Visitor Centers v. Natural Habitats at the Occoquan Bay Refuge

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is proposing to build a visitor center at the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (the former Harry Diamond Lab at the end of Dawson Beach Road in Woodbridge).

The Occoquan Refuge is 644 acres of wetlands, meadows and forests located at the confluence of the Occoquan River and Potomac River. With all that water, it’s tough to beat this site for wildlife watching.

As currently proposed, a visitor center building would cover a quarter-acre and a new parking lot would be needed for most sites that were considered. The Service preferred alternative – in the riparian forest along Marumsco Creek – would also require construction of a new road from the front gate.

The Service has produced a report that reviews their proposed building sites. All are located on the refuge, so wildlife habitat would be lost as part of all the options.

A standardized design is proposed for the building, which would require the land to fit the building instead of a building that is designed to fit the landscape, a cornerstone of “green” development initiatives.

Back in the 1990’s, Northern Virginia citizens and organizations fought a tough battle to protect this property as the Occoquan Bay Refuge (not the Library of Congress book storage site, not residential development, not more development of any kind).

The Occoquan Bay Refuge is a small, fragile site and this proposal offers considerable food for thought.

Do we really need another building? Is a new visitor center so important that the loss in wildlife habitat is acceptable? Or do we already have enough indoor programs and displays?  Should the Service seek an off-site location a visitor center? Are there opportunities to partner with others?

Protecting green open space and quality wildlife habitats is hugely harder than you’d ever imagine and it’s getting harder all the time. Certainly this is decision that should not be taken lightly.

What’s your view???

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12 comments so far

  1. Roger Diedrich on

    I was part of the effort to keep the library and development off this property and I did not do it to make room for new buildings and paved parking lots! We thought the old office building could have been refurbished for visitors a center with little further disturbance.

    If it can be shown that there is demand for a visitor’s center now, it should be placed outside the front gate, along with a minimal parking lot.

    We argured for Park Service jurisdiction because we thought they would be the best stewards of this special place, so I hope they have not been taken over by the latest Watt Proteges. Please keep the development out of the refuge.

    Roger Diedrich
    Fairfax

  2. Larry Underwood on

    There is so much false and misleading information being circulated about the proposed new visitor’s center at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge that I feel compelled to set the record straight.

    For example the article recently appearing on the Alliance’s website states that “The Service’s preferred location is in the deciduous woods along Marumsco Creek…”. This is patently false. The preferred site lies in grassland habitat, adjacent to BUT NOT IN the woodlands. You can easily verify this for yourself by reading the Environmental Assessment at http://www.foprr.org/documents/2008%20Potomac%20River%20NWR%20Complex%20Draft%20EA.pdf. Look at the map on page 9 and read the description on page 15. The wood lands will not be threatened by this project.

    The Alliance’s website article also implies the FWS rushed through some secret process to propose a site that nobody outside the Service wants. Again, this is false. Evaluation of sites at Occoquan Bay has been an ongoing process for three years, and involved local FWS staff, environmental experts and members of the public including members of the Friends Of Potomac River Refuges. Furthermore opportunities for public comment are required by law and are guaranteed within the existing plan. It is simply wrong to imply that the FWS rushed to select one particular site.

    The Marumsco Creek site emerged as a preferred site, because and only because, it offers the visiting public the highest and best environmental education experience. This site provides a commanding view of the property, and it alone can show visitors three major habitat types–grasslands, woodlands and wetlands.

    The viewscape of these diverse habitats is essential for Environmental Education and Interpretation. The purpose of a Visitor Center is to educate the public about wildlife and habitat. It is through such educational efforts that environmentalists secure public support, which is necessary, not only for the refuge system but for wildlife preservation in general.

    It is also false to say that construction of a Visitor’s Center at the Marumsco Creek site would result in the destruction of significant habitat. The total amount of grasslands habitat that would be modified (not destroyed) for roads, parking lots, and building site would be less than four acres. Under current FWS management, the total amount of grasslands at OB has increased by 12 acres because the Compound Area was allowed to revert to grasslands. The use of only four acres for a premier Environmental Education Site is a small and acceptable price to pay
    .
    Regarding habitat destruction, I have repeatedly asked the critics of this project to identify species of plants or animals that would be adversely affected by the proposed Visitor Center. To date, they have been unable to document any. As a Ph.D. biologist and professional environmentalist, I know that wildlife numbers will not be harmed by the proposed Visitor Center. Ecologically speaking, there are no species of plant or animal at OB anywhere near their carrying capacity. Existing species can make small adjustments to their home range boundaries and can easily adapt with no overall affect to their health or numbers.

