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Defenders of Wildlife has worked to defend and strengthen national wildlife refuges for decades. In 2021, we launched a new campaign to expand the National Wildlife Refuge System—the only federal lands system dedicated to the protection of wildlife. From the smallest butterflies to giant polar bears, imperiled species rely on these lands for shelter and safety from escalating threats, like climate change and development, that continue to drive habitat loss nationwide. In addition to serving as a haven for at-risk species, national wildlife refuges also provide invaluable ecosystem services, such as clean water and carbon storage. And with more than 60 million annual visitors, these protected places connect people with nature and serve as a gateway to our public lands.
Explore our story map below for an in-depth look at refuges and our campaign to expand the Refuge System.
Quino Checkerspot Butterfly - © William Ostheimer/USFWS | Black Bear with cubs - © Anton Joubert/USFWS | Red-cockaded Woodpecker - © John Maxwell/USFWS | Manatees - © David Hinkel/USFWS | Beaver - © Larry Palmer/USFWS | Ocelot - © USFWS | Florida Panther - © David Shindle/FWC | Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle - © Kate Sampson/NOAA | Polar Bear - © Debbie Tubridy
National wildlife refuges are a powerful, yet underutilized, tool to increase access to nature while combating the climate and extinction crises. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages 567 refuges to conserve and restore habitats for native birds, mammals, plants and even fungi. This network of protected lands and waters spans the country, from Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, harboring 513 endangered and threatened species on at least 444 refuges. Expansion will support species conservation, protect a diversity of plants and animals, and improve landscape connectivity.
Wildlife refuges also connect people with nature and boost local economies. These benefits are not evenly or equitably distributed. We are working with our partners to increase funding for refuges nationwide and to strategically expand the System, in both rural and urban communities, to help close the gap. We prioritize community engagement and seek to elevate the interests of historically excluded communities. We continue to defend the integrity and sanctuary of the System to safeguard our nation’s wildlife heritage.