Celebrating National Wildlife Refuges

Each October, National Wildlife Refuge Week celebrates the vast network of public lands and waters managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge System. 

From October 9-15 we encourage everyone to walk, roll or stroll for the wild in the wild. The week of celebrations will kick off on October 8, with Urban Wildlife Conservation Day. Find an event near you.  

What is the National Wildlife Refuge System?

The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of protected lands that includes more than 560 national wildlife refuges, monuments, conservation areas and monuments spanning the country. This system protects iconic species and provides some recreation opportunities that allow you to connect with nature like wildlife viewing, photography, fishing and hunting and ranger-led nature programs.  

These lands and waters serve a purpose distinct from that of any other public lands. Wildlife conservation drives the purposes for which each unit is established, the recreational activities offered and the resource management tools used. 

On top of that, they provide enjoyment and beauty, and they demonstrate shared American values that support protecting and respecting living things. Here are just a few national wildlife refuges that showcase the diversity of the Refuge System and give you ideas for your next trip. 

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico


Snow geese in flight at dusk by Kristina Lauer (www.sharetheexperience.org). 

From late October through early spring, see impressive flocks of sandhill cranes and snow geese lift off the pond in a cacophony of honking, with wings beating furiously. Visiting Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico leaves most visitors in complete awe of the birds and their synchronicity.

Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Maine

Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine by Keith Ramos
Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine by Keith Ramos, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

The northern woods of Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine is made up of maple, aspen, birch, spruce and fir trees. Each fall, their leaf display is absolutely breathtaking and provides a striking contrast to bright blue skies. 

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado


Bison out on the field by Ian Shive, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

At Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado, take the 11-mile Wildlife Drive and keep your eyes peeled for bison, mule and white-tailed deer, hawks, waterfowl and more. In the fall, the Denver cityscape looks a dream in the company of golden-colored grasses. 

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska 

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Sockeye Salmon
Sockeye Salmon under water by Katrina Liebich, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Sockeye salmon (also called reds) contribute greatly to the ecosystem on Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. They make their way upstream to spawn in striking colors. Fishing opportunities are available on more than 370 national wildlife refuges, so if you can't make it to Kodiak, you have plenty of other chances.

Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, California 


Photo of a bobcat kitten at Modoc National Wildlife Refuge courtesy of L. Phillips.

Wildlife watching at Modoc National Wildlife Refuge in California is excellent through the fall, especially if you can plan to visit during dawn or dusk when many of the animals are active. Remember using binoculars and even staying in your car can be a great way to see wildlife and avoid disturbing them. 

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge at sunrise
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge by Erik Fremstad (www.sharetheexperience.org).

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge near Minneapolis has 14,000 acres that include prairies, wetlands, woodlands, forests, savannas and lakes. These diverse habitats attract a number of shorebird, waterfowl and songbird species. 

Then and Now

Back in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge as the first wildlife refuge. Today, there are 568 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts that make up 95 million acres of land and 740 million acres of submerged lands and waters. National wildlife refuges are found from sea to shining sea, spanning almost every type of habitat imaginable and contributing $3.2 billion per year into local economies. 

For Our Health and Enjoyment

There are many ways refuges make our lives better. Refuges provide essential homes for thousands of species and access to world-class outdoor adventure, from fishing, hunting and hiking to nature watching, photography and environmental education. They ease the impact of storms and flooding and give back to local economies. You can find at least one refuge in every state and every U.S. territory. Visiting your nearest national wildlife refuge is probably easier than you think, but no matter what, appreciating them is something we can all do.