Our Responsibilities

The Service is the primary federal agency responsible for conserving and enhancing the nation’s fish and wildlife populations and their habitats. However, the conservation of fish and wildlife is a shared responsibility. The Service works closely with with other federal agencies and state governments, as well as other partners, in order to to conserve, protect and enhance our nation’s natural resources.

Natural Resources of the Gulf

Fish and Wildlife

The Service has specific responsibilities as defined by legislation, a treaty or similar authority toward certain natural resources. These resources include migratory birds, certain marine mammals and fish species that move across boundaries of states and nations (“interjurisdictional fish”). The Service is also charged with administering The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.), which is aimed at helping increase the populations of threatened and endangered species and reducing the threats to their survival. The Gulf watershed is famous for the richness and diversity of its wildlife, and is home to more than 500 federally listed species (of which more than 350 are endangered). These include some of America’s most beloved and iconic species – from the West Indian manatee, an aquatic relative of the elephant, to the whooping crane, North America’s tallest bird. In addition, the Service is responsible for administering a national network of lands and waters known as the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Wildlife Refuges

The Service is one of the principal federal agencies responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing the nation’s fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. In support of this mission, the Service manages an extensive network of public lands and waters dedicated to wildlife conservation known as the National Wildlife Refuge System. The nation’s first National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was created off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, on Pelican Island. The second refuge, established in 1904, was in the Gulf region — Breton NWR off the coast of Louisiana.

Black and white photograph of President Teddy Roosevelt sitting on an empty beach looking out over the water.

President Teddy Roosevelt visited Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge in 1915. Photo by USFWS.

There are now 235 refuges in the Gulf of Mexico watershed that provide opportunities for people to enjoy America’s great outdoors. Each refuge provides unique opportunities for people to connect with nature. Visitors can take advantage of extensive trails, auto tour routes, boardwalks, observation decks, hunting and photography blinds, fishing piers and boat launches.

You are invited to visit a National Wildlife Refuge near you. There are many to choose from — just along the Gulf of Mexico, the Service administers 47 National Wildlife Refuges from Brownsville, Texas to the Florida Keys (covering more than 2.15 million managed acres). They include the beautiful estuaries and marshes of St. Marks NWR, with an historic lighthouse; big river and forested wetlands of Lower Suwannee NWR; iconic manatees at Crystal River NWR in Florida; the beaches and dunes of Bon Secour NWR in Alabama; coastal marshes and urban interface at Bayou Sauvage and Big Branch Marsh NWRs in Louisiana; coastal prairie and wetlands at Grand Bay NWR in Mississippi; and many refuges in Texas such as Aransas, Anahuac and McFaddin NWRs.

A white lighthouse emerges from behind two grand oak trees on the tip of a peninsula.

Lighthouse at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Steve Hillebrand, USFWS.

Gulf Species Profiles

A Florida panther walking on a gravel road with a slash pine forest in the background

Florida Panther

The Florida panther is a subspecies of Puma concolor (also known as mountain lion, cougar, or puma) and represents the only known breeding population of puma in the eastern United States. It is protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Visit the species profile...

A Florida panther. Photo by Larry W. Richardson, USFWS.

A Florida manatee calf sticks close to its mother in shallow water

Florida manatee

Manatees are large, elongated marine mammals with paired flippers and a large round or spoon-shaped tail. They can reach lengths of over 14 feet and weights of over 3,000 pounds Visit the species profile...

A Florida manatee calf sticks close to its mother in shallow water. Photo: Keith Ramos, USFWS

A Louisiana black bear standing in a grassy clearing

Louisiana black bear

The Louisiana black bear is the state mammal for Louisiana, and it is one of 16 subspecies of the American black bear. While the American black bear can be found across North America, the Louisiana black bear subspecies is only known to occur in Louisiana, East Texas and western Mississippi. Compared to other black bears, the Louisiana black bear's skull is longer, narrower and flatter, with larger molar teeth. Visit the species profile...

Louisiana black bear. Credit: Pam McIlhenny, used with permission.

A close up photo of a yellow mussel shell

Rough pigtoe mussel

The rough pigtoe is a medium sized mussel, dark to yellowish brown in color, that is native to the Ohio River system. It is found in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Virginia, with experimental populations in Tennessee, and is protected as an endangered species. Visit the species profile...

Adult rough pigtoe in the Green River in Kentucky. Photo by Monte McGregor, Center Mollusk Conservation, Kentucky DFWR.

Two dark gray mussels with striations on a red towel next to a ruler for scale.

Suwanee Moccasinshell

The Suwannee moccasinshell is a small freshwater mussel that rarely exceeds 2 inches in length found only in the Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia. Visit the species profile...

Suwannee moccasinshells. Photo by USFWS.