    Again, let me stress: NO SPECIES OF PLANT OR ANIMAL WILL BE ADVERSELY AFFECTED BY THE CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION OF A VISITOR’S CENTER/ ADMINSTRAIVE FACILITY AT THE MARUMSCO CREEK SITE.

    One final point: The last four years have been challenging for the FWS, due to dwindling budgets, reduced staff and mounting responsibilities. In spite of these difficulties, the local FWS has done an admirable job maintaining our local refuges. They have earned our respect and deserve our support.

    Sincerely.
    Larry Underwood, PhD

  3. Charlie Grymes on

    Larry is certainly correct – no species will go extinct because a few acres will be converted to roads/parking lots/buildings at the refuge.

    It’s nice to be reassured that the visitor center will impact grasslands, but not require cutting down any of the trees in the woodland.

    I re-read the EA, and the description of Site 4 was not that specific to my eyes… but now I know. Years from now, if future FWS managers finally get the funding to build a visitor center, I hope they know too.

    Building or conserving a few acres at Occoquan Bay is not going to make or break the future of the natural environment in Northern Virginia. We all want visitors to experience the refuge.

    Despite my great respect for Larry’s wisdom and hard work for the refuge, I still disagree with the assumption that a visitor center on the refuge itself is the best use of the site (or of scarce FWS funding). Sorry, I just can’t go there…

    Already, 20,000 people/year are visiting the refuge, with just a minimal “contact center” there.

    The EA assumes visits to the refuge “would increase significantly with on-site facilities and provide increased educational opportunities.” The EA just assumes there is one answer – a new facility inside the boundary marked by Blue Goose signs.

    How many more visitors will be attracted by a visitor center? Unfortunately, there are no numbers in this analysis.

    The EA should have examined alternatives that would increase visitation, other than through construction of a new visitor center.

    No analysis is provided for enhancing visitation through other solutions – how many people could be attracted through an investment in public outreach, increasing on-site school programs, or operating a shuttle bus from the future Science Museum 1/2 mile away.

    By limiting the EA to “build it here vs. build it there” and not considering “could we get what we want without building it,” the EA is fundamentally flawed. It examined just the alternative locations for a building, not the alternative ways to increase visitation/educational opportunities.

    (My favorite alternative: take down the “Public Land – Keep Out” signs at Featherstone NWR and invite visitors to experience nature at that location. That could generate much more visitation and provide increased educational opportunities far quicker than waiting for $$$ for a new building.)

  4. commonsense on

    I find it very interesting that there is even any discussion regarding the viablity of the refuge. The purpose of the refuge is to provide santuary for the wildlife and natural habitat. How excacty, is dozing land and thus DESTROYING parts of the refuge for an unnecessary building accomplishing that end goal? Maybe someone needs to look up the term refuge, and more specifially, how it applies to wildlife. Is this about people having a dry building to hang out in or about providing a place where people can experience the refuge in its most natural and pristine form?

    “wildlife refuge, haven or sanctuary for animals; an area of land or of land and water set aside and maintained, usually by government or private organization, for the preservation and protection of one or more species of wildlife. ”

    http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/wildlife+refuge

    p.s. AWESOME blog!

  5. Renee Grebe on

    While commonsense’s concern for the wildlife and habitat of OBNWR is admirable, they’re oversimplifying things for the sake of argument.

    This Refuge is not just “a refuge.” I agree that it is a haven and a sanctuary for animals, but providing that protection comes with responsibilities and obligations. The Refuge wasn’t created and won’t be sustained by drawing an imaginary line around the protected area and declaring that the day’s work is done. Instead, outreach programs and environmental education initiatives in the Refuge introduce members of the community—some for the first time—to this very special place. If we want OBNWR to flourish, thrive and be able to protect its natural assets, it needs to create a rapport with the human community around it.

    I support the FWS in their selection of this on-site location for the Visitors’ Center and Administrative Headquarters. I do in fact believe that the loss in wildlife habitat is acceptable for the payoff – Environmental Education that will last generations. Do we already have enough indoor programs and displays? At Occoquan Bay NWR and the related refuges, the answer is simply no. The current facilities are not adequate to further grow this refuge’s presence in the ever-growing Northern Virginia community.

