Facts About the National Wildlife Refuge System
The National Wildlife Refuge System has an unmatched past, a unique present, and a promising future. At any given time of the year you can enjoy these national treasures that are called home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, and plants, including endangered species. Many refuges are within an hour^s drive of a major metropolitan area.
Did you know?....
Superimposed over the Lower 48 States, the 3.6 million acres of islands in Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge would stretch from California to Florida.
Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge is in the highest valley east of the Rocky Mountains and protects remnant plant and animal species that have been lost elsewhere.
The smallest refuge is half-acre Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge (Minnesota) and the largest is Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska) at 19.2 million acres.
Three refuges are named for women - Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge (New York), Rachael Carson National Wildlife Refuge (Maine), and Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge (Washington).
Two refuges have "fish" in their names - Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (Minnesota) and Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (Missouri).
The first refuges for big game animals were Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Oklahoma), National Bison Range (Montana), and National Elk Refuge (Wyoming).
Refuges support 22 percent of threatened and endangered species; 58 refuges were acquired for that purpose, including Ash Meadows NWR, Nevada (12 species), and Crystal River NWR, Florida (manatee).
Wildlife-dependent recreation programs are conducted on 371 refuges, including environmental education programs on 191 refuges.
Refuge visitors come to observe and photograph wildlife (24 million visits), hunt (1.6 million visits), fish (5.2 million visits), and participate in environmental education programs (0.4 million visits).
Although 97 percent of National Wildlife Refuges are in the United States outside of Alaska, 86 percent of the refuge acreage is in Alaska.
The Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska in Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge were seized by Japan in World War II, the only U.S. lands controlled by a foreign power since the War of 1812.
In 1935, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (Montana) was created to save the last 37 trumpeter swans then known to exist in the wild. Today, these majestic birds are found in Alaska, and throughout the western states and the upper Midwest.
Several refuges are named for artists, including Audubon National Wildlife Refuge (North Dakota) for naturalist artist John James Audubon, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (Montana) for the cowboy artist, J.N. "Ding" Darling (Florida) for the cartoonist, environmentalist and father of the Duck Stamp, and Agassiz (Minnesota) for wildlife artist Louis Fuertes Agassiz.
One of the largest U.S. swamps, the 600-square mile Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (Georgia) has been designated as a wetland of international importance and home to 15,000 alligators and carnivorous plants, such as the hooded pitcher plant and golden trumpet. Some 95 percent of Okefenokee^s water is from the 60 inches of annual rainfall, of which 80 percent evaporates or is taken up by plants.
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (New Jersey) was the first refuge to receive wilderness designation - 3,660 acres on September 9, 1968.
The largest wilderness area in the Refuge System is 8 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska).
Nearly 75 percent of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge is wilderness. The 11 island wilderness units comprise 2.5 million of the refuge^s 3.5 million acres.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico) provides visitors the opportunity to watch over 60,000 snow and Ross^ geese, 20,000 sandhill cranes, and more than 60,000 ducks.
Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge (Tennessee/Kentucky) was formed when powerful earthquakes in the early 1800s caused this section of the Mississippi River floodplain to drop more than 35 feet. Now adorned with cypress trees, this refuge provides habitat for 100,000 Canada geese, a quarter million ducks (including 20,000 colorful wood ducks, up to 200 bald eagles, 2 dozen types of warblers, and many other songbirds.
Waterfowl Production Areas preserve wetlands and grasslands critical to waterfowl and other wildlife.
Nearly 95 percent of Waterfowl Production Areas are located in the prairie pothole areas of North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana. North Dakota alone has 39 percent of the Nation^s Waterfowl Production Areas.
After Izaak Walton League founder Will Dilg^s son drowned in the river, Dilg pushed Congress in 1924 to establish the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
Prehistoric loggerhead turtles coexist with high-tech space shuttles at Fl/MerrittIslandNWR/MerrittIsland-Canaveral.html">Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (Florida), which has more endangered species than any other refuge, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, wood storks, and manatees.
Many refuges take their names from Indian words. Among them - Desecheo National Wildlife Refuge (Puerto Rico), from the Taino words for "High Mountain Island;" Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge (Wyoming) means "River of the Prairie Hen" in Shoshone; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (Georgia), Seminole for "Land of the Trembling Earth," refers to the spongy peat that rises and falls as you walk; and Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge (Indiana) is a Plankeshaw word meaning "Narrow, Meandering River."
Many consider Paul Kroegel the first "refuge manager," although he voluntarily protected wildlife on Pelican Island (Florida) several years before he was ever paid.
The largest body of water west of the Rocky Mountains is Salton Sea (California), location of the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.
Famous for its wild ponies, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (Virginia) was established to protect wild birds.
Oil found on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska) in 1957 gave impetus to Alaska statehood in 1959.
Lighthouses are not just for wayward ships but also play an important role in protecting migratory birds. Often located on deserted islands or stretches of coast, lighthouse property provides important bird nesting habitats as other coastal areas become developed. As early as 1860 the Smithsonian Institution asked lightkeepers to help collect specimens and protect bird populations. Today, more than a dozen lighthouses exist on national wildlife refuges throughout the country. Several refuges that have lighthouses include Petit Manan NWR, Maine; Monomoy NWR, Massachusetts; Cedar Key NWR, Florida; Parker River NWR, Massachusetts; Kauai Point NWR, Hawaii; and Chincoteague NWR, Virginia.
The National Wildlife Refuge System includes the only diverse national network of public lands set aside for the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants, with over 92 million acres of land and water.
The most visited refuge in 1997 was the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge (covering the states of WI, IA, MN, IL) with 2.6 million visitors, followed by Pea Island NWR (NC) with 2.1 million visitors, Wichita Mountains NWR (OK) with 1.5 million visitors, Chincoteague NWR (VA) with 1.4 million visitors and Crab Orchard NWR (IL) with 1.3 million visitors.
-- Revised: 27 January 1999
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service