The National Wildlife Refuge System, the nation’s largest network of lands and waters dedicated to wildlife conservation, is facing a staffing crisis that threatens its ability to protect biodiversity and provide recreational opportunities for all. Despite being essential for protecting endangered species, conserving habitats, and connecting communities with nature, the Refuge System has lost over 800 permanent positions since fiscal year 2011, resulting in an enormous 25% loss in capacity.
In response to this dire situation, the National Wildlife Refuge Association is focusing its efforts in the 118th Congress to raise awareness of this issue and secure the necessary funds to sufficiently staff the Refuge System.
Join Director of Government Affairs & Public Policy, Libby Marking, on March 30th for a conversation about the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Refuge Staffing Campaign.
Testimony For The House of Representatives Appropriations is due next Friday, March 17th, by 5 pm ET
The National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses more than 850 million acres of lands and waters across America’s 568 National Wildlife Refuges, including 5 Marine National Monuments. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to fulfill its obligation to the Refuge System’s 59 million annual visitors and diverse wildlife on a budget of a mere 59¢ per acre.
As Congress begins the appropriations process for fiscal year (FY) 2024, it is important that those who love the Refuge System let them know how critical increased funding is for refuge funding in FY2024. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies has called for written public witness testimony on the budget to be submitted by next Friday, March 17, 2023 by 5 pm ET. This is an opportunity for Refuge Friends organizations and individuals to tell the Subcommittee about the funding needs and lack of staffing of the Refuge System. Please take part in this process to ask that they fund the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Operations and Maintenance fund at $1.5 billion in FY2024 appropriations.
To help you through this process, the National Wildlife Refuge Association has drafted sample testimony and provided instructions for providing the testimony to the Subcommittee. Please note that a Witness Disclosure Form and an attached resume/cv must also be included with your testimony.
In this webinar, you will learn about basic types of insurance important for small nonprofits, including General Liability, Directors & Officers Liability, and Volunteer Accident coverage. We will also discuss insurance matters specific to Friends groups, including the ways in which private insurance compliments partnership agreements and is important even with the existence of various immunity/liability protection statutes designed to protect nonprofits.
Presenter Meghan Mullee Vice President, Conservation Practice Alliant Insurance Services, Inc.
Meghan Mullee is Vice President of Alliant’s Conserve-A-Nation® Insurance Program, the largest specialty program for environmental nonprofits in the country. Meghan’s work focuses on nonprofit clients engaged in land conservation, environmental education, watershed restoration, and wildlife habitat preservation. She helps conservation organizations to clarify and evaluate risk and brokers insurance solutions for conservation clients at the national, regional, and local levels.
Lisa Jansen-Rees has shared several photos of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and her post this month was the winner for February. Lisa wrote in her post “the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge matters because its unspoiled beauty gives us a glimpse of our history. And while many artists try to capture that beauty on canvas, nothing beats experiencing the sites, scents, sounds, and feel of walking through God’s country”. Mike and Cathy Ward’s stunning sunset photo at Caddo Lake was included with the post.
Also in January, Lisa shared another reason the Refuge matters. Health studies indicate spending time in nature increases feelings of calmness, increases endorphin levels and dopamine production, restores capacity for concentration and attention, reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels, reduces irritability and decreases feelings of isolation. The WMWR includes 8,570 acres of designated Wilderness area where people regularly go to “lose their minds and find their souls.”
Wichita Mountains is one of the oldest, most prestigious national wildlife refuges in America. Set aside in 1901, Wichita Mountains was originally established as a forest reserve. President Theodore Roosevelt redesignated the area in 1905 as the Wichita Forest and Game Preserve created “for the protection of game animals and birds and shall be recognized as a breeding place thereof.” Encompassing 59,020 acres (about 90 square miles), the refuge manages 22,400 acres for public use and 8,570 acres of Wilderness.
The Refuge is located about 20 minutes northwest of Lawton, Oklahoma and attracts between 1.52 and 1.72 million visitors each year. The Refuge hosts a rare piece of the past – a remnant mixed grass prairie, an island where the natural grasslands escaped destruction because the rocks underfoot defeated the plow. Worn by time and nature, the Wichita Mountains loom large above the prairie in southwest Oklahoma—a lasting refuge for wildlife. Best known for its roaming herds of bison, longhorn, and Rocky Mountain elk, Wichita Mountains also offers quality opportunities for wildlife dependent recreation including fishing, bird watching, wildlife photography, hiking, camping, and kayaking.
