It’s Refuge Week! This Weekend, Get Out and Discover America’s Best Kept Secret.

It’s Refuge Week! This Weekend, Get Out and Discover America’s Best Kept Secret.
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Discovering monarch butterflies at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas.
Discovering monarch butterflies at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas.
Ryan Moehring

I was incredibly fortunate to grow up on wildlife refuges, exploring them with my parents and brothers as a kid during my dad’s 38-year career as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee. Those experiences instilled a life-long passion for the outdoors that I’ve been able to pass down to my own children.

That’s why I’ve always been a passionate advocate of the National Wildlife Refuge System. This incredible network of protected lands is driven by the conviction that every American should have the same opportunities I did to encounter wildlife and wild places.

This week, communities across the nation are coming together to celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week – and exploring nature as only the Refuge System can showcase it. Don’t be left out!

The Refuge System began in 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt took action to protect Pelican Island off the coast of Florida. Since then, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to the world’s largest conservation estate, responsible for managing more than 850 million acres, 565 national wildlife refuges, 38 wetland management districts and five marine national monuments.

These refuges, spread across all 50 states and U.S. territories, protect some of the most important wildlife habitat in North America. From the arid desert landscapes of Cabeza Prieta Refuge in Arizona to the cypress forests of the Great Dismal Swamp Refuge and the sprawling Aleutian Islands of Alaska Maritime Refuge, national wildlife refuges sustain thousands of native species – some found nowhere else on earth.

These incredible places also host more than 48 million visitors each year. They are places where you can see bison, Key deer, desert pronghorn, black-footed ferrets and pileated woodpeckers. Where you can hike a secluded trail through the forest less than 20 miles from Times Square, or see manatees grazing near a warm spring. Where you can drop a line and catch a smallmouth bass, or set up a deer stand and help your daughter harvest her first buck.

In many ways, the Refuge System and other public lands have defined what it means to be an American. They have shaped our values and character, and support the outdoor traditions that link us to our ancestors.

An America without public lands would be unrecognizable - and unworthy of its name.

These lands are our birthright as Americans, and I urge you to make time to discover them for yourself.

Dozens of events are taking place over the next few weeks. You’ll be able to enjoy wildlife festivals, live animals, tours, fun runs, classes and more. You can find a list of events here. If you can’t make it to a national wildlife refuge soon, take an online whirlwind tour.

This is a crucial time for our refuges and other public lands. Accelerating urbanization has made it harder for many families to spend time in the outdoors – making public access to nature more vital than ever. Yet we’re seeing a growing effort at the state and federal level to delegitimize and dismantle our networks of public lands.

Thankfully, recent efforts have been defeated. But those advocating land transfer are patient, persistent and well-financed by the wealthy special interests that stand to benefit.

We can’t let our guard down. Too much is at stake – as you’ll see when you explore your national wildlife refuges.

Let’s celebrate these national treasures together, and make sure they’re strong and healthy for future generations of Americans to enjoy and marvel at!

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