It's National Wildlife Refuge Week! This week, we celebrate the only system of public lands dedicated to the protection of wildlife and reflect on Defenders’ active campaign to defend, sustain and expand the National Wildlife Refuge System.


With a presence in all 50 states, the National Wildlife Refuge System represents diverse habitats from the swamps of Georgia and deserts of Nevada to the prairies of Montana and tundra of the Alaskan arctic. Nearly one-third of all species listed under the Endangered Species Act rely on the Refuge System. With a refuge located within an hour’s drive of every major U.S. city, the system also provides fishing, wildlife photography and educational opportunities to Americans across the country.


These special places need protection from a variety of uses that threaten the integrity of the Refuge System and the many species that depend on it. That’s where we step in.  

Defenders has fought against border wall construction in the southwest; poaching in South Carolina; oil, gas and highway development in Alaska; mining projects in Georgia; and industrial-scale transmission lines that would bisect refuge habitat in the Midwest.

Polar Bear Mother With Cub - Arctic National Wildlife Refug
Debbie Tubridy

Through constant vigilance, Defenders and our partners guard the system from these threats and more.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is the caretaker of the Refuge System but faces significant funding shortfalls that hamper its ability to sustain, restore and enhance the natural resources within it. More people are visiting refuges than ever before. Between 2010 and 2022, visits increased by 38 percent. However, during that same period, the System lost 25 percent of its staff.  

Together with advocates from across the country, Defenders works tirelessly to highlight the value of these special places to congressional policymakers who control the agency’s budget. These efforts have begun to improve the Refuge System’s bottom line, allowing the FWS to better protect and monitor wildlife, repair essential infrastructure and meet the needs of visitors to the nearly 600 refuges across the country. 

Red Fox at Kinzarof Lagoon Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
Kristine Sowl/USFWS


We have little hope of effectively combatting the intertwined biodiversity and climate crises without protecting additional habitats by expanding the National Wildlife Refuge System.  

Strategically expanding the Refuge System can give species room to adapt to climate change, secure carbon and increase equitable access to nature. We use cutting-edge science and outreach to local communities to identify expansion priorities that provide the greatest benefits for wildlife, people and climate resiliency.

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle being released at Bon Secour NWR
Keenan Adams/USFWS

Our current expansion priorities span the country from Pennsylvania to Florida to California and offer the opportunity to protect wildlife like the Florida panther, all while increasing access to nature.  

The most charismatic of rare species, such as the Red Wolf and whooping crane, find sanctuary in refuges. So do some of the smallest, like the bog turtle and California’s tiger salamander. People across the country love their local refuges and the chance to enjoy nature.

By working together, we can protect these species and expand access to wild places by defending, supporting and expanding the National Wildlife Refuge System — the only network of federal lands managed first and foremost for wildlife. 

Read more from our president and CEO about the National Wildlife Refuge System here.



Wildlife & Wild Places

Painted Desert
Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling
Northern Lights Over Brooks Range Alaska
Grizzly bear sow

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