Lesser known than the National Park Service, The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the world’s premier system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants (according to the Fish and Wildlife Service). As described to me in a recent visit to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, the major difference is that the NWRS puts wildlife first. There are still plenty of recreational opportunities. In addition, there is no charge, unlike the National Park Service.
- President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida’s Pelican Island as the first wildlife refuge in 1903
- The system has more than 150 million acres, 553 national wildlife refuges and other units of the Refuge System, plus 38 wetland management districts.
- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has announced the creation of the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area, a new unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System in eastern Kansas. Up to 1.1 million acres of tallgrass prairie will be protected through voluntary, perpetual conservation easements.
- Wildlife refuges are home to more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 200 species of fish.
- Wildlife refuges provide habitat for more than 250 threatened or endangered plants and animals, including manatees, bald eagles, and the California jewelflower.
[Image source: Metropolitan Museum of Art]