FWS Friends Mentor Program, Fall Applications Process

owl flying
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Two times each year Friends groups along with their FWS Partners have an opportunity to apply for the FWS Friends Mentor Program. The Fall Application is now available. Applications will be accepted until October 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, Fall Applications Process

August Photo Contest Winner

Monarchs feeding on nectar plant

Karen Blakely Van Dyk shared beautiful images of monarchs and monarch caterpillars at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge.

River National Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve and enhance populations of wildlife and their habitats, to protect and enhance water quality, and to provide opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation and research. The refuge conserves the biological diversity of the Wallkill Valley by protecting and managing land, with a special emphasis on forest-dwelling and grassland birds, migrating waterfowl, wintering raptors, and endangered species. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan identifies the Wallkill River bottomlands as a priority focus area for waterfowl management within New Jersey.

Friends of Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge was founded in 2006 to support the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Refuge. Volunteers manage the activities of the Friends group and work in concert with Refuge staff to protect the environment and promote public awareness.

The Friends’ mission is to support the refuge through

  • Environmental stewardship
  • Educational and recreational opportunities for the public
  • Habitat management and enhancement
  • Land acquisition

Wallkill River NWR headquarters is in Sussex, New Jersey and part of the Lenape NWR Complex. The refuge encompasses over 6,000 acres of the Wallkill Valley, which used to be farmland and sod fields. Just 7 miles north of headquarters is the popular Liberty Loop Trail, which is a favorite spot for wildlife observation and photography. A portion of the trail is part of the Appalachian Trail and like the Winding Waters Trail are located in New York. In addition to these two walking trails there are numerous trail along the Wallkill River in New Jersey. You can also fish or kayak on Owens Pond or the Wallkill River. Visitors can also take an archery course or attend one of the many events held at the Refuge.

The Refuge has a variety of wildlife from amphibians to large mammals and is also a stopover for many migrating birds, including an occasional rare one.

Congratulations, Karen!

Photo credits:
Monarchs on liatris at Wallkill NWR by Karen VanDyk
Monarch caterpillar starting to crystallize by Kaen VanDyk

Continue ReadingAugust Photo Contest Winner

Good to Great: Building an Effective and Sustainable Friends Board

By Mary Beth Volmer, Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands (WI). Reprint from The Link, Summer 2021

FOPPI members construct an Aldo Leopold bench. Plum and Pilot Islands are part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge (WI). Photo by Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands.

In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins asks you to envision your organization—in our case, Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands (FOPPI)—as a bus. The size doesn’t truly matter. In this analogy, consider the Friends president as the bus driver with the seats filled by the board members. He emphasizes the need to fill the seats with the right people, don’t just fill them with anyone. Will these folks be ready to help push when the bus stalls? Will they provide ideas and inspiration when the bus isn’t running smoothly?

As president of FOPPI, I am overly proud to say that today my bus is filled with the right people who will push the bus through quicksand if they had to. That’s today … tomorrow may be different; folks get sick, they move, they lose their passion. The bus driver (aka me) needs to keep the bus moving — there’s wildlife that needs protecting, habitat that needs restoring, visitors that need to learn about our refuge.

Can I drive an empty bus? Yes, but that would be no fun. I need the camaraderie of others who share my same passion, who care about the refuge as much as I and want to see the light in a child’s eye when they tag their first butterfly or the smile on a woman’s face when she connects her hammer with a nail in our Women in Preservation program. The challenge is finding them, engaging them, and keeping them. We have board term limits, and many of our members renew their post for another three years; but they’re getting tired, and this poses a challenge. If any one of them left, I don’t have the bandwidth to take on what they are doing. We’ve been so busy doing what has needed to be done that we have missed the need to build up a reserve. We’ve been topping off the oil rather than changing it.

So we asked ourselves why, besides the opportunity to vote on key initiatives for our refuge, would someone want to join our board? Through the work that we did with the Friends Partnership Mentoring Program we identified what we felt we are doing right (bylaws, job descriptions, strong financials, etc.), brainstormed ideas, came up with still more questions, and fixed our sights on doing things differently. Following the 5-W strategy, here is a sample of what we came up with:

  • Who is a potential board member?
    • Folks who share our passion, those who volunteer regularly with us, and those who are interested in serving on a nonprofit board of directors.
  • What do we need to do to get a volunteer interested in becoming a board member?
    • Offer perks not available to volunteers, such as behind-the-scenes access and tours.
    • Introduce them to our ‘Volunteer Leader’ program—a role that is similar to a board member, less voting rights. Volunteer leaders are mentored by board members and encouraged to advance to a spot on the board.
  • When do we shamelessly begin our recruiting?
    • Now.
  • Where do we find these folks?
    • The LinkedIn social media platform partners with VolunteerMatch to match folks who are interested in serving on a nonprofit board. We turned the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands into a business and asked our board and volunteer leaders to connect to it.
  • Why serve on our board of directors?
    • The rare opportunity to work with some of the most passionate folk you are ever to meet who share your interest in conservation, and in our case — historic preservation. 

