USA, Pure Fishing and Allies Rally to Benefit John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

From left: Joined by refuge mascots, USA Conservation and Community Outreach Director Forrest Parker; Jaclyn Rhoads, Friends of Heinz Refuge; DOI Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aurelia Skipwith; DOI Senior Deputy Director, Intergovernmental and External Affairs Ben Cassidy; and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge Manager Lamar Gore.

Representatives of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and Department of the Interior (DOI) gathered at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge outside Philadelphia Saturday, Sept. 29 to celebrate Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day and commemorate refuge-enhancement projects supported by a coalition of partners including the USA, fishing industry powerhouse Pure Fishing and local union workers.

The event recognized the importance of such projects, along with the important role urban national wildlife refuges play in protecting wildlife habitat and providing outdoor recreational opportunities for all Americans.

“By celebrating Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day, we highlight the outdoor opportunities available on the doorstep of many of the nation’s urban and suburban residents,” said Interior’s Deputy Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Jim Kurth. “Urban refuges are places for families to gather and enjoy the outdoors, and places to reach out to the next generation of anglers and hunters, while providing safe access.”

Unfortunately, due to a shortage of staff and funding, the US 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.

DOI Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aurelia Skipwith noted the importance of urban wildlife refuges for conservation and public use, and thanked refuge supporters for donating their time, talents and financial contributions.

Through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program (WBG), union volunteers with IAHFIAW Local 14, IUPAT DC 21 and Operating Engineers Local 542 have to date donated more than 200 hours of skilled labor valued at more than $7,100 on a kayak launch dock and observation tower improvements at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, with a variety of additional projects planned.

Donations from Pure Fishing, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Foundation, Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation pushed total conservation partner contributions to more than $21,000. The figure will grow as additional projects are completed.

USA Director of Conservation and Community Outreach Forrest Parker attended the event and presented a check to Jaclyn Rhoads of the Friends of Heinz Refuge on behalf of the partnership.

“We are honored to join forces with these partners in support of 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 extremely proud of the many union volunteers who donate their time and skills to complete projects on refuges and elsewhere in their local communities to help everyone enjoy the outdoors.”   

In honor of Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day, the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge hosted a series of outdoor recreation activities for the public including its first-ever 5K race, archery, fishing and kayaking. As part of the fishing component, Pure Fishing donated free fishing rods and reels for union volunteers to distribute to all youths in attendance. Plano Synergy provided game calls as an extra treat for the youngsters.

Attendees of all ages enjoyed the new floating kayak launch, installed by local union volunteers as part of ongoing USA-led conservation projects at the refuge.

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