photo of Rebekah Martin and Michael Gale standing at a podium
Conserving the Future vision coordinator Rebekah Martin and communications coordinator Michael Gale at the Wisconsin Sendoff banquet. (Jim Kurth/USFWS)

When I first donned my refuge uniform as a SCEP student at Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, I never dreamed that 10 years later I would be coordinating the Conserving the Future conference.

What an honor, and what a wild ride the past two years have been! Planning a conference at this scale is not something the Refuge System does frequently. I received helpful guidance from Fulfilling the Promise conference organizers, but records from the 1998 Keystone, CO, gathering were scarce. Mostly, I was in an unfamiliar world without a map. My comfort zone is compatibility determinations and RAPP. Now, I was evaluating potential conference sites nationwide, deciphering contracts, working with speaker’s bureaus, learning the logistics of moving 1,100 attendees through break spaces designed for 600. Those are skills I never expected to hone.

The conference was simply incredible. What can I say about the passion of all who attended—in Madison and online? They made it successful. As did more than 100 work group members and volunteers onsite who oversaw everything from registering participants and monitoring discussions to arranging banquet centerpieces and helping first-time tweeters.

Watching all we had been working on for months jell was exciting, a relief and even bittersweet.

Having been so fortunate to play this role, I find it fitting to return to the field to help implement the vision the conference celebrated. I will be deputy refuge manager at Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex, where I will join you, as I said in Madison, in showing others our way of conservation—persistently, fearlessly and together.