Welcome to the National Wildlife Refuge System

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The National Wildlife Refuge System, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants.

Mission Statement 

The Mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans. 

Guiding Principles  

  • We are land stewards, guided by Aldo Leopold's teachings that land is a community of life and that love and respect for the land is an extension of ethics. We seek to reflect that land ethic in our stewardship and to instill it in others. 
  • Wild lands and the perpetuation of diverse and abundant wildlife are essential to the quality of the American life. 
  • We are public servants. We owe our employers, the American people, hard work, integrity, fairness, and a voice in the protection of their trust resources. 
  • Management, ranging from preservation to active manipulation of habitats and populations, is necessary to achieve Refuge System and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missions. 
  • Wildlife-dependent uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, interpretation, and education, when compatible, are legitimate and appropriate uses of the Refuge System. 
  • Partnerships with those who want to help us meet our mission are welcome and indeed essential. 
  • Employees are our most valuable resource. They are respected and deserve an empowering, mentoring, and caring work environment. 
  • We respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of our neighbors. 

Following the establishment of Florida’s Pelican Island as the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903, the System has grown to encompass more than 150 million acres within more than 550 Refuges, many Wetland Management Districts, and thousands of Waterfowl Production Areas. 

More than 41 million people visit National Wildlife Refuges each year to participate in activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, and photography, and to attend environmental education and interpretive programs. Their spending generates almost $1.7 billion in sales and close to 27,000 jobs for regional economies. 

Wildlife Refuges are home to more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 200 species of fish. Fifty-nine Refuges have been established with a primary purpose of conserving threatened or endangered species. 

There is at least one National Wildlife Refuge in every state, and one within an hour’s drive of most major cities—offering people a welcoming, safe, and accessible place to nourish their spirits and reconnect to the land.