Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Citation

28 Conservation Biology 1415 (2014)


The U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System has nearly completed its first round of unit-level, comprehensive conservation plans (CCPs) and will soon begin required revisions. Laws and policies governing refuge planning emphasize ecological integrity, landscape-scale conservation, and adaptive management. We evaluated 185 CCPs completed during 2005–2011, which cover 324 of 555 national wildlife refuges. We reviewed CCP prescriptions addressing 5 common conservation issues (habitat and game, nongame, imperiled, and invasive species) and 3 specialized topics (landscape-scale conservation, climate change, and environmental quality). Common conservation issues received prescriptions in >90% of CCPs. Specialized topics received more variable treatment. Prescriptions for aquatic connectivity, water quantity, and climate change impacts increased over the study period. Except for climate change, direct actions were the most common type of management prescription, followed by plans or studies. Most CCPs stated a commitment to adaptive management and prescribed monitoring for common conservation objectives; other aspects of planning for adaptive management were often lacking, despite strong support for adaptive management in the conservation planning literature. To better address refuge-specific threats, we recommend that revised plans explicitly match identified refuge issues with prescriptions, particularly for under-represented concerns such as novel pests and pathogens. We recommend incorporating triggers into monitoring frameworks and specifying actions that will occur when threshold values are reached to improve support for adaptive management. Revised CCPs should better reflect work that refuges already undertake to extend conservation objectives beyond their borders and better engage with regional conservation efforts to continue this work. More thorough landscape-scale threat assessments and explicit prioritization of planned actions would further improve conservation effectiveness. Excellent examples of all recommended practices exist within the CCPs we examined; sharing best planning practices would improve planning efficiency within the refuge system.


Attached file is a uncorrected proof of what was eventually published as Conservation Biology, v.28 no.5, 1415-1427 (October 2014).