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Friends group secures national honor

Recently the Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District received the prestigious "Take Pride in America National Volunteer Award for a Non-Profit Organization." Some of the group's members are pictured with the award.

The Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District is the recipient of the Department of Interior's "National Take Pride in America Award" for the Non-profit Organization Category.

Take Pride in America is a national partnership program authorized by Congress to promote the appreciation and stewardship of public lands, including parks, refuges, forests, historic sites and schools. The local friends group was one of five volunteer conservation partnerships that received an award in 2012. A panel of judges selected the recipients from hundreds of qualified nominations from across the country.

"These recipients represent the best of everything their awards signify -- the patriotic volunteer spirit that helps conserve America's national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and other public lands" said Assistant Secretary of Interior Rhea Suh.

As an organization that is only two years old, the friends group is already playing a crucial role in helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the St. Croix Wetland Management District to connect with the local community in western Wisconsin.

The friends are active partners in many events, educational programs and community outreach efforts. Notable among these are the Conservation Day on the WPA event, Friends and Neighbors Night Out, prairie plug program, ducks on a stick traveling exhibit, waterfowl pair counts, winter ecology walk and support for habitat restoration.

According to St. Croix Wetland Management District Manager Tom Kerr, "Many of these events would not be possible without the tremendous support from the friends group."

The purpose of these events is to engage the community in the stewardship of their public lands. As an example, at the Conservation Day on the WPA event, more than 450 scouts, parents and community volunteers removed seven acres of buckthorn and invasive species from the Oak Ridge Waterfowl Production Area. Removal of these invasive plants ties in with the district's mission to restore the prairie, wetlands and oak savanna historically found in this area. Events such as Conservation Day on the WPA help improve breeding habitat for many species of waterfowl and grassland nesting birds, but more importantly it provides an opportunity for local community members to experience their public lands.

Friend's member Warren Irle reflected on his involvement with the friends group.

"Living next to federal lands for 35 years, I have seen the opportunities they offer to people with various outdoor interests, which makes it easy to promote the values of these lands through the friends group," he said. "Our involvement with local schools, scouts, outdoor clubs and neighbors has exposed these wonderful lands for even more people to enjoy. The Take Pride in America award is an honor to receive; one needs only stand on one of these federal grasslands and watch a bobolink that flew from South America to nest to see their importance."

The Friends Group was presented the award at the Conservation Day on a WPA event on Oct. 6.

"The friends group is honored to receive such a prestigious award. It is very rewarding to be involved in a group that has accomplished so much in such a short period of time," said friends board member Mike Reiter, "Members can look back on past accomplishments while setting goals for the future. Having fun while making a difference is what the friends group is all about."

If you would like to find out more about the Friends Group, visit their website at For more information on the St. Croix Wetland Management District, visit