Did you know that volunteers and refuge “Friends” do approximately 20 percent of all work on national wildlife refuges – the equivalent of 648 full time employees? NWRA’s Friends program provides these extraordinary groups with the tools, training and resources to make an even greater difference for refuges and wildlife conservation. Our program also provides invaluable networking opportunities, allowing Friends to connect across the country and share advice and information.
Stewards of America’s Wild Lands and Wildlife
The concept of public stewardship of our nation’s wildlife and habitat has its roots in President Theodore Roosevelt’s foresight in setting aside large areas of the public domain for wildlife and public enjoyment. In 1903, he established Pelican Island in Florida as the first national wildlife refuge. But lacking federal funds for staff, the first refuge warden started as a volunteer, laying the foundation for citizen commitment to our national wildlife refuges.
Today there are 230 Friends organizations working in support of refuges across the nation, with 40,000 volunteers contributing 1.3 million hours a year to the Refuge System. With serious federal budget cuts on the horizon, the need to recruit and train additional volunteers is more pressing than ever!
NWRA and Friends
NWRA 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, NWRA generates support for 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.
NWRA’s Friends Affiliate program is a network of almost 200 Friends groups aligned around the concept that just as refuges are linked ecologically, they are linked by mission and purpose. These groups recognize that it’s crucial to speak with a unified voice about the needs of our refuges and related conservation programs. The purpose of the Affiliate program is to inform and mobilize support for local and national refuge issues, build the capacity of Friends to be effective advocates, and strengthen NWRA’s capacity to advocate for Friends, refuges and the Refuge System.
“The NWRA and its affiliated Friends groups are indispensable to alerting Congress to the needs of our national wildlife refuges. ”
~ Congressman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Former Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Committee
NWRA’s Friends Program five year goals
NWRA, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), has launched a multiyear effort to build capacity and expertise of the refuge Friends groups across the country. NWRA and FWS seek to provide the tools, expertise and resources to help refuge Friends meet the growing needs of our national wildlife refuges. The objectives of this initiative include:
- Build an online ‘resource hub’ that allows Friends to connect and support each others, and access NWRA and FWS resources.
- Deliver training workshops that address topics such as managing nonprofits and building partnerships.
- Create a Friends ‘Council’ that uses the knowledge and expertise within the Friends community to benefit both individual groups and the Friends community.
- Reinvigorate the FWS mentoring program, which helps foster the partnership between Friends and FWS.