The Refuge system has nearly completed the first round of Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) called for in the Refuge Improvement Act of 1997: CCPs have been completed for 429 of the Refuge System’s 554 units. The Conserving the Future vision calls for incorporating lessens learned from the first round into the next generation of conservation plans. Sarena Selbo, chief of the Branch of Conservation Planning, and Matt Hogan, refuge chief in the Mountain Prairie Region, chair the vision‘s Planning implementation team which includes managers from the Washington office, the regions and individual refuges as well as biologists, social scientists, and visitor services specialists. Conservation organizations are represented on several sub–teams.

The team is asking “what we need to do to maintain a healthy Refuge System,” says Selbo. To be effective in confronting challenges posed by climate change, invasive species and habitat fragmentation, the next generation of plans must look beyond refuge boundaries and tie refuge planning and management actions to the larger landscape. To a large degree, this will involve collaborating with partners, especially Friends.

CCPs involve a very public process, and Selbo believes Friends can be involved in both their creation and implementation. “CCPs lay out what we need to do on the refuge for healthy ecosystems. There are things like invasive species control in our CCPs but we don‘t always have the time and resources to get everything done. This is where Friends groups can step forward to make a positive difference for the refuge by helping achieve its CCP goals.”

Friends Key Partners in Planning

Friends are the eyes and ears of the community during a CCP process. Whether the issue is land acquisition, zoning issues along refuge boundaries or recreational activities on the refuge, Friends can help identify and address community concerns, raise funds if needed and promote buy–in from the community.

Deborah Holle, refuge manager at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, considers Friends critical in providing outreach to local decision makers and political leaders. She wrote in a recent issue of the Friends newsletter, “Do you ever ask yourself why Balcones acquisition isn‘t done yet? Twenty years after it was established, Balcones has acquired less than half of its authorized acreage. Balcones needs money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund on a regular basis to purchase enough land to support our endangered birds for future generations.” The Friends of Balcones has a Conservation Legacy fund for purchasing land and covering related costs, as well as a committee to garner grassroots support for acquisitions.

The same was true very recently at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. Forty years ago this summer, a grassroots group saved the last remnant of freshwater tidal marsh from the path of Interstate 95. The land ultimately became the refuge and the citizens group became Friends of Heinz, which rallied public support again this spring to save 130 acres next to the refuge from high density development. “It was the entire community speaking,” says refuge manager Gary Stolz, “not just the refuge.”