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Get Outdoors America

In Washington, all eyes are now on the 'Super Committee' - the group of 12 House and Senate members charged with formulating a long-term plan for tackling the national debt. Whether or not they reach agreement, the writing is on the wall for conservation programs and other federal undertakings funded by 'discretionary' dollars: Expect leaner times ahead.

I saw first-hand during my recent visits and conversations with members and staff on Capitol Hill that the focus of initial deliberations is the preservation of federal programs that create or sustain jobs. Given that unemployment stands at a persistent 9% (to say nothing of the underemployed), this is a reasonable perspective, and one that NWRA has been able to respond to, in part, thanks to the Banking on Nature reports, produced periodically by the FWS. The analysis presented by these reports illustrates the ways refuges support communities through direct job creation, recreational tourism and enhanced home values for those who live proximate to refuges. The latest report shows that every federal dollar appropriated for the Refuge System budget generates an average of $4 in economic benefits for nearby communities. Clearly, investing in the Refuge System is investing in both jobs and conservation.

This focus on job creation and reducing the national debt necessitates that we find ways to maximize sparse federal dollars. Fortunately, the Refuge System already knows two of the best approaches it can use to continue achieving conservation victories during and beyond lean times:

  1. Building strategic partnerships that leverage the resources of everyone at the table to accomplish shared conservation objectives
  2. Cultivating a robust refuge Friends and volunteer force with the energy, enthusiasm and training needed to impact their national wildlife refuge and the surrounding community

For a premier example of how to efficiently leverage federal, state and private dollars for maximum impact, one need look no further than the recently announced Everglades Headwaters Conservation Area proposal – an NWRA priority “Beyond the Boundaries” project. Located in the Kissimmee River basin south of Orlando in rural central Florida, the proposed 150,000-acre project seeks to conserve habitat for a vast array of wildlife; allow ranchers to maintain a way of life; ensure the Air Force is able advance its national security mission; provide expanded opportunities for hunters, anglers, bird watchers and others; and create improved water quality and storage for the thirsty millions in south Florida’s growing urban and suburban areas.

If approved, the funds to pay for the project’s requisite private lands conservation easements and land acquisition will come from the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Defense, as well the State and private contributors. A conservation effort of such scope and magnitude requires an all hands on deck effort that demonstrates lasting support and buy-in from a vast array of stakeholders.

Watch NWRA President Evan Hirsche discuss the importance of Friends and volunteers to the Refuge System on CNN. View video.

Refuge Friends groups and volunteers also have a crucial role in the new conservation paradigm. Already, this energized contingent of 37,000 individuals contributes the equivalent of 20% of the work done on national wildlife refuges. But there will likely be fewer refuge ‘visitor services’ staff to manage volunteers as the flow of funds inevitably ebbs. At the same time, retiring baby boomers will seek ways to expand and diversify their involvement in volunteer opportunities that fulfill their desire to have a direct impact and make a difference they can see.

Attracting, training and retaining new and existing Friends and volunteers would provide the Refuge System with the valuable support needed to radically expand refuge habitat restoration, interpretation, environmental education, private fundraising for refuge facilities, and community outreach. Consequently, scarce dollars must be invested smartly to develop ‘train the trainer’ models for volunteers and ensure that mentoring resources are available to help solidify and invigorate the relationship between refuge managers and Friends groups.

To this end, at the Refuge System Vision Conference in July, the FWS and NWRA announced a robust multi-year partnership to provide expanded networking and training resources to Friends groups. Our goal is simple: To provide the world’s premier conservation volunteer force with the resources to achieve their next level of development; one that positions refuges and related FWS programs to better respond to the myriad conservation challenges now and in the future.

As the Super Committee conducts its deliberations, and indeed whenever Congressional Appropriators are at work, we must continue to advocate for the importance of adequate funding for the Refuge System. But whatever budget limitations the Refuge System must contend with in the coming months, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has powerful conservation and volunteer models already in use. By institutionalizing and replicating these tools across the country and, indeed, beyond our borders, the National Wildlife Refuge System can further enhance its leadership role in conservation.

Onward and upward!

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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge- Take Action to Keep it Wild

The National Wildlife Refuge Association applauds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for including a Wilderness Recommendation for the Arctic Coastal Plain as an alternative in their Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP).

NWRA has called on Congress to designate the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge a Wilderness Area, off limits to oil and gas drilling and other destructive practices for generations to come. FWS’s decision to include the Wilderness designation as an alternative in their CCP is a step in the right direction, however your voice is urgently needed to ensure this recommendation is ultimately selected. It’s up to citizens who care about the America’s wilderness areas and the remarkable wildlife they protect to ensure that the Arctic remains an unspoiled refuge for generations to come. Take Action to Protect the Arctic.


