How Important Is Advocacy for Your Refuge?

  • Post category:Advocacy
  • Reading time:4 mins read

Author: By Richard Dolesh, Chair, Board of Directors, Friends of Patuxent Research Refuge  (MD)

people surrounding a potted plant
As part of the Friends of Patuxent’s advocacy outreach efforts, the Friends did a container pollinator garden workshop in June of 2022 for new residents of Watershed, a large housing development on the northern boundary of Patuxent Research Refuge, Maryland | Alicia Menefee, HPS Management

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.

group of people standing outside of a building
The Friends of Patuxent partnered with a group from the Prince George’s County chapter of The Links, a network of African American professional women, in 2021, to plant a containerized pollinator garden at the National Wildlife Visitor Center at Patuxent Research Refuge | Pierre Bahizi

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.

Continue ReadingHow Important Is Advocacy for Your Refuge?

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