This strategic illustration captures the first mornings general session. It was done by an artist with Alchemy (www.link2alchemycom), a company whose tag line is "The Art of Transforming Business."
To the left of
stage at the
Hall A at the
Center, next to
one of the giant
and markers to
events, words and
concepts of the gathering into art.
Of the 1,100 or so people in attendance,
they were among the few who were not
intimately familiar with the National
Wildlife Refuge System beforehand.
And, in addition to drawing a dynamic
visual record of the conference, they
came away with personal impressions of
the Refuge System and its mission.
"My biggest takeaway from the
conference was how passionate the
Refuge System employees are about
their work," said Birnbach, who with
Teague is an affiliate of Alchemy, a
Denver-based strategic illustration
company. "Both young and older
employees were all excited to talk about
their jobs and genuinely love what they
do. Outside of the arts, this is the first
time Ive come across a group of people
who love and believe in their lifes work
The most surprising aspect of the
conference, Teague said, was that the
Refuge System is creating an urban
wildlife refuge initiative, "a great idea
with enormous benefitsaesthetic,
ecological and for all of usas city
dwelling becomes the norm."
"Having grown up in rural Colorado,"
said Birnbach, "I hadnt given much
thought to how many people grow up
in urban areas now and what a need
there is to reach that population with a
Birnbach, Teague and their backstage
colleague, Vince Palko, produced seven
illustrations during the conference.
The drawings can be seen at www.AmericasWildlife.org/conference.
Refuge Manager of the Future
It was standing room only in the Refuge
Manager of the Future workshop,
where five panelists shared heartfelt
The panel was moderated by Larry
Williams, chief of the Refuge Systems
Division of Budget, Performance and
Workforce, who spoke of three elements
of change. First, the demographics of
refuge managers, currently 87 percent
white and 75 percent male, are changing.
Second, refuge management decisions
are increasingly based on the latest
scientific information. Finally, refuge
managers are finding it more necessary
to use technology.
Keenan Adams, deputy refuge manager
at Pelican Island Refuge, FL, reminded
the audience that the new generation
of refuge managers may come from an
urban background, and that current
managers must be willing to reach
out to diverse groups and find shared
Vicki Muller, a wildlife refuge specialist
at Aransas Refuge, TX, spoke of the
importance of finding a good mentor to
discuss experiences and provide advice.
"Look for those people throughout
your career who model the traits and
characteristics that you desire to have,"
Shaun Sanchez, a refuge manager at
Desert Refuge Complex, NV, stressed
the importance of developing future
leaders. He suggested each manager
should ask himself or herself: "What
am I doing to ensure that there are refuge managers in the future?" He
also encouraged managers to consider
ways to help visitors see national wildlife
refuges from the inside, not just from
outside fences and boundary signs, and
to empower the public to feel ownership
of their local refuges.
The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge mobile visitor
center traveled 2,200 miles round trip to be in Madison, where hundreds of
conference attendees checked it out. (Patrick Comins/Friends of Silvio O.
Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge)
Amid the tweeting, Facebooking and live-streaming videos, the hallway
chalkboard was a low-tech way to express oneself in Madison. (Nick
Don Hultman, a retired refuge manager,
had even more fundamental advice.
"Love the people who come to refuges
and waterfowl production areas," he said,
"and they will learn to love the resource."
To see summaries of some conference
workshops and facilitated discussions
go to http://www.AmericasWildlife.org/conference and look under "Learn" and
Just steps away from the social media
computer stations where conference
participants could tweet, blog or share
information on Facebook was a simple,
low-tech, low-cost communication
device that one could imagine in any
visitor center in the Refuge System:
a chalkboard on which to write pithy
conservation thoughts and messages.
Vision process communications
coordinator Michael Gale had seen a
similar chalkboard at a previous event,
liked it and, as "the idea of personal
expression became important,"
suggested it for the conference. The
display was not
chalkboard per se,
but wood covered
paint. It was built
by Madison retiree
John Belknap, a
professor who has
and national parks.
were roughly $250.
It was a fun and
The playful smile
on the face of Friend Kathy Woodwardas she wrote "I (heart) Great Swamp NWR"
on the chalkboardwould attest to
that. As would the enthusiasm of the
anonymous person who wrote: "Its an
honor to be a part of this vision process."
Have Refuge, Will Travel
One of the biggest non-human hits at
the conference was the Silvio O. Conte
National Fish and Wildlife Refuge
mobile visitor center, also known as the
Watershed on Wheels (WOW) Express.
The mobile visitor center is composed
of two trailers. A 28-footer is painted
with vibrant nature scenes and is home
to a walkthrough
and even smells
of the refuge. A
and an interactive
drive from its
home base in New
Along the way, said refuge visitor service
specialist David Sagan, the trailers "got
a reaction at every toll booth we went
through and every time we stopped for
gas. People loved it and were asking all
sorts of questions about it...I think its
a great way for the refuge to spread its
Silvio O. Conte Refuge partnered with
the Vermont Institute of Natural Science
(VINS) to create the innovative traveling
education trailer. It debuted in the fall of
2010 and is designed to inform the public
about the Connecticut River watershed.
"Ive been an environmental educator
for six years, and over the past four
months that I have been working with
the WOW Express I have reached more
people than in my entire career," said
VINS staff member Chris Poulin as he
gave tours of the trailer to conference
attendees in Madison. The mobile visitor
center has reached about 8,000 people in
35 communities in the Connecticut River
Valley in that time, he said.
To see two videos about the mobile
visitor center, go to the video archive at