Dear Conservation Colleague,
The future of the National Wildlife Refuge System is becoming more focused
than ever, thanks to your participation in the Conservation in Action
Summit. We want to personally thank you for helping develop a shared
sense of priorities that will guide the Refuge System into the future.
Over the Summit's three and a half days we had more than 250 people
engaged in open conversations about setting priorities for the System.
The participants hailed from 38 states, representing a wide spectrum
of backgrounds. Twenty-three refuge Friends groups attended, along with
numerous state agencies and dozens of nonprofit conservation organizations.
Similarly, employees representing the Fish and Wildlife Service included
biologists, refuge managers, interpretive specialists, heavy-equipment
operators, and regional directors. To say the group was diverse is an
Such a varied collection of people gathering to reflect on the future
of Refuges was a great follow up to our Keystone conference of 1998.
It raises the bar for the vision we identified in Fulfilling the Promise
by focusing on the next level of actions we must accomplish.
There has been a great deal of information, ideas, strategies, and action
items discussed over the ten months that culminated with the Conservation
in Action Summit. We used a variety of tools including an initial brainstorming
session with partners, an extensive survey of all Service employees
and hundreds of conservation partners, extensive meetings of teams of
experts to draft white papers, web chats and a focus group of 35 highly-experienced
refuge managers to help refine those white papers, and finally the Summit
itself. The breakout sessions and polling at the Summit seemed hurried
to many, but there is no denying they provided a wealth of insights
concerning the challenges facing the Refuge System. It will take some
time to develop a detailed strategy synthesizing the shared priorities
we have identified. We plan to have that strategy document drafted by
In the meantime, we want to share some preliminary results from the
Migratory bird conservation was the genesis
of the Refuge System, and it remains a top concern for both the Service
and partners. Summit participants demonstrated a shared understanding
that the Refuge System needs a more systematic approach to bird conservation
work on refuges including identifying species of special concern. Likewise,
the importance of endangered species work on refuges was endorsed, with
emphasis on refuge activities integrating with the broader endangered
species efforts of the Service and other conservation
The grave threat that invasive species pose
to refuges is evident to all. The need to implement a Systemwide strategy
to deal with invasive species was strongly supported. The vexing issues
associated the water quality and quantity
on refuges were also identified as a major concern. In both of these
areas, there is a clear need for basic inventories documenting the extent
of the problem.
Fire management in the Refuge System program
was discussed at length, and clear needs were identified to continue
using fire as a tool for both wildlife management and fuels reduction.
The interest in marine conservation was very
high. This is an area of emerging importance, and Summit participants
recognized the extent of refuge marine resources and the threats they
face. Basic work on identifying boundaries, resource inventory and assessment,
and threat identification is needed.
Summit participants added their concerns about wilderness
stewardship to the list of priority needs for the Refuge
System. This topic had not been previously identified by the working
groups, illustrating the importance of keeping the Summit process open
to new ideas.
While everyone agrees that wildlife conservation is the primary mission
of the Refuge System, there is mutual understanding that compatible
wildlife-dependent recreation is a legitimate
and important use of refuges. Participants showed a great deal of interest
in the "Big 6" recreational uses (hunting, fishing, wildlife observation
and photography, environmental education and interpretation), and there
was recognition that the Refuge System has capacity to provide more
recreational opportunities. However, there was a corresponding concern
that thresholds of wildlife disturbance must be established to assure
that recreation remains compatible with refuge purposes and the System
mission. Encouragingly, there was strong endorsement for the Refuge
System to develop a comprehensive environmental education program that
will help today's youth become tomorrow's conservationists.
It seemed clear to all that a consistent image
is important for the Refuge System, and equally clear that partnerships
are essential to everything we do. Yet the number of people
attending those breakout sessions were somewhat lower than others, suggesting
this less glamorous work of committing to consistent signs, brochures,
and symbols will take concerted effort, beyond lip service. It also
illustrates that citizens, communities, and organizations are willing
to help the Service safeguard refuges, but the Service must commit effort
to jump-start and sustain these partnerships.
Everyone agrees on the importance of refuge law enforcement
for protecting both visitors and resources. However, the
difficulties in implementing law enforcement reforms are primarily administrative,
as evident by most participants in these sessions being Service employees.
Strategic growth of the Refuge System was a topic of great concern at
the Summit, and in some ways the most difficult to grapple. In today's
world, land protection requires partnerships, as no single entity has
the resources to do the job alone. The Refuge System must define its
role in this new arrangement. Summit participants recommended a collaborative
planning process that synthesizes existing conservation
plans (from national, regional, and local levels) into tangible
habitat goals. These goals can then be shared with partners
to decide "who can do what" to protect necessary lands. Additionally,
support was evident for establishing threshold standards
to determine whether a potential acquisition has community support,
acceptable operations costs, and most importantly, sufficient biological
resources to merit inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Refuge System employees also expressed concerns about expediting appraisal
and acquisition processes.
The need for scientific study and applied research
to make the best management decisions was clearly identified. Summit
participants want the Service to improve applied research by enhancing
relations with USGS, universities, and others. Additionally, they sent
a definite message that a national strategy for scientific
monitoring on refuges must be developed to include baseline
inventories (biological and non-biological) and more rigorous resource
monitoring. Finally, there was much encouragement to communicate
scientific findings in plain language to a broader audience.
The goal of the Summit was to develop a strong shared sense of priorities
for the Refuge System, and allow us to garner background information
and insights necessary to articulate those priorities. We will now work
diligently to sift through all the information we gathered and develop
a set of clear and concise priorities we can all share. We look forward
to presenting the full results to you this Fall.
Deputy Chief National Wildlife Refuge System
President National Wildlife Refuge Association
Wildlife Program Coordinator Wildlife Management