Refuge Notebook 03/18/2011

Envisioning the Future of the National Wildlife Refuge System
by Claire Caldes

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge Association are launching a national effort that asks the American public to share their ideas that will shape a renewed vision to guide the growth and management of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The last time a vision statement was articulated for the System was 1999.

There are currently 553 wildlife refuges across the United States with at least one in every state and territory in the U.S. Spanning more than 150 million acres of land and water, the Refuge System conserves wildlife habitats for thousands of animal and plant species, and includes more than 20 million acres of designated wilderness. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is part of this incredible conservation network.

Strengthening the Refuge System and protecting these special places for the enjoyment of current and future generations of Americans is critical. A vision document will guide this premier system for wildlife conservation into the next decade and beyond.

Since July 2010, five core teams comprised of over sixty employees from both the Refuge System and other U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service programs have been working on draft vision reports which have been recently consolidated into a single draft document. This vision document, entitled Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation, is available for comment and review online at until Earth Day, April 22, 2011.

Additionally, a “bold ideas” tool is on the website to solicit new ideas and enable discussion about them. Hundreds of people across the country have already provided their ideas to the website or voted on their favorites. Each person who registers on the website may cast 20 votes for favorite ideas. Members of the public, such as YOU, interested in collaborating on the document or contributing to the “bold ideas” forum are encouraged to visit the website.

The vision document offers nearly 100 draft recommendations to protect and improve the world’s premier system of public lands and water set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants for the continuing benefit of the American people.

Among the draft vision’s recommendations are:

To engage youth in an array of work and volunteer programs;

To review the Appropriate Use Policy, so a wider variety of nature-based experiences may be possible;

Within the next 10 years, to increase the number of minorities and people with disabilities who work for the Refuge System, in part by reaching high school and college youth from diverse communities and exposing them to Service conservation careers.

To develop a five-year plan to “green” the Refuge System;

To encourage a ‘Friends’ group for every staffed refuge; there are now about 230 Friends groups;

To develop standards for credibility, efficiency and consistent application of science in planning and management; and

Working with state fish and wildlife agencies, to prepare a strategy to double youth participation in hunting and fishing by 2020, paying special attention to individuals of all ages with disabilities.

The draft vision document begins with a look back at the Refuge System’s history of dealing with urgent conservation challenges through innovation, perseverance and leadership. It goes on to describe how the challenges of a changing planet and America affect the Refuge System’s conservation work and mission.

Additional chapters explain the vision for planning, designing, and delivering strategic conservation in the future; the importance of conservation science in managing the Refuge System; recommends how the Refuge System can connect people with America’s great outdoors and engage them in the stewardship of their Refuge System; lays out recommendations for organizational excellence; and addresses the need to ensure that leadership development keeps pace with the challenges facing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

This draft vision document does not offer a conclusion. Instead, a final chapter summarizing the collective call to action will be written only after the critical input from reviewers like you when the revised draft vision is published in July 2011.

You can help make this process a success. Join the conversation about the future of the Refuge System. Comment on the draft vision document and/or tell us your big, bold vision for wildlife conservation. Please share with us your stories, pictures, ideas and insights about your vision for the National Wildlife Refuge System online at

Claire Caldes is a career employee of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and has served as the oil and gas liaison for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge since 2001. Check us out on Facebook at