Authors: Joan Patterson, Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates, and Kenneth Kupchak, Friends of Hakalau Forest NWR

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.


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.


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.


  • 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.

Relationships matter!