Having had the privilege of working for the USFWS for three decades, I have strong and optimistic feelings about the future of the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS). Now, as CEO of Ducks Unlimited (DU), I have the good fortune of being able to continue to conserve wildlife habitat, and to view the Service from the outside. The view from “out here” has reinforced my conviction that for any of us to be successful in achieving our conservation missions, all of us, as individuals and as organizations, must work harder, smarter, and more collaboratively than ever before.
Conservation is inherently forward-looking and optimistic. It is about ensuring that we share with the next generation the bounty that we have had the opportunity to enjoy, and it is about resolving to prevail over the many significant threats to that legacy, which include the continuing degradation and loss of vital wildlife habitat as well as the escalating challenges associated with water quality and quantity. My vision is that the Service and NWRS serve as focal points for expanding the individual and collective commitment of our nation’s citizens to wildlife conservation. A key question is, “How can we inspire more Americans to commit to passing the legacy of conservation forward?”
Since coming to DU, I have been inspired by our 60,000 volunteers and 600,000 members. They generously commit time and money to fulfill a vision that significantly overlaps with the Service’s mission. For example, DU frequently hosts visits to the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) by members and volunteers. Many, upon seeing firsthand the region’s expansive grasslands and wetlands as well as its conservation challenges, have been inspired to contribute millions of dollars to build upon the conservation legacy of the NWRS. DU’s Rescue the Duck Factory campaign has raised almost $40 million, and with other leveraged funds, DU and the USFWS have purchased more than 130,000 acres of grassland and wetland easements to expand the System in the Coteau.
This is only one example of the inspiration that the land and wildlife of the NWRS can provide, and of what can be accomplished when organizations like DU and the Service work together. Most important, it demonstrates the power of that inspiration to motivate individuals, whether through donations to DU or support for conservation policy in DC, to commit themselves to passing on a conservation legacy to the next generation.