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

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FWS Friends Mentor Program, Spring Applications Process

owl flying
Photo by Pixabay on

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!

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Friends Photo Contest Winner for February

Our Photo Contest for February brought in so many spectacular photos. One small change-only in the event of a tie, will the two photos go to NWRA’s Facebook page to determine the winner. We are still working out all the “kinks” for this and appreciate your patience.      

For February the winning photo taken by Dale Bales, is of a bison and a fiery red sunset at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, Iowa. Linda Frazier has other photos of the Refuge.    

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, Iowa was established in 1990 with the purpose to protect, restore and reconstruct and manage native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna and sedge meadow. Prior to European-American settlement, tallgrass prairie covered 85% of Iowa. Today, less than 0.1% of Iowa’s prairie remains in small isolated fragments. In an effort to bring back native prairie plant communities, refuge staff and volunteers gathered and used local seed sources to replant or reconstruct 4,000 acres of tallgrass prairie.

Today, the refuge protects over 6,000 acres of wildlife habitat and provides visitors, students, researchers and local landowners with educational, recreational and volunteer opportunities to learn about and enjoy their native tallgrass prairie heritage.

The Friends of Neal Smith NWR exists to assist the Refuge and the staff in a variety of ways. Helping with publicity, including through funding of a billboard is ongoing. Concerts, Bison Days, trail walks, guest speakers, gatherings of Friends group members, volunteer work days, art exhibits, photography contest and exhibits, scholarships, funding of transportation for school field trips, funding for internships, greeting visitors and operating the Nature Store are just some of the ways in which the Friends of NSNWR are involved with this special Refuge. 

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  • Post category:Advocacy
  • Reading time:2 mins read

Deadline to Submit Written Testimony is March 10, 2022

According to NWRA it is very important that we show the committee how much Friends Groups and members care about funding for the Refuge System. All of you have refuges that are understaffed and under maintained and desperately in need of funding. It is critical that we get a huge increase for the Refuge System this year. This is why we are asking for $712 million for the next fiscal year.

For more information and instructions on submitting your testimony go to the National Wildlife Refuge Association,

This is also the time for hatchery groups to submit testimony.


CORFA 2021 Annual Report

  • Post category:News
  • Reading time:1 mins read

Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates (CORFA) wants to share our 2021 Annual Report with Friends. CORFA is a community of Friends members collaborating to strengthen our organizations and our ability to support refuges, hatcheries, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2021 was a year of working together to create a network of support by sharing materials and experiences with each other in our Facebook group,webinars, newsletter, and this website.

Photo: W. Lowe/USFWS

Continue ReadingCORFA 2021 Annual Report