“We can have great success in difficult times with vision and leadership,” said Jim Kurth, deputy chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, to the enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Conserving the Future conference.

The vision acknowledges that Friends are a refuge’s best ambassadors, noting that the Refuge System must “build on these successful citizen partnerships and take advantage of the opportunities that an aging but active baby boom generation provides.” Vision recommendation #11 calls for development of community partnerships so every refuge or refuge complex has a Friends group. Another recommendation calls for development of a national volunteer corps. National Friends coordinator Joanna Webb said there was overwhelming consensus among the 76 Friends attending the conference to support existing Friends groups, diversify programs for online accessibility and strengthen communication with refuge staff.

Siekaniec and Friends

Webb moderated an open discussion among Friends, former Refuge System chief Greg Siekaniec, who is now deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA). When Friends expressed concern about future funding levels for the Refuge System, Siekaniec responded, “You will need to think about your vision as a Friends group and focus on your priorities.”

After that session, the NWRA’s Joan Patterson said, “We need to pull together, draw on our combined strengths, and find all the possible right answers to the challenges the refuge system will face. Friends have an amazing capacity to find those right answers, when working with refuge staff to define challenges and brainstorm solutions.”

Like many who attended the conference, Gaye Lingley, representing Friends of San Diego Wildlife Refuges, CA, said, “It’s always a huge benefit to be reinvigorated and recharged by such inspirational speakers and to be with others of like mind.”

Susan Snider, Friends of the Norwalk Islands, CT, said she believes the vision’s urban refuge initiative should be a large part of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan discussion at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. “It will become critical to think creatively about how to connect urban populations with nature.”

Laurie Peterka and Ike Cabrera, members of the Friends of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, traveled the furthest. “We arrived at this conference empty and we left full of hope and vision,” said Cabrera. “We feel like we can bring the experience back to our community and continue the hard work, knowing there are partners who will assist us.”

In an exhilarating presentation illustrated with his own photography, former National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones gave everyone four bywords to guide their actions in the weeks and months after the conference—vision, purpose, passion, creativity. “Celebrate what’s right and that will give you the energy to come up with something that is truly extraordinary.”

The vision document is available at http://americaswildlife.org/wp–content/uploads/2011/02/Vision.Final.Conference.draft.pdf

For more information about Conserving the Future, go to http:americaswildlife.org.