|Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Arizona||Ryan Hagerty/USFWS
For the 700 or so attendees at the Refuge Systems first national conference, in Keystone, CO, memories of the event remain vivid today. Most were refuge managers who scavenged spare parts for aging equipment and saw other managers only at occasional chipsandbeer gettogethers. A few were young biologists who rarely saw peers from other regions. For practically everyone, the fiveday, October 1998 conference was packed with firsts:
Their first chance to shake the Interior Secretarys hand ... to hobnob with guest speaker Ted Turner ... to meet distant colleagues who shared their vision of a Refuge System that is pivotal to global conservation.
It really was the comingout party, says Mike Boylan, now a refuge supervisor in Alaska. In 1998, he was the Refuge Systems first chief of visitor services, deeply involved in the conference and its report. All of a sudden within the Fish and Wildlife Service there was a sense of, Whoa! The Refuge System is really stepping out! And we were.
For some biologists, the conference was a chance to sell refuge managers on a new approachmanaging for biological diversity, not just waterfowl, as many traditionally had, says Kathy Granillo, then a biologist in the Southwest regional office and now the refuge manager at Sevilleta Refuge, NM.
A team of 10 biologists had been meeting periodically since 1994, Granillo says, and had written a national biological assessment that made wildlife conservation the Refuge Systems official purpose. Another team, at headquarters, wrote a pithy, strategic kind of document with the same priorities, Boylan says. Both visions would inform the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997.
There were some very visionary people in the national office who, like the biologists group, wanted to manage for biological diversity, Granillo says. The Keystone conference was all about getting refuge managers involved in that process because its refuge managers who are actually going to have to implement this stuff.
Deborah Holle, then and now refuge manager at Balcones Canyonlands Refuge, TX, sensed that a conglomeration of parts was being shaped into a whole at Keystone.
Even people who didnt attend Keystone were shaped by it, says Jeff Rupert.
Before the conference we were very entrenched in certain things, Holle says. It wasnt really a system. Everybody was doing their own thing. Keystone helped change a culture in which refuges were independent almost to the point of isolation. It made us talk to each other.
Even people who didnt attend Keystone were shaped by it, says Jeff Rupert, then assigned to Lower Rio Grande Valley Refuge, TX. I was a brandnew refuge biologistin fact, so new that I barely even knew it was going on. But in 2000, he helped plan the first national conference of refuge and regional biologists, a followup to Keystone.
It was very inspiring, says Rupert, now chief of the Refuge Systems Division of Natural Resources and Conservation Planning. There were people thinking about these bigger things, applying science and biology consistently across the nation.
Rupert believes Keystone gave my generation of employees their definition of what the National Wildlife Refuge System isa place where partnerships are essential, good science is the foundation of what we do, and the public has an important role to play.
Heather Dewar is a writereditor in the Refuge System Branch of Communications.