The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took important steps in late September toward realizing a major objective of the Conserving the Future vision: to connect urban Americans with nature and the conservation mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

On Sept. 25, Service Director Dan Ashe signed a Director’s Order that authorizes and encourages all Service programs to conduct cooperative fish and wildlife conservation, education and outreach in urban communities.

On the same day, the Refuge System announced the establishment of eight pilot urban wildlife refuge partnerships — in Chicago, Houston, Baltimore, Seattle, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Providence, RI, and New Haven, CT.

“These are not Service–owned lands, nor are they governed by Departmental or Service regulations or policies,” the Director’s Order says of the eight pilot partnerships. “Instead, these are lands that are owned and managed by others who share our interest in establishing National Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships. These partnership lands are located in urban areas so people can enjoy outside experiences that foster connections with fish and wildlife and their habitats.”

The pilot partnerships enable the Service to work with key community organizations to connect with audiences that have not been active in wildlife conservation. More information about the partnerships is available on the Refuge System Web site (

The partnerships were formed in response to Conserving the Future Recommendation 13, which calls for the creation of “an urban refuge initiative that defines excellence in our existing urban refuges, establishes the framework for creating new urban refuge partnerships and implements a refuge presence in 10 demographically and geographically varied cities across America by 2015.” Two other urban wildlife refuge partnership designations are scheduled to be announced by 2015.

The Director’s Order was signed in conjunction with the first–ever Urban Academy, where Service staff and partners learned about cultural diversity and how to engage new audiences to foster a new conservation constituency.

Participants in the academy also helped the Conserving the Future Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative implementation team refine the “Standards of Excellence for Urban National Wildlife Refuges.” The standards are aimed at refuges within 25 miles of urban areas with 250,000 people or more, but also can benefit refuges serving rural communities. They are designed to help refuges engage urban Americans in new, effective ways.

The initiative and the partnerships are part of the Service’s determination to make its programs far more relevant to millions of Americans — 80 percent of whom live in big and small cities.