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Regional Director Remarks
May 27, 2004
Robyn Thorson, Regional Director
Midwest Region, USFWS

Photograph of Robyn Thorson; Regional Director - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Region. I arrived here early this week with only a single affiliation: Region 3 of the Fish and Wildlife Service. But as the week progressed I found myself with a new affiliation, as a member of the "Green Team." During four intense breakout sessions over a two-day period, I engaged with others members of the Green Team in open and trusting dialogue about the future of the National Wildlife Refuge System. I am the beneficiary of their energies and remarks, and I take this occasion to thank them for letting me listen and learn from them this week. That thanks extends to everyone here.

To contribute my Regional Director perspective for these remarks, I went to the best source: the men and women of Region 3's refuges and wetland management districts who are here at the Summit. I asked them to briefly share their thoughts about this week, and in their typical overachievement style they handed me a large sheaf of papers last night (including some notes written on a dinner napkin)! I will share these insightful comments with the Executive Committee for the Summit, protecting the anonymity of the writers, but one of the remarks merits sharing with all of you verbatim. In addition to his widely recognized excellence as a refuge program leader, Don Hultman is also an extraordinarily gifted writer, and it delighted me to read, and now share with you, this paragraph that he wrote:

Our gathering this week was greeted by another gathering: the cicadas. Like the cicadas, we emerge together, seem to be everywhere at once, and fill the air with buzzing about the Refuge System and the natural resources we care about. Hopefully no one got stepped on!

I appreciate the written contributions of Don and other Region 3 employees, but for the purpose of these remarks I set their comments aside, and offer instead what is on my own mind:

First, having partners, stakeholders and friends be part of this Conservation in Action Summit strengthened these relationships and made the Service, through these contributions, wiser. The conservation challenge is large, and there are too few of us to address it. At the refuge level, with friends, communities, congressional offices, and at the national level, working with partners is the key to the future. It is the right thing to do, and it is the necessary thing to do. Having them here is essential; relationships are everything.

Second, outreach and public relations can't be relegated to a collateral element of science information, or recreation information, or other refuge management issues. Outreach is an essential task on its own. We heard presentations about changing U.S. demographics: the changes in the makeup of the population equate to changes in the voters who support laws we depend upon, and who pay the taxes that support our refuge operations and maintenance. On the public agenda, conservation competes for attention with health care, education, transportation needs, suburban infrastructure, soccer fields . . . As a public agency, we will only be able to conserve what people care about conserving. With an increasingly urbanized population, we need to reach out with our conservation message, to encourage that caring. Let's not stop with the Centennial outreach – instead, I suggest it's time to ramp it up, and sponsor refuges outreach on a level never done before. We should consider measurement by a new coin of the realm: not based on funding, or acres, or projects, but on the generation of public support. This is an important investment. We need to tell our story.

My last comment is not about what's on my mind, but what's in my heart. Although it isn't in the action items from this Summit, the most prominent of my observations of this week is the spirit of this occasion. It started with the opening film depicting Centennial celebrations nationwide. And then Lynn Greenwalt spoke with us, sharing anecdotes and also the story of his friend, Ed Drummond, who continues to work well past retirement age because, says Drummond, "I like what I do, and it's important." In this darkened auditorium I could feel others nodding their heads, with a murmur of assent. "Yes," people were saying, "I feel this way too."

Feelings ran strong throughout this week – the gleam of recognition of old friends, the comfort of common experience, pride in shared values, laughter, camaraderie, spirit. These elements make up organizational culture, which at this gathering here at NCTC, the home of the Fish and Wildlife Service, seems robust, hardy, invincible. But organization culture is fragile – it needs to be cultivated, cared for, nurtured.

Ann Smith, in her presentation about the Black Bayou Friends group, shared with us that she "fell in love with a piece of land." We're glad and grateful that she did – we've fallen in love with places, too, but we also love the people, the community of folks who care about refuges. I believe it is important that we not be uncomfortable acknowledging these feelings, and not be hesitant to recognize affection for the people as well as the places that make up the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Lynn Greenwalt, in closing his remarks this week, said, "I want you to know that I love you." It takes a person of great stature and courage to make such a statement, and those people are increasingly rare – but there are so many who feel this way! So that is my pledge for action from this Summit: as a member of the Directorate and with the great privilege of being part of Region 3, I will address the action items from our breakout sessions, but I further promise to nurture the heart of the refuge system. I promise this because I like what you do, and it's important.



 

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