National Wildlife Refuge System

Urban Oasis Brings Desert, Nature and People Together

Desert NWR
The rugged landscape of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge is located just north of Las Vegas.
Credit: USFWS
Just 23 miles north of Las Vegas, a city with a population around 600,000, is a native urban oasis – the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. The refuge includes more than 1.5 million acres in southern Nevada with six major mountain ranges rising to an elevation of almost 10,000 feet and seven distinct habitats. It is the largest refuge in the lower 48 states. Yet, despite the hot, dry climate and lack of annual rainfall, a wide variety of plant communities offer ideal habitat for over 320 species of birds and 35 reptiles. You may even spot the elusive mountain lion along with 53 other mammals, such as the kit fox, bighorn sheep and kangaroo rat.

On February 21, 2014, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe cut the ribbon to open an 11,000-square-foot visitor center joined by Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Congresswoman Dina Titus, refuge staff and partners. The new facility offers visitor information, exhibits, two classrooms/meeting rooms, administrative offices and a bookstore. It was built with solar panels, 8-inch-thick concrete walls for insulation and an unusual heating and cooling system.

The visitor center was completed in just 12 months, funded entirely with revenue public land sales.

The Desert Refuge visitor center is part of the Refuge System's focus on serving urban audiences. More than 100 national wildlife refuges serve metropolitan areas. Eight refuges are within 25 miles of population centers of three million.

"The Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative provides economic benefits to hundreds of communities as new generations of city dwellers learn wildlife-dependent recreation, such as birding, fishing, hunting, hiking, canoeing and so much more," said Service Director Dan Ashe. "Too many Americans have grown up without a real connection to wildlife. This initiative gives us the chance to change that."

Desert NWR Visitor Center
The grand opening of the Desert Refuge visitor center was celebrated February 22 with archery lessons, live reptiles, wildlife walks and a barbecue hosted by the Friends of Desert Refuge.
Credit: Friends of Desert Refuge.

Desert National Wildlife Refuge brochure. (833 KB PDF)

More photos on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page and Flickr.

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Last updated: February 27, 2015