Still Working, Still Hoping

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

Author: Ann Bloxom Smith, Friends of Black Bayou Lake NWR (LA)

someone serving Peach smoothies
Serving “Peach Soup” (smoothies!) | Ann Bloxom Smith

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.”

people gathered in front of a visitor center
25th Anniversary at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana | Anirudh Girey

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.

Community is 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:

girl with a snake draped around her neck
Fun at First Saturday Kids | Judy Corley
  • 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.

Continue ReadingStill Working, Still Hoping

The Link — Winter 2023 Newsletter

  • Post category:News
  • Reading time:8 mins read

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

It’s no secret that our refuges and hatcheries are underfunded and therefore understaffed. Sure, some overall budget increases have been approved recently, but by the time you account for inflation, much-deserved staff pay increases, and special projects for which Congress has designated funding, there’s not enough left to keep our refuges and hatcheries adequately staffed at the local level. At the least, Friends and volunteers may be feeling confused or frustrated; at the worst, they may be angry, desperate, or even disheartened.

So what’s a Friends organization to do? Well, advocate, of course! And this means advocating with decision-makers beyond those associated with our partners in the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This issue of The Link features stories of Friends who have worked to invite community members to their sites, not only to be more inclusive but also to gain fans and—ideally—more supporters and vocal advocates. You’ll see that perseverance is key, as is the ongoing effort to cultivate relationships with Members of Congress (MOCs) and their staff members.

Our Friends organization at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge (MN) has been cultivating relationships with our Representatives and Senators since before I joined the group almost 25 years ago; all of them have visited many times over the years, and we’ve even gotten acquainted with their local staff members. It’s not unusual for newly elected MOCs to contact the refuge about coming for a tour. The Friends are always invited to join in, and then we start the process of building relationships.

This doesn’t mean that dollars are on the way. However, several years ago a letter to our Regional Director, from a Representative known for condemning earmarks, is said to have influenced the Service to choose to allocate limited funding our way. We now have a Learning Center with a classroom, if not the entire Visitor Center that we have been advocating for, but this still counts as a big win.

Things are different now in 2023. Our needs at Sherburne are more basic—specifically, a visitor services staff member to support, among many other things, the work that volunteers and Friends do for the refuge. We aren’t giving up, though, and I hope you won’t, either.

Please read on for more news and views!

Read All Of The Stories!

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


The Fall 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 And please add 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 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 

Continue ReadingThe Link — Winter 2023 Newsletter