Wildlife refuge volunteers win national honor
Officials praise work of Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
The critters that call the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge home might have had trouble going to sleep the night of Feb. 21 due to all the commotion at the Wildlife Center.
Dozens of visitors arrived after dark for a 7 p.m. ceremony in which the Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge group received the highest honor that can be bestowed by the National Wildlife Refuge Association: Out of all the Friends refuge groups nationwide, the Tualatin organization received the 2014 Friends Group of the Year Award.
"You are dedicated in the work you do " said Robyn Thorson, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Region 1 regional director. "You are irreplaceable and tireless advocates for the wildlife refuge and in your desire to share natural places with others Your dedication and your passion make the difference for fish, wildlife and people.
"You, dear friends, have accomplished so much and are being honored for one year's worth of work out of more than 20 years We thank you for your commitment."
Jim Kurth, chief of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Refuge System that encompasses more than 560 national wildlife refuges containing more than 150 million acres, flew out from Washington, D.C., to speak at the event.
"I want to thank you personally for your work," he said, adding that the federal government just had a "disgracefully rough year" in 2013 after Congress could not pass a budget due to a stalemate, and all non-essential federal government departments shut down.
"We had to shut down our refuges for 17 days," Kurth added. "I have never had that happen in my 30-plus years in the refuge system.
We're all in this conservation effort together. Conservation is like politics - it's all local."
He said of the Tualatin Friends group whose members contributed more than 17,000 hours of volunteer time in 2013, "This year, you folks have done it better than any other place in America."
Next up was Joan Patterson, who is currently the director of Grassroots Outreach for the National Wildlife Refuge Association in Washington, D.C., but who previously lived in Sherwood for 12 years and was involved with the refuge.
"Out of 230 Friends groups in the nation, every year we have the privilege of honoring only one," she said. "I didn't see the nomination forms until last week, but the groups that stood out advanced the cause of the refuge system and demonstrated outstanding achievements in all areas.
"This refuge would not exist without you - this was started by local support. This was a dairy farm, and local citizens got this started, and the Friends group came along. You've restored I don't know how many acres that include riparian forests, oak and pine meadows, and grasslands, and there has been an amazing return of wildlife
"You've given kids a great opportunity to jump in puddles and investigate poop and you think and act beyond the borders of the refuge - a bunch of you are just pit bulls about this, like making sure roads and rock quarries don't contaminate the refuge I am extremely proud to be a member of the Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge."
Both Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) sent notes of congratulation, which Patterson read.
Cheryl Turoczy Hart, president of the Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, praised the refuge staff, which nominated the group for the national award.
"We as a Friends group could not be successful without the wonderful staff," she said. "As Kim (Strassburg, visitor services manager) says, 'We play in each other's back yard.' Between the two groups of people, we accomplish a lot. We are working to get more members, get our current members more involved and get more funding."
The event also was the kick-off of an exhibition featuring prints from original glass photographic plates by William L. Finely and Herman Bohlman from a Washington County Museum collection curated for "Put a Bird on It: Nature Photography of William L. Finley 1876-1953."
The exhibit highlights Finley's role in the development of early wildlife refuges and his dedication to wildlife. The guests at the celebration were astounded by the sight of a camera as big as a suitcase on display that is similar to the one Finley carried to remote areas around Oregon.
The public is invited to tour the exhibit, which is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through August.
The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is located at 19255 S.W. Pacific Highway, Sherwood. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/tualatinriver or call 503-625-5944.