photo of Danny Williams helping Dan Ashe tweet at a social media station
Volunteer Danny Williams from Operation Fresh Start, a Madison nonprofit organization, helps Service Director Dan Ashe tweet at a social media station. (USFWS)

Implementation of the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Conserving the Future vision is on a fast track.

Individual charters have been written for each of the three implementation teams established by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe during his call to action, which closed the Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation conference July 14 in Madison, WI.

Those teams will focus on strategically growing the Refuge System, fleshing out details of an urban wildlife refuge initiative and developing the next generation of Refuge System leaders. Ashe charged the latter team—the Leadership Development Council—to build on the successful approach used to implement the leadership goals of Fulfilling the Promise, the Refuge System’s previous guiding vision.

Fast-track implementation was a consequence of the passion for progress evident during the four-day conference, which drew about 1,100 participants. Attendees and an online audience heard from an array of speakers, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; oceanographer Sylvia Earle; renowned chimpanzee scientist Jane Goodall via taped message; and eco-entrepreneur Majora Carter, who founded Sustainable South Bronx.

Perhaps no one summarized the conference’s conservation passion better than historian and author Douglas Brinkley, who said: "If I wasn’t a professor, I would want to be like you because of the integrity of the Fish and Wildlife Service. You undertake this as a spiritual mission."

Brinkley cited the importance of refuge Friends groups, urging them and refuge staff members to cultivate local journalists in the cause of conservation. "Call them up. Feed them stories. Invite them to photograph a sunset. Get your news on the Internet," he said. Brinkley recalled that CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite—whom polls found to be the most trusted man in America in the 1960-’70s—became a conservationist after covering the first Earth Day.

The conference pulsated with excitement. Scores of workshops, facilitated discussions and lectures offered participants opportunities to exchange ideas, call for vision document refinements and learn new ways to achieve conservation goals. A vibrant news desk produced stories, video interviews and a noontime newscast beamed across the country on

Cutting-edge technology was everywhere, from the iPad that Ashe used to sign the Conserving the Future implementation charter to the two large screens that flashed Twitter feeds during the general sessions. Hundreds of people who had never blogged or tweeted used work stations, staffed by youthful volunteers, to try their hand at new social media.

Now the Work Begins

Overall implementation of the vision will be the work of the Executive Implementation Council—chaired by the Refuge System chief and supported by the Refuge System Leadership Team and a full-time council coordinator.

Ashe mandated that a refined final vision document—which contains 24 specific recommendations—be published by National Wildlife Refuge Week in mid- October. The charter he signed calls for development of an overall implementation strategy within 90 days of the document’s publication and for the vision to be largely implemented within five years. The executive council expects that strategy to include six implementation teams beyond the three established by Ashe.

In chartering the strategic growth team, Ashe said: "We need a rapid, top-tobottom review of current land acquisition projects. We need clear priorities and biological objectives in order to decide how many new projects we can take on and how to select them."

Calling the urban wildlife refuge initiative "exciting and innovative," he said, "There are many important wildlife and habitat management challenges in our vision for conserving the future. We will not succeed in these endeavors unless we have strong support from a connected conservation constituency. People must be a key component in our conservation strategy."