The Refuge Association mobilizes hundreds of volunteer refuge friends groups and thousands of private citizens across the country to tackle the challenges facing our national wildlife refuges. Through training workshops, communications networks and partnerships, and advocacy, we generate support for wildlife refuges and vital wildlife habitats at the local and national levels. National refuge friends conferences and workshops have attracted nearly 4,000 people from across the country.
What is a Refuge Friends Group?
Refuge friends groups are independent, nonprofit organizations run by citizens that support the purposes and objectives of national wildlife refuges. Many groups are well established and provide extensive assistance to their refuges; others are just beginning, but all provide support to their local national wildlife refuge.
Refuge volunteers and refuge “Friends” provide a 20 percent boost to the National Wildlife Refuge System workforce – the equivalent of 618 full time employees and valued at $32 million per year.
The Refuge Association and Friends
Today more than 230 Friends organizations work in support of wildlife refuges across the nation, with 36,000 volunteers contributing 1.4 million hours a year to the Refuge System. With Refuge System funding declining, the need to recruit and train additional volunteers is more pressing than ever! Click here for an inforgraphic about volunteers in the Refuge System.
The Refuge Association’s Friends Program provides these extraordinary groups with the tools, training and resources to make an even greater difference for wildlife refuges and conservation. Our program also provides invaluable networking opportunities, allowing Friends to connect across the country and share advice and information.
History of the Friends Initiative
In 1994, the Board of Directors of the National Wildlife Refuge Association made an important decision. They agreed that citizen support groups (“Friends”) were critical to the protection and perpetuation of the National Wildlife Refuge System. For this reason, the Board added Friends group development and training to their strategic plan.
At that time, no formal programs existed to support Friends groups. Many established refuge Friends groups were struggling with issues such as board organization, developing strong partnerships with refuge management, effective advocacy, and fundraising. Newly forming organizations were also struggling with basic issues such as how to write by-laws and apply for non-profit status.
For this reason, the Refuge Association launched the Friends Initiative in October 1996 with grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, Plum Creek Foundation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.