Implementation of the Refuge System’s Conserving the Future vision is on the fast track.

Charters have been written and members are being selected for the first three teams established by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe when he closed the Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation conference July 14.

Those teams will focus on strategically growing the Refuge System, fleshing out details of an urban wildlife refuge initiative, and developing the next generation of Refuge System leaders. Indeed the latter team—the Leadership Development Council—was charged by Ashe to build on the successful approach used to implement the leadership goals of Fulfilling the Promise, the previous guiding vision of the Refuge System.

Fast–track implementation was a direct consequence of passion for progress evident throughout the Conserving the Future conference. There, people who had never before blogged or tweeted took to new media to transmit their enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

Awesome Speakers

Approximately 1,100 participants—including several dozen refuge Friends—heard from an array of speakers including Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer in Residence and a former chief scientist for NOAA; a taped message from world famous chimpanzee scientist Jane Goodall; and environmental entrepreneur Majora Carter, who founded Sustainable South Bronx in 2001 when few were talking about sustainability and today travels the world with that same message.

Perhaps no one summarized the passion for conservation more than historian and award–winning writer Douglas Brinkley, who declared,

“If I wasn’t a professor, I would want to be like you because of the integrity of the Fish and Wildlife Service. You undertake this as a spiritual mission.”

Brinkley specifically cited the importance of Refuge Friends groups, urging them and refuge staff to cultivate local journalists in the cause of conservation. “Call them up. Feed them stories. Invite them to photograph a sunset. Get your news on the Internet,” he encouraged as he recalled that eminent CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite—whom polls found was the most trusted man in America in the 1960s–70s—became a conservationist after he covered the first Earth Day as a journalist.

The conference pulsated with excitement and activity. Scores of workshops, facilitated discussions and lectures offered participants opportunities to exchange fresh ideas, call for refinements in the vision document and learn new ways to achieve conservation goals.

Service Director Dan Ashe signs the vision document on an iPad, visible on giant screens to everyone at the conference.
Service Director Dan Ashe signs the vision document on an iPad, visible on giant screens to everyone at the conference.
Credit: Karen Leggett

Now the Work Begins

Overall implementation of the Conserving the Future vision will be the work of the Executive Implementation Council, chaired by the chief of the Refuge System and supported by the Refuge System Leadership Team, and a council coordinator, a full–time position within the Refuge System. Other deadlines are:

  • A refined and final vision document will be published by National Wildlife Refuge Week in mid–October, in accordance with the Director’s mandate.

  • The Conserving the Future charter, signed by Ashe on an iPad, calls for development of an overall implementation strategy within 90 days of the vision document’s publication. The strategy is to identify teams or individuals tasked with implementing the document’s 24 recommendations—and deadlines to get it done.

  • The Conserving the Future vision is to be largely implemented within the next five years, according to the charter.

In chartering the strategic growth team, Service Director Dan Ashe noted during his closing conference remarks, “We need a rapid, top–to–bottom review of current land acquisition projects. We need clear priorities and biological objectives in order to decide how many new projects we can take on and how to select them.”

Calling the urban wildlife refuge initiative “exciting and innovative,” Ashe said, “There are many important wildlife and habitat management challenges in our vision for conserving the future. We will not succeed in these endeavors unless we have strong support from a connected conservation constituency. People must be a key component in our conservation strategy.”

The initiative seeks to identify what makes national wildlife refuges successful near cities like Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco, New Orleans and Portland as the Refuge System works to expand programs in at least 10 cities in the next few years.

For those who didn’t tune into the virtual conference, you have a chance to relive the excitement by reading stories on the Newswire or watching videos still available on