Two summers ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ratified its vision for the National Wildlife Refuge System at the Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation conference in Madison, WI.

Several themes emerged from the July 2011 gathering: recognition of the nation’s changing demographics; the impact of a changing climate; the need for landscapescale conservation; the necessity of unprecedented collaboration; and the fundamental importance of scientific excellence.

The bold ideas from Madison inspired the entire Service and challenged the Refuge System to look at our work differently. Today, nine teams of Service employees are taking tangible steps to make Conserving the Future a reality.

The Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative team has identified new opportunities in underserved markets. The team received more than 60 nominations for Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships and has selected eight as pilots.

The pilots will be formally recognized in September at the Urban Academy, training at which about 150 Service staff and partners will share tools, discuss overcoming barriers to engagement and develop strategies to implement standards of excellence for urban refuges.

The pilots are designed to foster a land ethic in cities. Here are two examples: The Rhode Island Refuge Complex and the Southern New England–New York Bight Coastal Program will collaborate with the city of Providence, watershed associations, the zoo, Audubon and others to use the city parks system as a portal to reach urbanites. The San Diego Refuge Complex will create a River Rover, whose goal is to bring “people to the river” and “the river to the people” in Los Angeles. The project will involve a mobile exhibit space to include an interactive model of the Los Angeles River watershed.

Via Conserving the Future, the Refuge System also has committed to landscape–scale conservation planning to integrate the best available science to adapt to demographic and climate change. The Inventory and Monitoring Seven–Year Plan: 2013–2020 includes tools that help refuge managers document/justify monitoring priorities, streamline refuge management plan development and catalog individual refuge monitoring history.

Looking forward to the next two years, the Service will increase quality hunting and fishing opportunities on refuges; improve working relationships with state partners; and, where appropriate, invest in accessible facilities. New technology will be used to increase virtual and in–person visitation. An ambassador program will train employees, volunteers, refuge Friends and close partners to communicate and interpret key messages to the public.

“Like any other voyage, you have to get out the compass and get your bearings straight,” Refuge System Chief Jim Kurth said recently. “We are making progress. You are going to have headwind, like this budget climate right now, but this country will be strong again, and, in the end, people in this country like what we do and care about wildlife and wild places and want us to conserve these national resources. It’s an incredibly powerful recipe.”

Anna Harris is the Conserving the Future coordinator. To follow the implementation teams’ work, go to