Waterfowl hunting and saltwater fishing on national wildlife refuges across the country have both surged by almost 75 percent since 1993, according to statistics recently compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Participation in other types of hunting and freshwater fishing held steady or grew modestly over the same period.
"More people are visiting refuges to hunt, fish, and otherwise enjoy and learn about wildlife than ever before, and the list of refuges that welcome hunters, anglers, and other wildlife enthusiasts is growing steadily," according to Director Jamie Rappaport Clark.
As urban areas expand, many rural areas and open spaces once used for outdoor recreation are giving way to subdivisions, shopping centers, and other development. As a result, national wildlife refuges are supporting a greater share of the nation^s wildlife populations -- its fundamental mission -- and more Americans are relying on refuges for their outdoor recreation. For example, in the "duck factory" of the upper Midwest, the refuge system accounts for only 2 percent of the landscape, yet 23 percent of the region^s waterfowl breed there. The refuge system has long had a special relationship with America^s outdoorsmen and women. Many of its 93 million acres were purchased with proceeds from the Federal Duck Stamp a required purchase for waterfowl hunting. In this century, hunters and anglers have left scores of new refuges as their conservation legacy, refuges which in turn serve as pillars for hunting and fishing within and beyond their boundaries. For example, the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota -- established in the 1920s with help from the Izaak Walton League -- now welcomes nearly a million hunters and anglers every year.
"The national wildlife refuge system provides some of the premier hunting and fishing experiences available to sportsmen and women today," said Jim Mosher, the Izaak Walton League^s Conservation Director. "We applaud the work of the Service to continually expand the opportunities for hunters and anglers on refuges across the country."
"More and more anglers are discovering that national wildlife refuges provide outstanding saltwater experiences for both novice and experienced anglers alike," said Mike Hayden, President of the American Sportfishing Association about the strong growth in coastal fishing on refuges. "Refuge managers should be applauded for their work during the past few years to educate the public about fishing opportunities, boat access and resource conservation. The increased usage of refuge waters by saltwater anglers is a clear indication that these efforts are paying off."
Today, 287 refuges offer some type of hunting, and 251 are open for fishing. Many of these refuges celebrate National Fishing Week, National Wildlife Refuge Week, and National Hunting and Fishing Day with fishing derbies, special youth hunts, and other events that expose the next generation of conservationists to these sports.
A number of recent developments are expected to give refuge hunting and fishing a further boost in coming years.
In 1997, President Clinton signed the system^s first piece of organic legislation, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, which designated hunting and fishing as two of the six "priority public uses" on refuge lands.
Subsequent budget increases for fiscal years 1998 and 1999 have enabled the system to begin reducing a substantial backlog of unmet maintenance needs, allowing refuges to offer recreational programs more often and still meet their obligation to put wildlife first.
Fulfilling the Promise, the system^s roadmap and vision, finalized in March, recommends a number of steps to improve visitor services by increasing public use staff, expanding public involvement in refuge decision making, and issuing clear guidance to refuge managers for determining appropriate and compatible public uses of the System. The recently proposed "Compatibility Policy," encourages managers to seek out the resources they need to offer hunting and fishing programs if they are otherwise compatible with the purpose of the refuge and the conservation mission of the system. For example, a manager could approach a local hunting or fishing organization for assistance with the maintenance and upkeep of hunting blinds or boat ramps if the refuge^s own budget was insufficient.
"Hunting and fishing can instill in people a deep concern for the health of our natural resources," Clark said. "The refuge system will continue to serve as a pillar of these traditions and develop new generations of Americans concerned about and involved in our wildlife heritage."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93- million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
Questions and Answers Hunting and Fishing on National Wildlife Refuges
How much hunting and fishing occurs on National Wildlife Refuges?
A lot, and more every year. In 1994, there were just over 1.4 million hunting visits, and just over 5 million fishing visits each year. By 1998, those numbers had grown to almost 2 million hunting visits and almost 6 million fishing visits each year. Out of 520 national wildlife refuges, 287 are open for hunting, and 251 are open for fishing.
Additional information about participation in hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges as well as lists of the most visited refuges in the system appear below.
What about waterfowl production areas?
