#MapMonday: Endangered Species on National Wildlife Refuges

Lindsay chats with our Director of Federal Lands, Peter Nelson about a new storymap that features endangered species that rely on national wildlife refuges. You can explore the story map here.

Click to view video transcript

Bogue Chitto, Holla Bend, Bon Secour, Silvio O. Conte. What do all of these names have in common? If you guessed that they are new indie rock bands - you’d be wrong. They are all names of National Wildlife Refuges. They are just a few out of the 568 units that make up the National Wildlife Refuge System.

This system covers 95 million acres of land and 760 million acres of submerged lands and waters and was designed to serve and protect species and their habitats for the benefits of all Americans.

Given this mission, it is no surprise that these lands and waters also serve as sanctuaries to many of the federally-listed threatened and endangered species. The refuge system and the Endangered Species Act work hand-in-hand to make sure that imperiled plants and animals receive dedicated attention for their conservation.

This year the refuge system turns 117 years old, with the first unit being established by President Theodore Roosevelt in Florida. Creation of the National Wildlife Refuge System was spurred on by concerned citizens eager to protect wildlife.

Defenders of Wildlife works to ensure that all of the units in this refuge system continue to serve their purpose as well-protected landscapes essential to the existence of many listed species and to the persistence of our nation’s amazing biodiversity.

From lush tropical forests in Hawai’i and the tundra of Alaska, to the northeastern forests of New England and the tropical waters of the Florida Keys, refuges are a diverse cornerstone of U.S. conservation.

What is so fantastic about this system of lands is that every state and U.S. territory has at least one! Most major U.S. cities are within an hour drive of one and there could be one just around the corner from you. Many of these refuges are the only place in the world - or a critical stronghold - for species on the edge of extinction. Some refuges also harbor a particularly high diversity of listed species, underscoring their importance not just to species like whooping crane and red wolf, but all biodiversity. Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge in Hawai’I and Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge in Florida each host over 30 federally listed species!

However, like the listed species that they were established to protect, some of the National Wildlife Refuges themselves are imperiled. Congressional authorization to lease the coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil industry threatens the greatest biodiversity of any protected area north of the arctic circle with oil exploration and drilling. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is endangered by heavy mineral sand mining that could come within a football field’s length of the swamp. The fervent efforts to cut a border wall through refuges along the southern border and to expand military combat exercises in Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada likewise threaten irreparable harm to essential habitat. And unfortunately, these are just a few of the examples out there.

Defenders of Wildlife is proud to be among the leading voices for protecting the two most powerful tools in the fight to stop extinction in the U.S.: the National Wildlife Refuge System and the Endangered Species Act. And who better to tell you more about THE federal land system for wildlife in the U.S. than our Director of Federal Lands, Pete Nelson.

Pete: Thanks Lindsay.

One of my favorite refuges is the National Bison Range - ome to imperiled grizzly bears and bull trout, And one of some two dozen national wildlife refuges located here in Montana. While these refuges are fantastic for people like me who enjoy getting out under the big sky, national wildlife refuges are exceptional because they were designed to put the needs of wildlife first.

We know that national wildlife refuges play a critical role in protecting imperiled species, but until recently there’s been no robust tally of exactly how many threatened and endangered species depend on the National Wildlife Refuge System.

So Defenders partnered with the National Wildlife Refuge Association to find out. The results are no less than amazing. 513 listed species are dependent on at least 444 refuges. This goes to show just how significant these lands and waters are in conserving biodiversity for its own sake and for the sake of current and future generations of Americans.

But the refuge system can’t do it alone. Defenders’ National Wildlife Refuge program educates people about the value of refuges, defends refuges from threats that are incompatible with the refuge system’s wildlife first mission and advocates for more funding for conservation actions and programs on refuges.

And you can do your part too. I urge you to get involved with your local national wildlife refuge and to support groups, policies and programs that support wildlife conservation on national refuges.

Back to you Lindsay.

Lindsay: Thanks, Pete.

You put the WILD in national wildlife refuge.

Check out the storymap to learn more about some of the awe-inspiring refuges in America’s backyard. You can explore the main map to see if any listed species are taking sanctuary near you. And you can also find more details on Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s quest to count listed species on refuge units.

And remember, sharing is caring so pass it on!

Until next MapMonday…stay wild.

Lindsay Rosa
Senior Conservation Scientist

As a Conservaion GIS Scientist with the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders, Lindsay leads geospatial analysis projects to improve conservation policies and practices.