To Sign or Not To Sign: An Update
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.
Katharine G Lane
1/19/2021 10:53:25 am
Sounds like they wanted you to sign without really knowing what you would be signing!! Glad you made the decision to wait.
Friends of Refuges
1/19/2021 01:36:58 pm
Thanks, Kit. The Office of the Inspector General issued a report that said the Fish and Wildlife Service needed to monitor Friends groups more closely and assure that all Friends revenues benefit refuges. That gives us pause because, while all our efforts go to benefiting the mission and purpose of our refuges, all our revenues do not go to the federal government to spend on refuges. Our revenues pay for printing of trail guides, for our annual meeting, for buying the merchandise we sell to promote the refuges and bring in more revenues to support Friends programs. We want to see the policy details so we aren't surprised by any difference in how we interpret what it means to benefit the refuges and how FWS does.
1/19/2021 05:24:10 pm
Thank you for your appropriate concerns.
Friends of refuges
1/22/2021 07:12:17 pm
Thanks Steven. Our Refuges are such a wonderful enhancement to our region and to Americans now and future. We are devoted to promoting them and helping meet their mission. But we are a community organization, beholden to our members, and need to be careful to meet our responsibilities as a nonprofit.
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