U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service



March 11, 1996

Michael Smith 303-236-7905
Inez Connor 202-219-3861


As the National Wildlife Refuge System chalks up its 93rd birthday, adding another year of caring for America's wildlife, it also continues a remarkable history of accomplishment.

It was helped along by large and small acts of generosity. On the small side, one volunteer collects tin cans for recycling, then uses the money to buy and frame Duck Stamps for the donors of the cans. Revenues from Duck Stamp sales are used to buy refuge lands.

On the large side, The Nature Conservancy donated 3,660 acres to start a new refuge. Like many refuges, Big Branch Marsh refuge, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain just outside New Orleans, also owes its existence to conservation and civic groups that requested protection for this undeveloped habitat and the diversity of wildlife it shelters.

That same concern led to the creation of the first national wildlife refuge. Prompted by conservationists, President Theodore Roosevelt issued an Executive Order in 1903, setting aside Pelican Island in Florida as a bird preserve. That Executive Order was quickly followed by others, establishing refuges such as Breton Island in Louisiana; Chase Lake, North Dakota; Wichita Mountains, Oklahoma; and Huron in Michigan. During his presidency, Roosevelt designated 51 wildlife areas in 17 states and territories, from Hawaii and Puerto Rico to North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Washington.

Most of the 508 national wildlife refuges are named for natural, geographic, or historic features, and the names evoke colorful images. There are Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Chassahowitzka, Minnedoka, Nine-Pipe, Blackbeard Island, Bear River, Massasoit, Cape Meares, and Patoka River. Others are named for writers and some for elected officials and leading conservationists. Three are named for women.

Some, such as National Bison Range, National Elk Refuge, National Key Deer Refuge, and Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, are not called national wildlife refuges at all. Bear River in Utah is called a migratory bird refuge. At least three have "fish" in their names.

The first "fish" refuge was the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, established in 1924. It was also the first to be purchased and the first to allow hunting. Others with "fish" in their names include the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge along the Missouri River, added in 1995, and the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge along the Connecticut River, still in the planning stage.

From the initial 3.5-acre Pelican Island, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to 92.3 million acres with units in all 50 states.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is the largest refuge in the system with 19.263 million acres, while Desert National Wildlife Range in Nevada is the largest outside of Alaska with 1.58 million acres. Mille Lacs in Minnesota is the smallest, at 0.60 acres. North Dakota has the most refuges (64), followed by California with 37, and Florida with 28. Kentucky is the only state without a refuge totally within its boundaries.

In addition to national wildlife refuges, the system also includes 2.28 million acres in conservation easements on 186 waterfowl production areas, small "potholes" scattered primarily across the upper Midwest. It also includes 37,322 acres on 50 coordination areas, managed under cooperative agreements by state wildlife agencies. Collectively, these areas make up the 92.3 million acres of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Wilderness areas have been declared on 20.7 million of these acres at 84 sites on 63 refuges and one national fish hatchery.

America's national wildlife refuges also continue to provide outdoor recreation for nearly 30 million people who visit refuges each year, pumping billions of dollars into local economies: 21 million visit for wildlife observation, 1.4 million to hunt, 5 million to fish, 334,768 for environmental education, and others just to experience nature.

These outdoor experiences were made possible only with the help of 23,000 dedicated volunteers who built nesting boxes and platforms, banded birds, conducted tours, and answered endless questions.

For more information about the National Wildlife Refuge System, the world's most outstanding network of lands and waters dedicated to wildlife, visit the home page at http://bluegoose.arw.r9.fws.gov/ or call 1-800-344-WILD. Better yet, call or visit a nearby refuge.

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