Chuck Leavell, keyboardist for The Rolling Stones co-founder of MNN, explores the national wildlife refuge system, home to over 150 million acres of public land. (Video: Steve Bransford/Terminus Films)

National Wildlife Refuge series:


Chuck: Did you know that there is a system of lands in our country that is larger than our national park system? Now most of us are familiar with our national parks and maybe our national forests and some of our state parks as well. But the national wildlife refuge system has over 150 million acres of lands, and those lands belong to us, to you and to me.
Hi, I’m Chuck Leavell for the Mother Nature Network and this time on In the Green Room, we’re gonna explore the national wildlife refuge system. We’re also gonna take a tour of one of the most famous refuges, the Okefenokee Swamp, so come along with me. Let’s see what it’s all about. Let’s go. Well, here with me is Dave Weisman. Dave is a former zone supervisor for the national wildlife refuge system and he was out in Kansas and Nebraska and Colorado, in that part of the world, right?

Dave: That’s right.

Chuck: Okay. Dave, I think our viewers would love to get an overview of what the refuge system is all about, so give us a little history and kind of give us the 30,000-foot view here.

Dave: Oh, wow. Well, the refuge system is about managing public lands specifically for wildlife. And it started back in 1903 with Teddy Roosevelt setting aside Pelican Island down in Florida as the first national wildlife refuge, and it’s expanded since then to over 550 national wildlife refuges in all 50 states, you know, from Pelican Island, just a small island down in Florida to, I think the smallest refuge is in Mille Lacs up in Minnesota, a little island up there, to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the coastal plain of Alaska, which is just tremendously huge. You know, there’s CMR refuge up in Montana that’s a million acres here in the lower 48, some of the big desert refuges down in Arizona. You know, it’s just unbelievably diverse.

Chuck: Are all of these lands open to the public?

Dave: Most of the lands are open to the public for one or more of the priority public uses, and those priority public uses are things such as wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, some hunting and some fishing. On national wildlife refuges, wildlife comes first. That’s where it’s different from all, almost all other public lands, at least all national public lands, is it’s wildlife first and then any public use that’s compatible with that wildlife and its habitat. So at all the national wildlife refuges, endangered species is a high priority. You know, so there’s such things as bull trout and west slope cut throat trout. There are endangered birds, endangered plants, you know, that have a really high priority.

In the Green Room: The national wildlife refuge system
Video: Chuck Leavell, keyboardist for The Rolling Stones and the cofounder of MNN, explores the national wildlife refuge system.