Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How many national wildlife refuges are there?
The National Wildlife Refuge System includes 568 national wildlife refuges from Alaska to the Caribbean and Maine to the south Pacific. There is at least one national wildlife refuge in each state. The Refuge System also includes five marine national monuments and 38 wetland management districts. See A Beginner’s Guide to the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Q. What is a national wildlife refuge?
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
Q. How are national wildlife refuge different from other federally protected public lands?
Wildlife conservation drives everything on national wildlife refuges, from the purposes for which each refuge is established to the recreational activities offered to the resource management tools used. Each refuge is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on those lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose. For example, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, established to provide habitat for migratory birds, restricts night beach fishing in spring, when tiny piping plovers breed and nest. The beach is reopened once plover breeding season ends.
Q. Are public outdoor recreation activities available at national wildlife refuges?
Yes, recreational activities are offered at national wildlife refuges when they are compatible with a given refuge’s statutory purpose. The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (pdf) identifies six priority public uses on refuges: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education and interpretation. See Things to Do.
Q. How can I find a national wildlife refuge in my state or territory?
Go to the Find Your Refuge section on the National Wildlife Refuge System home page to search by state, by Zip Code or alphabetically by the name of a refuge.
Q. Are all national wildlife refuges open to the public?
More than 75 percent of national wildlife refuges are open to the public. Others are closed to the public for wildlife conservation purposes and/or to protect fragile habitat.
Q. Is there anything I should know before visiting a national wildlife refuge? Yes. Be respectful of the land, waters and animals. “It’s kind of like walking into somebody’s house,” says National Wildlife Refuge System Chief Cynthia Martinez. “Think about it as we humans are entering into a place of wildlife.” See How to Best Enjoy a National Wildlife Refuge.
Q. Where can I find contact information for a national wildlife refuge? Go to an individual refuge web page via National Wildlife Refuge System home page, go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contact us page or call 1-800-344-WILD between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. To report a wildlife crime: 1-844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477) or FWS_TIPS@fws.gov.
Q. Where can I find general visitor information?
See Plan Your Visit.
Q. Where can I find information about fees and passes?
Most national wildlife refuges offer free admission, but about 30 refuges do charge a small entry fee. See our Federal Recreational Lands Pass page.
Q. Why is hunting allowed?
The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 (pdf) institutionalized hunting as a priority public use on refuges. This means it is a primary focus in planning and management efforts. Hunting on refuges, carefully regulated, also is used to manage for healthy wildlife populations and habitats. See Why Hunting Is Allowed on Refuges.
Q. Is it legal to collect shed antlers on a national wildlife refuge?
No, it is not, unless you have a special permit. Code of Federal Regulations Title 50 Part 27 Section 61 (50 CFR 27.61) prohibits the unauthorized removal of any public property, including natural objects from any national wildlife refuge. Because shed antlers are an important source of nutrients to various other animals, the Fish and Wildlife Service authorizes their collection only by special permit.
Q. Where can I find information about special permits?
Q. May I fly a drone on a national wildlife refuge?
No. Launching, landing or disturbing wildlife by aircraft (drones) on national wildlife refuges is prohibited by law – Code of Federal Regulations Title 50 Part 27 Sections 34 and 51 (50 CFR 27.34/51). Drone operators should not rely solely on applications such as AirMap, B4UFly or DJI Go to determine if a location is legal for drone use. Such applications do not always capture accurate locations of public lands where drones are prohibited. Contact the individual refuge’s manager if you have questions.
Q. What should I do if I find a baby bird on a national wildlife refuge or elsewhere?
In most cases, birds – even baby birds – don’t need your help. Fledglings (young chicks that have just left the nest) may spend several days on the ground before they are able to fly. Typically, parent birds continue to care for and watch over them. You can help by keeping people and pets away from fledgling birds. Eggs that you find on the ground are unlikely to hatch even if replaced into the nest. If you think a bird is truly an orphan or is injured, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for guidance.
Q. What should I do if I find an injured bird?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not have bird/wildlife rehabilitators on staff. Call your local veterinarian, humane society, or county or municipal wildlife agency to find the nearest qualified wildlife rehabilitator that can take and treat the bird. The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association can help put you in touch with a qualified rehabilitator. While you are locating a suitable rehabilitator, keep the bird in a dark box in a warm, quiet spot. Do not disturb it or offer it food. Let it rest.
