The National Wildlife Refuge System
Improvement Act of 1997 established, for the first time, a clear mission of
wildlife conservation for the national wildlife refuges. The Act states that
the Service will manage each refuge to:
• fulfill the mission of the Refuge
• fulfill the individual purposes of
• consider the needs of fish and
• fulfill the requirement of
developing a comprehensive conservation plan for each unit of the Refuge
System, and fully involve the public in the preparation of these plans;
• maintain the biological integrity,
diversity, and environmental health of the Refuge System; and
• recognize that wildlife-dependent
recreational activities including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation,
wildlife photography, and environmental education and interpretation, are legitimate
and priority public uses.
Following passage of the Act in 1997,
the Service immediately began efforts to carry out the direction of the new legislation,
including the preparation of comprehensive conservation plans for all refuges. Consistent
with the Act, the Service has prepared all refuge comprehensive conservation
plans in conjunction with public involvement.
The NWRS Improvement Act defines a unifying mission for all refuges, including a process for determining compatible uses on refuges, and requiring that each refuge be managed according to a CCP. The NWRS Improvement Act expressly states that wildlife conservation is the priority of System lands and that the Secretary shall ensure that the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of refuge lands are maintained. Each refuge must be managed to fulfill the specific purposes for which the refuge was established and the System mission. The first priority of each refuge is to conserve, manage, and if needed, restore fish and wildlife populations and habitats according to its purpose.