October is a great time to visit a national wildlife refuge and next week might be a peak time to observe all the migrating birds you can find at a refuge—plus, it just happens to be National Wildlife Refuge Week.
The National Wildlife Refuge System is an unparalleled wildlife conservation network of 568 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts that provide vital habitats for thousands of species of birds and other wildlife and plants. It also provides access to world-class recreation opportunities ranging from birding to hiking, nature study, photography, and environmental education.
It’s National Wildlife Refuge Week—an annual celebration of the United States’ massive network of public lands dedicated to conservation. Walk, run, or stroll in nature during National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 8-14, 2023. Enjoy great outdoor recreation in America’s largest network of public lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, the National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Founded in 1903, national wildlife refuges offer access to a host of popular activities while providing vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species.
National Wildlife Refuge Week occurs yearly during the second full week of October.
The Refuge System offers many healthful outdoor activities including fishing, wildlife viewing, and wildlife photography while providing vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species including sandhill cranes, American alligators, bison, and sea turtles.
The Refuge System helps many species recover and thrive:
- About 340 California condors fly free today thanks to efforts by Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, and many committed partners. In 1982, there were just 22 known condors in the wild. Refuge-led tidal marsh restorations in San Francisco Bay in California and Willapa Bay in Washington are providing new feeding and rearing areas for salmon and migratory birds while also protecting nearby communities.
- There is a national wildlife refuge in all 50 states including refuges located within an hour’s drive of 100 major cities. Almost all refuges provide FREE entry year-round along with great birding opportunities.
President Theodore Roosevelt established the Refuge System in 1903 at what is now Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The refuge includes the island and more than 5,400 acres of protected waters and lands in and near Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic coast.
The Blue Goose, originated by the late cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling, is the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said: “Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving for themselves and their children as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.”
National wildlife refuges contribute $3.2 billion per year into local economies and support more than 41,000 jobs, according to the Service’s report Banking on Nature. Visits to refuges have doubled in the last 10 years reaching nearly 65 million visits in 2021. National wildlife refuges also make life better by conserving wildlife, protecting against erosion and flooding, and purifying our air and water.
More than 101 million Americans—40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older—pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.
In celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week I’ve compiled a list of seven of my favorite national wildlife refuges.
Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
Located in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge conserves over 15,000 acres of once vast lower Mississippi alluvial bottomland hardwood forest and bald cypress tupelo swamp habitats. The Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge’s mix of scenic bayous, oxbow lakes, swamps, and bottomland hardwood forest is a great place to hunt, fish, boat, bird watch, paddle, or just plain enjoy the scenery.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331 acre Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover site for migrating waterfowl. The refuge is well known for the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, geese, and ducks who winter here each year. Over 30,000 acres of Bosque del Apache are designated wilderness. Celebrate the return of the cranes at the annual Festival of the Cranes.
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona
Located in Southwest Arizona, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge was originally established in 1939 as a game range to conserve and develop wildlife and other natural resources.
With 803,418 acres of designated wilderness, Cabeza Prieta offers great opportunities to explore the wild Sonoran Desert, home to at least 60 species of mammals, more than 350 bird species, 20 amphibians, some 100 reptiles, and about 30 species of native fish. In addition, more than 2,000 species of plants have been identified in the Sonoran Desert. In 2004, biologists stepped in to rescue the eendangered Sonoran pronghorns by creating a captive breeding program at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 for the protection of migratory birds. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, managed impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks. These habitats provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals and 15 federally listed species.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge conserves the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp and is the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys rivers. The refuge provides habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake, and wood stork along with a wide variety of other wildlife. It is world renowned for its amphibian populations. More than 600 plant species have been identified on refuge lands. There are three major entrances to the Okefenokee. From the open prairies of the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area to the forested cypress swamp accessed through Stephen C. Foster State Park. Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.
Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
Sabine National Wildlife Refuge established in 1937 occupies the marshes between Calcasieu and Sabine lakes in southwest Louisiana. This area contains a diversity of habitat including freshwater impoundments, wooded ridges and levees, canals, ponds, lakes, and bayous. Located approximately 26 miles south of Sulphur, Sabine National Wildlife Refuge has numerous recreation areas where you can fish, crab or take a hike. Whether you are looking for an alligator to photograph or just a place to stretch your legs, the Wetland Walkway is always an adventure.
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
Established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is positioned along an east-west and north-south juncture of two major migratory routes for many species of birds. It is also at the northern-most point for many species whose range extends south into Central and South America. Though small in size, Santa Ana offers visitors an opportunity to see birds, butterflies, and many other species not found anywhere else in the U. S. beyond South Texas. Santa Ana is home to resident species like green jays, chachalacas, Altamira orioles, and great kiskadees making it one of the top birding destinations in the world.
Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.