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.
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.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge was designated an Urban Flagship Refuge in 2021. With the designation came an increased responsibility to reach out to community partners, remove historic barriers to access, and make all visitors feel welcome.
Focusing on our close-by neighbors, the refuge staff and volunteers looked for creative ways to engage the public. In the spring of 2022, a Generation Wild Youth Council was developed by Lillian Wangler, Coordinator, and two high school students from adjacent neighborhoods. The ten students will serve through the 2022-23 school year to provide a unique and vital link with the neighbors helping to make the refuge more welcoming.
The Youth Council volunteered at the annual Refuge Day event in October, which brought in a more diverse audience to the refuge than ever before. Greeting guests dressed as a black-footed ferret and making the most of their dual language skills, the Youth Council were the perfect advocates for a more open and welcoming refuge.
With Niall Goard as the new Council Coordinator, the students are engaged in becoming young stewards of the environment, while fostering a new relationship with their communities.
Back in July 2020, we began our letter to the regional director like this: “We have recently learned that our Park Ranger/Naturalist will soon be leaving Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge for another position…. We will miss her but wish her well in her new position, for which she is uniquely qualified. This does, however, raise concerns for us concerning the position she leaves behind. In these unsettled times regarding funding, health, and politics, we are anxious that ‘our’ position be filled in a timely manner. We understand that other refuges have funding and personnel needs, but we believe that this Black Bayou position is a top performer.”
Now, in January of 2023, we are still without a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) ranger (or any other staffer) at our refuge. Don’t get me wrong—our manager and other staff are great—dedicated and skilled at their jobs—but they are stretched ridiculously thinly over multiple refuges. The result is sadness and frustration that we can no longer offer the services that we used to offer our community—the community that from the beginning has supported this refuge with its money, volunteers, and goodwill. But we do what we can, and we’ve learned some valuable lessons about our community.
Communityis the operative word. The Friends of Black Bayou (FoBB) are still plugging along, keeping the visitor center open (though now just on weekends rather than the previous seven days a week). The FoBB board has now begun to have in-person monthly meetings instead of only Zoom meetings, and plans are to resume regular public program meetings as well. We still support our USFWS partners financially and with volunteer labor. We are incredibly lucky to have a resident volunteer who has taken on responsibilities far beyond what any volunteer would normally be expected to do, keeping our Conservation Learning Center open for several hours every day and taking care of our live-animals.
Community support of our refuge is apparent in other ways. Groups such as both of our local Chambers of Commerce (Monroe and West Monroe) have contacted politicians on our behalf, and the local Museums/Attractions Association has done the same. So far, the letters and direct conversations haven’t resulted in the hiring of a new refuge ranger, but we haven’t completely lost hope. Here’s why–during the past year:
We celebrated our 25th anniversary, with the help of numerous community, university, and scout groups, at our annual Fall Celebration.
For his Eagle Scout project, a local Boy Scout organized his troop to clean out invasive species from the pond adjacent to the Visitor Center.
Local medical school students had a WAR (Wilderness Adventure Race) at the refuge, teaching teams of students how to handle wilderness medicine scenarios.
FoBB participated in BLEND on the river—serving peach smoothies at this Arts Council festival and getting new members signed up.
We held our 15th annual refuge photo contest—always a favorite among adults and children.
We funded an annual luncheon to thank the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) employees, who have helped immeasurably while the USFWS is so short-staffed.
The LDWF held its popular Hunting and Fishing Day at the refuge, and plans are in the works for the community’s Earth Day celebration to be held there this spring.
We’ve continued our monthly First Saturday Kids events, introducing children to animals such as turtles and snakes, enjoying nature-oriented arts and crafts, and hiking on the refuge.
Listing all this makes me feel a bit better about what we’ve been able to accomplish even without a Refuge Ranger onsite, but I sometimes worry because our volunteer efforts will never be optimized without an USFWS staffer coordinating them, much less providing the environmental education so needed by our area children. But that’s the situation here and at many refuges around the country. Like you other Friends, we’ll keep on working and supporting one another however we can.
The Friends of Patuxent Research Refuge takes advocacy seriously. The Patuxent Research Refuge has been threatened like never before in its 87-year history. Patuxent is a one-of-a-kind national wildlife refuge dedicated to wildlife research. It led a quiet existence, largely unknown by its surrounding communities, since its designation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, but no more.
Not only are there the perennial issues of sufficient funding for budgets and staffing for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey missions on this 13,000-acre refuge that has been called “the lungs of Washington and Baltimore” by the late Paul Sarbanes, U.S. Senator of Maryland, but it faces external threats on virtually every boundary.
The threats to the refuge in recent years come from intensive, encroaching development in the Baltimore-Washington corridor; proposals by adjacent local and federal landowning agencies, namely NASA and Prince Georges County, to sell or develop large tracts of lands adjacent to the refuge once seemingly protected; and worst of all, a massive privately-owned transportation infrastructure project, the Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) Superconducting Magnetic Levitation train, that would actually ‘take’ a significant amount of land from the refuge and permanently affect unique natural habitats of the refuge and the watershed of the Patuxent River and its tributaries.
Faced with such threats and incursions on all sides, the Friends of Patuxent have become staunch and vocal advocates for the integrity of the refuge and its research mission. We have been active in contacting local, state, and national elected officials, particularly the Maryland US Congressional delegation, to advocate for the refuge and Eastern Ecological Science Center of USGS. We have become media savvy and learned who the most effective reporters and opinion writers are for the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and local and regional media outlets, and we have invited them to take tours of the refuge, led by Friends members, to see firsthand what the threats were. And we have been vocal, testifying on appropriations and commenting on legislation and proposed regulations. None of this was easy, but it came naturally when we saw the urgency and magnitude of the threats our refuge was facing and how we were the only ones who could speak unfettered on its behalf.
Perhaps most importantly in our advocacy, we have tried to reach out to the communities that surround the refuge to encourage them to act on behalf of the refuge, not just to learn about it and come out to enjoy it, but to become advocates for its protection and its future.
If your Friends group has not considered advocacy a critical part of your purpose, based on our experience at Patuxent Research Refuge, now is the time you should.