Each of the nation’s approximately 230 Refuge Friends groups has been invited to send a representative to the Conserving the Future conference in Madison, WI, July 10–14. There, a reinvigorated vision will be ratified to guide the Refuge System for the next decade or so.

Scores of break–out sessions, workshops and lectures will be held throughout the four–day conference, along with plenary sessions for the 1,200 people gathered at the Monona Terrace Community and Conference Center. An array of technologies is being put into place to bring Friends into the conference from their own homes and offices.

Four major conference speakers have been confirmed: retired Admiral Thad Allen, national incident commander for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; historian and prolific author Douglas Brinkley, whose latest book is The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom, 1879–1960; Sylvia Earle, a former chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, now a National Geographic explorer–in–residence and a widely–read author; and National Geographic photographer DeWitt Jones, who is a widely–sought motivational speaker.

Jane Goodall, considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, won’t appear in person. Instead, she will send a video message. Others are also expected to send their messages electronically.

The day–by–day conference schedule will be posted http://americaswildlife.org/ well before the conference starts. The Web site will also be a continuous avenue for nationwide participation. Live streaming video will be aired at http://americaswildlife.org/live/.

During plenary sessions, Friends will be able to submit questions from their own computers as speakers also take questions from the floor. Blogs will be routinely updated from the conference and posted at http://americaswildlife.org/blog/. Scores of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees will act as reporters throughout the conference, creating videos and writing blogs, tweets and Facebook entries about plenary sessions and workshops. Photos will be continuously posted on Flickr.

“This may well be a first for the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Refuge System Chief Greg Siekaniec. “Up to now, the Conserving the Future process has been the most transparent we could create as core teams posted their outlines online and the draft vision drew comments for about 60 days online. The bold ideas forum drew thousands of votes online as we looked for new directions for the Refuge System. Now, by using the latest in technology, we will be bringing thousands of people into the ratification process while we keep our carbon footprint as small as possible,” Siekaniec continued.

The July–August issue of Refuge Update, the Refuge System’s bimonthly newsletter, will focus on the conference. It will be available in early July at http://www.fws.gov/refuges/.