The Refuge System began in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt created a “Federal Bird Reservation” at Pelican Island in Florida to save brown pelicans. The protection of this three-acre mangrove island was a pivotal moment for the American conservation movement, laying the groundwork for what would become our system of national wildlife refuges.
Today, more than 560 national wildlife refuges exist across the country, with at least one in every U.S. state and territory. Although some are in remote areas, others are within an hour’s drive of many major cities, enabling millions of Americans to visit and cherish their natural heritage up close.
Our national wildlife refuges are home to more than 700 types of birds, 220 varieties of mammals, 250 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 1,000 species of fish and countless invertebrates and plants. They provide havens for some 380 endangered species, from the Florida panther to the polar bear.
Our National Wildlife Refuges:
- Attract more than 48 million visitors each year, offering activities such as wildlife-watching, hunting, fishing, photography, hiking, canoeing, kayaking and environmental education
- Protect clean air and safe drinking water for nearby communities
- Generate more than $2.4 billion for local economies and create nearly 35,000 U.S. jobs annually
- Return an average of $4.87 to local economies for every $1 appropriated to the Refuge System
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: America’s Conservation Agency
The National Wildlife Refuge System is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Created in 1940, the USFWS conserves, protects and enhances fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Their objectives and vision is to:
- Assist in the development and application of an environmental stewardship ethic for our society, based on ecological principles, scientific knowledge of fish and wildlife and a sense of moral responsibility.
- Guide the conservation, development and management of the nation’s fish and wildlife resources.
- Administer a national program to provide the public opportunities to understand, appreciate and wisely use fish and wildlife resources.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s vision for the future of the Refuge System is set out in Conserving the Future. Developed with the assistance of the Refuge Association and with substantial public input, Conserving the Future makes the case for concerted and cooperative action to advance wildlife conservation in the United States.
The Refuge Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
The National Wildlife Refuge Association is the only nonprofit whose sole mission is to promote the National Wildlife Refuge System and protect America’s National Wildlife Refuges. Our mission ties into the broader U.S. Fish and Wildlife mission and objectives. The Refuge Association actively promotes USFWS programs that are complementary to the Refuge System mission:
- Land conservation and habitat restoration
- Endangered species
- Migratory birds
- Land management
- Public engagement and education
- Hemispheric conservation objectives
- Resources for law enforcement
Retired service refuge professionals established the Refuge Association in 1975. The organization continues to benefit today from a staff and board that includes former agency professionals who bring an intimate knowledge of the USFWS objectives and processes.