|Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Maine||USFWS
Last year, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invited the National Wildlife Refuge Association to lead the effort to engage refuge Friends groups, nongovernmental organization partners and other constituencies in the vision planning process, I accepted enthusiastically. I had been involved in Service planning efforts at Keystone, CO, in the late 1990s, but, to my mind, this process was going to be even better. For the first time, the Service was opening the discussion of its future under a big tent, initiating an extremely open process of public engagement.
We rolled up our sleeves, and what a process it has been.
Over the past 10 months, my staff, Service team leaders and I have sat down for dozens of listening sessions with Friends groups, environmental advocacy organization CEOs and refuge gateway community leaders. Weve reached out to a variety of refuge users: tribal leaders, birdwatchers, hunters and anglers, environmental educators, wildlife photographers and others. Noted authors such as photographer Dudley Edmondson and law professor Rob Fischman have contributed insight. Weve involved nontraditional partners in the discussion, too.
On www.AmericasWildlife.org, the online community we created with the Service to engage and inspire the public, weve invitedand received bold ideas about the National Wildlife Refuge Systems future. The ideas have come from a wide range of Americans who value refuges. Weve incorporated their voices, along with those of Service leaders and field staff, in a lively blog that has helped the Conserving the Future vision process evolve and blossom since last fall.
When it opened up the planning process to such a wide circle, the Service did something truly unusual for a federal agency, and Service leaders should be commended for taking that leap of faith. Looking back, I can honestly say that the process has yielded a harvest of ideas and public engagement that is unprecedented in Service history.
The ratification of the final vision in Madison, WI, will not mark the end. Instead, it will signal a new beginning, when the hard work of implementation will start, and it will be especially important that each and every refuge user, nongovernmental organization and Friends group remains engaged. A vision for the Refuge System is not a destination. Rather, it is a journey. I look forward to sharing it with many fellow travelers.
Evan Hirsche is president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.