For almost a century, the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System had been managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under a variety of laws without an "Organic Act" or comprehensive legislation spelling out how it ought to be managed and used by the public. On October 9, 1997, President Clinton signed the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-57 (text) (PDF)). The Act amends the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 in a manner that provides an “Organic Act” for the Refuge System.
The Act was passed to ensure that the Refuge System is managed as a national system of related lands, waters, and interests for the protection and conservation of our Nation's wildlife resources.
The only system of Federal lands devoted specifically to wildlife, the National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of diverse and strategically located habitats. More than 545 national wildlife refuges and thousands of waterfowl production areas across the United States, serve as havens for hundreds of endangered species, and host an enormous variety of other plants and animals. Over 39 million people visit units of the National Wildlife Refuge System each year to enjoy a wide range of wildlife related recreational opportunities.
The passage of this Act gave guidance to the Secretary of the Interior for the overall management of the Refuge System. The Act's main components include:
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Many of the salmon from the world’s most valuable sockeye salmon fishery (Bristol Bay) spawn in the streams that originate on Refuge lands.