Taking the pulse of the Refuge System, several Conserving the Future implementation teams distributed and analyzed survey results, while others met to move strategies and documents to the draft stage for the public to see this fall.

The Community Partnerships implementation team, the first one to survey Refuge System employees, found that 99 percent of responding refuges used volunteers; 57 percent had at least one community partnership; and 89 percent thought a Friends organization was either critical or could be helpful in achieving refuge goals and objectives.

Among other findings from the Community Partnerships survey:

  • 61 percent of respondents rated individual and group volunteers as having a broad spectrum of activity in support of various refuge programs, as well as being very effective.

  • About 20 percent of respondents reported that their Friends organization did not have a formal written agreement; a similar proportion reported that Friends organizations had a narrow focus and often required substantial assistance from the refuge staff.

When asked to identify the top challenges facing Friends organizations, respondents most often selected: too few active board members; board members facing burnout; lack of active and engaged members; trouble finding new board members; and a small total number of members.

The overwhelming challenge for refuges is the time it takes to manage Friends, volunteers and community partnerships. Refuge managers reported they lack enough staff to take advantage of the opportunities offered by these groups and individuals. At the same time, lack of staff or time to train and supervise volunteers is the biggest challenge for those who have volunteer programs.

The Community Partnerships team used those findings as it assembled the outline for a handbook to guide Service staff in developing relationships with volunteers, Friends and community partners. The outline is available at http://AmericasWildlife.org/.

On another front, three Conserving the Future implementation teams met in August to complete documents and strategies in communications, strategic growth of the Refuge System and planning. The Strategic Growth team met as it finished an assessment of the Refuge System’s land protection efforts over its 109-year history. That assessment will be presented to the Refuge System Leadership Team— which includes the eight regional refuge chiefs—in late October.

The Communications implementation team met to draft a strategic communications plan and messages. A liaison from the Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative implementation team took part as the two teams found areas of collaboration.

The Planning implementation team is analyzing survey responses as it assembles lessons learned from the past 15 years of Refuge System experience in writing comprehensive conservation plans (CCPs) and associated stepdown plans. The team met to discuss a draft report on the future of planning. The team is awaiting a report from 24 graduate students at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, who examined the 180 CCPs published from 2005 to 2011.

Follow the progress of Conserving the Future implementation teams at http://AmericasWildlife.org/.