We reported in November that the board of Friends of the Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys NWRs decided to hold off on signing a Partnership Agreement required by the Washington office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in order to become affiliated with their official Friends program. (See that announcement here.) A new Policy Manual will be issued soon by FWS and we want to see it before we commit to signing and thus agreeing to what it requires.
At the end of December, Friends of Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys NWRs received a letter from FWS stating that:
Since your organization has decided not to sign the Agreement, the partnership, heretofore, existing between the Friends and Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge is officially dissolved by mutual consent. (The full letter is here.)
We responded that:
To the best of our knowledge our Friends group has never had a formal agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nor agreed to participate in the Service’s internal Friends program. Thus, there is no mutually agreed upon partnership to dissolve by mutual consent. (Our full response is here.)
We have been working with board members of other Friends groups from around the country to assure that FWS hears our concerns about policy issues and avoids infringing on our legal responsibilities as 501(c)(3) corporations chartered by our states and approved by the IRS. Peg Hall, John Thalalcker, Debbie Meeks, Dan Kline, and Jay Bushnell from Lower Suwannee & Cedar Keys NWRS have all participated national zoom webinars sponsored by the Coalition of Refuge Friends and Advocates and the National Association of Wildlife Refuges. Each zoom meeting had almost 200 participants, indicating the strength of concern among Friends groups.
Soon, FWS will release the draft of the new Policy Manual. There will be another national zoom meeting to discuss it. Our Friends group will participate and will subsequently respond to the Call for Public Comments.
Sharing information with FWS is not a problem. All our board meetings are open to the public. Minutes are posted to our website, as are annual financial summaries. Financial statements are available. We are however resistant to reformatting our information for their purposes. They estimate that would require 212 hours of work. And we are resistant if the FWS' policy indicates that it is likely to infringe on the management and financial roles of our board.
Hopefully, working with so many other Friends groups, we will be able to have changes made so we can get past this issue and put our time to other productive uses.
Dan Chapman is a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He has visited the Lower Suwanee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges several times recently to learn about our refuges and tell their stories to a wider audience of naturalists and nature lovers.
In December, he visited Atsena Otie with Deputy Refuge Manager Larry Woodward and University of Florida archaeologist Ken Sassaman. His story is told here: "Rising Seas threaten history, culture of Florida wildlife refuge."
You may remember seeing his other recent local story, Not even Swamp Ape legend deters hunters from flocking to Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.