    Please remember, it wasn’t that long ago that OBNWR was technically not a refuge: it was a decommissioned military base that was slated for commercial and governmental development. Who’s to say that in five or ten years, were OBNWR to not take steps to increase its visitor count and instead became some forgotten “park” off of Route 1, that it might not be subjected to the another attempt at sub-division and development? We can’t claim that a visitor’s center would stop such a thing, but it would be a logical place to start.

    -Renee Grebe

    (As an answer to commonsense’s request for more information on the term “refuge”, and how it applies to Occoquan Bay NWR, and more specifically, how it applies to wildlife, The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 may lend some additional insight. It doesn’t seem to point to a refuge being solely a “sanctuary for the wildlife” as described by thefreedictionary.com:
    http://www.refugenet.org/new-pdf-files/NWRS%20Improvement%20Act.pdf

    The Improvement Act (via Sec. 2 FINDINGS) documents, among other things that “The Congress finds the following:” …
    (2) “The System was created to conserve fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats and this conservation mission has been facilitated by providing Americans opportunities to participate in compatible wildlife-dependent recreation, including fishing and hunting, on System lands and to better appreciate the value of and need for fish and wildlife conservation.”

    For definitions of both “wildlife-dependent recreation” and “wildlife dependent recreational use”, we can look to The Improvement Act (Sec. 5(2). DEFINITIONS): “The terms ‘wildlife-dependent recreation’ and ‘wildlife dependent recreational use’ mean a use of a refuge involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, or environmental education and interpretation.”)

  6. commonsense on

    Interesting, we need to replace wildlife habitat with a building so we can protect the refuge from development???? People need a building to develop a rapport with nature because there’s too many bugs outside or something???

    Why is it that everytime someone wants to build in an area that should be left alone.there’s some kind of threat involved? Usually it’s developers saying you better let us build or something really bad will happen here like another WalMart. Now it’s the FWS insinuating that you’d better let us build or we might not have any refuge at all?

    People love the refuge because it’s a great place to watch wildlife. Rene Grebe should read his own definition. There’s no mention of buildings. It’s all about wildlife observation, hunting, fishing, photography.

    Maybe the FWS will put a few Nintendo Wii’s inside their new building so people can go hunting and fishing and connect to nature without having to actually go outside.

