National Wildlife Refuge System



Urban Wildlife Initiative Engages Communities



Rocky Mountain Arsenal with Mule Deer in the forefront and the skyline in the background.
    Mule deer rocky stand alert against a Denver skyline at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched an initiative to bring more urban Americans into contact with nature. Credit: Mike Mauro

American society is more ethnically and socially diverse than any other time in history, and this diversity will only increase into the future. However, visitors to the National Wildlife Refuge System, in general, have not been representative of this change. In order to build a connected conservation community that recognizes values for people and wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has embarked on a multi-faceted Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative to reflect the diverse perspectives, values and cultures of America. The initiative strives to make the Service’s programs far more relevant to millions of Americans Р80 percent of whom live in big and small cities Рgiving them myriad ways to participate in wildlife conservation and recreation.

    The initiative is built on four major elements:

  • "Standards of Excellence" for Urban National Wildlife Refuges (919 KB PDF) are being developed to help national wildlife refuges engage their urban neighbors in new and more effective ways. The standards are aimed at national wildlife refuges within 25 miles of urban areas with 250,000 people or more, but also can benefit refuges serving more rural communities. The standards focus on understanding and engaging the communities adjacent to the refuge. With the help of input from the Urban Academy in September 2013 and public comments received via AmericasWildlife.org, the draft Standards are in revision for release late this spring of 2014.


  • Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships are working in geographically dispersed communities to expand the Service's conservation programs where we do not have an existing nearby national wildlife refuge. Eight partnerships were established in 2013 and more will be established by 2015. These include partnerships with other Service facilities and programs such as Hatcheries, Migratory Birds, and Ecological Services offices all over the country.


  • A Director's Order that authorizes and encourages all Service programs to conduct cooperative fish and wildlife conservation, education and outreach in urban communities. These areas are partnership-based lands, not managed by the Service, where people can enjoy outdoor experiences that foster connections with fish and wildlife resources and promote active engagement of people in the natural world.


  • A first-ever Urban Academy for staff and partners held at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia this past September, 2013. The purpose was to train staff on cultural diversity, how to overcome barriers to outdoor recreation, and create partnerships that engage new audiences in order to foster a new conservation constituency. Additional training opportunities, such as webinars with human dimension professionals, continue to be offered as a result of this ground-breaking training session.


"We believe these unique Urban Partnerships can inspire the imagination and create a connected conservation constituency of people who are aware, understand and support fish and wildlife conservation," said Director Dan Ashe. "But first we must go to where the people are, and create meaningful relationships to both partners."

The National Wildlife Refuge System has more than 100 wildlife refuges in urban areas, including Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Detroit and Boston, among other cities. More than 47 million people annually visit national wildlife refuges.

The Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative grows out of the Service's Conserving the Future process, which set a strategic path for the National Wildlife Refuge System for the next decade and beyond. To stay engaged and informed visit America's Wildlife.



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Last updated: February 21, 2014