Management and Conservation

Jeannette Guess, then president of the Friends of John Heinz Refuge, and fellow Friends members and neighbors celebrate successes in 2016.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service updated its policy in July 2021 regarding working with Friends groups. The policy is known as 633 FWS 1- 4 and can be found here

The Friends Partnership Policy Resources include tools to help Friends (and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff) interpret the revised policy. These include ethics guidelines for staff when working with Friends, an annual checklist for staff when working with Friends, and frequently asked questions (FAQs), which is updated to reflect questions as they arise.

Training and Mentoring

Find out more on the For Friends page. 

Friends Partnership Policy Resources
Overview of Federal Ethics Laws and Regulations Annual Friends Tasks/Documentation Checklist Frequently Asked Questions about the Friends Policy 

Our Programs

A bright blue sky obstructed by fluffy white clouds reflected off of a stream shot from inside a kayak
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages an unparalleled network of public lands and waters called the National Wildlife Refuge System. With more than 570 refuges spanning the country, this system protects iconic species and provides some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities on Earth.

Our Services

Training and Mentoring

Training and mentoring opportunities are integral parts of the Refuge Friends Group Partnership Program. The Refuge System is committed to fostering individual growth and organizational development in its Friends and volunteer partners. Refuge System leaders deeply appreciate the conservation efforts of devoted community members and know that as their capacity grows, so does their effectiveness in helping refuges meet critical conservation goals.

NCTC Friends and Volunteer Training Fee Waivers

Friends members and volunteers can apply for fee waivers on courses offered by the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Waiver recipients will have tuition, meals and lodging fees paid and travel reimbursed.

Friends Academy

Friends Academy is an advanced Refuge System training program for board members of refuge Friends organizations beyond the formative stages of development. The five-day course cultivates emerging Friends leaders by building a deeper understanding of the Refuge System and enhancing nonprofit and partnership skills to boost the effectiveness of Friends/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnerships. Upon completion of this course, participants will be able to: 

  • Outline the basic organizational structure structure
    Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

    Learn more about structure
    for the National Wildlife Refuge System and identify programs and staff working with Friends partnerships.
  • Employ three new strategies or skills to build effective relationships with staff and board members within the Friends/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnership.
  • Implement new strategies to enhance the sustainability of their board and membership and volunteer programs.
  • Implement new strategies to build their Friends organization's capacity.
  • Use new resources and tools to increase the effectiveness of their Friends organization.
  • Use new Friend-to-Friend relationships to share successes and boost their effectiveness as a Friends leader.
  • Describe broader roles Friends can play in protecting, enhancing and expanding the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Peer-to-Peer Mentoring

The Friends Partnership Mentoring Program offers peer-to-peer coaching for refuge and fisheries Friends groups and their U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partners to boost partnership success. Whether a group needs help to draft bylaws, apply for 501(c)(3) status or tackle a big project, mentors can offer guidance. There are two application cycles for the mentoring program each year:

  • Spring Cycle: applications due May 31, with mentoring visits taking place later in the calendar year. The application can be found here.
  • Fall Cycle: applications due October 31, with mentoring visits taking place the next calendar year.

If selected for mentoring, partnerships can have a pair of mentors travel to their station, at no cost to the station or Friends organization, for peer-to-peer coaching.

The application can be found here.

Our Projects and Research

A rising sun shines on a new fishing pier at Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

The International Wildlife Refuge Alliance the refuge’s Friends organization, helped raise $3.5 million to build a 740-foot-long fishing pier and boat dock for the Michigan Sea Grant School. The pier is free to the public and can accommodate up to 100 anglers. 

Our Laws and Regulations

The National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Improvement Act authorizes cooperative agreements with nonprofit partner organizations, academic institutions, or State and local governments to construct, operate, maintain, or improve refuge facilities and services, and to promote volunteer, outreach, and...