Urban Refuge Program: Protecting Our Conservation Future

Los Angeles River Rover (Ian Shive/USFWS)
Los Angeles River Rover (Ian Shive/USFWS)

Goals of the Refuge Association’s Urban Refuge Program

  • Awareness, Outreach & Communications
  • Build Sustainable Partnerships
  • Cultivate A Diverse Talent Pipeline
  • Consultation, Support & Advance U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation Vision

Our Mission

The Refuge Association’s Urban Refuge Program strives to reach beyond refuge boundaries and into local communities throughout our nation to connect all Americans to nature and our wildlife heritage in a thoughtful and authentic way.

Denver, Colorado, USA: The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.
Denver, Colorado, USA: The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

Our Principles

With 80 percent of Americans living in or near densely populated areas, dealing with competing priorities and spending less time in nature, compared to the amount of time spent enjoying life via smartphones and other electronic devices. Now is the time for us to enjoy the small wonders of Mother Nature and embrace an important asset to our planet – national wildlife refuges.

  • PROMOTE the healthy benefits and ecological richness urban area refuges offers cities, counties and their surrounding communities.
  • CULTIVATE existing and foster new community-based relationships that lead to becoming a trusted ally, neighbor, and partner.
  • INSPIRE and BUILD support for our future generation of conservation leaders to create change that empowers others to support and care for our fragile ecosystem.
  • COLLABORATE with federal agencies, local urban wildlife refuges, nonprofits, and Friends groups to create nature centers where we live, work, learn, play and pray that deepens connections and provides opportunities to become a steward of the world’s largest network of public land and water for conservation – the National Wildlife Refuge System
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Fremont, California
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Fremont, California

Discovering Nature and Urban Wildlife Refuges

The Refuge Association’s Urban Program works in close coordination with urban wildlife refuges throughout the country to reach new audiences who are not familiar with USFWS or aware that these local area refuges provide a unique opportunity to build a broader conservation constituency for the future of wildlife, plants, and habitats, which are essential to maintaining a healthy planet.

To measure success, each urban refuge program uses eight standards of excellence as a framework. These standards support the national Urban Wildlife Conservation Program’s goal and the USFWS mission to conserve wildlife for the continuing benefit of the American people.

Standards of Excellence for Urban National Wildlife Refuges

The goal of the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program (Program) is to engage urban communities as partners in wildlife conservation. Excellence may be achieved through the eight standards that serve as a framework for collaboration among the Service and urban communities, whether such collaboration is on or off Service lands.
The eight standards are:

  1. Know and Relate to the Community
  2. Connect People with Nature via Stepping Stones of Engagement
  3. Build Partnerships
  4. Be A Community Asset
  5. Ensure Adequate Long-Term Resources
  6. Provide Equitable Access
  7. Ensure Visitors Feel Safe and Welcome
  8. Model Sustainability

Designated Urban Refuges

Of the more than 560 refuges that make up the system, USFWS has identified 101 national wildlife refuges as urban. Of those, 14 are designated regional urban refuges, two per region (except Alaska).


  • Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
  • San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex/SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project**


  • Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Complex
  • Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge


  • John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum**
  • Patuxent Research Refuge


  • Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge
  • Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge


  • Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
  • Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge


  • Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge**
  • South Texas National Wildlife Refuge Complex


  • Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
  • Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge/Urban Program of the Portland-Vancouver Metro Area**

*denotes funded urban refuge programs

Refuge Association Staff:

Angie HornSoCal Regional Refuge Partnership Specialist
ahorn@refugeassociation.org 202-290-5594
Los Angeles, CA

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