As the Conserving the Future urban wildlife refuge initiative takes shape, refuges have been taking steps large and small to connect traditionally under–served people with conservation and nature. Here are just three examples.

San Diego Bay

National Wildlife Refuge, CA

The refuge’s Sweetwater Marsh unit is in the city of Chula Vista, seven miles from downtown San Diego. The refuge is engaging Hispanics and other urban residents in cooperation with two nonprofit organizations.

In conjunction with Celebra las Playeras (Celebrate Shorebirds), the refuge hired seasonal intern Jennifer Keliher–Venegas for three months this fall to promote the refuge at community centers, schools and libraries in Chula Vista, which is 58 percent Hispanic. Celebra las Playeras is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Environment for the Americas, a nonprofit devoted to international bird conservation. The program, which also placed interns at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Refuge and Oregon’s Bandon Marsh Refuge, aims to foster a connection between nature and Latinos.

San Diego Bay Refuge also works with the Living Coast Discovery Center to help make that connection. The center, a nonprofit aquarium/zoo that draws about 70,000 visitors annually, leases land from the Service on the 316–acre Sweetwater Marsh unit. A shuttle operates daily to take center visitors across a parcel of private property to the refuge trails.

Bayou Sauvage

National Wildlife Refuge, LA

This 24,000–acre refuge is within the city limits of New Orleans, whose population is 60.2 percent African American. To reach out to the black population, for the past three years the refuge has been part of the C2E (Connect 2 Educate) Collaborative, which puts the refuge and other local organizations in touch with the city’s public schools. The collaborative produces the Connect 2 Educate (C2E) Notebook: A Public Schools Guide to Community Resources, in which the refuge is listed.

When school groups visit, the refuge offers several environmental education programs, including a 2½–hour “Survival Wetland Wildlife Style” session for second– and third–graders and a four–hour “Habitat Is Where It’s At” program for fourth– to sixth–graders. In addition, refuge staff is in regular contact with principals and science coordinators. And, when time and resources allow, refuge rangers visit city schools.


National Wildlife Refuge, NY

As the Long Island refuge was opening its new visitor center this year, it contacted Suffolk County Transit about putting a bus stop at the refuge entrance. The transit authority agreed, and now the Route 7E bus stops at the refuge. The refuge will be labeled on the Suffolk County Transit system map.

The new bus connection “provides visitors and refuge volunteers who do not use a vehicle the opportunity to access the refuge,” says refuge manager Michelle Potter. “I think it could change the face of our visitors to some extent … Public transportation is an avenue that urban refuges can utilize in an effective manner to increase awareness of the Refuge System.”

This trend is not only among local residents, Potter says. “We recently had a couple from Germany who came out from New York City on the Long Island Rail Road and a Suffolk County Transit bus specifically to visit the refuge.”

Compiled by David Wagner and Bill O’Brian