Conserving the Future concepts are getting real.

As spring and fall dates for some finalized plans draw near, many implementation teams are drafting strategies that are available for public discourse.

Reading the draft plans makes one fact stand out, says Conserving the Future implementation coordinator Anna Harris: The National Wildlife Refuge System will operate differently in the coming decade than it has in the past. “We have long talked about reaching people who live in cities, younger people and those from varied ethnic backgrounds. These plans will transform talk into action.”

The Communications implementation team has put forth a five–year strategic plan that seeks first to reach key audiences where they live; then increase online and in–person visits to wildlife refuges; and ultimately build the next generation of Refuge System supporters. The plan details a host of tactics—from marketing partnerships that engage the National Basketball Association, among other non–traditional partners, to traveling Refuge Live! activity centers and a Champions Academy for high school students.

Recognizing that there are eight times more annual volunteers than Refuge System employees, the Community Partnership implementation team is putting on the fast track creation of a “one–stop shopping” Web portal for staff and volunteers. That team also is working with the Interpretation and Environmental Education (I&EE) team to establish an ambassador program that will train employees to provide excellent customer service and strengthen community relations.

The I&EE team recognizes that “education programs are quickly evolving to ‘anytime, anywhere’ platforms.” The team’s draft strategy proposes an analysis of how environmental education (EE) programs are delivered. The team calls for development of a “rapid self–assessment tool” by June 2013 so wildlife refuges can evaluate their EE programs.

The strategy proposes establishment of EE “centers of excellence” and an online clearinghouse that highlights professional development opportunities and updates the visitor services career pathways handbook to reflect needs for Refuge System interpretation programs.

Other elements of the draft strategies for Interpretation and Environmental Education:

  • teach awareness and understanding of natural resources by piloting unstructured discovery areas on some refuges.

  • develop Web–based resources and video programming to guide how to deliver education programs.

  • improve citizen science programming and stewardship by working with existing partners and programs.

The Strategic Growth implementation team has completed a rapid top–to–bottom assessment of the status of all Refuge System land protection projects. The assessment includes the history of land acquisition and how it may shape the future. It also establishes a base line from which the team can work in creating new policy. Given the cost and time of expanding the Refuge System, the team must ensure that actions are valuable and the right choice for the American people.