screenshot of virtual meeting
Virtual meeting of Friends with Director Williams

When Martha Williams began her new role as Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service on March 8, 2022, the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates (CORFA) recognized an opportunity to connect and make sure the new director knew about Friends groups and all they do for federal partners and their communities. CORFA identified topics that they wanted to share with the director and then selected representatives of a few Friends organizations to present in a virtual meeting on July 5, 2022. These Friends, highlights, and requests from their organizations are outlined below:

*       Jim Stone, board member of Friends of the Wichitas (OK) told how the Friends helped to restore the historical Ferguson House, which was destroyed during a prescribed burn on Fort Sill in 2015. Jim also discussed how nature stores connect refuges with the community and build revenue for long-term support of the refuge. Further, he shared that Friends of the Wichitas assist with eradicating 120,000 invasive species annually. Finally, Jim made our guests aware of a staffing issue on his refuge. “With 2.3 million visitors per year to the refuge and two law enforcement officers, sometimes one of them has been detailed to another location to help with wildfires or hurricanes and it’s almost impossible to perform the functions that they need to, and that greatly affects everything on the refuge.”
*       Kathy Woodward, board member of Friends of Great Swamp NWR (NJ) told how the refuge was founded by local citizens who worked to save the land from becoming a jet port in northern New Jersey. Their Friends recruit and train volunteers to be at their visitor center and visitor contact station and staff volunteers at their boardwalk 7 days a week, year-round. Kathy also shared that they have created interpretive materials and guides, including a tree and shrub guide, auto tour guide, Jr Refuge Manager Program materials, and interpretive signs. The group has also accepted a bequest from the family of Chandler S. Robbins, the field biologist who first banded Wisdom the albatross on Midway Island, to create a viewing platform at Great Swamp NWR in his memory.
*       Aimee Arent, executive director of Friends of Ottawa NWR (OH) shared how her group worked closely with refuge staff to form a strategic plan and a joint vision for the future. Some of their goals included expanding habitat and outdoor recreation through land acquisition and public access projects. Aimee noted that they have purchased 69 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and prairies to date. Their first land acquisition project was the 40-acre Fox Nature Preserve, which they purchased with the help of a $100,000 donation in 2019.It is now open to the public, and later this summer, through grants and donations, the group will construct an ADA-compliant hiking trail. She also indicated concern for staffing on the refuge and asked for continued communication and partnership to help ensure that the Refuge System has necessary funding.
*       Jim Chapman, vice president, and Vicky Guerra, board secretary, of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor (TX) joined from Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande Valley NWRs. They shared that the Friends have revegetated more than 15,000 acres along the river and acquired seven tracts of land. They’ve also started native plant gardens at 40 local public schools. Their most urgent concern is the continued construction of the 86 miles of border wall, part of which will affect the Santa Ana Refuge. Border walls do not allow for any terrestrial wildlife movement back and forth across the river, creating a major habitat disturbance. Jim and Vicky asked Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland to urge the Secretary of Homeland Security to rescind the existing border wall waivers to defend their refuge lands and wildlife for present and future generations.
*       Finally, the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates briefly highlighted their work
connecting Friends across the country, supporting the Friends community, and advocating for the needs of the Friends and Refuge System.

Director Williams thanked the groups for their presentation and for what Friends do to support our refuges and hatcheries. She recognized that USFWS couldn’t meet their mission or reach as many people as needed without the help of Friends. We thank Director Martha Williams, Refuge System Chief Cynthia Martinez, and Deputy Director of Operations Wendi Weber for joining us and hope that this meeting was a good step toward continuing open communication between the Friends and Service leadership.