Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Citation

21 Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law 1 (2005)


A retrospective of National Wildlife Refuge System conservation shows a promising trajectory. The system has overcome persistent neglect to contribute to conservation policy. Haltingly, it has kept pace with conservation science to remain the chief American contribution to large-scale wildlife protection. Early on, it pioneered the use of habitat acquisition to protect imperiled species. More recently, it has begun to implement the cutting-edge ecological mandate to maintain biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health. Perhaps the most meaningful feature of the history of the refuge system is how closely it mirrors the development of conservation policy in the twentieth century.

This article reviews the evolution of refuge system management and shows how it reflects the major conservation developments over the past century. It begins by surveying the system with special reference to the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The article conducts a historical review of conservation policy developments, with particular emphasis on their legal dimensions. It then discusses the current conservation framework for the refuges, which is a form of ecosystem management. The article concludes by observing the ways in which the national wildlife refuges are now the most important federal lands for demonstrating sustainability and ecosystem management on a large scale.