About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service External Affairs

Our mission is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

We are a bureau within the Department of the Interior.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the premier government agency dedicated to the conservation, protection, and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.We are the only agency in the federal government whose primary responsibility is the conservation and management of these important natural resources for the American public.

The Service's origins date back to 1871 when Congress established the U.S. Fish Commission to study the decrease in the nation’s food fishes and recommend ways to reverse that decline. (More on our history below.) Today, we are a diverse and largely decentralized organization, employing about 8,000 dedicated professionals working out of facilities across the country, including a headquarters office in Falls Church, Virginia, and eight regional offices representing the 12 Unified Interior Regions.

Our Organization and Leadership

The headquarters office has primary responsibility for policy formulation and budget allocation within major program areas, while the regional offices have primary responsibility for implementation of these policies and management of field operations. This decentralized organizational structure allows us to address wildlife issues effectively at the regional, state and local level, as well as work effectively with a variety of partners, including private landowners, tribes, states, other federal agencies, and nongovernmental organizations.

Our Director, supported by two Deputy Directors, oversees our national programs, managed by programmatic assistant directors and the Service's regions, each overseen by a regional director. See our organizational chart for more detail.

Our Responsibilities

We are responsible for implementing some of our Nation’s most important environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Pittman-Robertson/Dingell-Johnson wildlife and sportfish restoration laws, Lacey Act, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and Marine Mammal Protection Act. We fulfill these and other statutory responsibilities through an array of programs, activities, and offices that function to:

Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, we manage a network of 567 National Wildlife Refuges, with at least one refuge in each U.S. state and territory, and with more than 100 refuges close to major urban centers. The Refuge System plays an essential role in providing outdoor recreation opportunities to the American public. In 2019, more than 59 million visitors went to refuges to hunt, fish, observe or photograph wildlife, or participate in environmental education or interpretation.

We deliver conservation for imperiled species through our administration of the Endangered Species Act, which has been successful in preventing the extinction of more than 99 percent of the species it protects. We are committed to the recovery of listed species and to returning management of those species to our state and tribal partners when they no longer require protections.

The Migratory Bird program works to conserve birds and preserve traditional subsistence and outdoor recreational pursuits involving birds, as well as migratory bird management, cooperation with states, and environmental reviews. The program works with partners such as outdoor recreation and sporting groups, conservation organizations, tribes, and State wildlife agencies to conserve habitats needed to support these populations for future generations of Americans.

The Fish and Aquatic Conservation program works with partners and the public to manage fish and other aquatic resources to achieve the goals of healthy, self-sustaining populations, and the conservation or restoration of their habitats. The National Fish Hatchery System provides fish to states and tribes, while also propagating and providing refugia for endangered aquatic species enabling us to fulfill our trust responsibilities and Tribal partnerships.

The International Affairs program leads domestic and international efforts to protect, restore, and enhance the world’s diverse wildlife and their habitats. FWS works to ensure that wildlife trade is both legal and sustainable to benefit the survival of species and domestic economies through the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and domestic wildlife laws. FWS also provides technical and financial assistance to partners to support innovative projects that address wildlife trafficking.

Our Office of Law Enforcement facilitates a multi-billion-dollar legal wildlife trade, while simultaneously interdicting illegal wildlife and wildlife products and investigating wildlife trafficking crimes. The Office of Law Enforcement provides critical work in the fight against wildlife trafficking and the successful prosecution of criminals who break Federal and international wildlife laws.

Our History

The Fish and Wildlife Service programs are among the oldest in the world dedicated to natural resource conservation. You can trace our history back to 1871 and the U.S. Commission on Fish and Fisheries in the Department of Commerce and the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy in the Department of Agriculture.

Our organizational manual describes the creation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and also explains our statutory authority and functions.

Many prominent figures in the history of American wildlife conservation have been associated with what would become the Fish and Wildlife Service, including Spencer Fullerton Baird, first curator of the Smithsonian Institute, J.N. "Ding" Darling, originator of the Duck Stamp, and perhaps our most famous employee, Silent Spring author Rachel Carson.