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.
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.
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Okefenokee has the great distinction of not only being a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, but also the National Wilderness Preservation System. This designation is given to federal lands that are affected primarily by nature and where people are only visitors. Managed using minimum tools, Wilderness Areas are places where visitors can experience unconfined and solitude recreation.