“Imperiled species rely on the National Wildlife Refuge System lands and waters to provide sanctuary and shelter them from the escalating threats of the biodiversity loss nationwide,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO. “Expanding and protecting these refuges are essential to ensuring the protection of nature, from the smallest butterflies to polar bears and everything in-between.”
To address the biodiversity and climate crises and to promote more equitable access to the outdoors, Defenders of Wildlife today announced a new campaign to expand the National Wildlife Refuge System – the only federal lands system dedicated to the protection of wildlife. The announcement was made during National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 10 - 16, which celebrates the refuge system.
The National Wildlife Refuge Expansion Campaign directly aligns with the administration’s commitment to conserve 30% of our nation’s lands and waters by 2030 and to improve access to nature for underserved communities through its America the Beautiful initiative.
“Imperiled species rely on the National Wildlife Refuge System lands and waters to provide sanctuary and shelter them from the escalating threats of the biodiversity loss nationwide,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO. “Expanding and protecting these wildlife refuges are essential to ensuring the protection of nature, from the smallest butterflies to polar bears and everything in-between.”
An analysis by the Center for Conservation Innovation (CCI) at Defenders of Wildlife, shows that federal agencies’ reliance on outdated science and policy has, too often, relegated our public lands to a disconnected series of islands with very little space for wildlife to thrive. Using geospatial data and modeling Defenders has identified priority areas for expansion that are essential to conserving biodiversity hotspots, mitigating climate change and protecting wildlife corridors.
- Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge (CA): Once established, this would be the second largest urban wildlife refuge in one of the fastest growing counties in our nation, improving access to nature for many underserved communities. The refuge also would protect dozens of federally or state-listed threatened and endangered species.
- Laguna-Atascosa (TX): This refuge is home to one of only two U.S. breeding populations of ocelots. Expansion would promote habitat connectivity that would allow wildlife to disperse from one location to another to find food, shelter, mates and a place to raise their young.
- Sagebrush Sea: With less than 5% of the ecosystem protected, new refuges would help ensure crucial habitat remains intact and would help safeguard the Gunnison sage-grouse—protected under the Endangered Species Act, greater sage-grouse and other species whose populations are in decline because of loss and degradation of habitat.
- Southwest Florida: Conservation of these lands and waters provides an unprecedented opportunity to protect 74 federally and state-listed species, including Florida panthers, Florida bonneted bats, indigo snakes, Florida scrub jays, Everglade snail kites and Florida grasshopper sparrows.
Defenders has partnered with conservation groups and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to identify and protect these and other important areas. In addition, Defenders continues to advocate for increased, stable funding to allow the agency to sustainably grow the refuge system and achieve its mission to conserve and restore fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats.
“This is a watershed moment for the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Mariel Combs, Senior Federal Lands Analyst with Defenders of Wildlife. “Some refuges are the only remaining places for species on the brink of extinction. This new effort will shore up protections and expand refuges for the benefit of future generations – both people and wildlife.”
National wildlife refuges are havens for vulnerable species and provide invaluable ecosystem services, such as clean water and carbon storage, and offer unrivaled recreation opportunities for all Americans. As the only federal lands system whose function and purpose is the protection of wildlife, expanding refuges is critical to biodiversity in the U.S.