What We Do

A Laysan albatross and chick at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific.

Public Lands and Waters Conservation

Founded by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 and administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge System is a diverse network of lands and waters dedicated to conserving America’s rich fish and wildlife heritage.

This network protects some of the country’s most iconic ecosystems and the fish and wildlife that rely on them: prairies of the heartland, teeming with native pollinators and bison; hardwood forests of the Southeast, a source of regional and cultural pride; desert Southwest landscapes, home to vibrant and rare plant communities that draw new life during the summer monsoon season. The Refuge System also conserves waterways that give life to all of them — critical ecosystems along rivers, streams, wetlands, coasts and marine areas.

By the Numbers

  • 95 million land acres
  • 760 million marine acres 
  • 50 states
  • 5 U.S. territories
  • More than 570 national wildlife refuges
  • 38 wetland management districts
  • 5 marine national monuments
  • 63 refuges with wilderness areas
  • 1,000+ miles of wild and scenic rivers
Fishing at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Great Recreation

Opportunities for outdoor recreation draw millions of people each year to national wildlife refuges, boosting local economies. Many visitors take part in heritage sports such as hunting and fishing. Others enjoy hiking, paddling, wildlife viewing or nature photography. All these activities offer visitors a chance to unplug from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with their natural surroundings. 

By the Numbers

  • 67.03 million annual visits
  • 42.17 million birders and wildlife observers
  • 2.15 million nature program attendees
  • 2.63 million annual hunting visits
  • 8.61 million annual fishing visits
  • 2,100 miles of public walking trails and boardwalks
Mountain View Elementary School students recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a 2012 ceremony establishing Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge.

Community-Driven Wildlife Conservation 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to fish and wildlife conservation. National Wildlife Refuge System teams work to understand individual conservation issues as they affect the interests of local communities and groups. Then they customize approaches to address these needs to help fish, wildlife and people.  

By the Numbers

  • 15,301 volunteers 
  • 818,828 volunteer hours served 
  • 180 Friends groups 
  • 101 urban wildlife refuges 
  • 32 partnerships in cities

Management and Conservation

In 2010, the National Wildlife Refuge System embarked on journey to strategically and collaboratively address the mounting challenges faced in conserving America’s wild plants, fish, animals and their habitats in a rapidly changing world.

In 2011, after 18 months of study and public conversation about conservation and the future of the Refuge System, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a publication titled Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation. Since then, Conserving the Future, which included 24 recommendations, has been the guiding vision for the Refuge System.

The primary goal of Conserving the Future is to use scientific excellence at a broad, landscape scale for the benefit of a diverse American public while nurturing the next generation of conservation leaders.

Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation

The publication titled, Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation, is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s guiding vision for the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Service released Conserving the Future as the culmination of 18 months of study and...

Our Programs

Conserving the nation’s wildlife and wildlife habitat demands expertise in many specialized fields. The National Wildlife Refuge System counts on its experts to help inform management decisions and policy.


