WHOSE LAND ARE WE ON?

Story and Photos By Beth Marlin Lichter


Beth 1

Gibbons Creek Once Again Flows Into The Columbia River 


Everyone experiences nature differently. Some people like to sit on a park bench and watch children roll down a hill. Others like to jog in nature or ride a bike through it. Being outdoors in wild places is especially enjoyable  when you can safely bring your dog, so dog owners are always looking for trails they can share with their canine companions. One thing all these folks have in common is the sense of well-being, harmony and tranquility that pervades the psyche as the rush of human activity recedes and Mother Nature sweeps you into her unique environment. But before setting out for an adventure in a conserved area, it’s important to know whose land you’re on and what uses are permitted.


beth 2

Transition Signage from the Multi-use River Trail along the Columbia River, onto the Steigerwald NWR Mountain View Trail


beth 3


Juliette Fernandez is the Refuge Manager for Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Pierce National Wildlife Refuge. Her happy place is out on the trails, cell phone tucked away, immersed in the solitary pursuit of experiencing the surroundings. Employed by the U.S. Fish & WIldlife Service, she is responsible for assessing and reporting on the fine balance between Refuge habitat and human visitation/usage. I consulted with Juliette on a hot topic. Why are so many people unaware of, or not abiding by the restrictions regarding use on the reconstructed Steigerwald trail system?



Beth 4

In order to address this issue, Juliette provided me with critical information regarding the mission of National Wildlife Refuges and why they differ from other parks.

 

“We are the only system of Federal lands devoted specifically to wildlife. Refuges are a network of diverse and strategically located habitats across the nation. More than 567 Refuges serve as havens for hundreds of endangered species and native plants and animals. Each Refuge is established for a specific purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its land and waters.”

 

“The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

 

That means, wildlife first, and as I chat with Juliette I’m learning about compatibility. What is a compatible use of a National Wildlife Refuge?

 

“A compatible use is any proposed or existing wildlife-dependent recreational use or other use of a National Wildlife Refuge that, based on our sound professional judgement, will not materially interfere with or detract from fulfilling the mission of the Refuge System or the purposes of the Refuge.”

 

Steigerwald Lake, being an important waterfowl Refuge, has in place, restrictions to protect that population and all wildlife dependent upon its resources. For instance, imagine that you are walking your dog, even leashed, along the narrow Gibbons Creek Art Trail and she disturbs a nesting bird. That bird might flush and abandon her chicks. Your dog has then had a negative impact on Refuge wildlife. While your sweet Labrador Retriever pup is experiencing an extremely stimulating walk, bird calls alerting others to the presence of a predator, signal stress in the environmental community.


beth 5

Cinnamon Teal Duck at Redtail Lake/Steigerwald Lake NWR/June 2022.

Wildlife first. So, no dogs. Joggers and bicyclists are also prohibited from entering Steigerwald as they too cause disruption to wildlife. Although there is prominent signage at the trailhead in the parking lot, the last time I visited Steigerwald I saw dogs and bicyclists entering the Refuge.

 

I have a theory. Because the Mountain View Trail, which begins in the Refuge parking lot, is a levee, same width as the multi-use River Trail by the Columbia River, and because it seems like one trail is a continuation of the other, people assume they have similar restrictions. Dogs and joggers and bicyclists and horses are permitted on the River Trail. But that hypothesis does not explain why people who clearly see the signs, choose to ignore them.

 

According to Juliette Fernandez, all Refuges are closed to public uses until those uses have been evaluated and compatibility has been established. The reports she writes are shared with the Regional Chief of Refuges and determinations are made regarding existing and proposed allowances.

 

At Steigerwald appropriate uses include wildlife observation, photography, education and interpretive walks, with an emphasis on community outreach and inclusivity. 

 

The wildlife population at Steigerwald is obviously thriving and that is because we have gone to great lengths to protect and enhance habitat. Now we need to get the word out to the general public so everyone understands how important it is to honor the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

 

On Saturday, June 25th 2022, Jared Strawderman led a Let’s Go Birding Together walk at Steigerwald, welcoming the LGBTQ community to the Refuge. I was stationed with another Gorge Stewards Ambassador, Matt, at the observation point on the Mountain View Trail, where we were excited to show visitors close-up views of rarely seen wildlife through spotting scopes.



Beth 6

This American Bittern, usually well hidden amongst the reeds, popped up for us to observe. We are their protectors, committed to maintaining a safe environment conducive to the proliferation of life at Steigerwald.

 

We’re on their land.


Please take a moment to read our past newsletters: Newsletter Archive

WHOSE LAND ARE WE ON?

