National Wildlife Refuge System

Welcome to the National Wildlife Refuge System

When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949

From one-ton bison to half-ounce warblers, the National Wildlife Refuge System contains a priceless gift – the heritage of a wild America that was, and is. 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. Caring for fish, wildlife and plant populations and their habitat is the essence of the science of wildlife management as well as the newer disciplines of conservation biology and ecosystem management.

In addition to its premier task of conserving wildlife, the Refuge System also manages six wildlife-dependent recreational uses:

  1. Hunting
  2. Fishing
  3. Wildlife Observation
  4. Photography
  5. Environmental Education
  6. Interpretation

Nearly 46 million people visit national wildlife refuges each year. Their spending generates almost $1.7 billion in sales for regional economies. As this spending flowed through the economy, nearly 27,000 people were employed and $542.8 million in employment income was generated (see Banking on Nature 2007).

Visitors and local communities recognize refuges as national treasures:

  • 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.
  • 280 of the 1,200-plus federally-listed threatened or endangered species in the U.S. are found on units of the Refuge System.

You might also want to visit the Threatened and Endangered Web site for more detailed information.

  • There are 677,000 acres of wetlands and grasslands known as Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) primarily in the prairie potholes of the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana.
  • Protected wilderness makes up 20 percent of the refuge lands. Most of the wilderness acreage is in Alaska. Refuges also include wild and scenic rivers and marine protected areas.

Hunters get a warm welcome at more than 300 hunting programs on refuges and on about 36,000 Waterfowl Production Areas. Opportunities for fresh or saltwater fishing are available at more than 270 refuges. There is at least one 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 with the land.

Last updated: October 28, 2011