Q. What should I do if I find a sick bird?
If possible, do not attempt to move the bird. Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or local veterinarian. Call first before visiting to make sure they can take the bird, as some vet clinics don't have the facilities to isolate sick birds. Protect yourself, your family and your pets – don't handle any potentially sick bird without wearing disposable gloves. Make sure you have a box prepared for it, and a place to bring it, before you put a bird through the trauma of capture. If your area is possibly having an outbreak of an avian disease, you may need to report it to your county health department or department of natural resources. To find out, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or your nearest game warden or conservation office.
Q. Do you have educational resources related to fish, wildlife and nature that teachers or parents might find useful?
Yes. See Teacher Resources, Refuge Animals From A to Z, 8 Powerful Lessons That the Ocean Can Teach and feature stories about a range of topics.
Q. What is Congressionally designated wilderness and how does it relate to the National Wildlife Refuge System?
The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which today includes 803 Congressionally designated wilderness areas comprising about 111 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico. “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,” the Wilderness Act states. “An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages almost 21 million acres of wilderness in the National Wildlife Refuge System. There are 75 wilderness areas on 63 Refuge System units in 25 states. The Fish and Wildlife Service is one of four federal agencies with wilderness stewardship responsibilities; the others are the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. See Wilderness.
Q. Are cultural and historic resources conserved on national wildlife refuges?
Yes. These resources are managed under the National Historic Preservation Act. There are 10 National Historic Landmarks, 114 National Register-listed properties, 384 paleontological sites, 1,815 historic structures and 15,798 archaeological sites within national wildlife refuges. The Refuge System also manages about 4.5 million museum artifacts. Visit our Historic and Cultural Treasures page, see a Conserving Cultural Resources in the National Wildlife Refuge System video or take the Name That Refuge: Culture & History Quiz.
Q. What are some animals that national wildlife refuges have helped?
Just half a century ago, bald eagles, alligators, grizzly bears, California condors, Louisiana black bears and whooping cranes all were at risk of extinction. Refuges have helped—and continue to help—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service save iconic American species (and many lesser-known ones) by providing healthy habitat on which they depend. To learn about at-risk species in your state and what is being done to conserve them, see this map.
Q. Why else are national wildlife refuges important?
Beyond their primary mission of conserving and enhancing land and water for fish, wildlife and plants, national wildlife refuges are important in other ways. They offer healthy, world-class outdoor recreation. They improve air and water quality across the nation. They help lessen the impact of natural disasters on local communities. They reduce the risk of wildfire. They help preserve the nation’s cultural heritage. They add to the nation’s economic well-being. See 11 Ways Wildlife Refuges Make Life Better.
Q. What is a marine national monument?
A marine national monument is a marine protected area designated by a Presidential Proclamation under the Antiquities Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), state and territorial governments and others to manage marine national monuments that conserve the ocean and remote islands and atolls in it. NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service cooperatively manage four marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean and one in the Atlantic. See ‘Hope Spots’ in the Ocean.
Q. What is a wetland management district?
A wetland management district is an area (usually several counties) in which a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office conserves, manages and protects habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. Wetland management districts typically contain one or both of two types of land: waterfowl production areas (WPAs) and conservation easements. WPAs are tracts of land usually purchased with funds from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps. The Fish and Wildlife Service owns and manages WPAs to protect and restore nesting and breeding habitat for millions of waterfowl and migratory birds. The Refuge System’s 38 wetland management districts comprise thousands of WPAs from Idaho to Maine – but almost all are in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains. Conservation easements are legal agreements on privately owned lands to protect wetlands and/or grasslands.
Q. How does a wetland management district differ from a national wildlife refuge?
1) A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous block of land. In contrast, a wetland management district is made up of scattered waterfowl production areas and conservation easements in multiple counties. For instance, Kulm Wetland Management District comprises 200 waterfowl production areas, totaling more than 45,000 acres, and administers more than 225,000 acres of conservation easements in a four-county area of southeastern North Dakota.
2) While a national wildlife refuge is closed to many public-use activities unless specifically opened, in a wetland management district, waterfowl production areas are open to certain types of public recreation (hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, etc.) unless specifically closed. Access to land with a conservation easement or a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program agreement is a property right retained by each private landowner.