Established as the Arctic National Wildlife Range on December 6, 1960, the 8.9 million acre refuge was unique in the Refuge System for its mandate to “protect wilderness values.” The refuge was expanded to 19.6 million acres by President Carter in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Under ANILCA much of the refuge was designated as Wilderness – a legal designation that requires an area to be left in a natural state, undisturbed by human activity. This included oil and gas development on the coastal plain and Beaufort Sea, but left open the option for a future act of Congress to remove this protection.

The issue now: Oil and Gas Drilling

For 30 years, the Arctic Refuge coastal plain has been at the epicenter of a longstanding and heated debate over oil and gas drilling. Now, with gas prices inching toward $4.00 per gallon, drilling advocates in Congress are again calling to open the Arctic NWR’s coastal plain to oil exploration. Once again, we need your help to defend this iconic refuge and protect the wildlife and birds that cannot speak for themselves.

How can you help?

Take Action to Protect the Arctic

Donate to NWRA

Polar Bear PlushFor a $50 donation you can choose to receive this beautiful plush polar bear to symbolize your commitment to protecting the Arctic and other Refuges around the country. Donate today!

Polar Bear PlushFor a $25 donation you can chose to receive this “Protect the Arctic” decal that you can put on your car, window, or anywhere else to proudly display your commitment to protecting the Arctic and other Refuges around the country. Please donate today!

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NWRA, Friends & CARE work with Senate to Commemorate Refuge System in October

The Refuge Week resolution was introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). Contact your Senator today and ask them to sign the resolution celebrating our national wildlife refuges!

NWRA, Friends and the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) are working with refuge champions, Senators Coons (D-DE), Sessions (R-AL), and Cardin (D-MD) to pass a resolution commemorating the National Wildlife Refuge System in celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 9-16.

The resolution will recognize the importance of America’s 553 National Wildlife Refuges and 38 Wetland Management Districts to wildlife and habitat conservation, recreation, and the economy, and affirms the Senate’s intent that these refuges are managed to protect wildlife for future generations. It also highlights the importance of volunteers and Friends groups, who contribute about 20% of all the work done on national wildlife refuges, the equivalent of 648 full-time employees to the Refuge System each year.

National Wildlife Refuge Week is celebrated every year on the second full week of October and was commemorated by the Senate for the first time in a historic resolution last year. First initiated under President Bill Clinton, Refuge Week is a celebration of our national wildlife refuges and America’s majestic wildlife heritage. Learn more about events hosted for Refuge Week at your refuge.


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NWRA Fights to Protect Refuge Funding as Federal Budget Negotiations Stall

Budget cuts will close many of our cherished wildlife refuges to visitors.

Earlier this week, the Senate agreed on a short-term fix to fund the government until November 18th at levels agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011. While this compromise appears to have postponed an immediate shutdown, ideological differences between parties have kept the threat of closing down the federal government alive. The latest impasse was around funding for emergency disaster relief to help citizens impacted by natural disasters. Unfortunately this emergency funding does not address the more than $182 million in damages done to refuges from natural disasters since January this year. Download a fact sheet from CARE showing the damages.

What would a government shutdown mean for Refuges?

A government shutdown, no matter when it happens, would mean all refuges would close to the public, almost all FWS staff would be sent home, all events would be cancelled - including public meetings - and most habitat management would stop. The Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) recommends a budget of at least $512 million in FY12 for the National Wildlife Refuge System, which is far less than the $900 million the System needs to fully function. As negotiations for a final FY 2012 bill continue, proposed budget cuts could undermine recent conservation success stories and even close refuges to the public. Austere budgets for the System aren’t just bad for wildlife; these proposals could kill jobs and slow business in local communities where refuges generate more than $1.7 billion in local economic activities. Urge Congress to protect Refuge System funding!


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Refuge Friends Visit Washington to Support Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Alamo Inn welcomes bird watchers from all over the world. Wildlife recreation supports over 4,400 jobs in South Texas.
©Keith Hackland

Friends from Texas and Maine came to Washington, DC during the week of September 19th to show support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Keith Hackland, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor in South Texas; Shelia Hargis, Friends of Balcones Canyonlands NWR near Austin; and Stephanie Martin, Friends of Maine Seabird Islands, urged their elected officials to keep LWCF strong and preserve the program now and in the future.

LWCF uses a small percent of royalties from offshore oil and gas extraction to create and protect natural areas and to provide recreational opportunities. These natural areas preserve habitat and support hunting, fishing, biking, paddling, skiing, wildlife viewing, sportsmen and recreation.

