The Strategic Growth team, as part of the Conserving the Future implementation, is working on recommendations to sharpen the Refuge System’s focus so lands are added effectively and strategically. Ultimately the team’s recommendations will become Refuge System policy.


The team is outlining the Refuge System’s most important conservation objectives, ensuring that lands and waters are acquired to help achieve priority objectives, such as recovering threatened or endangered species, implementing the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, or conserving migratory birds with declining populations.


The need to identify priorities has never been clearer. The Refuge System’s recently completed “rapid assessment” of land protection projects showed that more than five million acres could still be purchased within the acquisition boundaries of existing wildlife refuges. “That would take 100 years to complete at current funding levels,” says Eric Alvarez, chief of the Refuge System Division of Realty.


Friends Important to Refuge Expansion


Refuge Friends groups often play a significant role in helping refuges expand their boundaries. In other cases, community organizations that subsequently became Friends groups were instrumental in establishing new refuges.


Some Friends groups have raised money for small land acquisitions or provided matching funds for larger land purchases. For example, the Friends of Bosque del Apache, NM, raised $63,000 to purchase Chupadera Peak in 2007. The Friends of Chassahowitzka, FL, helped raised $2 million toward the purchase of the Three Sisters Springs manatee habitat in 2010.


“We need Friends talking in their communities about the importance of land to protect wildlife and meet the mission of the Refuge System,” says Alvarez.


All land acquisition proposals must identify priority conservation objectives and the surrogate species that represent them (see Friends Forward Fall 2012). The recently established Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in Florida, for example, provides habitat for both endangered species and migratory birds.


Planning for Refuge System growth will be enhanced by the scientific capacity of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs). The Refuge System will look to state fish and wildlife agencies and other partners to provide input on the strategic growth policy. The Service will look to its partners to work within the LCC framework to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identify new lands for the Refuge System.


Additional information about the work of the Conserving the Future implementation teams may be found at http://americaswildlife.org/.