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It all started when…

The Refuge System began in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt created a “Federal Bird Reservation” at Pelican Island in Florida to save brown pelicans. The protection of this three-acre mangrove island was a pivotal moment for the American conservation movement, laying the groundwork for what would become our system of national wildlife refuges.

Today, more than 560 national wildlife refuges exist across the country, with at least one in every U.S. state and territory. Although some are in remote areas, others are within an hour’s drive of many major cities, enabling millions of Americans to visit and cherish their natural heritage up close.

Our national wildlife refuges are home to more than 700 types of birds, 220 varieties of mammals, 250 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 1,000 species of fish and countless invertebrates and plants. They provide havens for some 380 endangered species, from the Florida panther to the polar bear.

Our National Wildlife Refuges:

  • Attract more than 48 million visitors each year, offering activities such as wildlife-watching, hunting, fishing, photography, hiking, canoeing, kayaking and environmental education

  • Protect clean air and safe drinking water for nearby communities

  • Generate more than $2.4 billion for local economies and create nearly 35,000 U.S. jobs annually

  • Return an average of $4.87 to local economies for every $1 appropriated to the Refuge System

Learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge System.