Zoo Montana Foster Refuge Entrance.jpgOn Wednesday, July 19th, 2023, Ducks Unlimited, Phillips 66, and a host of other partners, sponsors, supporters, and donors assembled at Billings' ZooMontana for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the $1.5M Foster Waterfowl Refuge—one of the largest projects in the zoo's history, and the first of its kind in the Big Sky State.
Thanks to the help of DU personnel like Montana's Manager of Conservation Programs Abby Rokosch and Kaylan Kemink, DU's Great Plains Region's Director of Conservation Science and Planning, visitors now have an up-close and personal view of various waterfowl species making a pit-stop on their migration routes.
There are several educational kiosks throughout the display that highlight facts about the types of birds that possibly visit the refuge, how other wildlife species benefit from wetlands, and how visitors can pledge to do more to help conserve and protect the landscape's resources. There’s also a raised observation deck, underwater viewing windows, and boardwalks to help visitors get up close and personal with the wetlands.
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"This project has been something that I've been thinking of since I started at the zoo 12 years ago," said Zoo Montana director Jeff Ewelt. "It's the largest project the zoo has taken on in the current administration. To see what this landscape has transformed into today has been an absolutely amazing experience. I want to thank everyone that worked and supported the project for believing that we could make this happen."
The refuge design intends to host migrating waterfowl as they move through the urban area, exposing zoo visitors to DU's conservation work across the continent. At the end of the tour, visitors are asked to fill out a postcard with a pledge to support conservation within six months of their visit. People who take the pledge will be challenged to help clean up a local wetland, join a wetland conservation organization, or buy a federal duck stamp.
"With more than 100,000 guests visiting ZooMontana annually, this is a great opportunity to illustrate the value of wetlands to a broad and diverse audience," said Kemink. "We have designed a research project that will help us learn if a call to action will increase positive environmental behaviors when coupled with a visit to the zoo’s exhibit."