The Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General has completed their audit of the Refuge Friends program, and released their final report. The Refuge Association and the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates have responded to this report with a letter to Interior Secretary Bernhardt expresses our dismay at the report.
We believe that Friends groups and volunteers are an enormous resource for the refuge and hatcheries systems. These community volunteers are dedicated to their local site and are scrupulously devoted to ensuring their activities benefit their site and the refuge and hatchery systems as a whole. They provide support by getting children out on a refuge to explore puddles, buying toilet paper, and raising funds for visitor centers. The implication that they are unable to operate under the laws of the State in which they are registered as a 501(c)(3) is insulting. Friends groups are being denigrated in the press by an under-researched and inaccurate report.
Portions of the report imply that Friends are using donations inappropriately. The report does not recognize that Friends are independent organizations that must raise funds to support their operations and not all funds are raised on Service-managed property. Friends need to use funds, even those generated on site, for expenditures such as salaries and liability insurance that are required to operate nature stores. The report incorrectly assumes that all revenues generated by Friends must be used exclusively for the benefit of that refuge or hatchery. This stipulation only applies to net revenues generated on Service-managed property.