  7. Annette Baker-Toole on

    I’d like to weigh in as president of the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, the Friends group for this and the other two refuges in this complex- Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck & Featherstone National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs). We are one of 220 Friends groups across the country for the 540 NWRs and are affiliates of the National Wildlife Refuge Association http://www.refugenet.org). Our mission is to promote conservation, awareness and appreciation of the wildlife and habitats of the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex and to provide assistance to refuge programs.
    The comprehensive conservation plan for the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge included a headquarters/office complex from the beginning 10 years ago. Circumstances have changed and after comparison and analysis of three other sites, through the environmental assessment, the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) preferred site is the “Marumsco Creek” site.
    I support this decision and agree with my fellow board member and our former president, Larry Underwood. I have complete confidence in his expertise and credibility. I agree with the Service preferred site because I believe it supports our mission of promoting conservation, awareness and appreciation of the wildlife and habitats of THIS refuge.
    Folks often refer to this land as a “preserve”, “park” or “sanctuary”. It is a “National Wildlife Refuge”, managed in the National Wildlife Refuge System by the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Department of the Interior. This is the reality, subjected to the dictates of the political climate, part of our federal beuracracy.
    Why encourage visitors, why a visitors center at all and why the Marumsco Creek site? As the Friends group we have a message to convey to the public about our national wildlife refuge system. How many folks (in the general public) know the importance of this system of public lands- its vastness, – nearly 100 million acres , their role in reestablishing nearly depleted wildlife such as the white tailed deer and turkey since their establishment in 1903, positioning along major migratory flyways (90-95% of these birds will use them during migration)? Is the public aware of the “big six” uses permitted on National Wildlife Refuge refuges: photography, wildlife viewing, interpretation, environmental education and for some refuges, fishing and hunting? Its challenges- budget shortfalls, staffing cuts (3 of 8 for this refuge complex- including one of the two maintenance staff and the biologist, along with an IT person) and encroachment “beyond the boundaries”. There are 20 volunteers for every 1 employee in the system and without them its future would be in jeopardy.
    The most important function of the National Wildlife Refuge System is that it is the largest system of public lands in the world dedicated to preservation of wildlife and habitat; wildlife first. This may seem counterintuitive when talking about advocating (as we’ve done for nearly four years now) for a visitor center ON the refuge since this would effect several acres of habitat. But if we want to conserve these places we need to invite the public to experience them- to value and protect them, to instill a conservation ethic in a new generation.
    Richard Louv, in Last Child in the Woods, says more and more people no longer consider the physical world worth watching. This book opened the eyes of the environmental community and led to an initiative that has spread across this nation, from “connecting kids to nature”, No Child Left Inside, to the Fish & Wildlife Services’ own initiative “Let’s Go Outside” (http://www.fws.gov/children ).
    Louv writes that for a whole generation of kids, direct experiences in fields and woods is being replaced by indirect learning through machines. Children and adults are beginning to see nature as our natural enemy, an unreasonable fear of what lurks within. And kids may be learning about the rain forest, but usually not about their own region’s forest.
    A visitor center can be the space where learning can begin, a transitional zone, interfacing between the familiarity and “comfort” of the indoors to the natural world, a place to escape from adverse weather if need be. A pleasurable experience will be memorable to these naturalist novices if they have a place to go to escape the elements during adverse weather or to use the bathroom. While my generation rejoiced in playing in the rain and jumping in puddles these products of “nature deficit disorder” need to be indoctrinated into the natural world. Visitors can venture out to explore the trails, learn about the multitude of habitats at the Marumsco Creek site and begin the process of renaturing .
    National Parks visitation dropped by 25% between 1987 and 2003. Louv believes this is due to the break between the young and nature. His fear is that if park and forest attendance stagnates as visitor age rises, what happens to the future political constituency for parks, forests (and national wildlife refuges)? This is happening at the exact moment when development and energy interests are rapidly ratcheting up their pressure on the natural environment.
    Environmentalists are aging and becoming endangered species with a shrinking gene pool of conservationists and other stewards. If we want to pass on this legacy we need to engage the next generation and their children to ensure a future of the stewardship ethic. I feel strongly that welcoming visitors (within the carrying capacity of this refuge), and promoting conservation, awareness and appreciation of the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and its wildlife and diverse habitats can be best accomplished WITH a visitor center ON the refuge at the Marumsco Creek site.
    In a perfect world with generations ready to carry the banner of environmentalism and conservation we can preserve every inch of our precious natural areas. But as a pragmatist I believe a small sacrifice in the form of 2-3 acres of habitat is worth the potential benefit for the future of our national wildlife refuges and specifically the future of the Potomac River Refuge complex to be preserved in perpetuity. I’m not sure what will happen- ultimately when or where a building may be built but visitors must come and we must nurture a new generation of conservationists.
    Annette Baker-Toole
    President
    Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, http://www.foprr.org

  8. Renee Grebe on

    To be clear, the FWS has not, to my knowledge, insinuated that “you’d better let us build or we might not have any refuge at all?” I was conjecturing – I believe that’s fairly clear from my original post.

    It’s true that, in the Improvement Act, there is no mention of buildings. My Improvement Act reference was in direct answer to “commonsense’s” original assertion that a refuge is a sanctuary for wildlife.

    However, as someone who volunteered in helping to coordinate environmental education and interpretation for OBNWR over the past couple of years, I know first hand that a visitor’s center, as an initial indoor location to gather and teach could be a key enhancement experience for children and adults alike who may not be as “one with nature” as the people posting to this blog.

  9. Larry Underwood on

    I’m writing in response to comments posted on this web site entitled “Visitor Center Proposal Would Destroy Valuable Habitat”. My purpose in doing so is not to attack or challenge those who made comments. Indeed, most are friends . Rather my purpose is to bring to public awareness a more balanced view of the impacts of, need for, and potential contribution of the proposed facility.

