|Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge North Carolina||Steve Hillebrand
A years worth of work by dozens of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees went into Fulfilling the Promise, the 1999 postKeystone conference report containing 42 recommendations for transforming the National Wildlife Refuge System. To help turn the printed words into action, Service leaders created a unique new position. It was officially titled the promises coordinator but was better known to coworkers as the promise keeper.
Larry Williams was managing Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi in 2004 when he was tapped to become the last of several promise keepers. After helping to implement Fulfilling the Promise recommendations for two years, in 2006 he recommended sunsetting the position. Williams, now chief of budget, performance and workforce for the Refuge System, felt most recommendations had been adopted as fully as they could be with the funds available. Service leaders agreed.
The first three recommendations, in the Wildlife and Habitat category, were probably the most important, Williams says, and enormous progress has been made on them. They called for setting goals for wildlife populations; establishing habitat priorities locally, regionally and nationally; and defining how each refuge and the Refuge System can contribute to biodiversity. Those recommendations are a major reason the Service created its systematic approach known as strategic habitat conservation.
Weve become a lot better at defining our goals, Williams says. Were now a lot more strategic than we used to be especially in land acquisition, which is now guided by landscapelevel planning and a comprehensive ranking system.
Refuge managers have eliminated many public uses that were inconsistent with wildlife conservation, and seasonally restricted other uses, Williams says. They also have forged more community partnerships, dramatically increasing the number of Friends groups to about 230.
Law enforcement, which before Keystone was often a collateral duty for refuge managers, is orders of magnitude better than it was 10 or 15 years ago, Williams says. Our law enforcement officers now get better equipment and better trainingand the majority of them are full time, which was not the case before Keystone.
Stepping Up to Leadership and the Advanced Leadership Development Program probably would not exist were it not for Keystone.
Other improvements recommended by Fulfilling the Promise include leadership and career training. Stepping Up to Leadership (SUTL) for GS11/12 employees and the Advanced Leadership Development Program (ALDP) for GS13/14 employees probably would not exist were it not for Keystone. Neither would the series of Career Pathways Reports for employees in visitor services, realty, planning and refuge management, and one report under development for biologists.
One major work in progress is the new inventory and monitoring program. There are places where we dont even have a baseline assessment of our wildlife and habitat, Williams says. Last year, we got $12 million to put in place the beginnings of our inventory and monitoring program. To complete the inventory and monitoring program and establish the robust science programs the Refuge System needs would cost many millions more, he says.
Heather Dewar is a writereditor in the Refuge System Branch of Communications.