In addition to the Friends, foresters, landowners, recreational outfitters and others told members of Congress how land conservation creates jobs and generates revenue especially for struggling rural economies. The refuges in South Texas are in some of the poorest counties in America, yet birding and other non-consumptive recreational activities generate at least $300 million in revenue and supports 4,400 of jobs. Keith Hackland said, “Lawmakers were astonished to learn that nature tourism provide such significant economic benefits.”

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Send in your nominations for the 2012 National Wildlife Refuge System Awards!

The National Wildlife Refuge Association is accepting nominations until November 15 for the 2012 Refuge Manager, Refuge System Employee, Volunteer and Friends Group of the Year.

This annual awards program, sponsored by the National Wildlife Refuge Association and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, honors the dedicated people whose outstanding accomplishments are instrumental in strengthening our national wildlife refuges.

We need your nominations to make this happen! Think back over the past year and take this opportunity to recognize an excellent Refuge Manager, Refuge System Employee, Volunteer or Friends Group. Results will be announced in March 2012.

To learn more about the awards program and to download the required nomination forms, please visit our awards webpage or contact Debbie Harwood at or 202-292-2450.

NWRS 2011 Awards Recipients, from left to right: Kenneth Litzenberger, Dave Mauser, Friends of Chassahowitzka, Denis Mudderman Evan Hirsche/FWS/Friends of Chassahowitzka/Marty Cornell

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FWS Releases Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area Proposal

On September 7, 2011, the FWS announced a groundbreaking proposal to establish a new national wildlife refuge and conservation area in central Florida.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association has been working in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other public and private partners on this ambitious new conservation plan to conserve up to 150,000 acres in Florida's Greater Everglades.

NWRA praises the proposal to establish a conservation area in the Northern Everglades.
© Carlton Ward Jr./

The Greater Everglades Partnership focuses on six major goals:

  1. Restore and protect wetlands to support water quality and quantity flowing from the Everglades headwaters to South Florida and help provide clean water for millions of people;
  2. Sustain Florida's ranching economy and way of life by bringing conservation dollars to bear - thus maintaining private landownership and delivering conservation benefit;
  3. Increase access and opportunities for hunting and fishing;
  4. Conserve Florida's threatened wildlife by protecting significant habitat for Florida panther, Audubon’s crested caracara, gopher tortoise, Florida scrub jay, and the Everglades snail kite;
  5. Support military readiness by creating buffer areas around strategic training grounds;
  6. Protect a mosaic of lands of sufficient size and continuity to enable wildlife to migrate and adapt in response to climate change and other natural and man-made threats.

How can you help?

1) Speak up for the proposal at a public hearing! The Fish and Wildlife Service needs your input. The second public meeting on the new proposal will be held this weekend in Florida:

1 - 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 1, 2011
at the Osceola Heritage Park, The Exhibition Building - Hall A
1901 Chief Osceola Trail
Kissimmee, FL 34744.

2) Submit written comments directly to the Fish and Wildlife Service in support of the new refuge and conservation area. The Service urgently needs to hear from supporters. We’ve made it easy to send comments in support of the proposal through our Refuge Action Network. Comments must be submitted before October 24th.

3) Make a donation today to support NWRA’s work in the Everglades and The Orvis Company will match your contribution dollar for dollar. Help us protect Florida panthers, Audubon’s caracaras, and other rare Florida wildlife.

Learn more about our efforts to protect Florida’s Greater Everglades.

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Friends Focus: Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges the “Comeback Kids” of refuge Friends groups. Creating a Friends group for a complex of eight refuges covering a sprawling geographic area that includes some of the wildest as well as the most urban habitats in the Refuge System would have been challenge enough. But then came Hurricane Katrina, which displaced three-quarters of the group’s members. That disaster was followed by the catastrophic Gulf oil spill in the summer of 2010. Despite these challenges, though, the 149-member group is going strong, thanks to their dogged determination and a solid relationship with the refuge complex’s supportive staff.

Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges enjoy a ride out on the Big Branch Marsh, which they cleaned up after Hurricane Katrina. In May, the group received the FWS regional director’s honor award for their ability to overcome obstacles.
©Friends of Louisiana Refuges

“The proximity of some of our refuges to urban areas gives us some important opportunities for outreach,” says Denise Stearns, President of the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges. “Close to three million people live within the area where our refuges are located, and 1.5 million people live within a 45-minute drive of one of our refuges.”

