National Wildlife Refuge System Land Protection Project

An Assessment of Land Protection Projects; A Plan for Strategic Growth

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with our partners, is charting a course for the future of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The Refuge System is the largest and most diverse collection of lands and waters in the world dedicated to wildlife conservation. It continues to grow in size through a land acquisition program that secures the highest quality habitats, or those that could be restored to high quality habitats. The methods used by our predecessors to identify and protect land for the Refuge System resulted in the conservation of iconic and essential wildlife habitats across America. The road ahead, however, is not without challenges.

How we currently add lands to the Refuge System is unsustainable and may not reflect the highest priority acquisitions that contribute to landscape conservation. To date, we have identified over five million acres of fee lands for refuge purchase at a projected cost of $10 to $25 billion, which would take several decades to complete. Add to this other land not yet identified, but that could potentially be added to the Refuge System, and we find ourselves in need of a revitalized strategic plan to guide us into the future.

This report shares a history of acquisition and how it may shape our future direction. It establishes a baseline from which our work in creating new policy flows. Given the costs and time factors to expand refuge lands, we must ensure that what we do add to the Refuge System is valuable and the right choice made on behalf of the American people.

What follows is an assessment of our land protection projects and an overview of both challenges and options to consider as we plan for the continued growth of the Refuge System, ensuring it is directed in a manner that accomplishes our mission and contributes to the conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats.

Attached document published March 2013

About the Author


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the oldest federal conservation agency, tracing its lineage back to 1871, and the only agency in the federal government whose primary responsibility is management of fish and wildlife for the American public. The Service helps ensure a healthy environment for people by providing opportunities for Americans to enjoy the outdoors and our shared natural heritage.

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