National refuge team explains changes planned for this year

Updated: Mar 4

MOUND CITY – Representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) met with the Linn County Commission on Monday, Jan. 31, to give them an update on work being done at the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge.

Craig Mallory, FWS regional supervisor from Emporia, introduced Kate Brenner as the new manager at the Marais des Cygnes wildlife refuge in Linn County. Brenner is taking the place of Patrick Martin, who retired after 12 years at the refuge.

Brenner has been at the refuge since last summer. Before that she worked at wildlife refuges in Washington State, Louisiana, West Virginia and, most recently, at a refuge near Buffalo, N.Y. She grew up in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Brenner updated the commissioners on new things going on at the refuge. She said there had been new changes with the staff. She has recently hired a visitor’s services specialist/park ranger, who is helping with education, interpretation and outreach to the public. The specialist is working in both the Kansas City area and around Linn County.

She said the specialist did a couple of programs at the libraries last year and is planning on moving forward with that and is hoping to get into the school systems a little more as well.

Brenner also said a new assistant manger, Dana Arnold, has been hired. Arnold, who is fresh out of college, will be helping out with some biological work on the refuge.

A timber harvest currently happening on the refuge, the manager said. A company is pulling some trees out the forest improve habitat. They are taking out some non-desirable tree species and opening up the habitat so the staff can improve that bottomland forest for which the refuge is known.

Other things we have going on are tree plantings that Martin had worked on 10 years ago. The trees that are doing well are really helping with the staff’s efforts to control sericea lespedeza.

Brenner said that in the next six months things that are going to happen at the refuge are new visitor services and facilities. She said that there was going to be a lot of new construction in the next couple of weeks, including a new parking lot, and a trail .

The trail will start at the headquarters building and takes the visitors through a grasslands area, a forest, and into a pond area. Visitors will get to see a variety of habitats.

She said that the trail was going to be concrete and meet Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) specifications. The staff will also work to control the presence of ticks, which are thick within the refuge, along the trail area.

This should bring a lot of visitors to the refuge and the county, said Brenner.

The refuge will also be getting an outdoor education pavilion, which will help the staff do some outdoor education and interpretation. That will include having some picnic tables out there with folks doing different programming, she said.

The refuge has an indoor exhibit area that has just a display case. A brand new exhibit will be installed there this fall, and that is going to be really cool, Brenner said.

The exhibit is going to explain to the public about the different habitats on the refuge. It’s going to be interactive and have some really cool learning experiences, she added. The centerpiece of it will be a model of a tree in the middle of the room with different species of animals on there for kids and adults to explore.

And the final thing happening that is visitor-related is that it happens to be the refuge’s 30th anniversary this year. She said the staff is hoping to have a special event to celebrate it on Oct. 15. It will be a day for folks around the area to learn about wildlife and habitat that we have out on the refuge, said Brenner.

She added that the refuge offers several opportunities for visitors to enjoy the refuge through environmental education, wildlife observation, interpretation, hunting, and fishing.

Commission Chair Jim Johnson asked how many acres were in the refuge. Brenner replied about 7,500 acres.

Commissioner Rick James was interested in how many people worked there and if there was an opportunity for local jobs, especially for high school students.

Brenner told the commission that four people plus a fire management officer and a law enforcement officer work there. She said the refuge does bring in seasonal fire staff and she is hoping to get some other seasonal workers this year.

She said that all of the job applications go through either USAJOBS, a federal jobs program, or American Conservation Experience, a contractor. Those are all internship opportunities.

Brenner said that they might hire a crew of young people to do invasive species work, and she is also looking at hiring an urban intern locally this year. She said the refuge would like to see if it can get school groups to come out and do some plantings around the new trail.

Mallory said that when they had jobs available, they would notify the high schools.

James encouraged Brenner to explain the whole purpose of the refuge and why it is needed.

She said the purpose was to conserve the bottomland hardwood forest that is at the refuge. It is very unique to Kansas. It is a sister habitat to the adjacent Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area managed by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Both the state and federal lands help create one very sound ecosystem.

Brenner said that the refuge hours were sunrise to sunset, but the office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, currently the office is closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information and for information on hunting and fishing, people can go to the website.

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