Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
SAN DIEGO NWRC: Secretary Jewell and Director Ashe Announce $1M Funding for the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project
California-Nevada Offices , August 13, 2014
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Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell birdwatching with refuge staff and local students at the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell birdwatching with refuge staff and local students at the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge - Photo Credit: Ian Shive
As a teenager, Vincent Culliver was thankful for his experience with Outdoor Outreach, an organization that helped him connect with the outdoors, and inspire a great career path.
As a teenager, Vincent Culliver was thankful for his experience with Outdoor Outreach, an organization that helped him connect with the outdoors, and inspire a great career path. - Photo Credit: Earl S. Cryer
"Dolly" an endangered California condor, perched next to Los Angeles Zoo Keepers Michael Clark and Jennifer Schmidt. Dolly has been conditioned as an ambassador for outreach and education, due to her permanent wing injury. - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Lisa Cox

On August 13, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Director Dan Ashe announced a $1M award to the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project at the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge to 175 enthusiastic supporters and partners.

The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex (NWRC) was chosen to receive a $1 million increase in base funding to reach new urban audiences and engage Southern California communities and youth in wildlife conservation. The San Diego NWRC is the first among the nation’s urban national wildlife refuges to receive this new award through a nationwide competition.

“As the second largest metropolitan area in the United States with 17 million people, Southern California can be a laboratory for the rest of the country to show how to help people who live in a world made of bricks and concrete connect with a world of grass and rivers, fish and wildlife,” said Jewell. “Helping kids feel welcome on public lands at a young age can help create the next generation of conservationists or spark a passion to be good stewards of nature that will last a lifetime.”

The winning proposal, called the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project, incorporates outdoor learning, service and stewardship of natural habitats and conservation-based projects for youth and young adults from diverse communities. It encompasses efforts not only in San Diego but also at the Hopper Mountain NWRC in Ventura, and in Los Angeles with the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC).


Director Ashe launched this competition for a $1M fund increase for an Urban Wildlife Refuge across the country in March 2014 to encourage innovative proposals that engage new and diverse audiences. Tualatin, Nisqually, South Texas Refuge Complex, Valle de Oro, Minnesota Valley, Bayou Sauvage, Loxahatchee, Heinz, Patuxent, Rocky Mountain Arsenal and San Diego NWRC all submitted proposals.
In addition to the competition, Secretary Jewell announced (http://www.fws.gov/fieldnotes/print/print_report.cfm?arskey=34706), eight pilot cities under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) new Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative to connect urban youth with the great outdoors. Within the city of Los Angeles, the River Rover from FoLAR was selected to accomplish this task – which brings the “river to the people, and the people to the river.” Since then, FoLAR has become a part of both the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership and a component of the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project.

Programs within the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project (Project):
There are several exceptional programs that have been incorporated into the Project that will complement and expand current outreach and education programs on the refuges:

• Working with the LACC-River Corps Program to restore wildlife habitats along the Los Angeles River and to lead outdoor education activities with at-risk young adults.
• Expanding the partnership with Earth Discovery Institute to build a cadre of young technology-savvy environmental stewards and to expand service opportunities for volunteers and communities to connect with their wild lands.
• Growing the next generation of environmental scientists and developing skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with the Living Coast Discovery Center, called the “Student Scientist Series.”
• Training teachers and students on the use of cutting-edge science to solve conservation problems with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
• Live Interactive Virtual Exploration (L.I.V.E.) field trips with San Diego NWRC staff and schools such as the San Juan Capistrano School District, called the Sea to Shining Sea L.I.V.E. Backpack program, partnered with the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network and San Diego State University.
• Engaging students that surround the Hopper Mountain NWR in the “CondorKids” program in Ventura County through condor biology curriculum, organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Hopper Mountain NWRC, Ventura Fish & Wildlife Office, and the Santa Barbara Zoo.
• Partner with Ian Shive Photography and Tandem Stills + Motion to help tell the Urban Refuge story, and invoke the wonder of nearby nature.

These strong partnerships are indeed critical to make this project a success. In addition to the partners listed above, others in attendance at the announcement event were the Friends of San Diego Wildlife Refuges, San Diego Zoo, San Diego Foundation, Wildcoast, San Diego Sigmas Omicron Iota Sigma Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Los Angeles Alumnus Chapter, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, and Outdoor Outreach. Vincent Culliver, a young staff member of Outdoor Outreach, spoke about his and fellow colleagues’ empowering experiences.

“When I first came to San Diego with my family we were homeless and life was really difficult. I have gained confidence in myself, discovered leadership skills I never knew I had and received job training and employment as an instructor with Outdoor Outreach.” Culliver also had some recommendations for the attendees present that day. “It is not enough to simply increase physical access to the outdoors... There needs to be more effort to bring youth and their families to these places to show them that they are safe and fun… we must understand and speak to their values- things like family, education and health.”

This effort is especially important as the southern California region is expected to fuel California’s growth over the next 50 years, with San Diego growing by one million and Los Angeles growing by 1.7 million by 2060. The San Diego NWRC’s dream is to infuse new and diverse audiences within the large urban population of Southern California with the belief that conserving wildlife and natural habitats, whether in their neighborhood parks or within national wildlife refuges across the country, is essential to sustaining healthy communities. Through outdoor learning, service and stewardship of natural habitats, conservation based work for disadvantaged young adults, and enjoyment of being exposed to nature, it is their hope to build an urban constituency that supports the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its National Wildlife Refuge System.

“The SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project fosters opportunities for urban residents to find, appreciate and care for nature in their cities and beyond. By engaging our urban neighbor’s we are fostering a sense of stewardship and wildlife conservation into the future,” said Chantel Jimenez, Environmental Education Specialist for the San Diego NWRC.

Lisa Cox is a public information specialist at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Video on the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships ... this is just the beginning!
Photo Album on Flickr:
Photo Album on the San Diego NWR Complex Facebook page:
Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov
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