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 Regulations

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 and volunteers help restore marsh at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in New York.

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. Find the 2022 Friends Academy application form here.

Upon completion of this course, participants will be able to: 

  • Outline the basic organizational structure structure
    Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

    Learn more about structure
    for the National Wildlife Refuge System and identify programs and staff working with Friends partnerships; 
  • Employ three new strategies or skills to build effective relationships with Service staff and board members within the Friends/Service partnership; 
  • Implement new strategies to enhance the sustainability of their board and membership and volunteer programs; 
  • Implement new strategies to build their organization's capacity; 
  • Use new resources and tools to increase the effectiveness of their Friends organization; 
  • Use new Friend-to-Friend relationships to share successes and boost their effectiveness as a Friends leader; and 
  • Describe broader roles Friends can play in protecting, enhancing and expanding the National Wildlife Refuge System. 
Volunteer Wayne Allan helps visitors in the Friends gift shop at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Kentucky.


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:

  • Spring Cycle applications due May 31, with mentoring process taking place between May and October. 
  • Fall Cycle applications due October 31, with mentoring process taking place between December and March. 

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 Spring 2024 application can be found here.  

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.


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


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:

  • 1,124 organizations engaged
  • 7,363 volunteers participating

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 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

Story Tags

Connecting people with nature
Habitat restoration
Wildlife refuges

Recreational Activities