With spring upon us, the Conserving the Future vision teams continue to work hard pumping out draft products!  The Interpretation and Environmental Education (I&EE) implementation team has been busy drafting two strategic plans. This week, the Strategic Plan for Interpretation in the National Wildlife Refuge System is available for comment on AmericasWildlife.org until May 9, 2013!

This strategic plan seeks to strengthen, formalize and institutionalize interpretation within the Refuge System.  The plan defines interpretation as a communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the audience and the resource. Already, there are examples of strong interpretive programs and visitor centers throughout the Refuge System. Take, for example, the Visitor Center at Assabet NWR. This ultra-green visitor center services the entire Eastern Massachusetts refuge complex and provides interpretive messages on all eight refuges.  The center leaves visitors with a sense of empowerment: no matter who they are or where they live, they can make some kind of positive change.  The panels and signs create local connections; providing messages on unique habitats and species the refuges manage for as well as local history and life cycles of the land. One of the most important messages, according to visitor services manager Susan Russo, is “People are a part of it; it’s not just the Refuge system doing their work; but we need the public’s support.”

In line with fostering public support, this strategy outlines a new Refuge Ambassador Program:  Customer Services Skills for Communicating Conservation that aims to trains all employees in providing excellent customer service and includes the principles of interpretation, how to strengthen community relations, and how to increase support for the Refuge System. The program will be offered through a variety of delivery modes, with assistance from the National Conservation Training Center and outside-agency customer service experts.

The Service’s interpretative programs will continue to provide visitors and the American public with a unique understanding of our wonderful wildlife refuges but through a more formalized approach.  As so eloquently put by E. Donnall Thomas:  “Fish come and go, but it is the memory of afternoons on the stream that endure” and that’s what we want for the American people!

*This is the 8th “In the Spotlight” blog post that will keep you informed on the nine implementation teams and the work they are performing to make the vision a reality. Check out our Facebook page and Twitter for continual updates!