By Paul Hayes, Stevensville
The long-awaited Lee Metcalf NWR Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) was issued to the public at the end of September, 2012. The Friends of the Lee Metcalf NWR, who have made numerous contributions to the refuge over the years, was not cited or even mentioned in the report.
The term partnership, in conjunction with furthering community relations, is mentioned at least 30 times in this document. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) publication “Conserving the Future Wildlife Refuges in the Next Generation,” implicitly states that developing and nurturing active and vibrant Friends Groups on every refuge is of paramount importance.
So where was the Metcalf Friends Group in this planning process? They’re in limbo, because their MOU with the Lee Metcalf NWR was abruptly canceled in August 2010 by the Denver Region VI office of the FWS. Rather than try and work with the all-volunteer Friends Group, the refuge management chose a different route in securing non-government assistance for their various programs.
The Metcalf CCP states that in the future the refuge staff (management) will pursue and foster a “refuge advocacy group.” On page 103 one can peruse their complete definition of an advocacy group, which reads in part “will actively support the priorities for refuge management and programs including the goals and objectives described in this and other stepdown planning documents.”
In other words, an advocacy group that will be completely controlled by a GS-12 manager or his GS-11 deputy manager. With the current refuge director’s past history of antagonism towards the Friends Group, certain UM biological research groups, Montana Natural History Center (MNHC) naturalists and Stevensville hot-air balloonists, it’s highly unlikely that local volunteers will be lining up to be part of this government-controlled service group, despite refuge reports to the contrary.
It is truly unfortunate that the Denver Regional Office has burdened Metcalf NWR and the community with two marginal refuge managers the past four years. The FWS has not sent the best nor people oriented managers to manage our beautiful facility since Steve Whitson was at the helm. Steve was a real people person and the community appreciated his efforts. We can only keep our fingers crossed that Region VI will send someone similar to the management skills demonstrated by Steve after the current custodian moves on.