In July 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe told those who attended the historic Conserving the Future conference in Madison, WI, “People must be a key component in our conservation strategy.” Those words ring equally true today as nine implementation teams work toward fulfilling Consering the Future’s 24 recommendations and the vision that will guide management of the Refuge System for the next decade.

The implementation teams—powered by more than 120 Service employees—are crafting new, innovative ways to reach Americans, improve scientific excellence in the Service, nurture Friends and community partnerships, and offer greater opportunities in hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation, among other goals. Progress on implementation has been steady.

Teams at Work

The Community Partnerships implementation team, for example, has surveyed Refuge System employees to understand the challenges and successes on the ground as the team seeks to strengthen volunteer programs, Friends organizations and community partnerships. Information from the survey will help the team complete a strategic plan, including actions to increase the number and effectiveness of volunteers, Friends and partnerships. At the same time, a sub–team is preparing a mentoring needs assessment to go to 21 Service offices and field stations and a dozen Refuge Friends to help identify issues and explore strategies to address them.

On other fronts, the Strategic Growth implementation team is identifying national priorities to guide the Refuge System’s expansion, including such measures as birds in decline, and threatened and endangered species. The Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative team held face–to–face meetings with a score of nongovernmental organizations to learn about programs already designed to reach urban communities and how the Refuge System could collaborate or adapt similar programs. As a result of the meetings, the Trust for Public Land agreed to sponsor a 2013 Urban Refuge Partners Summit.

The Communications implementation team has been working with a marketing firm, which held personal discussions with stakeholders to understand the barriers that may be preventing the Service from reaching urban audiences. The firm also gauged the Service’s “voice” in the areas of scientific excellence, clean air and clean water, recreation, and traditional sports like hunting and fishing. The results are reflected in a draft communications plan.

Other steps and considerations by implementation teams are:

  • A revitalized “ambassador program” that would train Refuge System employees who meet the public face–to–face—whether they are wage–grade employees or refuge managers.

  • A survey of Refuge System employees to gather “lessons learned” during the first round of Comprehensive Conservation Plan development.

  • Attendance at this year‘s annual conference of the States Organization for Boating Access to gather ideas and information about new recreation opportunities for people with disabilities, including Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)–compliant boat ramps.

From science to strategic growth, community partnerships to outdoor recreation, and communications to interpretation, the nine Conserving the Future implementation teams are making progress. To keep pace with the teams’ progress and view the Conserving the Future vision, visit