Happy Birthday National Wildlife Refuge System!


March 1, 2016 - Hooray for America’s nature. One big reason it’s there to treasure: the National Wildlife Refuge System, the world’s premier network of public lands devoted to wildlife conservation. The Refuge System turns 113 on March 14.

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, refuges provide vital habitat for thousands of species and access to pastimes from fishing and hunting to nature watching, hiking, biking and boating. National wildlife refuges protect wildlife habitat on dramatic landscapes that range from Oregon’s rocky cliffs to Texas lagoons, and from Alaska wilderness to woods and ponds within Philadelphia city limits.

President Teddy Roosevelt created the first national wildlife refuge on March 14, 1903, at Pelican Island, Florida, to protect brown pelicans and other birds from extinction through plume hunting. Today, the Refuge System includes more than 560 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts covering over 150 million acres plus more than 418 million acres of marine national monuments.

“These are America’s refuges — an unparalleled system of public lands that provide access to the great outdoors to all its citizens,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Refuges are intrinsic parts of the communities that surround them, contributing to the local economies, serving as recreational epicenters for residents and visitors, and keeping local ecosystems healthy and resilient. What better way to celebrate these national treasures on this anniversary than by visiting your nearest refuge?”

Many of America’s beloved wildlife species — including those threatened with extinction, such as the whooping crane, manatee and ocelot — depend on national wildlife refuges for their survival. And refuges provide a range of vital ecosystem services, including storm buffering and flood control, air and water purification, and the maintenance of robust populations of native plants and animals.

There’s at least one national wildlife refuge in every state. More than 47 million people visit refuges every year, making them an economic powerhouse to the tune of $2.4 billion annually and 35,000 jobs, according to the report Banking on Nature.

In an increasingly urban America, refuges also provide an important connection with the outdoors, particularly for young people. There is a refuge within an hour’s drive from most major metropolitan areas. The Service’s Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, launched in 2013, is providing new opportunities for residents of America’s cities to learn about and take part in wildlife habitat conservation.

No matter where you live, you can enjoy nature at a refuge near you.

What refuges offer you
Enjoy bird festivals, nature tours or a drive along a scenic wildlife viewing route.
See how refuges conserve some of our nation’s most cherished natural treasures. Refuges are great places to witness seasonal wonders, such as spring bird migration, the arrival of monarch butterflies or elk bugling for a mate in fall.

Get started
Check out other Refuge System birthday events on our special events calendar. Use the “Find Your Refuge” feature here to look for happenings on a nearby refuge.

Find your favorite
Every state has at least one national wildlife refuge. There’s a refuge within an hour’s drive of most metropolitan cities. Find a refuge near you with a quick zip code or state search here.


White ibis are among thousands of elegant, exotic and simply awesome wildlife species found on national wildlife refuges.
Credit: Ding Darling Wildlife Society, FL.