Fish and Wildlife Service Logo National Refuge System Logo America's Wildlife Refuge System

Conservation in Action Summit
Summit Home
Executive Summary
Summit Teams
   - Leadership
   - Science
   - Strategic Growth
   - Wildlife-Dependent
   - Wildlife & Habitat
Opinion Survey
Online Chats
Daily Updates

Summit Overview | Director's Message | Messages from Refuge Managers

Conservation In Action Summit Letter from the Executive Committee

Dear Conservation Colleague,

The future of the National Wildlife Refuge System is becoming more focused than ever, thanks to your participation in the Conservation in Action Summit. We want to personally thank you for helping develop a shared sense of priorities that will guide the Refuge System into the future. Over the Summit's three and a half days we had more than 250 people engaged in open conversations about setting priorities for the System. The participants hailed from 38 states, representing a wide spectrum of backgrounds. Twenty-three refuge Friends groups attended, along with numerous state agencies and dozens of nonprofit conservation organizations. Similarly, employees representing the Fish and Wildlife Service included biologists, refuge managers, interpretive specialists, heavy-equipment operators, and regional directors. To say the group was diverse is an understatement.

Such a varied collection of people gathering to reflect on the future of Refuges was a great follow up to our Keystone conference of 1998. It raises the bar for the vision we identified in Fulfilling the Promise by focusing on the next level of actions we must accomplish.

There has been a great deal of information, ideas, strategies, and action items discussed over the ten months that culminated with the Conservation in Action Summit. We used a variety of tools including an initial brainstorming session with partners, an extensive survey of all Service employees and hundreds of conservation partners, extensive meetings of teams of experts to draft white papers, web chats and a focus group of 35 highly-experienced refuge managers to help refine those white papers, and finally the Summit itself. The breakout sessions and polling at the Summit seemed hurried to many, but there is no denying they provided a wealth of insights concerning the challenges facing the Refuge System. It will take some time to develop a detailed strategy synthesizing the shared priorities we have identified. We plan to have that strategy document drafted by Fall.

In the meantime, we want to share some preliminary results from the Summit.

Migratory bird conservation was the genesis of the Refuge System, and it remains a top concern for both the Service and partners. Summit participants demonstrated a shared understanding that the Refuge System needs a more systematic approach to bird conservation work on refuges including identifying species of special concern. Likewise, the importance of endangered species work on refuges was endorsed, with emphasis on refuge activities integrating with the broader endangered species efforts of the Service and other conservation organizations.

The grave threat that invasive species pose to refuges is evident to all. The need to implement a Systemwide strategy to deal with invasive species was strongly supported. The vexing issues associated the water quality and quantity on refuges were also identified as a major concern. In both of these areas, there is a clear need for basic inventories documenting the extent of the problem.

Fire management in the Refuge System program was discussed at length, and clear needs were identified to continue using fire as a tool for both wildlife management and fuels reduction.

The interest in marine conservation was very high. This is an area of emerging importance, and Summit participants recognized the extent of refuge marine resources and the threats they face. Basic work on identifying boundaries, resource inventory and assessment, and threat identification is needed.

Summit participants added their concerns about wilderness stewardship to the list of priority needs for the Refuge System. This topic had not been previously identified by the working groups, illustrating the importance of keeping the Summit process open to new ideas.

While everyone agrees that wildlife conservation is the primary mission of the Refuge System, there is mutual understanding that compatible wildlife-dependent recreation is a legitimate and important use of refuges. Participants showed a great deal of interest in the "Big 6" recreational uses (hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental education and interpretation), and there was recognition that the Refuge System has capacity to provide more recreational opportunities. However, there was a corresponding concern that thresholds of wildlife disturbance must be established to assure that recreation remains compatible with refuge purposes and the System mission. Encouragingly, there was strong endorsement for the Refuge System to develop a comprehensive environmental education program that will help today's youth become tomorrow's conservationists.

It seemed clear to all that a consistent image is important for the Refuge System, and equally clear that partnerships are essential to everything we do. Yet the number of people attending those breakout sessions were somewhat lower than others, suggesting this less glamorous work of committing to consistent signs, brochures, and symbols will take concerted effort, beyond lip service. It also illustrates that citizens, communities, and organizations are willing to help the Service safeguard refuges, but the Service must commit effort to jump-start and sustain these partnerships.

Everyone agrees on the importance of refuge law enforcement for protecting both visitors and resources. However, the difficulties in implementing law enforcement reforms are primarily administrative, as evident by most participants in these sessions being Service employees.

Strategic growth of the Refuge System was a topic of great concern at the Summit, and in some ways the most difficult to grapple. In today's world, land protection requires partnerships, as no single entity has the resources to do the job alone. The Refuge System must define its role in this new arrangement. Summit participants recommended a collaborative planning process that synthesizes existing conservation plans (from national, regional, and local levels) into tangible habitat goals. These goals can then be shared with partners to decide "who can do what" to protect necessary lands. Additionally, support was evident for establishing threshold standards to determine whether a potential acquisition has community support, acceptable operations costs, and most importantly, sufficient biological resources to merit inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Refuge System employees also expressed concerns about expediting appraisal and acquisition processes.

The need for scientific study and applied research to make the best management decisions was clearly identified. Summit participants want the Service to improve applied research by enhancing relations with USGS, universities, and others. Additionally, they sent a definite message that a national strategy for scientific monitoring on refuges must be developed to include baseline inventories (biological and non-biological) and more rigorous resource monitoring. Finally, there was much encouragement to communicate scientific findings in plain language to a broader audience.

The goal of the Summit was to develop a strong shared sense of priorities for the Refuge System, and allow us to garner background information and insights necessary to articulate those priorities. We will now work diligently to sift through all the information we gathered and develop a set of clear and concise priorities we can all share. We look forward to presenting the full results to you this Fall.


Jim Kurth
Deputy Chief – National Wildlife Refuge System

Evan Hirsche
President – National Wildlife Refuge Association

Bob Byrne
Wildlife Program Coordinator – Wildlife Management Institute


- Back -

For a Refuge System Visitors Guide
call 1-800-344-WILD