U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Standards of Excellence

Fire and Fuel Mitigation 512 x 219

The future success of conservation lies ultimately in our ability to inspire Americans to connect with the outdoors and nature, and to become stewards of the environment. Americans are spending less time outdoors. With more than 80% of Americans now living in urban areas, our challenge is to become relevant in their daily lives. Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation challenge us to enhance the relevance of the National Wildlife Refuge System and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to a rapidly changing America. Building a connected conservation constituency requires engaging with the ever-growing urban population to ensure that Americans care about conservation.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Standards of Excellence

One of the core principles behind the Urban Refuge Program is working with the community as partners in wildlife and natural resource conservation. We understand that in order to form effective and mutually beneficial relationships, it’s helpful for the community and potential partners to understand our approach and objectives. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the eight Urban Refuge Standards of Excellence for this purpose.

1. Know and relate to the community
The term “community” can mean a lot of things. There are the traditional demographics of who is in the geographic area surrounding our urban refuges. There are professional communities of organizations working toward common or overlapping goals. There are even communities of thought that exchange ideas around a whole host of challenges facing the Denver metropolitan area.

At our Urban Refuges, we have a responsibility to understand these various communities, their need, and our place within them. It is crucial that we learn from and about the people we intend to engage; be willing to allow what we learn to guide our work – even if that sometimes means changing course; create an environment in which people feel safe to express culturally-based values, perceptions, and experiences; and practice earnest two-way communication to ensure the community knows its voice is heard, respected, and valued.

2. Connect people with nature via stepping stones of engagement
While we believe strongly that nature provides a common ground for the community, it’s important to acknowledge that there are a wide variety of perspectives on nature and many levels at which people engage with it. Particularly when it comes to people who do not have much of an existing relationship with nature, we strive to meet them in their beginning place where they are comfortable. That may mean engaging at a neighborhood park, a school, or even through the media or a piece technology they love.

The term “stepping stones” acknowledges that engaging with nature is a process. As we seek out partners and programs with which to collaborate, we will look for opportunities that allow the community to define their relationship and pace in nature and offer opportunities to work their way to their own place of comfort and enjoyment with the world around them.

3. Build partnerships
The conservation challenges our community faces today are greater than any one organization or individual can solve. Working together on shared goals and outcomes is essential. Simply put, we move the need farther, faster, together, than on our own.

When it comes to partnerships, we value quality over quantity. Of greatest interest are long-lasting, cooperative, working relationships through which we develop common goals, strategies, and measurements of success. We want to be able to tell each other’s story and celebrate shared successes.

4. Be a community asset
To be relevant to our neighboring community, Urban Refuges must lend support, skills, services, resources, and expertise to people and organizations within the community. Traditionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have provided this support through our natural resource conservation professionals. We have come to recognize, however, that we have additional expertise to offer as well. Through the Urban Refuge Program we are also working with partners on community engagement, visitor experience, and youth employment.

We see being a community asset as something that can occur on or off the Urban Refuges. The asset could be a structure or place – such as a visitor center, wildlife viewing area, meeting room, schoolyard habitat, or other open space – to provide the community a place to gather and engage in various activities. The asset can also be sharing our expertise and resources to support projects and coalitions in the community working on anything from nature-based employment programs to equitable access to nature.

5. Ensure adequate long-term resources
In order to maintain a meaningful presence in the community and be a genuine asset, we must have the resources to maintain this commitment. By bringing in and sharing expertise and resources with community partners and coalitions, we are working to build the capacity for effective urban conservation work both within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and throughout the community.

Long-term resources for this work is not just a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issue, so whenever possible we seek to leverage our resources to bring in additional resources, as well as inspire others to bring what they can to benefit the collective effort.

6. Provide equitable access
Time spent in nature is vital to human health and well-being. However, in the built environments of urban areas, opportunities for individuals to connect with nature are often limited. Too often the ability to access refuges and other greenspaces in urban communities is constrained by inadequate transportation options and/or physical or financial challenges. These barriers must be reduced to the greatest extend possible if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to be an asset and meaningful contributor to urban communities.

7. Ensure visitors feel safe and welcome
Part of the stepping stone approach to public engagement around nature is acknowledging that there are many different perspectives on nature. This includes a sense of danger and a general discomfort of the unknown, particularly for those new to the outdoors. There is also a sense that some natural places are not for the, perhaps due to a lack of cultural relevance or lack of materials and programs in a language they are comfortable with.

Just as people don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, neither do our Urban Refuges. People often draw their conclusions not by what objectively exists, but by what they perceive. Therefore, to attract visitors from the community, Urban Refuges must be safe and welcoming, portrayed as safe and welcoming in outreach materials, and appear to be safe and welcoming to community members from different cultures.

8. Model sustainability
Sustainability is about more than conserving natural resources; it’s also about creating an environment where we are able to live well and future generations can truly thrive. To model sustainability, we must expand our thinking and change our actions to include practices that extend beyond Urban Refuge boundaries.

To foster responsible decision-making and actions supporting a desirable planet for all species now and in the future, it is necessary to actively promote the benefits of living sustainably. We must educate, inspire, and assist others to adopt sustainable practices. Consistently showcasing sustainability efforts will generate a positive ripple effect throughout the community and landscape, which in the long-term will contribute to the mental, physical, spiritual, and social health of those involved.