|Friends member John Bertrand radiates pride at hiking Chupadera Peak at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Bertrand was named the Refuge System’s 2008 Volunteer of the Year for leading fundraising efforts by the Friends of Bosque del Apache Refuge to buy the 140-acre parcel from developers.|
|Credit: Aaron Drew|
|A view from Chupadera Peak on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico offers a panoramic view of the refuge. The refuge’s Friends group purchased the land from developers and donated it to the refuge in 2007.|
|Credit: John Bertrand|
Refuge Friends Groups Growing in Number and Clout
Units of the National Wildlife Refuge System are often supported by people in their local communities who established "Friend Groups" eager to assist in protecting America's natural resources. These "Friends Groups" can perform a variety of work, including help refuges restore wildlife habitat, monitor endangered species, map and remove invasive plants and teach children and adults about conservation.
This steadfast group of volunteers is ever growing, extending the System's habitat conservation reach while helping it weather tough times. They also help raise funds to acquire land, restore historic structures, provide amenities such as boardwalks and host wildlife festivals. On many short–staffed refuges, they also help operate visitor centers and provide visitor services that might otherwise stop because of severe budget cuts.
"The importance of maintaining the health of our natural resources resonates with tens of thousands of people," says Greg Siekaniec, Assistant Director of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The number of Friends Groups has jumped to over 250 from a mere handful just 20 years ago, with about 10 new organizations created each year. Some support a single refuge while others are connected to a refuge complex, or sometimes an entire state. And through these groups, more than 50,000 members afford major boosts of energy, financial resources and clout.
Some notable Friends Group accomplishments include:
- Friends of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida raised nearly $3 million over10 months to help buy adjacent land for conservation.
- Friends of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico raised $72,000 to purchase Chupadera Peak and last year, donated this 140-acre wilderness area to the refuge. This addition completes a signature public-use trail that offers panoramic views of the Bosque and other refuge lands.
- Each year, Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington organize and raise more than $20,000 for a "Birdfest and Bluegrass" festival that has become a regional fall favorite.
- Friends of Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey raised funds to restore a barn used by nesting bats; the Friends also help count the bats each year.
- Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas organize kayak trips to teach the public about wildlife in the lower Laguna Madre.
Five regional conferences, planned for spring and summer 2010 in Florida, Kansas, Wisconsin, Oregon and Nevada, will help Friends Groups share strategies and build on successes.
Friends Groups generally each support a single refuge. While some, like the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, pool resources to help all 16 of that state’s remote refuges. The Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, committed to the conservation of the remote Pacific island, counts members in almost every U.S. state and several in foreign countries. And thanks to online social networking via the Web or email list serves, Friend Groups are getting the word out.
In addition, the Refuge System publishes a quarterly "Friends Forward" newsletter designed just for Refuge Groups containing timely information about national efforts and news from Friends organizations across the country.
To read the latest issue of "Friends Forward" and to find refuges with a supporting Friends Group, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/.