The government is us; we are the government, you and I. -Theodore Roosevelt

Stewards of a National Refuge System — B&C Impact Series

After establishing the foundation for America's National Wildlife Refuge System, members of the Boone and Crockett Club continued to build upon their successful wildlife restoration efforts that still exist today. Challenges in managing these special places take collaborative solutions—and that’s where the Club excels. 


The 1960s in the United States was a time of unprecedented change. The struggle for Civil Rights and the war in Vietnam made headlines. At the same time, an environmental consciousness was taking hold. In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, which brought into the public eye the effects that pesticides like DDT were having on wildlife. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law. In 1968, he signed the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Then, as a result of Carson’s book and public sentiment, the National Environmental Policy Act was signed into law and the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970.

National wildlife refuges are the only federal lands managed specifically with wildlife in mind. While other public lands managed by federal agencies all have the potential to benefit fish and wildlife, refuge lands are designated to help restore one or two specific species in peril.

The creation of these new environmental policies would provide a road map of priorities for federal, state and local agencies that is still used today. Playing a role in shaping those priorities, members of the Boone and Crockett Club were front and center on a number of key issues—the management of a National Wildlife Refuge System was no exception.

The Times Are a Changin’ 

The same year that Carson published Silent Spring, the Refuge Recreation Act was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy. This legislation required that any and all public recreation on a refuge must be compatible with the management plan of that refuge. For instance, if kayaking disturbs nesting shorebirds and inhibits establishment of a rookery on a refuge established specifically for the protection of shorebirds, then managers could deem kayaking an incompatible use. At the same time, the law also allowed the Secretary of the Interior “to administer refuges, hatcheries and other conservation areas for recreational use.” 

Then in 1966, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. This law served as the first piece of comprehensive legislation addressing the management of refuges. The Act provided new guidance for administering the refuge system, and included, among other things, language that established hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education as priority uses. In addition, this Act formally established the National Wildlife Refuge System.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Landing on his desk for his signature, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act added nine new refuges and expanded seven existing refuges in Alaska, adding 9.8 million acres of land to the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was initially established in 1960 to preserve its unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values. It was expanded under ANILCA to also ensure a place for hunting and gathering activities, protect water quality and quantity, and fulfill international wildlife treaty obligations. Here a backpack hunter prepares to float in a packraft out of the mountains near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

At the end of the 1980s, a federal report outlined the need for major reform in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Mining, off-road vehicles, airboating, waterskiing, and military aviation exercises within refuges were harming fish and wildlife. Local pressures and a lack of jurisdiction over many refuge resources hampered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to address these issues. In response, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and various stakeholders worked toward a solution. At the helm of the solution was the late-Congressman Don Young of Alaska. A professional member of the Club since 1990, Congressman Young introduced H.R. 1420, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997. The legislation passed with only one dissenting vote. It established a management framework for the refuge system as well as comprehensive guidance on how refuges should be used by the public. The Act named hunting and fishing among six priority uses for these lands and waters.

The late-Don Young, Alaska Congressman and Boone and Crockett member, introduced a bill to amend the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 to improve the management of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It passed in 1997 with only one dissenting vote.

While the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 was a huge win for hunters and anglers in the 1990s, it wasn’t the only win around that time. In 1989, Congress passed the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which is an initiative that uses federal grants as incentives to private landowners to protect habitat that is critically important for migratory birds, such as ducks and other wildlife. Over the last 20 years, NAWCA has completed over 2,000 conservation projects to protect 26.5 million acres of habitat—both on private lands and within national wildlife refuges. This voluntary program has over 4,500 partners and has leveraged nearly three dollars for every dollar spent by the federal government. Then in 2015, members of the Boone and Crockett Club supported its reauthorization as part of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 and once again in 2021 through the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act. 

Refuges in the New Millennium 

Ushering in a new millennium, Boone and Crockett members were instrumental in organizing a historical conservation summit that would prove to have a profound effect on the future of wildlife. This landmark meeting resulted in the foundation of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP)—a coalition of then-35 wildlife organizations representing more than 4.5 million hunter-conservationists. Thus far, meetings of the AWCP have produced six volumes of Wildlife for the 21st Century, which is a community-wide agenda for each incoming presidential administration. Recreational access for hunting and shooting on federal lands, including national wildlife refuges is a recurring issue the partners address, as is ensuring adequate funding for management of federal public lands. 

Participants from the first meeting of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners held in August 2000 at Boone and Crockett Club's National Headquarters in Missoula, Montana.

In 2005, Club member James L. Cummins worked with Congress to authorize and fund not one, but two, new wildlife refuges in Mississippi. The Holt Collier National Refuge, the only national wildlife refuge named in honor of an African American, is named after the man who guided Theodore Roosevelt on the 1902 black bear hunt that raised our national consciousness of the principles of fair chase and spurred the creation of the world’s most famous toy, the “Teddy Bear.” To the south of the Holt Collier NWR is the area where Roosevelt’s bear hunt took place, which is now part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge

A painting depicting Roosevelt and Holt Col lier during the 1907 hunt when Roosevelt returned to hunt bear in the Mississippi Delta. Collier is shown here holding a 1886 .45-70 Winchester that was given to him by Roosevelt. 

Most recently in 2020, the Club played a part in numerous conservation wins for the National Wildlife Refuge System. For hunters and anglers, some of the most impactful have been decisions by the Trump and Biden administrations to open and expand hunting and fishing opportunities across more than 2.3 million acres at 147 national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries. This series of rules composes the largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in history, and once again members of the Boone and Crockett Club were at the forefront of this effort in Washington, D.C. 

Also in 2020, the Club praised passage of The Great American Outdoors Act, which provides full and permanent funding of $900 million per year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and also provides $9.5 billion funding over five years for federal land management agencies to tackle their deferred maintenance backlogs. Five percent of which was set aside specifically to address deferred maintenance to facilities managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These dedicated funds will continue to allow acquisitions within refuge boundaries and provide for improvements to visitor’s facilities and recreational access on national wildlife refuges.

Today, in 2022, the Club is closely following ongoing efforts to expand hunting and fishing opportunities on wildlife refuges—and the restrictions that may accompany them. Along with partners in the AWCP and other conservation organizations, the Club and its members are voicing their concern to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the Service’s proposal to arbitrarily limit and phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle across nine refuge units where expanded opportunities were identified. 

When U.S. President and Boone and Crockett Club founder Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation protecting a tiny island off Florida’s eastern seaboard 120 years ago, one has to wonder if he had any idea what that idea would become. Today, with 567 refuges encompassing more than 150 million acres, America’s National Wildlife Refuge System is a massive achievement for conservation and wildlife restoration. The Boone and Crockett Club continues to work to keep it that way. 

About the Impact Series

The Impact Series is dedicated to showing how sportsmen, members of the Boone and Crockett Club in particular, saved the wildlife and wild places of the United States. Early members of the Boone and Crockett Club comprised the movers, shakers, and initiators of the American conservation movement. They were hunters, anglers, explorers, lawmakers, soldiers, and above all conservationists. These members established laws that allowed our wildlife resources to flourish. They also protected landscape-scale geologic marvels and American icons like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Denali, and many, many more. These members may no longer be with us, but their legacy remains. This series aims to honor their accomplishments and remind us of the good work still yet to do.

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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt