Management and Conservation

Hispanic Access Foundation intern Ashley Suarez-Burgos coaches students in archery during a fall festival at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia.

In 2013 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program through Director’s Order No. 208 and a subsequent policy (110 FW 1), with the  goal of prioritizing conservation and recreational access in urban areas where more than 80 percent of Americans live.

Strategic Investments Pay Off  

Since 2013, with limited funds, the Refuge System has built seven flagship urban national wildlife refuges and supported 32  designated urban partnerships. These innovation centers model strategies to improve access to nature and achieve racial equity in conservation. They help identify scalable solutions that actively address  Administration priorities.   

  • Racial equity and inclusion. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphiais working with historically excluded African American communities  to turn vacant neighborhood lots into vibrant green spaces and take nature lessons into schools. It is also soliciting community feedback on programs and examining institutional biases. (More on John Heinz Refuge below.)
  • Environmental justice. Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the first public land site to integrate environmental and economic justice into its strategic plan. The refuge’s blueprint for wildlife restoration and community health addresses the effects of industrial pollution on the adjacent Mountain View neighborhood. (More on Valle de Oro Refuge below.)
  • Career training. Living-wage internships at several  urban refuges are helping to mold the next generation’s conservation leaders.  
  • Climate resilience. National wildlife refuges in the Portland-Vancouver metro area are working with local communities on large-scale habitat restoration to ease flooding worsened by climate change. The projects capture storm water runoff from heavy rainstorms, help prevent flood damage in at-risk areas and maintain habitat for native wildlife species. 
Jessica Jia, park ranger at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, aided by Jaime Gonzalez of The Nature Conservancy, shows a snake to Virtually Wild! Texas viewers. Virtually Wild! is a program of The Houston Community Partnerships and Engagement program.

Success Stories

Fish and Wildlife Service partnerships in cities like Houston, Providence, Baltimore and Elizabeth, New Jersey, where there are no nearby national wildlife refuges, also foster education and access to nature and outdoor recreation. 

The Houston Community Partnerships and Engagement program provides virtual field trips to young people bedridden in hospitals and health facilities. “Virtually Wild! Texas” takes viewers to coastal wetlands, forests, prairies and zoos via their personal electronic devices. Viewers can interact directly with conservation professionals on camera. 

In Chicago, an urban partnership trains residents to connect their local communities with nature through guided nature hikes, field trips, outdoor activities, and restoration projects.

Gisela Chapa, then-manager of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, helps students at a nearby elementary school plant a pollinator garden.

Urban partnerships, like those at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, have helped neighboring schools and communities create pollinator gardens and other green spaces.

Scores of urban refuges host regular events to introduce kids and adults to fishing and birding.

Refuges in Texas, Colorado, Washington and California have built bridges and trails to better  connect nearby cities with green space. 

Groundwork Elizabeth Green Team Youth at Wallkill River NWR on June 21, 2021.

Every year, Lenape National Wildlife Refuge Complex's partnership with Groundwork Hudson Valley and Groundwork Elizabeth gives some 30 teens in Yonkers, N.Y. and 45 teens in Elizabeth, N.J. three weeks of conservation training at three national wildlife refuges (Cherry Valley, Great Swamp, Wallkill River). The teens use that training to promote conservation and green spaces in their home communities. More than 900 youth have benefited over the past 12 years. Thousands more residents have benefited from environmental education and habitat restoration.  

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum partners with community leaders and organizations in Southwest Philadelphia to build lasting relationships. The Philly Nature Kids program teaches natural science to fourth graders at three city schools. A high school work experience program employs up to 30 kids a year in paid internships; these jobs merge into five-to-eight college-level positions each year. Listening and engagement sessions help the refuge better understand community recreation needs. Since 2013 the program has served  more than 17,000 kids and adults in historically excluded African American communities.

Mountain View Elementary School students recite the pledge of allegiance at a 2012 ceremony establishing Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. USFWS Photo

AtValle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, partnerships with local schools, youth corps and community groups have helped build trails from a neighboring industrial Albuquerque neighborhood to the refuge, provide field trips for students, and build a community garden that emphasizes traditional seeds and foods.

Since 2014, refuge partnerships with groups including the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps have employed more than 500 youth.

In collaboration with partners, the refuge hosts annual career fairs, job shadow opportunities and mentor mixers, supports the New Mexico Green Jobs listserv and will soon open a Center for Conservation Careers office in its new visitor center.  

Our Programs

A bright blue sky obstructed by fluffy white clouds reflected off of a stream shot from inside a kayak
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages an unparalleled network of public lands and waters called the National Wildlife Refuge System. With more than 570 refuges spanning the country, this system protects iconic species and provides some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities on Earth.
A large bird with brown feathers, white head, and yellow beak flies against a pale blue sky
The Migratory Bird Program works with partners to protect, restore and conserve bird populations and their habitats for the benefit of future generations by: ensuring long-term ecological sustainability of all migratory bird populations, increasing socioeconomic benefits derived from birds,...

Our Projects and Research

Learn more about the research that makes the Urban Wildlife Conservation program possible.

Children in yellow shirts run down a path or trail at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Read the report on workshops with urban community representatives to understand barriers, motivations, and strategies for connecting urban audiences with refuges, wildlife, and the outdoors: Barriers and Strategies to Connecting Urban Audiences to Wildlife and Nature...