I try not to repeat stories, at least not too often.
In 1998, at the first National Wildlife Refuge System refuge conference, in Keystone, Colorado, I told a story of my brothers, several friends, and I visiting Georgia's Blackbeard Island NWR while my father was working there. He and the manager dropped us all on the refuge's Atlantic beach and said, "We'll be back in a couple hours. Stay on the beach, and stay together."
It was a magical day that lives still in my memory. We wandered, climbed trees, dug for treasure, poked at a decomposed dolphin carcass, and stayed together on the beach until they came to claim us.
That message -- staying together -- was important in 1998. The Refuge System was unsettled and partners, including the National Audubon Society, were calling for a separate Refuge Service.
Thankfully, we stayed together. And today we're all stronger for it.
I used that story again, this past weekend, in a keynote address to the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA). We face enormous challenges, among them habitat fragmentation, water scarcity, species invasion and exotic diseases. These are made more challenging by a rapidly changing climate system, and a public increasingly disconnected from nature.
So, it's never been more important for us to "stay together" with our state colleagues -- our most important conservation partners. Let's, all of us with the U.S. Fish and Wildllife Service, make a new fiscal year resolution. Let's challenge ourselves to reach out and be better colleagues, partners and friends with our state agency counterparts. We'll all be better for it!