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Wildlife Refuges Reaching the People

Support for wildlife conservation is how our protected lands stay protected. It is more important now than it ever has been to build a strong constituency for the National Wildlife Refuge System as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a whole. If there are no supporters for the Refuge System, who will advocate for it to ensure it’s protection? Without a strong constituency and support system, the Refuge System would not have the resources needed to fulfill its mission.

The Urban Wildlife Refuge Program aims to solve this problem as it seeks to engage local communities as partners in wildlife conservation. Urban areas provide an opportunity to reach audiences that may not know who the Service is or what refuges are. Urban refuges provide a large bang for the buck with their close proximity to so many people, and where there isn’t a refuge, the Program has established urban partnerships. Building this constituency benefits the entire agency and the broader conservation community.

Urban Wildlife Refuges

Refuge Manager Jennifer Owen-White at Valle De Oro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico working with children from the surrounding community | USFWS
Refuge Manager Jennifer Owen-White at Valle De Oro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico working with children from the surrounding community | USFWS

An urban refuge is defined as being within 25 miles of 250,000 people or more. Urban refuges are found all across the country totaling 101 refuges. These urban refuges provide excellent opportunities for community engagement, sometimes where residents don’t even know the refuge exists. Refuge staff has a prime opportunity to go beyond the refuge boundaries, reach into the community, and create long-term relationships that will cultivate new supporters.

The Service has identified 14 urban refuges as priority urban refuges and have developed proposals for each one based on the Conserving the Future Standards of Excellence for urban refuges. These proposals provide a path to engage urban audiences and make meaningful connections to wildlife and conservation. Building awareness and understanding are vital in the beginning stages and then the refuge will devise programs that welcome more people into the conservation community.

Urban Partnerships

In areas where there are no refuges, the Service has developed a series of partnerships with local organizations and groups. These partnerships not only spread the message of conservation, they do so with local community leaders. The Service understands that messages can be better received when coming from a local member of the community that residents already have a relationship with. The Service then provides natural resource expertise, and financial resources. The partnerships result in an increased awareness in communities where conservation may not have been a top priority.

Philadelphia students try birdwatching at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum within Philadelphia city limits. | USFWS
Philadelphia students try birdwatching at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum within Philadelphia city limits. | USFWS

Why is this important?

Engaging communities that may not otherwise know about a refuge, especially the youth within the community is vitally important for a few reasons. The top and most important is because it gets people excited about conservation and breeds supporters for the future. How can we expect that our protected lands will stay protected if there isn’t a support system?

As the Refuge Association we have heard stories about some people’s first time on refuges and them being afraid to be there – both kids and adults. Many times this is in places where there are no large predators, or any threats at all; they are afraid because they are unaware. Exposing communities to nature and the outdoors does wonders for support of conservation and also for their well-being! It is critical that we engage these communities about conservation and wildlife so we can maintain a healthy planet and show people what treasures are right in their backyards.

 

For the full Refuge Update story, click here.

 

Click here to learn more about the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2014/11/wildlife-refuges-reaching-the-people/

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