Conserving land and waters is one of the key functions of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Without a robust land conservation program, there would be no habitats for wild creatures to survive and thrive. Further, Congress has mandated the strategic growth of the Refuge System through the protection of additional habitat, resulting in the creation of new national wildlife refuges and the expansion of existing ones through an open public process.
The federal government can safeguard habitat by acquiring it outright (fee-title acquisition), or by negotiating conservation easements with willing landowners. Fee-title acquisition allows a refuge the widest latitude to manage habitat for wildlife and activities such as hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching, while management options under conservation easements vary on a case-by-case basis.
Easements have several benefits to both the Refuge System and private landowners. First, easements cost the federal government far less than fee-title acquisition. Second, easements usually allow the landowner to continue some traditional uses on the land, such as ranching or agriculture. Third easements can keep large tracts of lands intact and safe from any future development.
The System grows in a variety of ways and the outright purchase of land is but one. These are the main ways the Refuge System adds lands and waters:
- Purchase at fair market value through funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, or “Duck Stamp”
- Lease from other federal, state or local governmental entity
- Transfer from other federal agency or department such as the Department of Defense, Department of Interior, etc.
- Land exchanges with other governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations
Help the Refuge System grow strategically by urging Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and by making an annual purchase of a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (Duck Stamp).