National Wildlife Refuge
National Wildlife Refuge is a designation for certain protected areas of the United States
Protected areas of the United States
The protected areas of the United States are managed by an array of different federal, state, tribal and local level authorities and receive widely varying levels of protection. Some areas are managed as wilderness, while others are operated with acceptable commercial exploitation. , according to...

 managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is a federal government agency within the United States Department of the Interior dedicated to the management of fish, wildlife, and natural habitats...

. The National Wildlife Refuge System is the world's premiere system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America's fish, wildlife and plants. Since President Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

 designated Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is a United States National Wildlife Refuge located just off the western coast of Orchid Island in the Indian River Lagoon east of Sebastian, Florida. The refuge consists of a island that includes an additional of surrounding water and is located off the...

 as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, the System has grown to more than 150 million acres (607,029 km²), 555 national wildlife refuges and other units of the Refuge System, plus 37 wetland management districts.

The mission of the Refuge System is to manage a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitat. The Refuge System maintains the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of these natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

National Wildlife Refuges manage a full range of habitat types, including wetlands; prairies; coastal and marine areas; and temperate, tundra and boreal forests. The management of each habitat is a complex web of controlling or eradicating invasive species, using fire in a prescribed manner, assuring adequate water resources, and assessing external threats like development or contamination.

Among these hundreds of national refuges are home to some 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species and more than 200 species of fish. Endangered species are a priority of National Wildlife Refuges in that early sixty refuges have been established with the primary purpose of conserving 280 threatened or endangered species.

National Wildlife Refuges are also places for outdoor recreation. The Refuge System manages six wildlife-dependent recreational uses in accordance with the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, including hunting
Hunting is the practice of pursuing any living thing, usually wildlife, for food, recreation, or trade. In present-day use, the term refers to lawful hunting, as distinguished from poaching, which is the killing, trapping or capture of the hunted species contrary to applicable law...

, fishing
Fishing is the activity of trying to catch wild fish. Fish are normally caught in the wild. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping....

, birding, photography
Photography is the art, science and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film...

, environmental education
Environmental education
Environmental education refers to organized efforts to teach about how natural environments function and, particularly, how human beings can manage their behavior and ecosystems in order to live sustainably. The term is often used to imply education within the school system, from primary to...

, and interpretation. Hunters visit more than 350 hunting programs on refuges and on about 36,000 Waterfowl Production Areas. Opportunities for fresh or saltwater fishing are available at more than 340 refuges. There is at least one wildlife refuge in each of the fifty states.

The National Wildlife Refuge System faces a number of challenges and ongoing issues, including urban intrusion/development, habitat fragmentation
Habitat fragmentation
Habitat fragmentation as the name implies, describes the emergence of discontinuities in an organism's preferred environment , causing population fragmentation...

, degradation of water quantity and quality, climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

, invasive species
Invasive species
"Invasive species", or invasive exotics, is a nomenclature term and categorization phrase used for flora and fauna, and for specific restoration-preservation processes in native habitats, with several definitions....

, increasing demands for recreation, and increasing demands for energy development. However, the system has had numerous successes, including providing a habitat for endangered species
Endangered species
An endangered species is a population of organisms which is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters...

, migratory birds, plants and numerous other valuable animals; implementation of the NWRS Improvement Act, acquisition and protection of key critical inholdings, and establishing leadership in habitat restoration and management.

Statistics (as of 2008)

Physical features

  • Area of land under management = 95972133 acres (388,386 km²)
  • Area of wetlands = 23952089 acres (96,931 km²)
  • Number of management units = 586 refuges
  • Number of Wilderness areas = 75
  • Area of Wilderness = 20699257 acres (83,767 km²)
  • Length of rivers within the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System = 1,086 miles (1,748 km)
  • Length of refuge boundary with Mexico = 120 miles (190 km)


  • Area of wetlands restored in 2008 = 28186 acres (114 km²)
  • Area burned in 2008 to reduce hazardous fuels = 436422 acres (1,766 km²) (WUI 116134 acres (470 km²) ; non-WUI 234638 acres (950 km²); other 85650 acres (347 km²))


  • Total volunteers in 2008 = 35,833
  • Total volunteer hours in 2008 = 1,389,886
  • Value of volunteer hours in 2008 = $27,116,675.86 (based on Independent Sector's current dollar value of $19.51)


  • Total staff = (2004 total, awaiting 2008 figures) 3,809 FTE’s (full-time equivalents, thus two half-time employees count as one FTE)
  • Number of refuge enforcement officers = 402 (includes 259 full time and 143 dual function employees) (source: Washington Office)
  • Number of firefighter = 538 FTE's (accounts for 800 firefighters—3000 additional non-fire-funded personnel with fire qualifications)(source: NIFC)

Special Management Areas

In addition to refuge status, the "special" status of lands within individual refuges may be recognized by additional designations, either legislatively or administratively. Special designation may also occur through the actions of other legitimate agencies or organizations. The influence that special designations may have on the management of refuge lands and waters may vary considerably.

There is a wide variety of special land designations that currently overlay national wildlife refuges that total 175 refuges. Authority for designation of some special management area types (e.g., Research Natural Areas) on refuges lies solely with the Service. For most special management area types, responsibility is held by or shared with others.

Among the other varied special management area types found on refuges are Cultural Resource Sites, Historic Sites, Research Natural Areas, Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Natural Landmarks and National Trails. Some overlay designations may place refuges within international networks of protected lands, such as Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserves and Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention).

Refuges may also be included within much larger special management areas designated by other agencies or organizations, such as Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserves, National Marine Sanctuaries, Estuarine Sanctuaries and Biosphere Reserves.
Management policy and procedural guidance for Service special management areas is currently found in the Refuge Manual. Revised guidance is in preparation for incorporation into the new Service Manual. Special management area training for administrators and refuge managers currently includes multi-agency sponsored and university correspondence courses.

See also

  • List of National Wildlife Refuges
  • List of National Wildlife Refuges established for endangered species
  • List of largest National Wildlife Refuges
  • Timeline of environmental events
    Timeline of environmental events
    The timeline lists geological, astronomical, and climatological events in relation to events in human history which they influenced. For the history of humanity's perspective on these events, see timeline of the history of environmentalism...

  • Pacific Island Wildlife Refuges
    United States Pacific Island Wildlife Refuges
    The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is a group of unorganized, mostly unincorporated United States Pacific Island territories managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States Department of the Interior. These remote refuges are "the most widespread collection of marine-...

  • Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus
    Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus
    The Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus is a large bi-partisan Congressional Member Organization in the U.S. House of Representatives formed to support the National Wildlife Refuge System through legislation, funding, and education.-History:...

  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service
    United States Fish and Wildlife Service
    The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is a federal government agency within the United States Department of the Interior dedicated to the management of fish, wildlife, and natural habitats...

  • National Wildlife Refuge Association
    National Wildlife Refuge Association
    The National Wildlife Refuge Association is an independent non-profit 501 membership organization that works to conserve American wildlife by strengthening and expanding the National Wildlife Refuge System managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service...

  • State wildlife trails (United States)
    State wildlife trails (United States)
    State wildlife trails in the United States are state-sponsored systems of hiking and driving trails developed for the benefit of birdwatching and wildlife enthusiasts. They have been created and maintained by state governments or other state-level entities, both to promote ecology and to promote...

Further reading

External links

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