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Urban Wildlife Refuge Program Highlighted on Capitol Hill

This morning, congressional staffers with partners and supporters of the National Wildlife Refuge System joined the Chief of the Refuge System Jim Kurth and Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe for a congressional briefing on the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program. The event highlighted the Service’s program that is aimed at increasing a diverse and engaged conservation constituency.

Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, led the discussion and called the urban program “a new direction for the Fish and Wildlife Service, a bold direction.”

It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. Unfortunately, many urbanites have never heard of a National Wildlife Refuge, let alone visited one. The Urban Wildlife Refuge Program is working to change this by nurturing new supporters who care about conservation and the beautiful wildlife and land around them.

Senator Cardin | Emily Paciolla
Senator Cardin | Emily Paciolla

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, spoke at the event, noting his support for the Urban Program because it opens up the world of wildlife and habitat conservation to so many more Americans who are losing their connection to nature. “It starts in our urban centers,” Cardin said. “If the habitat is healthy for wildlife, it’s healthy for us.”

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-MD, also spoke noting a local urban partnership at Masonville Cove outside Baltimore that he said is a model for urban wildlife programs everywhere. By helping the local community reclaim what had turned into an industrial waste site into a wildlife refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners have galvanized the community and offered a legacy for the city. “(The urban wildlife program) is going to be a great chapter in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s history,” Sarbanes said.

Wendi Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional director for the Northeast, and Genevieve LaRouche, field director for the Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office, spoke about how strong, local relationships between federal, state and local partners in Baltimore led to the Masonville Cove urban partnership; and Chad Brown, CEO of the upscale fly fishing brand Soul River, shared examples of how his company has partnered with the Service in Portland, Ore. and others to connect inner-city youth and veterans with the outdoors. Brown, a veteran who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after serving in the military, said his discovery of fly fishing helped him overcome PTSD and ultimately led him to form the Soul River brand and give something back to the community.

Chief of Refuges, Jim Kurth | Christine McGowan
Chief of Refuges, Jim Kurth | Christine McGowan

Unlike other refuge programs, the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program meets people where they are, in the cities and suburbs, and helps make connections between their interests and the nearby landscapes the Refuge System protects. The heart of the program is to engage urban neighbors to foster a sense of stewardship and appreciation for conservation.

“We have to make conservation relevant to a changing America,” said Jim Kurth, Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The program kicked off last month when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex was the first recipient of $1 million in new urban program funding. The SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project incorporates outdoor learning, service and stewardship of natural habitats, and conservation-based projects for youth and young adults from diverse communities. It encompasses activities not only at the San Diego NWR Complex but also to the north at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, a new Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership called Condor Kids, and in Los Angeles under the auspices of the L.A. River Rover Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. Ten exceptional programs have been incorporated into the SoCal Project that will complement and expand current outreach and education programs on the refuges.

The Urban Wildlife Refuge Program also includes new Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships. These partnerships are long-term, place-based partnerships that enable the Service to reach beyond refuge boundaries and engage urban communities in conservation on lands owned or managed by local non-profits, municipalities, or community groups, within easy access for residents.

To learn more about these incredible partnerships, click here, and watch a video about them here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TNGLskLEpM&feature=youtu.be

Highlighted at the event, the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program will indeed breed a new generation of conservation enthusiasts and Refuge System supporters.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2014/09/urban-wildlife-refuge-program-highlighted-on-capitol-hill/

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