National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act

Fulfilling the Promise cover

For almost a century, the 95 million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System had been managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under a variety of laws without an "Organic Act" or comprehensive legislation spelling out how it ought to be managed and used by the public. On October 9, 1997, President Clinton signed the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, amending the Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 in a manner that provides an “Organic Act” for the Refuge System.

The Act was passed to ensure that the Refuge System is managed as a national system of related lands, waters, and interests for the protection and conservation of our Nation's wildlife resources.

The only system of Federal lands devoted specifically to wildlife, the National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of diverse and strategically located habitats. More than 545 national wildlife refuges and thousands of waterfowl production areas across the United States teem with millions of migratory birds, serve as havens for hundreds of endangered species, and host an enormous variety of other plants and animals. More than 41 million people visit National Wildlife Refuges each year to enjoy a wide range of wildlife related recreational opportunities.


The passage of this Act gave guidance to the Secretary of the Interior for the overall management of the Refuge System. The Act's main components include:


... a strong and singular wildlife conservation Mission for the Refuge System;

... a requirement that the Secretary of the Interior maintain the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the Refuge System;

... a new process for determining compatible uses on refuges;

... a recognition that wildlife-dependent recreational uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education and interpretation, when determined to be compatible, are legitimate and appropriate public uses of the Refuge System;

... that these compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses are the priority general public uses of the Refuge System; and

... a requirement for preparing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for each refuge.


The following year the first-ever National Wildlife Refuge System Conference was held in October, 1998, which produced the landmark guiding document for the Refuge System, "Fulfilling the Promise."   In the summer of 2010, the Refuge System came together once again to chart the course for the National Wildlife Refuge System's next decade, producing the document "Conserving the Future."

Learn More


Guiding Documents for the National Wildlife Refuge System

 National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997  131 KB pdf

 Fulfilling the Promise; The National Wildlife Refuge System, 1998  2.77 MB pdf

 Conserving the Future; Wildlife Resources and the Next Generation, 2010  5.39 MB pdf