WASHINGTON — The National Wildlife Refuge System recently celebrated its 114th anniversary. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), national wildlife refuges are a national network of public conservation lands that provide access for hunting, fishing, education, and recreation opportunities as well as vital habitat for thousands of species. The refuges are also an economic boon to local communities.
“This past Saturday, I visited the National Bison Range in Moiese, Montana, to speak with refuge managers and get a better understanding of both the habitat and the management of the range.” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said. “In addition to the range, the Refuge System has millions of acres of public lands and waters that provide quality hunting and fishing in addition to other recreation activities.”
Zinke said wildlife refuges are “an incredible asset to the national economy,” bringing tourism and recreation jobs as well as revenue from spending in local communities.
“At the same time, refuges offer a place where families can carry on cherished outdoor traditions while making the important connection between people and nature,” Zinke said. “It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the land-owning elite. Refuges are an important part of making sure that doesn’t happen”
Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $144.7 billion in economic activity across the United States, according to the FWS’s most recent National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years.
More than 90 million Americans, or 41 percent of the United States population age 16 and older, pursue wildlife-related recreation. The report Banking on Nature shows that refuges pump $2.4 billion into the economy and support more than 35,000 jobs.
President Theodore Roosevelt created the first national wildlife refuge in 1903 at Pelican Island, Florida. Now, 114 years later, the Refuge System is the world’s largest network of conservation lands and waters, managing more than 850 million acres, including seven national monuments of which two are marine, 566 national wildlife refuges, and 38 wetlands management districts.
National wildlife refuges protect wildlife habitat on dramatic landscapes that range from Alaska wilderness to Montana’s native grasslands and from Texas lagoons to woods and ponds within Philadelphia city limits.
More than 460 national wildlife refuges and wetland management districts are open to the public, hosting some 50 million visitors every year – almost all offer free admission year-round. There is at least one national wildlife refuge in every state and U.S. territory. Use the online zip code locator to find one close to you.
“Refuges are intrinsic parts of the communities that surround them, contributing to the local economies, serving as recreational epicenters for residents and visitors, and keeping local ecosystems healthy and resilient,” Refuge System Chief Cynthia Martinez said. “What better way to celebrate these national treasures on this anniversary than by visiting your nearest refuge?”
Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the Service permits hunting and fishing along with four other types of wildlife-dependent recreation: wildlife photography, environmental education, wildlife observation and interpretation, when they are compatible with an individual refuge’s purpose and mission.
Many of America’s beloved wildlife species depend on national wildlife refuges for their survival. And refuges provide a range of vital ecosystem services, including storm buffering and flood control, air and water purification, and the maintenance of robust populations of native plants and animals.
Refuges also provide an important connection with the outdoors for young people. There is a refuge within an hour’s drive from most major metropolitan areas. The Service’s Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, launched in 2013, is providing new opportunities for residents of America’s cities to learn about and take part in wildlife habitat conservation.
No matter where you live, you can enjoy nature at a refuge near you.