Harrison’s report on the Songscape: Forsythe NWR kick off with Ben Sollee
Today, 113 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt established the first National Wildlife Refuge at Pelican Island. Back in 1903, pelicans, herons, egrets and other birds were in danger of extinction as market hunters killed them in great numbers to supply the feather industry for women's fashionable hats. T.R. created Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge to protect these birds, and it was the first time the federal government had set aside land specifically for wildlife.
Today there are over 560 National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs), all working to protect the biological integrity and environmental health of wildlife, fish, and plants of the habitats they encompass. NWRs protect over 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 1,000 species of fish. While National Wildlife Refuges are less well known than the National Parks and National Forests, they have a key role in protecting our biological diversity and natural resources.
Sustain is honored to announce that we have partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to host a Songscape at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. Sustain is also honored to announce that River Whyless, an innovative folk band from Asheville, N.C., will be participating in this Songscape.
River Whyless is a great match for the Songscape program. Sustain's co-founder, Betsy Mortensen, was drawn to their music because of the detailed and intimate way their songs cover the natural world. As a wildlife biologist, she appreciated the way the band spoke about nature in a way that was beyond cliché or false romanticism. Not only are they great at writing lyrics, their music is superb, and well received by the likes of NPR and Paste Magazine. Their latest release, River Whyless, came out last summer. "River Whyless puts a hauntingly sweet spin on traditional foundations. Their newest EP is full of lush harmonies, wide sweeping arrangements that are driven by dark percussion, putting them in a category similar to contemporaries Fleet Foxes and Stornaway." Sustain is very excited to work with River Whyless and to see how Seedskadee NWR inspires their Songscape songwriting.
Seedskadee NWR certainly has plenty to offer for inspiration. It's located in the remote southwest corner of Wyoming, with the Green River running through its heart. It's a great example of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, which has been under duress elsewhere due to natural gas development and poor grazing practices. One of the key species at the NWR, the Greater Sage Grouse, just narrowly missed being listed as an Endangered Species last autumn. If you're lucky, you can still see the chicken-like big bird at Seedskadee. In fact, Seedskadee takes its name from the Shoshone word sisk-a-dee-agie, which means River of the Prairie Hen. Besides Sage Grouse, Seedskadee is full of Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and owls and ducks of all sorts. Moose, Pronghorn Antelope, Bobcats, and even River Otters can be found at Seedskadee too. Tom Koerner, Project Leader for Seedskadee and Cokeville Meadows NWR, not only runs things at the NWR, but also takes incredible photos of the wildlife and landscapes at Seedskadee. Check out his photography here.
Last summer, Sustain's Co-Founders and board member, Nicole Reese, had the fortune of visiting Seedskadee NWR. It. Is. Beautiful. Tom took us out to see Sage Grouse feeding on sage at dusk, while Great Horned Owls flew alongside us, and Sandhill Cranes cackled from out in the marshes. He also showed us where the Mormon Trail ran a ferry across the Green River, and where the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail pioneers are still carved into the land. The sky is wide open and lends itself well to dramatic sunrises and sunsets, and dark nights full of stars. The sagebrush steppe ecosystem may not get the attention that forests or sculptural sandstone deserts attract, but it is a special landscape. We're excited to share Seedskadee NWR with River Whyless, and our audiences.