The Friends of the Wichitas was loosely formed in the late 1980’s, near the time the USFWS started it’s Friends Initiative, by a group of faithful Refuge volunteers with a vision for the future. Since that time the FOW has filed its 501c3 certificate with the state of Oklahoma, updated its charter and policies with the help of CORFA and the NWRA, opened a very popular Nature Store within the Visitors Center, funded historic restoration, led extremely popular public tours on behalf of Refuge management, and regularly boasted approximately 300 members strong.
Congratulation Lisa and the Friends of the Wichitas!
To celebrate our youngest daughter’s third birthday, we planted three trees at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge outside of Portland, OR. It was a wonderful day filled with laughter and mud from head to toes. Decades have passed and we now live on the other side of the country. Yet, whenever we visit the refuge, we look for our trees and we smile. We’re proud of our small contributions and want to share the magic of this place and the communities who support it.
You know that sense of pride and ownership of your refuge or hatchery!
Kenneth and Patty Kupchak with the Friends of Hakalau Forest NWR located on the slope of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, have spent decades working with others to restore the beautiful endangered native forest. “Their Trees” now provide critical nesting and foraging habitat for endangered species, including the Akiapolaau.
SHARE YOUR STORY
I bet all of you have similar stories. We need to share these stories—tell our neighbors, friends, communities, and elected officials why these places matter to us!
It was because of citizens sharing their stories that the Refuge System was created. By raising our voices and showing our love for these places, we will ensure that refuges and hatcheries continue to exist.
“In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum
Our stories have the greatest impact on those folks we have relationships with, and that includes members of our communities and elected officials. Since we support federal lands, we need to develop and maintain relationships with our Members of Congress (MOC). Why? When MOC are working on the budget and struggling to set our nation’s priorities, they are more likely to make the refuge and hatchery systems priorities if they have information from people with whom they have a good relationship.
PREPARE FOR ACTION
Members of Congress are social animals and relationships are important to them. Building these relationships takes time and attention. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to start this work.
TIPS FOR BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS (MOC):
If possible, identify someone who already has a relationship with the MOC.
Get to know their legislative record, and if they’re new, then look for that first major newspaper profile of them. Check out their social media and website.
Determine where their values and interests intersect with yours.
Get to know what they need; listen to them.
Get to know their staffers. New MOC tend to hire district or state staffers first and then hire the Washington, DC, staff.
Offer to do something for them like:
Invite them and/or their staffers to visit your site.
Give them an opportunity to speak to their constituents in a friendly setting.
Photograph them at your site and share the photo.
Educate them about:
How your Friends group is impacting their district/state.
The refuge and/or hatchery systems.
The unique aspects of the refuge or hatchery jewel within their district or state.
Stay in regular contact with their staff. Share your newsletter, send them a quarterly brief, etc.
Form a Government Relations Committee so you can focus on cultivating these relationships.
Develop broad policy guidelines designed to enable the Committee to communicate on a fairly continuous, real-time basis with the MOC’s offices.
Friends, you are constructive, value-added constituents! When an issue important to your refuge or hatchery arises, it is a rare congressional office that does not want to help. After all, the site is in their district or state and may allow your MOC to be instrumental in bringing home a solution.
Remember, there are a lot of advocacy resources on the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates website. Watch for communications from NWRA and CORFA about upcoming webinars and sharing sessions on storytelling and the FY2024 advocacy campaign.
This process of building relationships can be fun and rewarding. We’ll share one more story with you. A number of years ago the project leader at my local refuge retired and there was no indication that he would be replaced. Well, one of the advantages of living close to Washington, DC, is that it’s easy to attend Congressional hearings. I attended a budget hearing for the USFWS, and at that time my Congressman was the ranking member on the committee for House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. His legislative director and I had a good working relationship, and he came over to ask what we needed. During the hearing, the Director of USFWS was asked when the Congressman’s refuge project leader would be replaced. The complex got a new project leader.