Skip to content
Information iconFriends of the Refuge Headwaters prepare to sheath saplings in Minnesota. (Photo: Mary Stefanski/USFWS)

Supporting Our Community Partners

The Refuge System provides support and guidance to almost 200 Friends partnerships nationwide and facilitates the formation of new partnerships at all staffed refuges or refuge complexes. Training, mentoring, networking and skill-building opportunities build group capacity while fostering individual growth.

A Friends partnership is made up of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Friends organization and a refuge or complex of refuges. The partnership is formalized in a Friends Partnership Agreement. All Refuge Friends organizations share the same primary mission: the support of a refuge, complex of refuges or program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Refuge Friends groups have flourished since the passage of the Volunteer and Community Partnership Act of 1998, which directs the Refuge System to encourage volunteer assistance, facilitate non-federal partnerships, and encourage donations by organizations.


The Service updated its policy in July 2021 regarding working with Friends groups. It is 633 FWS 1- 4 and can be found here

There are also some new tools to help Friends (and Service staff) interpret the revised policy. These include ethics guidelines for Service staff when working with Friends, an annual checklist for Service staff when working with Friends, and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) which will be updated to reflect questions as they arise.

Overview of Federal Ethics Laws and Regualtions

Annual Friends Tasks/Documentation Checklist

Friends Policy FAQ

Training and Mentoring

Training and mentoring opportunities are integral parts of the Refuge Friends Group partnership program. The Refuge System is committed to fostering individual growth and organizational development in its Friends and volunteer partners. Refuge System leaders deeply appreciate the conservation efforts of devoted community members and know that as their capacity grows, so does their effectiveness in helping refuges meet critical conservation goals.

NCTC Friends and Volunteer Training Fee Waivers

Friends members and volunteers can apply for fee waivers on courses offered by the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Waiver recipients will have tuition, meals and lodging fees paid and travel reimbursed.


Friends Of Bosque cleanup day
Cleanup Day, Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (Photo: USFWS)

Friends Academy

Friends Academy is an advanced Refuge System training program for board members of refuge Friends organizations beyond the formative stages of development. The five-day course cultivates emerging Friends leaders by building a deeper understanding of the Refuge System and enhancing nonprofit and partnership skills to boost the effectiveness of Friends/Service partnerships. Upon completion of this course, participants will be able to: 


The Friends Partnership Mentoring Program offers peer-to-peer coaching for refuge and fisheries Friends groups and their Service partners to boost partnership success. Whether a group needs help to draft bylaws, apply for 501(c)(3) status or tackle a big project, mentors can offer guidance. There are two application cycles for the mentoring program each year:

If selected for mentoring, partnerships can have a pair of mentors travel to their station, at no cost to the station or Friends organization, for peer-to-peer coaching.

The application can be found here.

Nonprofit Organizational Life Cycles

03_volunteer_Wayne_Allan_helps_visitors in_Friends_shop_Wolf_Creek_NFH_Brett_Billings_USFWS.jpg
Volunteer Wayne Allan helps visitors in the Friends gift shop at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Kentucky. (Photo: Brett Billings/USFWS)

Nature Stores

Nature stores located at national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries are an important source of revenue for many Friends groups, which use the proceeds to help fund refuge conservation efforts. Because Service employees are barred from transacting sales or collecting money at nature stores, the overall operation and administration of these stores remain the sole responsibility of Friends.

The Public Lands Alliance offers some resources and training on generating revenue through merchandise sales.


Webinars about the new Friends policy took place in July 2021 and will be repeated in August 2021. For more information about these webinars, please contact Linda Schnee at

Check out U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Friends Quarterly Webinar recordings

Summary of 2017 Webinars

Smart Ways to Avoiding Burnout in Stressful Times
Friends Versus Volunteers - Answers to Your Top Questions Revealed
Special Events - Get Inspired


The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) have worked together for many years to provide grants for Friends groups. 
From 1998 through 2020, NFWF awarded 561 grants totaling more than $2.9 million in federal and private funds, leveraged by $3.2 million in grantee matching funds. The program produced the following results:

In April 2021, NFWF decided to discontinue its National Wildlife Refuge Friends grant program. Current grantees are NOT affected by this decision and should carry out their projects until the end of their performance period. The Service will share more information soon about future funding opportunities for Friends. Learn more here about the history of the NFWF Friends Grant program.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge Friends Coordinator Contact List


Linda Schnee
Falls Church, VA 22041
Phone:  703-358-1840


Chelsea McKinney
Portland, OR
Phone:  503-231-2231


Emily DeLanzo
Albuquerque, NM
Phone:  505-248-6632


Megan Wandag
Minneapolis, MN
Phone:  612-713-5463


Kevin Lowry
Atlanta, GA
Phone:  404-679-7110


Susan Wojtowicz
Hadley, MA
Phone:  413-548-8002


Jackie Jacobson
Coleharbor, ND
Phone:  701-442-5474 ext. 127


Helen Strackeljahn
Anchorage, AK
Phone:  907-786-3391


Derek Carr
Sacramento, CA
Phone:  916-414-6681


Information iconFriends and volunteers help restore marsh at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York. (Photo: Phillip Bonn)