National Wildlife Refuge System

How long has the Federal Government been setting aside lands for wildlife?


The earliest effort to set aside an area of Federally-owned land specifically for wildlife occurred in 1868 when President Ulysses S. Grant set aside the Pribilof Islands in Alaska as a reserve for the northern fur seal. In 1869 the Congress formally enacted legislation for this purpose. On March 14, 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt signed an Executive Order to establish Pelican Island Migratory Bird Reservation along central Atlantic coast of Florida. Pelican Island Migratory Bird Reservation became the first unit to be managed by the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Biological Survey for migratory birds purposes.

What types of land interest does the Fish and Wildlife Service acquire for the National Wildlife Refuge System?


Fee, easement, and lease are the three types of acquisition generally used by the Fish and Wildlife Service when acquiring lands for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Acquisition of fee title involves purchase of the full ownership of the property. In some fee title acquisitions, the fee title of property is sold with certain reservations of interest, such as mineral rights, which are retained by the seller.

Acquisition of an easement entails obtaining a nonpossessory interest in the land. The easement holder, such as the Service, would have partial use or the right to restrict a use(s) of the property either for a specified period of time or in perpetuity.

A lease involves a partial or full possession of the land for a specified period of time for a specified rent. At the end of the specified period of time full possession of the land returns to the owner.

What authority and funding does the Fish and Wildlife Service have to acquire lands for the National Wildlife Refuge System?


The Service is authorized to acquire lands under several legislative authorities, such as the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 and the National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act. In addition, Congress also passes specific legislation to authorize the establishment of a refuge or an expansion. The Department of Interior presents the land acquisition proposals for the National Wildlife Refuge System to Congress for approval of acquisition funding. Congress appropriates funds for land acquisition primarily with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF).

Under the LWCF, Congress appropriates money for each land acquisition project. The MBCF land acquisition proposals are presented to the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (Commission) for approval. The Commission is comprised of the Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, two Senators and two Congressman. The Commission meets three times per year to approve projects on a tract by tract basis.

The LWCF is used to acquire lands and interests in lands for migratory birds, fish, endangered species, interpretation and recreation, and specifically authorized refuges. It is also used for grants-in-aid to states for acquisition and development of recreation areas. In addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the LWCF is used for land acquisition by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.

The MBCF is used to acquire lands or interests in lands for use as migratory bird refuges and waterfowl production areas.

Where does the money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Migratory Bird Fund come from?


The LWCF receives money from: (1) tax on motorboat fuels, (3) sale of surplus Federal real property, and 3) Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing fees.

The MBCF receives money from: (1) sale of Duck Stamps (the Federal stamps are required for waterfowl hunting, (2) import duties on firearms and ammunition, (3) appropriations from the General Fund, (4) right-of-way permit and/or easement fees and the sale of surplus refuge lands, (5) any monies remaining after refuge revenue sharing payments have been made to the counties each Fiscal Year, and (6) any Federal Aid monies that are unexpended by a state each Fiscal Year.

Do hunters pay for the lands acquired for the National Wildlife Refuge System?


Although excise taxes on firearms and ammunition have provided over $2.5 billion to the states for wildlife and habitat management none of that money has been used to acquire lands for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The sale of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (Duck Stamps) have brought in about $477 million since 1934. Approximately 10 percent of the Duck Stamp revenues come from non-hunters (stamp collectors, art dealers, hobbyists). Another $197 million has been added to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund as an "advance loan" from the Treasury. Finally, about $153 million has been added to the MBCF from import duties on firearms and ammunition and from refuge entrance fees.

Collectively, these MBCF funds have purchased about 2.7 million acres (about 3 percent of Refuge System lands). An additional 1.4 million acres (about 1.5 percent of Refuge System lands) have been purchased using about $1 billion from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Most refuge lands (almost 90 percent) have been withdrawn from the public domain.

Last updated: November 8, 2012