Updated Friends Policy

  • Post category:USFWS Policies
  • Reading time:2 mins read
child and adults looking at reptile at a Friends of Brazoria NWR festival.

Dear Friends Community-  

We are pleased to announce that the updated Friends Policy (633 FW 1- 4) has just been finalized and uploaded to the Service’s policy website and is effective immediately.  The policy is a tool to help the Service and Friends work together for the shared goals of protecting the resource and engaging communities. The policy is the last deliverable from the Department of the Interior Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit and the culmination of a multi-year process. 

Policy revisions began several years ago and included discussions among the Service, NWRA and the Solicitor’s Office. Since receiving the audit report in September 2020, we have involved as many stakeholders as possible, both internal and external, to create a well-rounded, straightforward policy that addresses both longstanding concerns and issues raised by the OIG. We received more than 550 comments from within the Service, as well as an additional 550+ comments from the Friends community. We appreciate the concerns we have heard from the Friends Community about both the content of the policy and the process by which it was updated. Each and every comment received was carefully evaluated and changes were made wherever possible, taking into consideration the real-world implications both for Friends and Service staff.  

We know there will be a lot of questions and we are committed to providing both Service employees and the Friends community with the necessary tools and information.  We’ve created a communications and training plan to highlight changes and address questions, including FAQs, handouts on Ethics Guidelines for Service staff when working with Friends, and webinars, among other tools. We look forward to working with the Friends community to ensure we provide the necessary resources to help implement the policy. 

We will be rolling this information out to you starting next week including a timeline for sharing these materials and training opportunities. Please contact Linda Schnee with any questions.  

Thank you for your input and patience during this process. Friends partnerships are invaluable to the Service, and we hope this new policy reflects the appreciation and respect we have for our Friends groups. We look forward to working with you as partners to implement this new policy; ultimately strengthening our shared commitment to supporting conservation.    

Thank you,
Cynthia
Chief
National Wildlife Refuge System

Photo credit: Friends of Brazoria Wildlife Refuges

Continue ReadingUpdated Friends Policy

Submit Comments on Federal Register Notice

  • Post category:USFWS Policies
  • Reading time:3 mins read
owl

Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates (CORFA) and the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) urge Friends to respond to the notice in the Federal Register about collecting documentation from their organizations. Friends input is necessary to guide the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in the collection of information in support of our mutual goals and objectives. They may also influence revisions to the Friends policy and Friends Partnership Agreement (FPA).

These revisions would be the result of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit report of the USFWS Friends program. A finding of the OIG implies that FWS does not know if Friends are using donations appropriately. FWS agreed to take corrective actions to improve oversight of the program. These actions will include revising the policy and FPA to:

  • Establish accountability with respect to donations, revenues, and expenditures to ensure they benefit the applicable refuge or hatchery;
  • Require Friends to provide an annual performance report including donations, revenues, and expenditures, and
  • Periodically review the FPA and evidence of nonprofit status.

The revisions to the policies and FPA have the potential of impacting Friends organization’s practices and procedures.

Please review the notice in the Federal Register and craft comments that:

  • Reflect your understanding of the documentation FWS is requesting,
  • List documentation Friends can provide FWS to assure them that funds raised for the benefit of your site are being properly accounted for,
  • Indicate how Friends would document the value to your refuge/hatchery of your programs and activities,
  • Assess the accuracy of FWS’ estimate of the time it will take to collect the documentation,
  • Describe ways to enhance the quality of the information, and
  • Suggest how to minimize the burden of providing the information.

The CORFA and NWRA have drafted comments to submit and Friends are welcome to review and borrow them. We do, however, want any comments submitted by Friends groups and members to be unique and particular to your specific refuge or hatchery—comments submitted through Federal Register requests are ore highly ranked if they are not the same as the other comments.

The deadline to comment is January 8, 2021.

Reference OMB Control Number “1018-Friends” in the subject line of your comments. The easiest and most direct way to submit your comments is to email comments directly to: Info_Coll@fws.gov

You can also mail your comments to the Service Information Collection Clearance Officer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB (JAO/3W), 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803 (mail)

*There is a direct link to submit comments in the Federal Register announcement, but this link does NOT work.*

We urge Friends groups and members of their board to submit comments. Every Friends group, FWS site, and partnership in the Friends community is unique. Your comments need to represent your unique circumstance. FWS wants to hear from you!

Regards,
Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates
National Wildlife Refuge Association

P.S. Should you need any assistance contact Caroline Brouwer, NWRA, or Joan Patterson, CORFA. If you want to share your comments with the Friends community, please send them to Joan and they will be posted on the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates website.

Comments Submitted by Friends:
Willem Stoeller, TRNWR






Continue ReadingSubmit Comments on Federal Register Notice

Ensuring Independence for a Strong Partnership

  • Post category:USFWS Policies
  • Reading time:2 mins read

The Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General has completed their audit of the Refuge Friends program, and released their final report. The Refuge Association and the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates have responded to this report with a letter to Interior Secretary Bernhardt expresses our dismay at the report.

volunteers after a clean up on a national wildlife refugeWe believe that Friends groups and volunteers are an enormous resource for the refuge and hatcheries systems. These community volunteers are dedicated to their local site and are scrupulously devoted to ensuring their activities benefit their site and the refuge and hatchery systems as a whole. They provide support by getting children out on a refuge to explore puddles, buying toilet paper, and raising funds for visitor centers. The implication that they are unable to operate under the laws of the State in which they are registered as a 501(c)(3) is insulting. Friends groups are being denigrated in the press by an under-researched and inaccurate report. 

Portions of the report imply that Friends are using donations inappropriately. The report does not recognize that Friends are independent organizations that must raise funds to support their operations and not all funds are raised on Service-managed property. Friends need to use funds, even those generated on site, for expenditures such as salaries and liability insurance that are required to operate nature stores. The report incorrectly assumes that all revenues generated by Friends must be used exclusively for the benefit of that refuge or hatchery. This stipulation only applies to net revenues generated on Service-managed property.

Click on the links to read the entire OIG report at and read our response letter

Continue ReadingEnsuring Independence for a Strong Partnership