How Important Is Advocacy for Your Refuge?
Author: By Richard Dolesh, Chair, Board of Directors, Friends of Patuxent Research Refuge (MD)
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.