by Cynthia Martinez
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System
This has been a year for the record books. The National Wildlife Refuge System – with Friends groups as our strong right hand -- has touched and improved the lives of millions.
With the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the establishment of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, President Obama propelled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to unprecedented prominence, managing the world’s largest conservation estate. The Refuge System now has management responsibility for just over 850 million acres of lands and waters.
Unfortunately, this year will go down in history for the 41-day armed siege of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. I hope we never again see such an incident.
If there was anything positive out of those horrible days it was that Refuge Friends rallied around Malheur Refuge. The Friends of Malheur more than doubled its membership numbers. Other Friends groups rallied around them and also became Friends of Malheur. I have met people who live in Georgia and Florida who became Friends of Malheur. That’s what Friends are all about.
So is the work you help us do every day.
National wildlife refuges hosted more than 50 million visits, up from some 48.4 million a year earlier. Friends groups were central in getting people out of their easy chairs to participate in world-class recreation, connect with nature and sometimes even strike yoga poses in innovative programs. We served some 750,000 students and teachers in environmental education programs, many of them led by Friends groups who have taken on more responsibility as the Refuge System struggles with declining budgets.
We established two new refuges: the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area in Utah and Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in Illinois. That refuge came into being and was dedicated on October 15 because the Friends of the Kankakee was created to help the public understand the value of protecting the Kankakee River Basin.
The Refuge System launched four new Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships, named one new Urban Bird Treaty city and expanded 12 existing partnership as the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program set a national standard. In every partnership, Friends are in the forefront of working with residents to nurture a new generation of conservationists.
You can see a theme emerging: The Refuge System has succeeded because Friends groups are spectacular partners. That was vividly shown when 200 Refuge Friends traveled in January to the National Friends Academy despite predictions of an unprecedented blizzard in Shepherdstown, WV. The storm dumped 40-plus inches of snow on the National Conservation Training Center but Refuge Friends were all smiles and cooperative spirits.
Now we turn our attention to the work that lies ahead.
Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation has been a visionary blueprint for the Refuge System. The Refuge System – with Friends as partners – has come a long way in the five years since its adoption. It will guide us on a sure path in 2017 and beyond.
Refuge Friends have been dedicated visionaries for wildlife conservation. Friends have been the face of wildlife conservation in communities across the nation. You do extraordinary work every day, and I thank you for that. I am so honored to be on this conservation journey with you. Have a wonderful holiday season with family and friends, and a healthy new year.