When Friends of Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges was looking for a boost in its first few years, it turned to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. A $5,000 NFWF grant enabled the group to buy a computer and projector for presentations; develop a Web site; print a brochure, business cards and bookmarks to distribute at festivals, and acquire two kayaks for better bird counts.
When Friends of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho needed help spreading the word about birding activities, it turned to the foundation. A $1,500 NFWF grant resulted in a professionally created Web site, now the Friends primary link with its members and widespread rural community.
When Friends of Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico wanted to expand its environmental education program in elementary schools, it too turned to the foundation. A $4,986 NFWF grantmore than matched by many local partnersenabled Friends volunteers to make previsits to 12 classrooms before bringing students to the refuge for field trips.
The foundation, created by Congress in 1984, is funded by Congressional appropriations and its many partners, which include private companies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies. NFWF program manager Teal Edelen says its Friends grant program has been extremely successful, making more than 350 grants worth $2.6 million to facilitate the startup and growth of Friends groups.
Friends of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho used a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to create a Web site. The site enables its 150 members and local residents to see what we’re up to, says volunteer Allen Rose. It makes us more professional. It instills pride in our organization.
Credit: Stan Bousson
But Edelen says NFWF contributes more than money, participating in proposalwriting workshops that help Friends find other grant opportunities and other partners.
With the help of NFWF and the Refuge System, says national Friends coordinator Joanna Webb, Friends groups have doubled in number in the past 15 years to 200plus. As a result, this years grants will emphasize strengthening groups organization and management. They will address life cycle issues such as turnover, recruitment and encouraging more members to be active. Friends, Webb says, are more than volunteers. I like to say they do the additional 20 percent of work that wouldnt otherwise get done. Their contribution to the Refuge System is huge.
Friends of Tampa Bay Refuges started in 2005 with 30 members, received its grant in 2008 when it had 76 members and now has 150. Board member Barbara Howard says the NFWFfunded communications tools and publicity materials raise the Friends profile. The kayaks provide a more accurate count of the birds on Pinellas Refuges nine islands, eight of which are closed to the public.
The monthly count used to be done by powerboat, skirting each closed island. Once, we were trolling the perimeter of Tarpon Key when 25 pink roseate spoonbills flew right up out of a lagoon. We wouldve missed all those birds. Now Friends members get a permit to paddle in. Its a neat thing to do, Howard says, and it gives us a better idea whats there.
Friends of Kootenai Refuge restarted three years ago, says board member Allen Rose, a 30year refuge volunteer. The Web site created with NFWF funds enables its 150 members and local residents to see what were up to, he says, and gives us a place to post our bird lists from field trips, which draw worldwide hits. It makes us more professional. It instills pride in our organization.
Friends of Las Vegas Refuge used its 2010 grant to bring 270 wellprepared fourth and fifthgraders to the refuge with a professional environmental educator, and the program continues on a smaller scale. The volunteers classroom previsits enhance the learning experience, says board member Sonya Berg, and busy teachers gratefully embrace a program that fits schools curricula. My kids have had their eyes opened even more to the beautiful nature of the Las Vegas area, one teacher wrote on the Friends Facebook page. They are so excited to return!
Alison Howard is a frequent contributor to Refuge Update.