Legislative Mandates and Authorities
The management of individual refuge system units is dictated, in large part, by
the legislation, executive order, or administrative action that creates the unit.
The refuge purpose(s) reflected in enabling legislation, executive orders and administrative
actions may range from very narrow to very broad.
Operation and management of national wildlife refuges are also influenced by a wide
array of other laws, treaties and executive orders pertaining to the conservation
and protection of natural and cultural resources. Among the most important orders
and laws affecting the operation and management of refuges are Executive
, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration
, the Refuge Recreation Act
, the Endangered
, Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956
and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act
The National Wildlife Refuge System Centennial Act
in November 2000 to help celebrate the 2003 Centennial of the establishment of Pelican
Island National Wildlife Refuge.
National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Improvement Act
The National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Improvement Act of 2010
(link to pdf) was signed into law on January 4, 2011. The law maintains the current
funding authorization level for the Service’s volunteer and community partnerships
programs that are vital to national wildlife refuges, but makes a number of important
amendments. The law amends the National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer and Community
Partnership Enhancement Act of 1998 to direct Service to carry out a National Volunteer
Coordination Program within the National Wildlife Refuge System. It also requires
the Director to: (1) publish a national strategy for the coordination and utilization
of volunteers within the System; and (2) provide at least one regional volunteer
coordinator for each Service region to implement the strategy. As of 2010, more
than 39,000 volunteers and Friends contribute nearly 1.4 million hours of support
annually on national wildlife refuges.
National Wildlife Refuge System Volunteer and Community Partnership Enhancement
Act of 1998
Wildlife Refuge System Volunteer and Community Partnership Enhancement Act of 1998
amends the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 to promote volunteer programs and community
partnerships for the benefit of national wildlife refuges.
Executive Order 12996
defines a conservation mission
for the Refuge System, defines six compatible wildlife-dependent recreational activities,
defines four guiding principles for management of the System, directs the Secretary
to undertake several actions in support of management and public use, directs the
Secretary to ensure the maintenance of the biological integrity and environmental
health of the System and provides for the identification of existing wildlife-dependent
uses that will continue to occur as lands lands are added to the System. (Additional
information can be found on an informational fact sheet
This Act serves as the "organic act" for the National Wildlife Refuge System. The
National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act
as amended, consolidated the various categories of lands administered by the Secretary
of the Interior (Secretary) through the Service into a single National Wildlife
The Act establishes a unifying mission for the Refuge System, a process for determining
compatible uses of refuges, and a requirement for preparing comprehensive conservation
plans. This Act states first and foremost that the mission of the National Wildlife
Refuge System be focused singularly on wildlife conservation.
This Act identifies six priority wildlife-dependent recreation uses, clarified the
Secretary's authority to accept donations of money for land acquisition and placed
restrictions on the transfer, exchange or other disposal of lands within the Refuge
System. (Information about the Refuge
Improvement Act of 1997
which amended the Refuge Administration Act).
Most importantly, this Act reinforces and expands the "compatibility standard" of
the Refuge Recreation Act. The Refuge Administration Act authorizes the Secretary,
under such regulations as he may prescribe, to "permit the use of any area
within the System for any purpose, including but not limited to hunting, fishing,
public recreation and accommodations, and access whenever he determines that such
uses are compatible with the major purposes for which such areas were established."
The Centennial Act was passed as part of Public Law 106-408 (html
| PDF version
) on November 21,
2000. The purpose of the legislation was to: (1) to establish a commission to promote
awareness by the public; (2) to develop a long-term plan to meet the priority needs;
(3) to require an annual report on the needs of the System; and (4) to improve public
use programs and facilities.
The Recreation Act
requires that any recreational use
on areas of the National Wildlife Refuge System be "compatible" with the primary
purpose(s) for which the area was acquired or established. This Act also requires
that sufficient funding be available for the development, operation and maintenance
of recreational uses that are not directly related to the area's primary purpose(s).
Endangered Species Act of 1973
as amended, did not specifically address the Refuge System but it does directly
affect management activities within the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Act
directed Federal agencies to take actions that would further the purposes of the
Act and to ensure that actions they carry out, authorize or fund do not jeopardize
endangered species or their critical habitat.
The Endangered Species Act also provides authority for land acquisition. Conservation
of threatened and endangered species has become a major objective of both land acquisition
and refuge management programs.
The Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956
comprehensive national fish, shellfish, and wildlife resources policy with emphasis
on the commercial fishing industry but also with a direction to administer the Act
with regard to the inherent right of every citizen and resident to fish for pleasure,
enjoyment, and betterment and to maintain and increase public opportunities for
recreational use of fish and wildlife resources.
The 1998 amendments to the Act modified the powers of
the Secretary of Interior
in regard to volunteer
, community partnerships
and education programs
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980
new refuges in Alaska and consolidated and/or expanded existing refuges, resulting
in a total of 76.4 million acres on 16 refuges. The Act lists the purposes for each
refuge in Alaska and requires development of comprehensive conservation plans. The
compatibility standard of the Refuge Administration Act is adopted, with modifications
pertaining to subsistence use, other traditional activities and for activities in
the "national interest," such as oil and gas development.