The Significance of National Wildlife Refuges in the Development of U.S. Conservation Policy

23 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2005 Last revised: 28 Feb 2015

See all articles by Robert Fischman

Robert Fischman

Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Date Written: 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.

Keywords: public lands, wildlife, conservation, wildlife refuges, ecology, endangered species, natural resources law

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

Fischman, Robert, The Significance of National Wildlife Refuges in the Development of U.S. Conservation Policy (2005). Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law, Vol. 21, p. 1, Fall 2005, Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19, Available at SSRN: or

Robert Fischman (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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