Black brants, © Tupper Ansel Blake/FWS

Celebrating Wildlife Refuges

Julie Kates, Federal Lands Associate

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

It’s the second full week of October, so in addition to being Wolf Awareness Week, it’s also National Wildlife Refuge Week – an annual celebration of America’s National Wildlife Refuge System.  The Refuge System, established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, is the only network of federal lands dedicated first and foremost to wildlife conservation.  Its 560 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts protect approximately 150 million acres of vital habitat for the nation’s fish, wildlife and plants, including more than 280 endangered or threatened species.  With at least one refuge found in every state and territory, and within an hour of most major metropolitan areas, the Refuge System also provides great wildlife watching, photography, education, and other recreation opportunities for its 47 million visitors every year.

As the anchor for America’s conservation lands, protecting the Refuge System is a top priority for me and my colleagues at Defenders.  Here are some of the things we’re doing to make sure the Refuge System stays strong for all the National Wildlife Refuge Weeks to come:

  • We’re adding our expertise to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service develop a more effective, climate-smart framework for managing and expanding the Refuge System.
  • We’re safeguarding the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge both by blocking damaging legislation that would open it up to oil and gas development and by promoting stronger legal protections for the refuge’s sensitive coastal plain, which serves as the most important onshore denning habitat for America’s threatened polar bears and the calving ground of the Porcupine caribou herd.
  • We’re fighting a harmful proposal to build a road through a congressionally-designated wilderness area within Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Known as the refuge’s biological heart, this area provides critically important habitat for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds, including 98 percent of Pacific black brant and nearly all of the world’s emperor geese.
  • We’re working to support the expansion of national wildlife refuges in the greater Everglades ecosystem, which will help keep the dispersal zone of the endangered Florida panther safe from development.
  • We’re working with our partners in the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) to advocate for greater agency funding so that the Refuge System has the resources it needs to carry out its conservation mission.

We encourage you to celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week this year by getting to know your local refuge.  And check back with us often to get updates on what we’re doing to protect refuges around the country and how you can support our national wildlife refuges and the wildlife that rely on them throughout the year.