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Vision Quickly Becoming Practical Reality

Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation is rapidly moving from the theoretical vision phase of the past few years into the practical implementation phase.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees across the National Wildlife Refuge System should “be on the lookout for the resources that are coming out of the implementation teams,” says Conserving the Future coordinator Anna Harris “These products were developed by our colleagues to provide details and direction to sustain healthy wildlife and habitats, and remain relevant in a changing world.”

Conserving the Future/USFWS.
Conserving the Future/USFWS.

In the months immediately after the July 2011 ratification of the Conserving the Future vision for the Refuge System, nine implementation teams were chartered to put the vision into practice.

Today three of those teams have “formally graduated,” says Harris, meaning they have fulfilled everything in the blueprint laid out in their work plan, had their products approved by Refuge System leadership, and disbanded. Six of the original teams are operating, and, in response to internal and external suggestions, a new team is being formed.

In a recent interview, Harris outlined the accomplishments of the three graduated teams.

One result from the Strategic Growth implementation team’s work is that “for the first time we have a strategic growth policy for the Refuge System,” says Harris. “That’s huge.” The Service has been moving toward such a policy for decades, and in late January a draft was published in the Federal Register.

The principles set forth in the Planning implementation team’s report, A Landscape Scale Approach to Refuge System Planning, “basically revolutionized the planning paradigm we’re moving forward with,” says Harris. “We're not going to do CCPs [comprehensive conservation plans] the way we've done them in the past.”

The Community Partnerships implementation team produced strategic plans for Friends, volunteers and community partnerships; revamped the Friends mentor program; added relevant elements to 14 existing staff training courses offered at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC); and identified a web tool to help track volunteers and their hours.

The new team—being assembled this spring and expected to complete its work this year—will address Conserving the Future Recommendation 18, which reads: “Support and enhance appropriate recreation opportunities on national wildlife refuges by partnering with state fish and wildlife agencies, other governmental bodies, conservation organizations and businesses; and by updating relevant policies and infrastructure.” This team, which was split from the Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Recreation implementation team, will examine the big six priority public uses of refuges and beyond. It also will consider refuge accessibility and community engagement, including reaching urban audiences.

The six other original teams—Communications; Interpretation and Environmental Education; Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Recreation; Leadership Development Council; Science; and Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative—are proceeding apace. Over the next six months Harris expects final or close–to–final strategies on interpretation, environmental education, quality hunting and fishing, urban refuge standards and climate change.

She also expects practical applications from the Leadership Development Council that will enhance “information sharing between employees about opportunities in the Service,” including online forums regarding available job swaps and details.

Overall, Harris says, “the teams have put together the policies, the strategies, the web resources and the best management practices to streamline efficiencies and lay out a path forward.” Now, she says, the key is communication—from refuge leadership, regional chiefs and project leaders—about why the products “were developed, and where they came from, and how they provide a clear vision for the next decade.”

To see the Conserving the Future implementation teams’ work progress and products, go to

-- Bill O’Brian,
Republished Refuge Update March / April 2014

Last updated: March 31, 2014