National Wildlife Refuge System

From the Chief

Jim Kurth, Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System
Credit: USFWS

All Conservation is Local

I got a Facebook message from my old friend Kelby Ouchley the other day. Kelby and I started working on refuges in the Southeast back in the late 1970s.  Kelby wanted me to see a YouTube video about a TEDx speech recently given by Ann Bloxom Smith.  Ann is one of the Friends of Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, where Kelby served as refuge manager until he retired a couple years ago.  Ann has long been a leader in the Friends movement nationwide. 


The idea that Kelby would send me a Facebook message about a YouTube video of a TEDx speech struck me as somewhat ironic.  When Kelby and I started, we didn't have computers on refuges. I don't think the Internet existed yet; I know there were no Facebook, YouTube or TEDx speeches. The fact that we both had some idea of what we are talking about is somewhat remarkable.


Kelby said the TEDx was important and that every Friends group should watch, so I did.  It was a wonderful speech. That didn't surprise me as I've seen Ann speak before. She talked about how her community had come together to support the creation and development of the refuge.  She spoke in deeply personal ways about how important this place has been to her, especially during difficult times in her life.  She spoke of people and of place in powerful ways.  Ann is a thoroughly modern woman, smart and educated, artistic and insightful.  She has the warm heart and kind smile that exemplifies the southern hospitality I came to love so many years ago. 


She has learned that all conservation, like politics, is local.  She knows that when a sense of place and a sense of community come together, great things can happen.  Ann had the courage to get up on the stage and share what she has learned.  You should watch her speech at


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Last updated: June 17, 2013