Mapping Refuges to Assist Conservation

Wetlands provide habitat for fish, wildlife and plants, recharge groundwater, reduce flooding, provide clean drinking water, and support numerous cultural and recreational activities.

A significant portion of these important wetland areas are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), which consists of 568 individual system units across the United States, with the goal of conserving important habitat for the benefit of wildlife and citizens. Wetlands within the NWRS provide essential breeding and wintering habitat for migratory birds and countless other species of fish, mammals, and insects. In 2017, an estimated 53.6 million people visited national wildlife refuges, including birders and nature enthusiasts following important migratory routes anchored by stopover areas within the refuge system. In the process, visitors brought vital ecotourism dollars to communities across the country, to the tune of around $3.2 billion.

The Service’s National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) provides detailed information on the abundance, characteristics, and distribution of our nation’s wetlands. Data produced by the NWI are used by natural resource managers, within the Service and throughout the nation, to promote the understanding, conservation and restoration of wetlands. According to data from the Inventory, wetlands and deepwater habitats comprise almost 50 percent (73 million acres) of the over 150 million acres managed by the NWR system. The NWI continues to update wetlands data across the country.

In the past year, the NWI updated wetland mapping data for almost 60 million acres across the country. These updates included mapping within 29 wildlife refuges and 13 water management districts. These data will continue to contribute to the important exchange of science-based information for refuges and resource managers to fuel conservation.

Fast facts:

  • The NWR system consists of 568 system units across the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, and covers more than 150 million acres.
  • Wetlands and deepwater habitats mapped by the NWI make up 73 million acres, nearly 50 percent of NWRS area.
  • In 2017, an estimated 53.6 million people visited national wildlife refuges, contributing $3.2 billion to local economies.
  • This past year, the NWI mapped wetlands within 29 refuges across 10 states, providing important science-based information for resource managers.

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Wildlife refuges