The National Wildlife Refuge System, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants.
Following the establishment of Florida’s Pelican Island as the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903, the System has grown to encompass more than 150 million acres within more than 550 Refuges, many Wetland Management Districts, and thousands of Waterfowl Production Areas.
More than 41 million people visit National Wildlife Refuges each year to participate in activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, and photography, and to attend environmental education and interpretive programs. Their spending generates almost $1.7 billion in sales and close to 27,000 jobs for regional economies.
Wildlife Refuges are home to more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 200 species of fish. Fifty-nine Refuges have been established with a primary purpose of conserving threatened or endangered species.
There is at least one National Wildlife Refuge in every state, and one within an hour’s drive of most major cities—offering people a welcoming, safe, and accessible place to nourish their spirits and reconnect to the land.
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In 1978, scabies was detected in the refuge’s desert bighorn population. The deadly disease spread rapidly and despite attempts to capture, treat and return healthy bighorn sheep to the San Andres Mountains, the population dwindled until only one lone ewe remained in 1997. The female wandered alone. The herd she grew up with had vanished. But in 1999, biologists released six rams captured from the Red Rock Wildlife Area of New Mexico. Follow the link below to learn more about what happened.