CORFA Submits Testimony to the U.S. House

  • Post category:Advocacy
  • Reading time:7 mins read

MARCH 10, 2022


Chair Pingree, Ranking Member Joyce, and Members of the Subcommittee:

I appreciate the opportunity to provide written testimony on behalf of the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates. Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates (CORFA) is a non-stock corporation in the Commonwealth of Virginia whose mission is to be a national peer support group for members of Friends organizations and community partners, who are working to promote the understanding and conservation of natural, cultural, and historical resources associated with the National Wildlife Refuge and Hatchery Systems. Our organization has approximately 800 participants. I am Vice President of the Board of this organization. We thank you for your support for the National Wildlife Refuge System and for the opportunity to offer comments on the FY2023 Interior Appropriations bill, most importantly regarding funding for the Refuge System Operations and Maintenance Fund, which we respectfully request you fund at $712 million for FY2023.

Volunteer removing blackberry vines

CORFA is an all-volunteer organization aiding the nonprofit groups that support National Wildlife Refuges and Hatcheries. These groups turn to CORFA to build relationships through conversations that answer questions and share information, insights, and experiences concerning nonprofit governance and management. Members of these nonprofits can receive and give advice on the various challenges our incredible organizations face such as building capacity, marketing and communications, fund-raising, and coalition building. I am a member of the Board of this organization and serve as Vice President.

When the pandemic quickly shutdown most federal, state, and local parks, and other public lands, there were few places visitors could go to safely enjoy and appreciate nature, while masked and socially distanced. One of those places was often a National Wildlife Refuge. Although Visitor Centers, restrooms, and even the parking lots might be closed, people flocked to National Wildlife Refuges by the millions to soak up a much-needed ration of the outdoors.

In 2019 over 59 million people visited National Wildlife Refuges. As more and more people “discovered” refuges as a respite in the very stressful time of Pandemic, there has been a heightened awareness of these public lands as a valuable resource to local communities. Refuges pumped $3.2 Billion into local economies in 2019. But, with increased awareness and usage came increased need for upkeep and protection. The Fish and Wildlife Staff has done a stellar job of preserving the habitat of our refuges, but they are working at a great handicap. The completely inadequate budgets continue to fail to cover the cost of maintaining the incredibly rich and diverse wildlife habitats that make up the Refuge System. Our refuges are being loved to death.

A 2020 National Audubon article stated, “A lack of resources throughout the refuge system is limiting its capacity to provide healthy habitat for birds and other wildlife. Essential infrastructure is crumbling. Managers oversee growing groups of refuges that are lumped together even when they’re hundreds of miles apart. And staff can’t provide the community outreach and visitor services they want to offer.

Fixing these problems would take at least $900 million a year, advocates say. That’s a far cry from the refuge system’s budget of $502.4 million for the 2021 fiscal year.”

This funding gap that has arisen due to low budget allocations over the last decade has degraded critical wildlife habitat and imperiled important species. The Refuge System cannot fulfill its obligation to the American public and our wildlife without increases in maintenance and operation funds. Even with the gains in FY 2020, overall funding for the Refuge System has declined substantially over the last twelve years. Funding in FY2010 was $503 million – $598 million in today’s dollars with inflation and salary increases. This difference of $95 million has forced the Service to cut back on programs and create efficiencies whenever possible – efficiencies that are sometimes harmful or even dangerous. For example, many refuges have been placed into complexes, where staff travel sometimes large distances to juggle duties on multiple refuges. We must change this trajectory.

National Wildlife Refuges are currently funded at 59¢ per acre per year. Compare that to funding for National Park Service at $30 per acre per year.

The number of annual Refuge System visitors jumped by 13 million over the last few years and is likely to take another jump for 2021 visitors, due to lack of access to many other nature areas as mentioned above. More people are looking to recreate on wildlife refuges, yet understaffed refuges struggle to provide those opportunities. Reductions in visitor services can be extremely limiting for constituencies who want to visit.

Equally troubling is a 15% drop in the number of volunteers since FY2011. At a time when record numbers of Americans are retiring and have the capability and desire to give back, the Service’s ability to oversee volunteer efforts has been curtailed. Volunteers provide an additional 20% of work on our national wildlife refuges, yet they are being turned away when the System needs them the most. We hear every day from Friends groups about the frustration their members are experiencing because they cannot perform the volunteer work for their refuge that they would ordinarily be doing. Outdoor areas will continue to be a safer and popular choice for Americans looking to escape the seclusion of pandemic restrictions but without adequate staffing, refuges cannot provide the volunteer supervision that makes many of their visitor services possible.