    Two underlying assumptions repeated throughout these comments is that the project would result in the destruction of valuable habitat which in turn would negatively impact resident wildlife. Neither assumption is factual. The total amount of land required for the project (roads, parking lot and building site) is less than three acres, that is less than 1/2 of one percent of the refuge’s 644 acres. Yes, but wouldn’t even this modest loss of habitat result in a commensurate loss in wildlife? No. Biological systems are not as linear as our critics imagine. Rather they are highly dynamic, with numerous built-in control mechanisms, well known to ecologists that adjust to and minimize the effects of changes in the environment. These can most easily illustrated by the regulation of body temperature. A five-degree drop in room temperature has no effect on body temperature because the body automatically and effortlessly adjusts. (A slight reduction in peripheral blood flow minimizes heat loss, for instance) Similar compensating mechanisms are seen at all levels of biological organization. Ecosystems, communities, populations and species can and do adjust to minor environmental perturbations. Such mechanisms add stability to the system. A slight re-adjustment in home-range size, for instance, is all that would be necessary for species to adjust to the presence of a new building at OB.

    Now, of course, there are limits. If the Visitor Center project were the first in a series of building projects planned for OB I would fear that that could happen and be against it. But such is not the case here. The Visitor Center is the only new building construction planned for the refuge.

    It is my understanding of these mechanisms and how they work and the scope of the planned project that leads me to conclude as I have in a previous blog entry: “NO SPECIES OF PLANT OR ANIMAL WILL BE ADVERSELY AFFECTED BY THE CONSTRUCTION AND OPERATION OF A VISITOR’S CENTER/ ADMINSTRAIVE FACILITY AT THE MARUMSCO CREEK SITE.”

    Another questionable assertion throughout the Comments is that “out door” environmental educational experiences are superior to and negate the need for “in door” activities. This assertion ignores several important factors: A) Most visitors to the refuge do not come for a scheduled event (hike, tour or lecture) nor do they read the signage. The is particularly true of first time visitors whose introduction to the refuge would be a visitor’s center most important function. These visitors will come to a visitor’s center. I was told at Ding Darling NWR (one of the most successful in the nation) that 80% of their visitors only visit their visitor’s center. I was told the same thing at Muir Woods National Monument in California. At a well-run visitor’s center visitors can receive a quality experience, learn a great deal about the area, its wildlife, challenges and opportunities and be encouraged to return and take part in out door activities. B) “in door” and “out door” activities are not competitive; they should be complementary. C) many “out door” events would benefit from a place to gather and start from. The existing pavilions and parking lot do not always serve that function and, for most groups the contact station is too small. For several years now I’ve taken college-level classes to OB for wildlife tours. On several occasions I’ve seen initially eager syudents completely turn off in less than half an hour because of a cold wind and rain. I doubt if any of these students will ever go to another wildlife refuge. D) Some important concepts cannot be presented by “out door” activities, but could be presented as exhibits in the visitors center. Let me discuss three possible examples:
    • A large one-way class window could look out on a series of bird feeders. Interactive displays would help visitors identify the birds and take home literature would encourage visitors to maintain their own feeders.
    • A relatively inexpensive camera could be mounted on any one of our resident osprey nests and allow visitors at the visitor’s center to watch the birds build their nest, incubate their eggs and raise their young. With proper permits and equipment, the birds could be equipped with satellite telemeters so that visitors could monitor where the birds go in all seasons when not at the nest site. The proposed visitor’s center may be close enough to nest on Mason Neck so that an Eagle Cam could be set up at a bald eagle nest. To see how this might work visit http://www.watch.birds.cornell.edu/nestcams/home/index.
    • A pole mounted in Turtle Pond, equipped with temperature and oxygen sensors could feed data to a visitor center display of a model pond. Visitors could see in real time the seasonal development of pond processes including thermoclines and pond turnover.

    Other comments allege that a number of grassland-related birds at OB have experienced population declines in recent years that would only be exacerbated by construction of a visitor’s center. They site as evidence the Northern Virginia Bird Survey conducted at OB for the last 20 years. For several years I have been a member of the survey team conducting these surveys and am proud of their contribution to our understanding of OB’s wildlife. They give us invaluable snapshots of the organisms present and active at the refuge at specific times and are updated 2 and 3 times a month. However, I question the veracity of using these survey’s data to identify and document population trends at the refuge. In doing so I am simply subjecting these studies to routine scientific scrutiny. Scientist question other scientists methods and results all the time; it is part of the process of science. If the authors of these surveys are to elevate their status from citizen science projects to science geared to influence public opinion and agency policies, they must be answerable to criticism. Here’s the problem: If we see two gadwalls this year in an area or at a time where we observed six last year, what does the difference in numbers mean? Has the population decreased? Or did we miss counting some this year? And given that we can’t count all of the population under any circumstance, is the difference between two and six really significant? Biologists have long understood that answering such questions is highly difficult and technical. It cannot be done without the extensive use of statistics. I am unaware of any statistics being applied to any of the Northern Virginia Bird Surveys. Without such, conclusions drawn about population trends are simply invalid.

