How Lands are Classified within the National Wildlife Refuge System

There are two ways that lands in the National Wildlife System are categorized: 1) Code of Federal Regulations definitions and 2) real property classification. In general these lands include refuges, waterfowl production areas, and coordination areas. The Refuge System does not currently include any of the lands identified as Administrative Sites in the property records. Refuge System lands are acquired through a variety of acquisition methods such as withdrawal from the public domain, fee title purchase, transfer of jurisdiction, donation, gift, exchange, and partial interest such as agreements, easements, and leases.

By Fish and Wildlife Service definitions in the Title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), lands within the National Wildlife Refuge System include two major categories – National Wildlife Refuges and Coordination Areas. National Wildlife Refuges are defined as all units of the Refuge System except Coordination Areas. Within the National Wildlife Refuge category, a further distinction is made for the subset of units known as Waterfowl Production Areas.

In the annual report on real property, the lands within the Refuge System are separated into three tables – Table 3 Refuges, Table 4 Waterfowl Production Areas and Table 5 Coordination Areas. The classification used in the annual report on lands reflects organizational structure not the actual definitions in the Code of Federal Regulations. In general, the lands reported in Tables 3 and 4 are included within the CFR definition of National Wildlife Refuge. Cooperative agreements for the management of Refuge System lands by the States includes lands found in Tables 3, 4 and 5. Service management of Refuge System lands also includes all three tables.

For a variety of reasons, the names of the individual units can not be used to determine which category they are found in nor can they be used to get an exact count of the units within a given category. For example, although there are 37 units formally known as Farmers Home units found in Table 3, which is generally considered to be where “refuges” are reported, none of them are counted as “refuges” although their acreage is included in the totals for “refuges”. Lands identified with names such as “wildlife management area” are found in Tables 3, 4 and 5, and represent lands managed by both the Fish and Wildlife Service and States.

Although all waterfowl production areas are units of the Refuge System, no annual count of the number of waterfowl production ares is usually made because of the vast number of units (over 36,000). For the purpose of the realty records, waterfowl production areas are aggregated by county, then further aggregated by administrative office, usually a Wetland Management District. It should be noted that the two offices known as Wetland Management Districts in Mississippi and Louisana have no assocation with the actual management of waterfowl production areas but are used to administer lands identified as Farmers Home units reported in Table 3.