by nearly 700 donated hours and heavy-equipment usage valued at more than $56,000.

–  Donated labor plus a $10,000 grant from the USA’s United Outdoors Conservation Fund to construct a 100-foot wheelchair accessible walkway and three fishing stations around a popular pond at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Erie in Ohio.

–  Volunteer coaching of novice hunters during a special mentored deer hunt at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, as well as the donation of hunting stands and other materials to enhance the experience of the mentored hunters.

Located just six miles from downtown Philadelphia, the John Heinz at Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge conserves critical wildlife habitat of the Tinicum Tidal Marsh. The refuge welcomes 300,000 visitors annually with a wide variety of interpretive and environmental educational programs and recreational activities including fishing, kayaking, archery, hunting and wildlife watching.

In 2018, union volunteers from four Philadelphia-area locals donated nearly 700 hours of skilled labor to make critical road repairs and restore a popular wildlife observation tower and rebuild the 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. The project earned the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance 2019 Project of the Year Award.

“The work of these skilled volunteers really benefits the public by making sure we have safe and equal access for everyone who comes to visit the refuge,” said Refuge Manager Lamar Gore. “The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance helps us keep things moving, which means people can continue to fully appreciate this urban wildlife space.”

“The USA has already been a valuable partner,” said biologist Laurie Lomas Gonzales at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge. “The work they do is monumental. It allows more access for the American public to get out and witness the natural beauty we have to offer. Our national treasures are out on display because of the initiatives put forth by the USA.”

There are 70 national fish hatcheries visited by more than one million people each year. Hatcheries offer opportunities for viewing the operations and learning about fish, as well as activities such as fishing, hunting, hiking, sightseeing, nature study, birdwatching and photography.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is an unparalleled network of 568 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. The Refuge System receives more than 59 million annual visits. National wildlife refuges provide vital habitat for thousands of species and access to world-class recreation, from fishing, hunting and paddling to nature watching, photography and environmental education.

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Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA): The USA is a union-dedicated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose members hunt, fish, shoot and volunteer their skills for conservation. The USA is uniting the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage. For more information, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Work Boots on the Ground (WBG): WBG is the USA’s flagship conservation program that brings together union members willing to volunteer their time and expertise to conservation projects that improve and enhance public access to the outdoors, conserve wildlife habitat, restore America’s parks and mentor youth in the outdoors. The USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program works closely with federal, state and local agencies and other conservation groups to provide manpower needed to complete critical projects that may otherwise go undone.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov, or connect with us through any of these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance Applauds Confirmation of USFWS Director Aurelia Skipwith

January 21, 2020 in Conservation News, Press Release

 

USA CEO and Executive Director Scott Vance with USFWS Director Aurelia Skipwith.

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) hails Aurelia Skipwith’s confirmation as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a victory for America’s wildlife, wild places and outdoor heritage.

Skipwith was nominated for the post in July 2019 and recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate with a bipartisan vote of 52-39.

Skipwith has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior since April 19, 2017. In that role, she helped ensure the protection and stewardship of lands and waters within the national park and wildlife refuge systems.

At the helm of the Fish and Wildlife Service, she will oversee a workforce of more than 8,500 personnel charged with working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

“Aurelia Skipwith’s confirmation is a win for everyone concerned with our nation’s natural resources and the ability of the American people to access and enjoy them for generations to come,” said USA CEO and Executive Director Scott Vance. “We have had the pleasure of working with her on a series of projects, and can wholeheartedly attest that her commitment to conservation, public access and cherished outdoor traditions such as hunting and fishing is second to none.”

Most recently, Skipwith assisted the USA with the completion of refuge-enhancement projects at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Located six miles from downtown Philadelphia and within a two-hour drive of 35 million people, the refuge offers tremendous opportunities for connecting community residents with the outdoors.

“When funding and staff shortages left a number of maintenance projects at this urban refuge undone, Aurelia was instrumental in connecting the USA with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and getting the projects started,” Vance explained.

Through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground (WBG) conservation program, labor 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, the value of refuge enhancements that benefit local residents continues to climb.

Additional recent USA projects with the Department of the Interior include fishing pier restorations at Jones Point Park, Ottawa NWR and Trinity River NWR, and mentored hunts at Blackwater NWR.

“We are honored to support the National Wildlife Refuge system and other facets of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Vance. “And we look forward to future project partnerships with the USFWS under Aurelia Skipwith’s leadership.”

“I am grateful to the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and its union volunteers for helping improve public access to these natural treasures and making sure they remain places for families to enjoy the outdoors,” said Director Skipwith. “Their efforts truly make a difference for residents of surrounding communities, and for all who care about our refuges and other public lands. I’m excited about the Fish and Wildlife Service working with the USA and collaborating on many more projects that benefit American conservation and the American people.”

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.

USA, Union Volunteers Complete John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge Improvements

January 3, 2019 in Articles, Conservation News, General, Press Release

The public will enjoy better access to the great outdoors at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge thanks to the completion of a series of refuge-enhancement projects supported by a coalition of partners including the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and local union workers.

Through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program (WBG), union volunteers with Insulators Local 14, Painters District Council 21 and Operating Engineers Local 542 donated 691 hours of skilled labor valued at more than $36,000 on a kayak launch dock, observation tower improvements and road repairs. Machinery usage valued at $20,000 pushed the total project value over $56,000.

Located in Philadelphia, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is America’s first urban refuge. Given its accessibility and visibility to over 1.7 million people living within 10 miles of the refuge and more than 35 million Americans living within a two-hour drive, the refuge serves as a prominent ambassador of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Due to a shortage of staff and funding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of deferred maintenance projects stands at more than $1.3 billion, including necessary repairs to roads, trails, dams, docks and levees. Adequately supporting maintenance requirements to keep the Service’s infrastructure in good condition is necessary to ensure safe and reliable outdoor recreational access for the American public on their public lands.

Organizations like the USA, aided by union volunteers who donate their time, talents and funding raised at local conservation shoots and dinners, are working to reduce this backlog, restore America’s refuge system and improve public access to these national treasures.

“It is truly heartwarming to see how volunteers from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance have mobilized to help improve the visitor experience for everyone at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. I greatly appreciate their efforts, which are symbolic of how much the refuge is part of the local community,” said Margaret Everson, Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This exemplifies the kinds of public-private partnerships that are critical for conservation in the 21st century. I look forward to seeing more volunteers back at the refuge in the spring.”

Union volunteers donated more than $56,000 in time and machinery use to complete a series of improvement projects at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

On-site refuge staff were equally appreciative. “The team from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance was a great group of professional and joyful guys that obviously love their work,” said John Heinz refuge manager Lamar Gore. “I’d love to work with them in the future, as they allowed us to improve visitor access and experience to one of the most activated public lands in the refuge system.”

USA Director of Conservation and Community Outreach Forrest Parker said the John Heinz project, like similar efforts the USA has organized across the continent, was a labor of love.

“We are honored to support the national wildlife refuge system’s efforts to protect a network of lands and waters for conservation for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans,” said Parker. “And we are very proud of the many union volunteers who donate their time and skills to complete projects on refuges and elsewhere in their local communities that impact the future of conservation and our shared outdoor heritage.” 

Parker noted that earlier last fall, the USA and Department of the Interior (DOI) gathered at John Heinz NWR to celebrate Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day and commemorate the kick-off of the refuge-enhancement projects. The event recognized the importance of such efforts, along with the important role urban national wildlife refuges play in protecting wildlife habitat and providing outdoor recreational opportunities for all Americans.

A coalition of partners including fishing industry powerhouse Pure Fishing, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Plano Synergy supported the event.