The refuge complex has its headquarters at Big Branch Marsh NWR, just across Lake Ponchartrain from the City of New Orleans. The property was once home to a federal judge, a governor of Louisiana, and a religious order. It also was a public garden, called Bayou Gardens, known for its extraordinary displays of cultivated camellias. When the Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the site in the early 1990s, “the agency couldn’t justify spending money on what was basically an exotic garden,” says supervisory park ranger Byron Fortier. But Jim Schmidt, the Friends group president at the time, saw the situation through a different lens. “Jim saw that the gardens, even though they were unusual for a wildlife refuge, had the capacity to draw people in by offering something familiar. Then we could sign them up as volunteers and draw them into the more traditional refuge programs on all eight refuges. Jim launched what amounted to a one-man rescue effort,” Fortier says.

The Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges are thriving. Last year's "Wild Things" event during Refuge Week brought more than 4,200 visitors,
©Friends of Louisiana Refuges

The BP oil disaster, while a terrible event for wildlife and habitat, was a catalyst for the Friends, who immediately stepped in to help. "When most of the refuge staff were detailed to help with the oil spill, the Friends were ready to step in and help carry the load, recruiting new members and assisting with many aspects of refuge operations," Fortier recalls. “Anything that needed doing, we did,” says Stearns. “The Fish and Wildlife Service couldn’t take people out to a remote offshore refuge like Breton to help, but our membership swelled with people who wanted to do something to be part of the recovery effort.”

Today, the group is thriving. Last year’s “Wild Things” event during National Wildlife Refuge Week brought more then 4,200 visitors, and the Friends raised more than $8,000 for refuge programs. A new photo club already has 60 members, and there are plans to sell postcard and print reproductions of club members’ photographs in the visitor center. “Work Play Days” sponsored 10 times a year by the Friends group “have resulted in a lot of new and repeat volunteers,” according to Stearns.

With hurricanes and oil spills behind them, the Friends group is busy planning for a calmer future. “We’ve created a new ‘president-in-waiting’ position on our board,” says Stearns. “That change allows a more orderly transfer of leadership responsibilities. We’ve also created a new membership chair position to build the member rolls and to keep our members involved and engaged.”

Louisiana’s Comeback Kids have come a long way, indeed. In May, the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges received the FWS regional director’s honor award for their ability to overcome obstacles.

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Friends Group Receives Prestigious Conservation Award from Department of the Interior

Friends of Nevada Wilderness cleaning up scrap metal at Sheldon NWR.
©Friends of Nevada Wilderness

NWRA congratulates the Friends of Nevada Wilderness for being awarded the prestigious Partners in Conservation Award by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar presented the award to the Friends on September 21st in Washington DC. The Friends of Nevada Wilderness have been advocating for Nevada wilderness for nearly 30 years, and are active in protecting special places like Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. The Friends have assisted in the designation of more than 3 million acres of wilderness across Nevada.

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NWRA is pleased to announce new staff member Emily Keller!

Emily joined NWRA in September as the Communications and Marketing Director. She will launch NWRA’s new website this fall, develop online fundraising campaigns, be responsible for online and some off-line communications to members and friends, and enhance NWRA’s overall online presence.

Emily Keller, NWRA's new Director of Communications and Marketing.

Emily has six years of marketing and communications experience, four of those in web strategy and fundraising. Most recently, she managed a social media project for first responders for a federal government client through her position at SRA Touchstone Consulting. Before that, Emily served as the Online Marketing Manager at World Wildlife Fund from 2006- 2009, creating and implementing online marketing and fundraising strategies targeted at membership level donors. In addition to running the successful Google Grants Adwords campaign aimed at bringing new donors into the organization, Emily also developed and managed WWF’s social media presence, the WWF Online Store, the WWF Gift Card, various online partnerships, and contributed to WWF email newsletters and website optimization. Emily first got her feet wet in online marketing at an Internet Advertising firm in Washington D.C in 2004.

Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of South Carolina. She can be reached at

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Upcoming Events!

October 1: Public hearing for proposed Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area

October 9 - 15: National Wildlife Refuge Week

October 24: Deadline for submitting comments on the proposed Everglades Headwaters NWR & Conservation Area (see article above)

November 15: Deadline for submitting nominations for the National Wildlife Refuge System Awards

November 15: Deadline for submitting comments on the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Arctic NWR (see article above)

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An oil spill would be devestating to Arctic wildlife. ©FWS

Did you know that an oil spill in the Arctic would be almost impossible to contain?

The combination of a much colder climate, pitch black waters, unpredictable weather, and isolation hinder cleaning and recovery efforts. Since no technology currently exists for cleaning oil from sea ice in the Arctic waters, oil and other toxic chemicals could stay trapped in the arctic ocean and ice for decades causing extreme damage to the ecosystem. Please help us protect the arctic by taking action or donating today.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association needs the support of all those who care about America's unique wildlife heritage. Help the NWRA ensure a thriving Refuge System in the years ahead...Donate now!

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