Unlike national parks, America’s national wildlife refuges have a unique mission to protect wildlife and habitat first and foremost. However, in many places, outdoor activities are compatible with wildlife conservation. Many national wildlife refuges are premier destinations for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and birding, nature photography and education and interpretation.
These recreational pursuits, known as ‘The Big Six,’ are the most popular and best ways to balance the ability for people enjoy a wildlife refuge while still protecting the wildlife and habitat. Each year, nearly 48 million visitors travel to America’s national wildlife refuges.
Hunting is offered at more than 300 national wildlife refuges and protected wetlands. From waterfowl to big game, hunting is a carefully managed sport for families and individuals on America’s national wildlife refuges.
Hunters have been long-time Refuge System partners. Sometimes called the “first conservationists,” they have played a role in the conservation of the nation’s wildlife resources since the late 19th century. Hunters continue to support conservation by buying Federal Duck Stamps. The stamps are required for hunting waterfowl anywhere in the country and the proceeds from Duck Stamps sales are used to purchase and preserve wetland habitat, primarily in the Midwest’s `prairie pothole’ region. Since the stamp’s inception in 1934, more than $700 million has been raised, purchasing more than five million acres.
Hunting is also vitally important to conservation efforts. Hunting keeps populations in check for species that wouldn’t otherwise have a predator. This allows for other smaller or endangered species to survive and thrive.
From inconnu and grayling in remote Alaska to snook hovering by mangroves in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, national wildlife refuges offer anglers adventure and diversity. Virtually every type of sport fishing including fly-fishing on the continent can be found on more than 270 national wildlife refuges.
If you want to make the most out of your time on a national wildlife refuge, take a cue from the volunteers and staff that spend every day on the refuge. Watch closely, move with care, and act as if you are part of your surroundings. It’s easy to find a quiet location to fish on a wildlife refuge. Stop in at the refuge visitor center for information on licenses, and for tips on the best fishing spots.
Wildlife Observation & Birding:
To celebrate the incredible wildlife found on America’s national wildlife refuges, more than 35 birding festivals are hosted at or in conjunction with wildlife refuges around the country every year.
More than 700 species of birds can be found on National Wildlife Refuges. And more than 200 refuges were created specifically to protect, manage and restore habitat for migratory birds.
But birds are only some of the multitude of species you can discover on a wildlife refuge.
Nature photography offers a chance to be still, be silent, be patient, and ultimately to become engrossed in the challenge of capturing rare glimpses of nature’s mysteries. Through our lenses, we see the natural world much differently. We are keenly aware of light and its magical reflections. The full spectrum of color suddenly appears more vibrant. We become conscious of shapes and angles as we carefully construct our compositions, taking nothing for granted. We are humbled by the wariness of our subjects, gaining a renewed reverence for the instincts that ensure their survival.
National Wildlife Refuges are some of the best places for wildlife photography thanks to their abundance of wildlife.
Education & Interpretation:
Wildlife refuges are some of America’s most important outdoor classrooms, introducing children to the outdoors and helping visitors understand the things they see in the natural world.
Most refuges that are open to the public have some sort of environmental education program or display showcasing the highlights from the refuge. Some programs bring the outdoors to children, and others teach people all about their surroundings on the refuge. In all cases, everyone leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for wildlife, and the natural world.
With nearly 80 percent of Americans now living in urban or suburban areas, many people are growing up with a limited connection to the outdoors. To combat this problem, the Refuge System has launched an Urban National Wildlife Program to better connect city dwellers with nature through the many wildlife refuges located in or close to a city.