Nation's Most Endangered Refuges of 2004 Announced by Defenders of Wildlife

Corporate and Industrial Development Cited as Most Pervasive Threat to Refuges

(10/08/2004) - Washington, D.C. – Growing threats combined with seriously inadequate federal funding and thin congressional support have thrown the country’s national wildlife refuge system into a state of decline over the last several years, declared Defenders of Wildlife days before National Wildlife Refuge Week (October 10-16).

In a report released today, Defenders of Wildlife provides one of the first in-depth looks at how development, air and water toxins, oil and gas waste, farming, invasive species and other threats are eroding the largest system of protected lands in the world dedicated to wildlife conservation. Entitled, "Refuges at Risk," the report names the nation's ten most endangered wildlife refuges for 2004.

"Today, America’s national wildlife refuge system is facing an environmental perfect storm," stated Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. "Its threats are larger in scope, more difficult to control, more damaging, and more costly than ever before. On top of this is weakening support for the Refuge system in Congress and an administration that doesn’t seem to understand what the American people want – to protect these places for wildlife. Just look at the relentless push to drill the crown jewel of the refuge system, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

"In 1990, former President Bush commissioned a blue ribbon panel that determined that accelerating loss of natural habitat and species, along with global warming, represent the most serious long-term threat to the welfare of our children and grandchildren," continued Schlickeisen. "These losses are tearing holes in the web of life that sustains us all. If we can’t protect wildlife and habitat on our wildlife refuges, where can we protect it?"

The national wildlife refuge system contains 540 refuges and covers nearly 100 million acres in all 50 states and 5 territories, providing some of this nation’s most spectacular landscapes and supporting an amazing variety of wildlife – from migratory birds to bighorn sheep, elk and caribou – many of them endangered. Close to 40 million visitors come to refuges every year seeking outdoor experiences.

According to Defenders’ report, the most pervasive threat facing the system today is escalating corporate and industrial development inside and close to refuges. For example, oil and gas wells in the Delta refuge have killed vegetation and polluted marshland habitat, while the Bush administration and many in Congress attempt to permit drilling in the Arctic refuge. Over 100 refuges contain more than 4,400 oil and gas wells, including more than 1,800 active wells in 36 refuges. At the Desert refuge, a proposal to drill for water for Las Vegas may suck the area dry. Farming in and near the Klamath refuges is polluting habitat and diverting water. Noise, air and water pollution from a proposed jet landing field and a proposed egg factory near the Pocosin Lakes refuge threatens serious harm to wildlife.

"The Interior Department has continually put the needs of wildlife second to corporate interests," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, President Clinton’s Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and now Executive Vice President at Defenders of Wildlife. "Imagine if our national parks were treated this way. It’s time for us, as a nation, to consider these places to be as much a part of our national heritage as the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. Each refuge we let deteriorate, each acre of habitat we destroy only further damages the conservation legacy we leave to future generations."

"Today every refuge is in a funding crisis," said Clark. The refuge system is operating at 50% below what it needs. Nearly 200 refuges do not even have staff. A chronic problem, funding shortfalls now total more than $1.2 billion.

"In addition, funding for federal land acquisition in the Land and Water Conservation Fund under this administration has experienced severe funding declines," added Clark.

"Next week is National Wildlife Refuge Week, a time to celebrate this nation’s commitment to conserving the wealth of natural resources on these lands. Ironically, though, we’re not doing nearly enough to safeguard our refuges," added Schlickeisen. "We cannot sit by and watch the only public lands devoted to wildlife protection whither away. There’s simply too much at stake – not only for us but for future generations."

Defenders of Wildlife works with federal, tribal, state, and local agencies, private organizations, and landowners to protect America’s national wildlife refuges. The goal of the "Refuges at Risk" report, the first in a series, is to spotlight the threats facing the wildlife refuge system in order to build public support for saving wildlife by safeguarding and nourishing the places where they live.

2004 Ten Most Endangered Wildlife Refuges (in alphabetical order)

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, AK: The Bush administration and the majority leadership in the House and Senate support industry requests to drill. Drilling would devastate the nation’s largest wildlife refuge.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, AZ: Border policies have deliberately funneled unprecedented and growing numbers of migrants and enforcement personnel into this fragile ecosystem with results both tragic and destructive for the refuge. The last home to the highly endangered Sonoran pronghorn, the refuge simply cannot withstand escalating border activities.

Delta National Wildlife Refuge, LA: Private oil and gas companies have drilled wells, laid pipelines and processing facilities, carved canals into the refuges marshes, and spilled oil and contaminated water throughout the refuge. The refuge is one of the most important wintering and staging areas for migratory birds.

Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex, NV: A pending proposal pushed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to drill water wells in the refuge threatens to dry up spring-fed desert oases essential for endangered species.

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, CA: Rapid suburban development, polluting run-off, invasive species threaten the nation’s largest urban wildlife refuge. Without increased funding for habitat restoration and protection, literally most of the shorebirds on the West Coast are in jeopardy.

Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges, OR, CA: Industrial farming currently allowed on the Klamath refuges uses massive amounts of the basin's water, pollutes with pesticides, and destroys wildlife habitat. With almost all the birds in the Pacific Flyway using these refuges, the Klamath refuges should be dedicated to wildlife habitat, not industrial agriculture.

Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, ND: Coal-burning power plants in North Dakota and Canada have polluted the air and water of the refuge. Today, the refuge's air quality is so bad that it violates Clean Air Act standards for protected areas. Also, mercury levels in the refuge's 4,000 ponds are extremely toxic.

Lower Rio Grand National Wildlife Refuge, TX: Currently, the refuge is comprised of fragmented chunks of land that provide only tiny islands of habitat in a sea of agriculture and development. With support from the Bush administration, Congress has diverted funds previously set aside to expand protected areas, leaving this refuge – that has more bird species than any other refuge - with little money to connect its habitat.

Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, NC: A Navy landing field, from which 100 sorties a day would be flown by fighter jets at low altitudes, is proposed for one mile from the refuge; and a proposed million-chicken egg factory near the refuge would foul the water and threaten waterfowl with disease.

Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, MN, WI, IL, IA: Mercury contamination, agricultural runoff, water pollution, habitat loss, invasive plant and animal species, and damaging Army Corps of Engineers projects are severely degrading this refuge, the longest in the contiguous U.S.

Click to read the complete report: America's Most Endangered Wildlife Refuges of 2004


Defenders of Wildlife is one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and habitat, and was named as one of America's Top 100 Charities by Worth magazine. With more than 480,000 members and supporters, Defenders is an effective voice for wildlife and habitat. To learn more about Defenders of Wildlife, please visit



Carrie Collins, (301) 951-8019
Sandra Marquardt, (301) 512-4781