I hope that these ideas get you thinking. Consider board sustainability akin to the preventive maintenance that you would perform on your bus. Don’t wait for the oil light to come on!

2022 Updates on Board Recruitment & Structure:

  • FOPPI didn’t receive any responses from our LinkedIn recruiting.
  • FOPPI DID fill two open positions using Facebook Jobs.
  • They also realized that they didn’t need as many seats on the bus. The reality is that folks are busy and attending meetings can be a challenge. So, they created ‘Volunteer Leader’ roles. These folks provide valuable input, lead discussions, but don’t vote.
  • The board members that have fiscal responsibility to FOPPI members and donors include: Treasurer, Historic Preservation, Fundraising, Governance, Merchandising.
Continue ReadingGood to Great: Building an Effective and Sustainable Friends Board

July Photo Contest Winner

Copperhead at the Big Branch Marsh NWR, in Lacombe, LA by Sue Wilder

The July Photo Contest theme was “Reptiles & Amphibians”. Friends members shared photos of these cold-blooded creatures in honor of World Snake Day. Sue Wilder with the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc. submitted the winning photos of a copperhead taken while she was collecting data for the Gulf Coast Phenology Trail at the Big Branch Marsh NWR, in Lacombe, LA.

Big Branch Marsh NWR is one of nine refuges in the Southeast Louisiana Refuge Complex. Our Friends group, Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc. seeks to support our wildlife refuges. From staffing educational events to planting wetland plants towards restoration efforts, our Friends group is there. We have a small but mighty group of volunteers and members who love to support all things refuges.

The principal purpose of our Friends organization is to engage in promoting better awareness, appreciation, and conservation of the natural environment of the Southeast Louisiana Refuges Complex: to promote programs and services that will enhance the quality of the refuges, and to work with other agencies and organizations to raise funds and direct resources towards visitor services, educational, interpretative, and environmental projects which, without assistance, would not be accomplished solely through the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2021, we celebrated our 25-year anniversary.

Some of our well known events on the refuge include the Bayou Gardens Open House in the spring, our Youth Fishing Rodeo Event in early Summer and our most popular, our Wild Things Celebration in the fall. With recent Covid-19 restrictions our activities have been limited for the last two years we were able to help support “Boo on the Bayou”, a driving tour of not-so-scary wildlife stations (Bats, Owls, Snakes, Alligators, and Spiders – oh my) to educate children (and adults) about wildlife conservation while keeping socially distant. We look forward to the days when we can open our doors fully

Congratulations, Sue!

Copperhead at the Big Branch Marsh NWR, in Lacombe, LA by Sue Wilder

Photo credits: Sue Wilder with the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc.

Continue ReadingJuly Photo Contest Winner

The Link — Summer 2022 Newsletter

  • Post category:News
  • Reading time:6 mins read

The Link is a quarterly newsletter produced in coordination between Friends, the National Wildlife Refuge Association and Coalition of Refuge Friends & Advocates.

Summertime and more folks are on the road again visiting family and friends, state and national parks—and our national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries. This issue features stunning photos by Friends of refuges from Hawaii to the east coast. Friends mentors have been on the road again as well; enjoy photos from their visits to Maine and California. 

Vacation time means that we also have the opportunity to meet with our elected officials as the House and Senate take recess. We have included tips for inviting your Congress members to visit your site and an example of a compelling story that can help you compose your own story to tell once those representatives arrive at your refuge or hatchery. On the subject of advocacy, “meet” Libby Marking, the new Director of Government Affairs & Public Policy for the National Wildlife Refuge Association. 

Finally, read about CORFA and fellow Friends meeting with USFWS Director Martha Williams, participate in a CORFA online questionnaire, and see what webinars are on the calendar for the next few months. It’s another jam-packed issue for you to enjoy! 

Our Summer Features Include:

Read All Of The Stories!

Sue Hix, Editor
Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. MN


The Summer 2022 version of The Link has been a coordinated effort between the National Wildlife Refuge Association and Coalition of Refuge Friends & Advocates. 

To receive the next issue of The Link, complete the form at the bottom of this page https://www.refugeassociation.org/friends. And please add refugeassociation.org to the safe list for your email account.

You’re invited to join the CORFA Facebook group, a place to connect with other amazing members of the Friends community to share information, insights, and experiences concerning nonprofit governance, management, and advocacy. Go to  https://www.facebook.com/groups/coalitionofrefugefriends/ and request to join this private group.

  • Sue Hix (Editor) – Friends of Sherburne NWR
  • Joan Patterson (Co-editor)—Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates 
  • Libby Marking—NWRA Director of Government Affairs & Public Policy
  • Eden Taylor (designer)— NWRA Communications Associate 
  • Friends Editorial Staff:
    • Cheryl Hart—NWRA Board, Board member of Friends of Tualatin River NWR 
    • Kathy Woodward—Former NWRA Board Member, Board member of Friends of Great Swamp NWR 
    • Jim Stone– NWRA Board, Board member of Friends of the Wichitas

Continue ReadingThe Link — Summer 2022 Newsletter