Our Friends organization has been under pressure for several years to enter into a formal partnership arrangement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), making us part of their official Friends program. We resisted signing the proposed Partnership Agreement with the FWS because our Board of Directors felt that it infringed too much on our status as a 501(c)(3) private nonprofit organization. FWS is now requiring that all Friends groups sign the Agreement in order to continue their close association with the refuges.
In light of that new requirement, the Board weighed the options further and, reluctantly, has again decided not to sign “at this time.”
On one hand, we realize that it is not unreasonable for FWS to exert some control over Friends organizations that are using refuge facilities, and often are, or seem to be, working in conjunction with FWS on refuge improvements, group activities, and fund raising. One can imagine a rogue Friends group engaged in activities that do not benefit or reflect well on the refuge system.
On the other hand, the details of the Partnership Agreement gave us pause, once again. For example, it requires us to agree to:
The board decided that despite it being reasonable for the FWS to have some oversight, the level of control that the Partnership Agreement requires us to voluntarily give to FWS feels excessive. Other Friends groups are also pushing back against this requirement. While the discussions are continuing, we will maintain our close and effective relationship with our Refuge Manager and all our Refuge staff members, and will keep you informed of the status of things.
The Board members would welcome your comments about this issue either in this blog, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or in person.