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

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.

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