    The surveys conducted at the OB have another problem. Several years ago, at about the time that the critical species reported in the comments were supposed to be experiencing their declines, the survey procedures were significantly changed. Before the change we surveyed only birds. Then we began to survey in addition to birds, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and flowering plants. Time spent keying out a little yellow flower in the East Meadow is time not spent surveying birds. We miss individuals and we may miss species. We cannot be certain that the apparent declines in red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks among others are not simply an artifact of changing survey protocols.

    Finally, there is the problem of observer bias. Even the most dedicated scientist must take care to eliminate, or at least minimize, the effects of personal bias. But when the assumption going in is that the management agency has done a poor job managing its resources it is not hard to find numbers to support the bias especially in raw, untreated data.

    Larry Underwood, PhD
    Manassas, VA

  10. Parker on

    Larry I am surprised that you make such a strong and categorical statement such as “no species of plant or animal will be affected..” It is not often one hears this kind of statement from a scientist. After all, who can really say that the individual plants and animals that assuredly will be affected are not important to their species. Every species is made up of individuals and there has been huge losses of habitat outside the Refuge. There might be a tipping point. Is it not conceivable a migratory bird could be killed by this small loss of habitat and that that individual carried some critical genetic information? Unlikely but not out of the range of possibility, I think.

    This area in the refuge was the first to be designated as a wildlife refuge, as Marumsco National Wildlife Refuge. Just a little down stream in a similar narrow strip of forest nest to the same marsh is the bird banding station. It appears the forested border of Marumsco creek/marsh have long been recognized as a place where there are migratory birds.

    The practice of protecting only areas were there are threatened or endangered species has proven to be a problematic way of managing wildlife. More and more there is a push to try and keep common species common instead of waiting until a species is threaten and then spend a lot to rescue it from the edge.

    The proposed visitors center site and road will at the least punch a hole in the wall of the forest and the wind that will get through there can be unpleasant to people, but wind can be deadly to birds. Aldo Leopold writes “The chickadee’s fear of windy places is easily deduced from his behavior. In winter he ventures away from the woods only on calm days, and the distances varies inversely to the breeze”

    In regard to in door education many of the things you mention, the cameras and remote monitoring could be view from peoples own homes or any where else like, for example, in a rec center in a next door park. It’s important to try and reach people that would not normally come to a wildlife refuge. We have a great opportunity to do that at this refuge. The main pavilion at veterans park can hold events for up to three hundred people and corporate events also in the adjacent field can have five hundred people. The nature trail overlooking the refuge to very very close to these places. Unfortunately there is nothing there to indicated that it is a refuge. Most of the signs with the blue goose have rusted and fallen off into the water. This makes me wonder.

    I am also conserned about continued building as building is a trend at this refuge. Since the FWS started managing this land there have been three pavillions added(the ones at the main parking and pond and at the bird banding station), four sheds, various ramps for ADA complicance, a new small parking lot, and a small bridge/culvert for cars and. The management focus is more on people and vehicles than it could be. During this same time the refuge has lost it’s biologist and I as an individual and as a part of Virginia Bluebird have had to pay money for privilige of monitoring nestboxes, a long standing wildlife managing technique.

    It’s is right for you to question the survey as that is what scientist’s do. However consider this some of the grassland species are quite conspicuous, the bobwhite, the meadowlark, and perhaps even the kestrel. Even if you are focused on a small follow you would likely still hear these types of birds.

  11. Larry Underwood on

    Kevin, I stand by my statement, even though it is “strong and categorical”, because of the scale of the project. A total of less than 3 acres of habitat will be involved for roads, parking lots and building site which is less than one half of one percent of OB’s total. Individual plants will be displaced; individual animals may be. But species as a whole will not be affected in any meaningful, measurable way.

    I fail to see how the “proposed visitor’s center and road will “at the least punch a hole in the wall of the forest” since it is to be build in grasslands adjacent to, but safely away from, the woodlands. Nor do I understand your points about wind and birds. As I write this, I’m watching my backyard feeders, which are fully exposed to a rather stout wind blowing through the yard today. A steady stream of chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, cardinals and downy woodpeckers are visiting the feeders and don’t seem to be affected by the wind at all.

