|National Wildlife Refuge System|
IUCN Category IV (Habitat/Species Management Area)
Map of the United States
|Area||95,972,133 acres (388,385 km²)|
|Established||1903 Established: 1903|
|Visitors||41,255,144 (in 2008)|
|Governing body||U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service|
National Wildlife Refuge is a designation for certain protected areas of the United States managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is the world's premiere system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America's fish, wildlife and plants. Since President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, the System has grown to more than 150 million acres, 584 national wildlife refuges and other units of the Refuge System, plus 37 wetland management districts.
The mission of the Refuge System is to manage a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitat. The Refuge System maintains the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of these natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
National Wildlife Refuges manage a full range of habitat types, including wetlands; prairies; coastal and marine areas; and temperate, tundra and boreal forests. The management of each habitat is a complex web of controlling or eradicating invasive species, using fire in a prescribed manner, assuring adequate water resources, and assessing external threats like development or contamination.
Among these hundreds of national refuges are home to some 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species and more than 200 species of fish. Endangered species are a priority of National Wildlife Refuges in that early sixty refuges have been established with the primary purpose of conserving 280 threatened or endangered species.
National Wildlife Refuges are also places for outdoor recreation. The Refuge System manages six wildlife-dependent recreational uses in accordance with the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, including hunting, fishing, birding, photography, environmental education, and interpretation. Hunters visit more than 350 hunting programs on refuges and on about 36,000 Waterfowl Production Areas. Opportunities for fresh or saltwater fishing are available at more than 340 refuges. There is at least one wildlife refuge in each of the fifty states.
The National Wildlife Refuge System faces a number of challenges and ongoing issues, including urban intrusion/development, habitat fragmentation, degradation of water quantity and quality, climate change, invasive species, increasing demands for recreation, and increasing demands for energy development. However, the system has had numerous successes, including providing a habitat for endangered species, migratory birds, plants and numerous other valuable animals; implementation of the NWRS Improvement Act, acquisition and protection of key critical inholdings, and establishing leadership in habitat restoration and management.
In addition to refuge status, the "special" status of lands within individual refuges may be recognized by additional designations, either legislatively or administratively. Special designation may also occur through the actions of other legitimate agencies or organizations. The influence that special designations may have on the management of refuge lands and waters may vary considerably.
There is a wide variety of special land designations that currently overlay national wildlife refuges that total 175 refuges. Authority for designation of some special management area types (e.g., Research Natural Areas) on refuges lies solely with the Service. For most special management area types, responsibility is held by or shared with others.
Among the other varied special management area types found on refuges are Cultural Resource Sites, Historic Sites, Research Natural Areas, Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Natural Landmarks and National Trails. Some overlay designations may place refuges within international networks of protected lands, such as Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserves and Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention).
Refuges may also be included within much larger special management areas designated by other agencies or organizations, such as Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserves, National Marine Sanctuaries, Estuarine Sanctuaries and Biosphere Reserves. Management policy and procedural guidance for Service special management areas is currently found in the Refuge Manual. Revised guidance is in preparation for incorporation into the new Service Manual. Special management area training for administrators and refuge managers currently includes multi-agency sponsored and university correspondence courses.