Nine teams have been meeting over the past two months as they forge ahead to begin implementing the 24 recommendations in Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation, now online at where the Executive Implementation Council has also posted the guiding Implementation Plan.

The process of building the Conserving the Future vision was one of the most transparent that government has undertaken. Now, the Refuge System plans to adopt that same transparency during implementation. Conserving the Future will guide the National Wildlife Refuge System for the next decade, based on three pillars: wildlife and wildlands, a connected conservation constituency, and leading conservation into the future. Implementation is expected to be substantially complete within the next five years.

“The vision calls for us to be proactive in the face of vast changes in our climate, the landscape, and in the fabric of the American people and economy,” says Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Implementation of the recommendations will be complex. Some actions may require policy or organizational change. Some require a review of ongoing activities. Others may initiate broad new programs.

Jim Kurth, chief of the Refuge System, chairs the Executive Implementation Council, which includes top leadership in the Service’s eight regions and in the Refuge System’s headquarters. Service employees make up the nine implementation teams—planning; strategic growth; scientific excellence; community partnerships; urban wildlife refuge initiative; communications; hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation; interpretation and environmental education; and leadership development.

Each team is developing work plans and strategies to implement specific recommendations. Quarterly progress reports will be available online at

A volunteer seins for aquatic wildlife at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, GA.
A volunteer seins for aquatic wildlife at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, GA.
Credit: Steve Hillebrand

Community Partnerships

The Community Partnerships team is working on the two recommendations that directly affect Friends and volunteers:

Recommendation 11: Develop and nurture active and vibrant Friends groups or community partnerships for every staffed refuge or refuge complex.


Recommendation 12: Develop a national strategy for recruiting, coordinating and supporting a more self–sustaining volunteer corps, while creating new opportunities for community involvement in implementing refuge priorities.


Marge Kolar, refuge chief in the Pacific Southwest, asked to co–chair this team because “I have felt throughout my career that volunteers and Friends are among the most important assets we have as refuge managers and we need to encourage and support them.” Her co–chair is Ken Grannemann, Washington Office Division of Information Technology and Management chief.

The team has already identified four key projects or objectives:

  • Develop a “how to” handbook for staff who work with Friends, volunteers and community partnerships.

  • Incorporate Friends and community partnerships into a national strategic plan already being drafted for volunteers.

  • Improve training and mentoring both for Friends and staff.

  • Provide enhanced, easily accessible web–based tools for Friends, volunteers and community partners, such as a comprehensive recordkeeping system for volunteers.

“We have a two–pronged recommendation related to Friends groups. One is to ensure vibrant and active Friends groups and the second is to establish new groups,” says Grannemann, “but our initial focus will be on promoting the vibrancy of existing groups.”

Friends groups are independent, 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations whose specific mission is to support a particular refuge or refuges. Community partners are other groups that have a formal relationship with a refuge to pursue common objectives. The Community Partnerships team plans an online survey of refuge managers to help determine opportunities for improved work with volunteers, Friends and community partners.

The team also will be working to reinvigorate and expand the volunteer program so local communities are more aware of the benefits of having a refuge in the area and more people become involved in stewardship of refuge resources. An expanded pool of volunteers is also envisioned as a source of future Friends members.

“We’re very interested in providing the support Friends need,” adds Kolar, who says the implementation team has been reading all the comments posted on the Web site and discussed during the conference. Friends may continue to share ideas with her at