USFWS Standards of Excellence

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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 USFWS 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's 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 Portland-Vancouver Metro Area.

At our Urban Refuges, we have a responsibility to understand these various communities, their needs, 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 up 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 & Wildlife Service has 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 public engagement, visitor experience, youth employment, and social justice projects.

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 & Wildlife Service and in throughout the community.

Long-term resources for this work is not just a U.S. Fish & 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 extent possible if the U.S. Fish & 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 them, 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.