    Incidentally, these so-called feeder birds represent a rather interesting opportunity for the proposed visitor’s center at OB. As you know, they are currently under-represented at the refuge, as they are at similar natural areas in our region. I suspect they have left our refuges, sanctuaries and parks and moved to the suburbs where feeders are plentiful. I also suspect that a feeder display at the proposed visitor’s center would lure these birds back to the refuge. Thus, it is possible that some species will actually benefit from a visitor’s center. Now, I realize this is somewhat speculative, but it seems at least as likely as the critic’s doom and gloom predictions of Dire Consequences.

    Your suggestion to link camera and remote sensing systems to web sites so that the public can view them from home is a good one, AS A FOLLW UP TO AN ACTUAL VISIT TO THE REFUGE. Remember that the purpose of a visitor’s center is two-fold: 1) to introduce the refuge to the general public and 2) to educate visitors. It is that first purpose that I’m most concerned about. The vast majority of our citizens are currently unaware of the refuge. Yet it is among this group that future support will be required. Our current efforts consisting of occasional tours and lectures, hiking trails and signage are simply not bringing new people to the refuge and building support among the citizenry. Look who currently turns out for these events: Typically they are already dedicated environmentalists and typically they are over fifty. If we don’t build support among today’s young families and youth now, who will support the refuge 30 years from now? I am encouraged by the number of young families and children who turned out the recent Fall Wildlife Festival sponsored by the Friend’s Group. What will bring them back? More tours and lectures? Most lack the time or inclination to attend. They need opportunities for quality experiences that they can do on their own time and at their own pace. Our hiking trails and signage are fine, but we need more varied opportunities. I believe that a well-designed and run visitor’s center with state-of-the-art exhibits and displays can provide just such a service. As interest grows so will the likelihood that visitors will return for a tour or lecture. This is what other, similar areas with visitor’s centers have experienced. We can too.

    This is not a new idea. At the time that the Harry Diamond Laboratory was transitioning into the Occoquan Bay Refuge the need for a strong environmental education program built around a state-of-the-art visitor’s center was generally recognized among the environmentalist community. Many of us testified at public meetings on the important role that a visitor’s center at the future refuge could provide. We originally envisioned converting one or more of the laboratory buildings for that purpose. The old buildings are no longer there. A new building is needed.

    I am frustrated and disappointed at those who seem to have forgotten and abandoned the original vision. Some seem more intent today on attacking the refuge’s management agency than representing the best interests of either the public or the refuge. Well, I have not forgotten and I will not abandon the vision. The need for a strong and sustainable environmental education program built around a state-of-the-art visitor’s center is still with us. I will continue to support it.

    Larry Underwood, PhD
    Manassas, VA

  12. Nicky Staunton on

    Lest you think silence means acceptance of location for a visitor center/adm. office building and all of your statements: It is not the visitor center that I oppose.

    It is the location choice within the fence on a section of the upland meadows at unique (for the OBNWR) woods edge overlooking Marumsco Marsh on an unspecific amount of land.

    The remnant hardwood forest next to Marumsco Marsh facing Veterans Park has sandy ravines: Oaks-Hickories, Serviceberry trees, mountain laurel, native azalea, a population of Trailing Arbutus and herbaceous plant communities and its own insect, bird and mammal communities. No rare species. But, a rare habitat/community on the refuge’s gradually-declining original 20-communities of plants. Heavy visitor trail use would be an impact. Taking chiggers home from those woods after visiting would guarantee an authentic nature-experience.

    Citing Dr. Douglas Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home,” development and herbicides are decreasing natural flora habitats for fauna species, removing supporting plant habitat to feed and shelter insects; then, birds, reptiles, mammals. You place little to no importance to losing 2-4-5-7 acres. I do.

    This would be one more under-valued portion of the OBNWR upland meadows to be removed from supporting wildlife by human impact.

    The off-site present Contact Station is on USFWS land, may not accommodate both Visitor Center and Adm. offices, but could house one of them adequately…the Visitor Center. It is closer to public transportation at VRE in Belmont, an issue re decreasing individual vehicular use due to costs of fuel.

    The Adm. Off. could be on the USFWS vastly larger holding of Mason Neck USFWS Refuge. You do have other options than imposing impervious sufaces and traffic on an upland meadow natural area of the OBNWR.

    Why don’t we all meet on site to learn the specifics we each are citing – some factual and some subjective. Or, is it too late?


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