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.
To be effective, nonprofits must recruit and retain board members who support their ideals, represent the diversity of the community, and bring a wide range of skills. This workshop covers:
How boards change as organizations grow and change
Finding and filling the gaps on your board
Creating and using a board job description
Board orientation strategies
This is an interactive webinar, so come prepared to participate!
The stories we tell about our organizations let folks know why we exist and the impact we’re having on those we serve. The stories we tell about the work being done on our refuges and hatcheries should motivate folks to care about and support these sites.
Presenter Andy Robinson(www.andyrobinsononline.com) provides training and consulting for nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies. Over the past 27 years, Andy has worked with clients in 47 US states and across Canada.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, he has designed and facilitated nearly 150 online meetings, webinars, and remote workshops covering a variety of topics, including fundraising, board development, marketing, leadership development, facilitation, planning, change management, and train-the-trainer programs.Andy is the author of six books, including Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money, www.trainyourboard.com. His latest is What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid. He lives in Plainfield, Vermont.
Becca Bryan’s post about the Florida Panther NWR and interesting photo collage was the winning post for January. Becca explained “Why It Matters”:
The Florida Panther NWR matters to families of all kinds! Our native wildlife uses the refuge for more than just a refuge away from the busy roads and noisy humans. It is 26,000+ acres of safe, quiet space where family making and raising takes place.
Established in 1989, Florida Panther National Wildlife is located within the heart of the Big Cypress Basin in Southwest Florida. It encompasses the northern reach of the Fakahatchee Strand, the largest cypress strand in the Big Cypress swamp. This Refuge protects core habitat for the endangered Florida panther and all native wildlife who roam within this top predator’s habitats.
The Florida panther once roamed throughout the southeastern United States. Today, they are confined to only five percent of their historic range. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge provides critical habitat for these ghost cats, but more needs to be done to restore their population. on.
For hundreds of years, towering cypress trees up to 130 feet tall and 25 feet in circumference dominated the landscape of what is now Florida Panther NWR. In response to World War II, logging of cypress trees throughout the Big Cypress basin started in 1944. An average of 1,000,000 board feet per week were harvested from the swamp using temporary railroads. The logging operations started in what is now Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and moved north through the refuge area. By 1957, the last of the trees were harvested, except for those found in the Corkscrew Audubon Preserve. Slowly the cypress swamps have recovered as a new generation of cypress replaces the fallen giants.
The Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge is an amazing organization providing funding and many volunteer hours in support of the Refuge. The Friends work to safeguard the Refuge through education, outreach, advocacy, and being an active partner in Refuge projects. They are also focused on protecting the native flora and fauna found in the Florida Panther NWR and its partner refuge, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Friends’ projects center on restoring the Florida panther and its habitat within its historic range.
The Friends support education within the community by providing funding and volunteers for outreach efforts. This includes volunteering at over 30 events annually to educate the general public about the plight of the Florida panther and the importance of the Refuge, funding “Living with Panthers” brochures and motorist cards, participating in the annual Florida Panther Festival and funding a Refuge intern position for public outreach.
The Friends are also currently fundraising for the development of a new visitor center on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. This building will replace the current USFWS office and include exhibits and interactive learning opportunities for visitors. Along with the new visitor center, improvements will include interpretive and backcountry trails, ranger-led tours, and a wetland viewing platform. This project aims to raise public awareness about sustainable resources for endangered and threatened species, habitat connectivity, and water quality and flow.
The Friends’ advocacy campaigns focus on facilitating northward range expansion and protecting existing panther habitat in southwest Florida by advocating for acquisition and preservation of environmentally-sensitive lands, opposing the development of prime panther habitat north of the Florida Panther NWR, supporting the establishment of the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and joining the No Roads to Ruin Coalition to oppose the development of three new toll roads in the heart of panther territory. Collisions with vehicles are the #1 human cause of death for Florida panthers.
Sponsoring “Save the Panther Day” at the annual Refuge open house, guiding tours of the Refuge, funding interpretive signs on Refuge trail and hosting special events at the Refuge are just a few more ways the Friends support the Refuge.
You can see again why this Refuge like all the other National Wildlife Refuges truly “matters”. From protection of the beautiful Florida panther, outreach to the local community and educational opportunities for visitors, we see again how critical it is for Refuges like these to be protected and fully funded.
Congratulation Becca and the Friends of Florida Panther Refuge!