Craig Isola, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Matt Hamman, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, with Ed Burton, NRCS California State Conservationist.

As we look forward at how to strategically grow the National Wildlife Refuge System, we cannot ignore the many Service programs that build support and partnerships that benefit our National Wildlife Refuges.  One of those programs is the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (Partners).  The program was born in western Minnesota through the eyes of Refuge Managers.   The managers needed a way to work with their neighbors to restore habitat on private land if they were to meet the national goals for waterfowl populations.  The mid-continent program began as a partnership with Refuge (Wetland Management District) staff, state and NGO partners.  They restored wetlands on private land around existing state and federal lands to build blocks of waterfowl habitat.  They agreed to short term contracts with these neighbors often with nothing more than a hand shake and a signature.


That small program has evolved into one of the nation’s premier private land habitat restoration programs available in all 50 states.  The Partners program is known for flexibility, innovation and quality in the habitat restoration field.  Partners’ biologists pride themselves on being a “one-stop-shop” for conservation programs.  When biologists meet with landowners, they mesh the local natural resource needs with the goals of the landowner to find a conservation program that is the best fit. Often these goals are accomplished by working hand in hand with other agencies and NGOs.  In many cases both Refuge staff and Partners biologists are working together with our conservation partners on landscape level restoration, protection and habitat prioritization efforts.  The relationships built person to person working on individual projects are an irreplaceable outreach tool for the Service and especially for the Refuge offices that house a Partners biologist.

Will Smith working at the shallow Lake Tecumseh, whose rapidly changing water levels diminished water quality in the Back Bay watershed for nearly 50 years. USFWS Photo.


Our Refuges and the Partners program can maximize their investment in conservation by working together.  Partners’ habitat restoration projects with refuge neighbors may be able to expand and protect the investment made in Refuge fee title ownership or endangered species habitat.  In some instances working together to restore and protect habitat may ensure that species are able to move away from environmental stressors like, climate change or urbanization.  As part of the “one-stop-shop” for conservation programs, Partners biologists are also helping Refuges and Wetland Management Districts with both fee and easement acquisition.  With all of the tools, programs, and partnerships that a Partners biologist can bring to the table, a Refuge can benefit immensely from building a good working relationship with their local biologist.  As we continue to plan for strategic growth of the Refuge system, we ought to ensure that the Partners program is engaged.  Partners biologists are ready and willing to help where the two program’s goals overlap.

- This blog was written by Stacy Salvevold, a member of the Strategic Growth Implementation Team