Visitors to national wildlife refuges are concerned about the impact of climate change on America’s fish, wildlife and plants. At the same time, they are favorably impressed with the recreational opportunities, education and services offered on wildlife refuges.


The survey conducted for the Refuge System by the U.S. Geological Survey also shows strong support for efforts to help native species adapt to changing climate conditions. About 74 percent of those surveyed between July 2010 and November 2011 believe that addressing climate change effects on wildlife and habitat will benefit future generations. Nearly half the visitors surveyed expressed interest in learning from refuges how they could help address the effects of climate change on wildlife and habitat.


Climate change is not a distant threat; it is occurring here and now. The first decade of the 21st century has proven to be the hottest decade since scientists began recording global temperatures in the 1880s. The unmistakable signs of a rapidly changing climate are everywhere—melting glaciers, heat waves, rising seas, flowers blooming earlier, lakes freezing later, migratory birds delaying their flights south. No geographic region is immune. According to the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the rate of sea level rise has nearly doubled in the last two decades. Many coastal regions, including a number of wildlife refuges and cities will be threatened as shorelines recede.


The second recommendation in the Conserving the Future vision calls on the Refuge System to “develop a climate change implementation plan that dovetails with other conservation partners’ climate change action plans.” The Service’s National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov/) is far–reaching and visionary. The Refuge System is also expected to provide cutting–edge leadership in reducing carbon emissions and implementing sustainable, green business practices. Climate change transcends the Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System and poses one of the largest conservation threats of the 21st century.


Visitor Satisfaction

The same survey also determined overwhelming visitor satisfaction with wildlife refuges. Of survey participants,

  • 91 percent reported satisfaction with recreational activities and opportunities;

  • 89 percent reported satisfaction with information and education about the refuge;

  • 91 percent reported satisfaction with services provided by refuge employees or volunteers; and

Wildlife observation, bird watching, photography, hiking and auto–tours were among the most popular activities mentioned. More than half those surveyed said they visited refuges repeatedly; more than a third said they lived within 50 miles of a refuge.


The survey included responses from more than 10,000 visitors at 53 refuges. A second phase of the survey, covering another 25 refuges, is expected to be completed in 2012. The Service will use the survey results to help guide planning for refuge transportation, facilities and services.


The full report, including results for individual refuges is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/685/.