The Refuge System is bare bones right now and increased growth in urban spaces and outdoor recreation, and the impacts of climate change, place additional stress on the System. Every year, more and more refuges are closed to the public, habitat degrades, and visitors are turned away. Current funding is nowhere near the at least $900 million needed for full funding. Our goal is to reach that figure in the next three years. Funding the Refuge System Operations and Maintenance Fund at $712 million is a step to reaching that goal.

CORFA appreciates the Subcommittee’s consideration of our request of $712 mil for the refuge system operations and maintenance budget for FY2023 We look forward to working with Congress to accomplish this goal and appreciate your consideration of our requests. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Photo credit: Tualatin NWR Volunteer removing blackberry vines, photo credit: Brent Lawrence/USFWS

Continue ReadingCORFA Submits Testimony to the U.S. House

FWS Friends Mentor Program, Spring Applications Process

owl flying
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Two times each year Friends groups along with their FWS Partners have an opportunity to apply for the FWS Friends Mentor Program. The Spring Announcement and Application has just been posted. Applications will be accepted until March 31, 2022.

What is the Mentor Program? In many ways, it is just what you want/need it to be. Each mentoring relationship is different but, in a nutshell, Friends and their Refuge Management decide on the topics they would like to learn more about or have help with. That is part of the application. It could be training the board, planning a joint project, or, after this long Covid winter, a reboot to get your board and FWS staff excited about working together again, for example.

Once you have submitted the completed application it will be reviewed by the FWS Friends Coordinator, Linda Schnee, and the Regional Friends Coordinators. If your application is selected, you will be assigned a team of experienced and trained mentors, usually one FWS staff and one Friends Board/Staff person who will work with you on fleshing out an agenda, and then will come to your refuge to conduct a 2-day training.

At the end of that training, your group will identify a set of 3 or 4 objectives that you want to accomplish in the next year. Mentors then check in with you on a regular schedule to offer help, guidance, encouragement, and lots of cheers for the good work you are doing.

Sound like something that your group would benefit from? I’ve been on both sides of mentoring, as a Friends mentor and as a board member of a group being mentored and I can tell you from personal experience that this program provides a couple of skilled “consultants,” for a year, free-of-charge to your Friends group and your Refuge. So, what are you waiting for? Get that application going!

Continue ReadingFWS Friends Mentor Program, Spring Applications Process

Survey about Webinars: What Else You Shared!

CORFA logo with a wordcloud

This is the third and final blog on what we learned from our recent survey about webinar topics. Thank you to the 88 people who responded to the survey and for all your thoughtful comments. CORFA is all about Friends helping Friends so if you see a topic listed that you or your Friends group has some experience and expertise with, please let us know at, we’d love your help.

The graphic above depicts some of the most common topics that Friends mentioned in the tell us more section of the survey. These topics are listed in order of the number of times they were mentioned. What we hear is the Friends are looking for information on:

  • Fundraising with specific requests for training on capital campaigns and bequests as well as virtual fundraising.
  • Board and Volunteer recruitment along with community outreach. The survey tells us that we have work to do to build the boards and organizations that represent our communities and reach out to all members of those communities and welcome them to our refuges/hatcheries.
  • Strengthening partnerships with the refuge was mentioned several times. One goal of our webinars is to provide opportunities to learn more about our partners’ program, don’t forget there are other resources as well. The FWS Friends Mentoring program is targeted at strengthening partnerships. The next round of applications for Mentoring is expected right after Labor Day and we will be doing a webinar on mentoring and the application process closer to that date.
  • Finance, earlier this year two webinars were presented. You can access the recordings of those and all the webinars we’ve presented in the Resource Center tab on this website.
  • Stores, online stores, and inventory were also mentioned. Are you aware that CORFA has a Facebook group for retail that is very responsive to questions. We have also talked about starting some informal discussion groups one of which could center around topics related to stores. We’re looking for volunteers to help with this effort.
  • Collaboration with other Friends groups, we don’t get together often enough at the regional or national level. We are cooking up some ideas for Friends gatherings—probably virtual for now.
  • And finally what time of day should the webinars be offered? People who work during the day are not able to attend live. We are at a loss as to when we could present the webinars so that everyone who wants to participate live, can do that. Our refuge and hatcheries Friends groups span 9 time zones and the International Dateline. If you have suggestions, let us know.

