Two words keep coming up as the nine Conserving the Future implementation teams plan for a new tomorrow: communications and partnerships.


We’re wildly successful and notably lacking in each. How’s that possible? How can we improve?


Consider the establishment of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in Florida this year. It conserves forest, wetland, grassland/shrub/savanna habitat and the area’s ranching and farming heritage on a landscape scale. The success came from a partnership among three federal agencies, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and at least two nonprofit organizations. All of us worked for years in partnership with one another and with a community of private landowners.


When we ultimately protect the entire 150,000 acres, two–thirds of the acreage will be held in conservation easements purchased from willing sellers. Everglades Headwaters Refuge is a sterling example of our new way of doing business, working with people who want to conserve a way of life as much as we want to conserve the wildlife values.


We have loads of partnerships, with state agencies, land conservation partners, private landowners and nonprofit organizations. But have we exported our expertise in partnerships to reach private enterprise? Not often enough.


Let’s consider communications. This year, Parade, the nation’s most widely read magazine with some 32 million in circulation, put National Wildlife Refuge Week right at the top of its “Parade Picks” page. The story wasn’t long, but it went with a great photo that we supplied. That’s success, and I could reel off others.


A few years ago, the Refuge System produced a television public service announcement that garnered more than $26 million in free airtime, returning about $2,000 for every $1 we spent on production. That’s success.


But then recently a National Public Radio station in Florida announced that it was National Wildlife Refuge Week and told people it was a great time to visit a park. A park!


What’s the takeaway? First, we have demonstrated that we know how to generate media attention and successful partnerships. Second, you can do everything right and still not have the perfect outcome every time. But most importantly, you have to be in the game if you hope to win.


In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by sweat and blood ... who errs, comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”


Our implementation teams are in the arena on communications and partnerships—and on science, environmental education, recreation and conservation planning, too. We won’t always succeed, but we won’t be what Roosevelt called “the cold and timid souls” who never try.