Beyond the Boundaries

Tundra Swans on Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS
Tundra Swans on Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS

Habitat Loss Around Our Refuges

National wildlife refuges in the lower 48 states tend to be relatively small in size compared to their critical habitat conservation mission. Many refuges were established to protect core habitat in an area surrounded by working lands or undeveloped sections.

Today, many refuges are increasingly affected by human encroachment– whether by development, oil and gas exploration, water diversion, pollution or intensive recreational use. In 2005, the National Wildlife Refuge Association launched Beyond the Boundaries to expand support for conserving landscapes surrounding national wildlife refuges.

The Beyond the Boundaries Program helps refuges work in strategic collaboration with surrounding communities to advance landscape-level conservation efforts.

Why look “Beyond the Boundaries?”

National Wildlife Refuges tend to be located where biodiversity is highest; along waterways and river corridors, coastal marshes, grasslands and unique desert ecosystems. Many refuges were originally designated to protect critical biological hotspots or migratory stopovers. These areas were buffered by private lands, often agricultural or other rural working landscapes. For the National Wildlife Refuge System to achieve its wildlife conservation mission, it must look beyond refuge boundaries to surrounding ecosystems and communities.

The Refuge Association’s Beyond the Boundaries Program

Partnerships are essential to protect landscapes beyond the boundaries of wildlife refuges. Landowners, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other stakeholders need to jointly make decisions that benefit the land and the people living near by.

Working closely with our partners, Beyond the Boundaries conserves landscapes and wildlife by:

  • Conservation Science–Identifying science-driven conservation objectives at the landscape scale.
  • Implementation Strategies–Creating specific strategies to protect and restore wildlife populations and the habitat they depend on; including land or easement acquisitions, fostering cooperative management among public and private landowners, bringing together tools and resources for restoration projects, or supporting planning efforts to create new conservation designations.
  • Partnerships–Forging partnerships that involve federal agencies, state counterparts, local businesses, nonprofit groups, Friends Groups and and the local community.
  • Funding–Leveraging diverse sources of public and private funding to accomplish measurable results.
  • Knowledge–Sharing lessons learned throughout the Refuge System, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the broader conservation community.


  • Developed the nation’s first in the Strategic Habitat Conservation Plan for Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. One of the most important estuaries on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Blackwater offers an important microcosm that reflects many of the issues and challenges communities and public agencies are rising to meet as part of President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Executive Order.
  • Facilitated the acquisition and conservation of the 57-acre Three Sister Springs in Crystal River, Fla. This project conserves five important warm water springs critical to endangered West Indian Manatee during the winter months. Once permitted for development, this property and its water resources regularly attract more than 500 manatees.
  • At Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Southern Nevada, the Refuge Association helped USFWS receive more than $50 million in grants to support visitor education centers, an inter-agency marketing concept known as “Wild Vegas” to build awareness for the 7.2 million acres of public land that surrounds Las Vegas, secure funds for research on bighorn sheep migratory corridors and help Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge acquire critical springs and wetlands two endangered species of pupfish.

Collaborative Conservation as the New Strategy

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a long history of working through effective partnerships. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program is specifically designed to bring federal resources to private landowners. The Service plays a central role in the evolution of Landscape Conservation Collaboratives. In a world increasingly without borders, environmental challenges such as climate change, and a difficult economic climate, cooperation and leverage is essential to success.

In the Conserving the Future Vision for the 21st Century, the Refuge System placed an extra emphasis on collaboration and partnerships. Rather than looking at small areas of core habitat, the Refuge System is increasingly moving to conservation landscapes. Areas where the USFWS might own land, but also holds conservation easements, work in tandem with other federal agencies such and the Natural Resources Conservation Service or the Department of Defense – as well as with state fish and game departments, state parks, and state water agencies, local municipalities and conservation NGOs.

National wildlife refuges can play a central role as biodiversity anchors in this evolving system of public and private conservation lands. As a nation, we have already made an investment in our wildlife and habitat – now it is time to leverage the investment in order to generate even greater returns for both wildlife and people.

Our Role in Collaborative Conservation

The Refuge Association is an independent nonprofit dedicated to furthering the goals and objectives of the National Wildlife Refuge System. We often form a bridge between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a range of NGO and private sector partners. Finally, because refuges attract such a diverse group of supporter– conservationists, ecologists, hunters, anglers, birders, hikers and more–the Refuge Association is able to represent a broad spectrum of interests and acts as a facilitator for the benefit of refuges.

Beyond the Boundaries Focus Areas

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