Impacts of Sea-Level Rise on National Wildlife Refuges

Ziwei Liu
Posted on: 12/29/2015 - Updated on: 3/06/2020

Posted by

Tera Johnson



The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), is composed of over 550 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts, totaling approximately 150 million acres of lands and waters managed primarily for wildlife conservation. Most refuges have a Land Protection Plan (LPP) that identifies priorities for new refuge land acquisition. Furthermore, in order to make the best use of its limited land protection budget, FWS annually ranks the refuges according to criteria laid out in their Land Acquisition Priority System (LAPS). LAPS outputs numerical scores for each refuge, based on four component parts: Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Endangered and Threatened Species, Bird Conservation, and Landscape Conservation.

Though the rising sea level is starting to impact many coastal refuges, neither LAPS nor most LPPs take it into consideration. Thus, it is possible that FWS will invest in the protection of lands that will be inundated in the future. The purpose of this project is to map the impacts of sea-level rise on several national wildlife refuges, with equal emphasis on lands already acquired within a refuge boundary and lands slated to be acquired at a future date. The project also provides a reference to policymakers, to guide the updating of refuge acquisition procedures in a rapidly changing world.

Affiliated Organizations

Defenders of Wildlife is a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  We work to protect and restore America's native wildlife, safeguard habitat, resolve conflicts, work across international borders and educate and mobilize the public.  We are committed to safeguarding biodiversity from the impacts of climate change by advancing wildlife and ecosystem-based adaptation policies and planning.