A bright orange sky with a setting sun with a pond and vegetation in the foreground
The realty division of the National Wildlife Refuge System supports the acquisition and management of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands, using Migratory Bird Conservation and Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars.
A bison grazing in the foreground with mountains and a city and electrical infrastructure in the background
The Urban Wildlife Conservation Program improves lives by expanding access to green space, education and outdoor recreation for Americans living in and around cities. Program members work to clear social and historical barriers and foster new connections that advance conservation and strengthen...
A person stands near the top of a tall ladder in a remote area surrounded by trees and greenery.
The National Wildlife Refuge System coordinates an interdisciplinary science team to inform planning and management decisions for frontline managers. By integrating findings from numerous scientific fields — including wildlife biology, air quality and human dimensions — managers can better address...
Gathering of Puffins on brown rock
The Coastal Program is one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s most effective resources for restoring and protecting fish and wildlife habitat on public and privately-owned lands. We play an important role in promoting the Service’s mission and priorities, delivering landscape-scale...
large flock of snow geese
The National Wildlife Refuge System is the nation’s largest collection of public lands and waters conserved for fish and wildlife. Planning is essential to ensure that the Refuge System meets this conservation commitment.
White-suited people collect samples on an oil-tarred beach in Louisiana.
Environmental contaminants experts within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ensure that environmental cleanups of polluted lands and waters minimize toxicological and ecological risks and restore the site to a safe and inhabitable condition.
Friends of the Refuge Headwaters holding tree tubes outside.
A Friends partnership is made up of a nonprofit Friends organization and a national wildlife refuge or national fish hatchery. All refuge Friends organizations share the same primary mission: the support of a national wildlife refuge, a complex of refuges or a program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife...
Flood waters cover New Jersey coastland after a hurricane.
Emergency management is a key part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mission of protecting fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Our emergency management experts provide strategy and support in preparing for and responding to natural and man-...
A large, wet, furry brown rodent standing on grassy land next to a body of water
Invasive species are non-native plants, animals and other living organisms that thrive in areas where they don’t naturally live and cause (or are likely to cause) economic or environmental harm, or harm to human, animal or plant health. Invasive species degrade, change or displace native habitats,...
A crane operator lowers a bridge into place while a coworker on the ground adjusts the placement.
Our infrastructure portfolio drives local economic activity and supports every recreation and conservation activity that takes place on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands. Infrastructure and the Service maintenance workforce are the foundation of almost everything that occurs within the National...
Partners for Fish and Wildlife: Nevada Coordinator Susan Abele Meets with Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Member to Conduct a Site Visit at Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation
The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program provides free technical and financial assistance to landowners, managers, tribes, corporations, schools and nonprofits interested in improving wildlife habitat on their land. Since 1987, we have helped more than 30,000 landowners to complete more than 50,...
A law enforcement officer standing in his truck in a desert setting looking through binoculars
Guided by the founding principles of the National Wildlife Refuge System and the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, federal wildlife officers protect wildlife and habitat and make refuges safe places for staff and visitors; conserve America’s natural resources; and seek to exemplify...
Two adults hold the hands of a child between them and look out at the river from the banks of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
The Division of Visitor Services and Communications manages opportunities for outdoor recreation that draw millions of people each year to national wildlife refuges, boosting local economies. Many visitors take part in heritage sports such as hunting and fishing. Others enjoy walking, paddling,...
Green plains and a lake with a mountain range in the background.
Wilderness areas are wild, undeveloped, federally protected areas where you can see wildlife in its natural habitat, enjoy adventure and unmechanized recreation, or just relish solitude. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages more than 20 million acres of Congressionally designated wilderness...
An old stone A-framed building in a high desert landscape with an old mill next to it
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conserves more than just flora and fauna at America’s national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries. As mandated under the National Historic Preservation Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service also conserves tens of thousands of archaeological and historic...
Smoke from a prescribed fire enters the sky.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages fire safely and cost-effectively to improve the condition of lands while reducing the risk of damaging wildfires to surrounding communities. This balanced approach to fire management benefits people and wildlife.
The sun in a crystal clear blue shy over a piece of land jutting into water
Maintaining good air quality is important not only for human health but also for the health of natural resources. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitors air quality in selected sites to minimize harm from human-caused air pollution to wildlife and sensitive wildlife habitat on national...

Our Services

The National Wildlife Refuge System provides a number of services to different user groups. 

Our Laws and Regulations

Key legislation that guides the establishment and management of refuges:

The Emergency Wetlands Resources Act provides for the collection of entrance fees, thirty percent of which may be used for refuge operations and maintenance, and for the Secretary of the Interior to establish and periodically review a national wetlands priority conservation plan for Federal and...

The Migratory Bird Conservation Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to conduct investigations and publish documents related to North American birds, and establishes a Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) to approve areas recommended by the Secretary for acquisition. The MBCC...

The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act, commonly referred to as the Duck Stamp Act, requires waterfowl hunters, 16 years of age or older, to purchase and possess a valid Federal waterfowl hunting stamp prior to taking migratory waterfowl. Receipts from the sale of the stamp are...

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (16 U.S.C. 703-712) implements four international conservation treaties that the U.S. entered into with Canada in 1916, Mexico in 1936, Japan in 1972, and Russia in 1976. It is intended to ensure the sustainability of populations of all protected migratory...

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) provides that the Service examine the environmental impacts, incorporate environmental information, and use public participation in the planning and implementation of all actions; integrate NEPA with other planning requirements; prepare NEPA...

An aerial view of pelican island.

The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act provides authority, guidelines and directives for the Service to improve the National Wildlife Refuge System; administers a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and restoration of fish, wildlife and plant...

The National Wildlife Refuge System Centennial Act reinforces the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act provisions to raise public understanding and appreciation for the refuge system; calls on the Secretary of the Interior to establish a Centennial Commission to oversee special public...

The National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Improvement Act authorizes cooperative agreements with nonprofit partner organizations, academic institutions, or State and local governments to construct, operate, maintain, or improve refuge facilities and services, and to promote volunteer, outreach, and...

The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act authorizes grants for the conservation of neotropical migratory birds in the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean, with 75 percent of the amounts made available to be expended on projects outside the United States. The funds are to be...

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act authorizes grants to public-private partnerships in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to protect, enhance, restore, and manage waterfowl, other migratory birds and other fish and wildlife, and the wetland ecosystems and other habitats upon which they depend...

The Refuge Recreation Act of 1962, with subsequent amendments, authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to administer refuges, hatcheries and other conservation areas for recreational use, when such uses do not interfere with the primary purpose for which these areas were established.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System and authorizes Congress to designate wilderness areas. Here, in the Wilderness Act, is a definition of wilderness: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is...

An Act to enhance and integrate Native American tourism, empower Native American communities, increase coordination and collaboration between Federal tourism assets, and expand heritage and cultural tourism opportunities in the United States.