Story and Photos By Beth Marlin Lichter


Beth 1

Gibbons Creek Once Again Flows Into The Columbia River 


Everyone experiences nature differently. Some people like to sit on a park bench and watch children roll down a hill. Others like to jog in nature or ride a bike through it. Being outdoors in wild places is especially enjoyable  when you can safely bring your dog, so dog owners are always looking for trails they can share with their canine companions. One thing all these folks have in common is the sense of well-being, harmony and tranquility that pervades the psyche as the rush of human activity recedes and Mother Nature sweeps you into her unique environment. But before setting out for an adventure in a conserved area, it’s important to know whose land you’re on and what uses are permitted.


beth 2

Transition Signage from the Multi-use River Trail along the Columbia River, onto the Steigerwald NWR Mountain View Trail


beth 3


Juliette Fernandez is the Refuge Manager for Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Pierce National Wildlife Refuge. Her happy place is out on the trails, cell phone tucked away, immersed in the solitary pursuit of experiencing the surroundings. Employed by the U.S. Fish & WIldlife Service, she is responsible for assessing and reporting on the fine balance between Refuge habitat and human visitation/usage. I consulted with Juliette on a hot topic. Why are so many people unaware of, or not abiding by the restrictions regarding use on the reconstructed Steigerwald trail system?



Beth 4

In order to address this issue, Juliette provided me with critical information regarding the mission of National Wildlife Refuges and why they differ from other parks.

 

“We are the only system of Federal lands devoted specifically to wildlife. Refuges are a network of diverse and strategically located habitats across the nation. More than 567 Refuges serve as havens for hundreds of endangered species and native plants and animals. Each Refuge is established for a specific purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its land and waters.”

 

“The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

 

That means, wildlife first, and as I chat with Juliette I’m learning about compatibility. What is a compatible use of a National Wildlife Refuge?

 

“A compatible use is any proposed or existing wildlife-dependent recreational use or other use of a National Wildlife Refuge that, based on our sound professional judgement, will not materially interfere with or detract from fulfilling the mission of the Refuge System or the purposes of the Refuge.”

 

Steigerwald Lake, being an important waterfowl Refuge, has in place, restrictions to protect that population and all wildlife dependent upon its resources. For instance, imagine that you are walking your dog, even leashed, along the narrow Gibbons Creek Art Trail and she disturbs a nesting bird. That bird might flush and abandon her chicks. Your dog has then had a negative impact on Refuge wildlife. While your sweet Labrador Retriever pup is experiencing an extremely stimulating walk, bird calls alerting others to the presence of a predator, signal stress in the environmental community.


beth 5

Cinnamon Teal Duck at Redtail Lake/Steigerwald Lake NWR/June 2022.

Wildlife first. So, no dogs. Joggers and bicyclists are also prohibited from entering Steigerwald as they too cause disruption to wildlife. Although there is prominent signage at the trailhead in the parking lot, the last time I visited Steigerwald I saw dogs and bicyclists entering the Refuge.

 

I have a theory. Because the Mountain View Trail, which begins in the Refuge parking lot, is a levee, same width as the multi-use River Trail by the Columbia River, and because it seems like one trail is a continuation of the other, people assume they have similar restrictions. Dogs and joggers and bicyclists and horses are permitted on the River Trail. But that hypothesis does not explain why people who clearly see the signs, choose to ignore them.

 

According to Juliette Fernandez, all Refuges are closed to public uses until those uses have been evaluated and compatibility has been established. The reports she writes are shared with the Regional Chief of Refuges and determinations are made regarding existing and proposed allowances.

 

At Steigerwald appropriate uses include wildlife observation, photography, education and interpretive walks, with an emphasis on community outreach and inclusivity. 

 

The wildlife population at Steigerwald is obviously thriving and that is because we have gone to great lengths to protect and enhance habitat. Now we need to get the word out to the general public so everyone understands how important it is to honor the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

 

On Saturday, June 25th 2022, Jared Strawderman led a Let’s Go Birding Together walk at Steigerwald, welcoming the LGBTQ community to the Refuge. I was stationed with another Gorge Stewards Ambassador, Matt, at the observation point on the Mountain View Trail, where we were excited to show visitors close-up views of rarely seen wildlife through spotting scopes.



Beth 6


This American Bittern, usually well hidden amongst the reeds, popped up for us to observe. We are their protectors, committed to maintaining a safe environment conducive to the proliferation of life at Steigerwald.

 

We’re on their land.


Please take a moment to read our past newsletters: Newsletter Archive