The Service^s 3,000 waterfowl production areas -- small wetland units managed as part of the refuge system -- are all open to hunting and fishing. Nearly 800,000 people visit WPAs each year.
How can I learn which refuges offer hunting and fishing?
Point your browser to http://www.recreation.gov to learn about many types of recreational activities, including hunting and fishing, that are available on National Wildlife Refuges and other federal lands.
Why isn^t every refuge open to hunting and fishing?
Hunting and fishing will not be allowed if they are not compatible with the purpose of each refuge and the conservation mission of the refuge system, such as on refuges established to protect certain endangered species. In many cases, refuges simply don^t have the appropriate habitat. For example, Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada does not offer public fishing. A number of refuges have been established on former military lands, and the presence of unexploded ordnance makes public recreation in some areas unsafe. Finally, some refuges simply don^t have the personnel or financial resources to offer hunting and fishing programs is a safe and responsible way.
What does the law say about hunting and fishing on refuges?
The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the organic legislation of the system, designates hunting and fishing as two of the six "priority public uses" that receive preferential treatment on national wildlife refuges. National refuge policy encourages refuges to offer these opportunities and to seek out additional resources if needed to do so. With some exceptions, most refuge hunting and fishing is conducted in accordance with regulations set by the state wildlife management agencies.
Can hunters and anglers participate in the management of their local refuge?
Yes. Refuges across the country are actively seeking the opinions of hunters, anglers, and other members of the public as they embark on developing Comprehensive Conservation Plans that guide all aspects of refuge management, and will also begin making "Compatibility Determinations" reviews of hunting, fishing, and other public uses. Hunters and anglers with a particularly strong interest in their local refuge should consider joining its support group. Often going by names such as "Friends of ... National Wildlife Refuge," these groups play an increasingly integral role in refuge management.
Hunting Visits to National Wildlife Refuges 1994-1998
Fishing Visits to National Wildlife Refuges 1994-1998
Five Top Five Refuges in 1998
Refuge System Unit, Location, and Number of Visits
1. Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
Winona, MN, 159,076
2. Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
3. Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge
Crossett, AR, 34,188
4. Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
Marion, IL, 33,500
5. Cache River National Wildlife Refuge
Augusta, AR, 29,050
Upland Game Hunting
1. Litchfield Wetland Management District
Litchfield, MN, 55,000
2. Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
Bethel, AK, 44,000
3. Sand Lake Wetland Management District
Columbia, SD, 27,500
4. White River National Wildlife Refuge
DeWitt, AR, 25,500
5. Huron Wetland Management District
Seney, MI, 25,000
Big Game Hunting
1. Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge
Lewistown, MT, 45,000
2. Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
Winona, MN, 33,800
3. Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge
Tallulah, LA, 23,400
4. Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge
Brooksville, MS, 19,217
5. Waubay Wetland Management District
Waubay, SD, 15,250
1. Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
Winona, MN, 821,493
2. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
Decatur, AL, 353,945
3. Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge
Paris, TN, 314,395
4. Eufala National Wildlife Refuge
Eufaula, AL, 225,785
5. Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge
Crossett, AR, 222,315
1. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Chincoteague, VA, 465,214
2. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Manteo, NC, 401,379
3. Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Savannah, GA, 111,506
4. Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
Chiefland, FL, 82,500
5. Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
Bethel, AK, 79,850
Selected MOUs and Cooperative Agreements
National Wildlife Refuge System and Outdoor Sporting and Conservation Organizations
Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.)
Fisheries Habitat Improvement, enhancement, protection, and development activities on Service lands.
Ducks Unlimited, Inc.
To protect and properly manage wetlands, wetland habitats and optimize wildlife habitat condition.
National Rifle Association of America
Develop a framework for the NRA and its affiliates may cooperatively plan and accomplish mutually beneficial projects.
National Wild Turkey Federation
To maintain and enhance the productivity of wild turkeys and their natural habitats consistent with wildlife management goals on Service lands.
Safari Club International
To enhance wildlife conservation and recreational opportunities on national wildlife refuges
Trout Unlimited, Inc.
To improve coldwater habitat and management of trout and salmon populations.
To cooperate for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and habitat resources through information and outreach efforts