While we try to provide a wide range of training specific to Friends groups, again, we are not the only resource. Someone asked for training on wildlife and environment. Someone else was concerned about hunting on refuges. That is not in our wheelhouse but there are many workshops and trainings available through FWS’s National Conservation Training Center, most of which can be paid for by FWS scholarships. Talk to your Regional Friends Coordinator about training in the topics you are interested in.

We are searching for Friends groups with expertise in all of these topics. If you are interested in sharing your experiences and expertise please contact us at

You gave us so much valuable information and we are trying to make good use of it to provide you with the training you want and need. Thank you!

Be sure to join the CORFA Facebook group and NWRA Friends contacts (E-Newsletter and Advocacy and Webinar invitations)

Continue ReadingSurvey about Webinars: What Else You Shared!


Roles of Respondents
We asked respondents to give us a little bit of information about their Friends group and their role within the group. We realize that many of you play a lot of different roles in your group, so we tried to let everyone give us as much information as you wanted to about that. Over one third of our respondents identified as Board Members, although many of them also selected other ways that they are active with Friends.

pie chart showing number of board members

Board Size
Over half of respondents serve on boards with 6 to 10 members with the rest on boards that were bigger or smaller than that.

Size of Membership
Almost a third of our respondents were from Friends groups with over 200 members and over a quarter were from groups with 101-200 members but well over a third of our survey-takers are in groups with fewer than 100 members or don’t have memberships for their group.

Age of Friends Organization
Thirty-seven respondents came from groups that have been in existence more than 20 years while 10 came from groups less than 5 years old. We really love that diversity!

What else should we have asked about the people taking the survey and the Friends group(s) they are affiliated with? I wonder if we had respondents from any Fish Hatchery Friends groups. Were their survey-participants from community partners or groups that don’t have a Partnership Agreement with a refuge? How about people in groups that support programs like Friends of Duck Stamps or Friends of NCTC? There are so many ways that you all support the refuge and fisheries system, and we all know that no two Friends groups are alike. The more we learn about each other, the more support we can provide in making sure that each Friends group is strong, resilient, and accomplishing everything they can to support our fragile environment.



I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it when I take part in a survey and then never hear anything about the survey results. So, for the 88 of you who generously gave your time to provide us with answers to our questions and for those of you who didn’t but would like to know what the respondents told us, here you go with the results of our recent Friends Webinar Survey.

I’m going for the focus of the survey first, specifically, what webinar topics seemed to be of most interest to the respondents of our survey. Look for information from other parts of the survey in coming blog posts.

We provided 11 general subjects that we thought might be of interest to Friends and asked them to rate their interest in each topic as High, Medium, Low, or No interest. Here’s what you told us:

The winning topic in both “High” plus “Medium” interest and with the most “High” interest votes was OUTREACH & COMMUNICATIONS. We need to dig deeper now and find out exactly what kinds of things you are interested in but be sure to check out our Webinar on June 9 at 2:00 Eastern, with Angie Horn the NWRA Southern California Regional Refuge Partnership Specialist and Angelina Yost, The FWS Urban Programs Coordinator. They will be telling us about successful ways of building community partnerships, no matter where your refuge is located. To register click here.

No surprise that the second most “High” plus “Medium” interest votes was FUNDRAISING, followed closely by GRANTS. We have one fundraising webinar planned for the near future and will continue to seek presenters and subjects related to these two high-demand topics for additional presentations in the future.

The last topic we will highlight was GOVERNANCE & LEADERSHIP. Again, this is such a broad topic that we will be looking for some guidance from you as to what aspects of governance and leadership you would like more information about.

A couple of the remaining topics are areas that we have already provided webinars on, specifically, ADVOCACY & LOBBYING and FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT.

The remaining topics were Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI), Organizational Planning, Technology, Volunteer Management, and Sales/Retail. While these topics did not receive as many “High” or “Medium” interest votes as the ones mentioned above, none of the suggested topics received fewer than 54% “High”/”Medium” votes. It looks like we have our work cut out for us. If you have ideas for a webinar in one of the categories listed or know of a Friends member/supporter who might be a good presenter on one of these topics, please reach out to Cheryl Hart or Joan Patterson. Thanks for your hel