The National Wildlife Refuge Association's Beyond the Boundaries program

The National Wildlife Refuge Association's Beyond the Boundaries Program helps refuges work in strategic collaboration with surrounding communities to advance landscape-level conservation efforts.

Beyond the Boundaries

Why look "Beyond the Boundaries?"

By design, National Wildlife Refuges tend to be located where the biodiversity is highest, along waterways and river corridors, coastal marshes, grasslands and unique desert ecosystems. Many refuges were originally designated to protect critical biological “hotspots” or migratory stopovers, which were buffered by relatively compatible private lands, often agricultural or other rural working landscapes. Today, many of those landscapes are increasingly and intensively compromised by human impact – whether by development and fragmentation, resource extraction, water diversion, pollution, or recreational use. Simply stated: today, most refuges in the Lower 48 are too small to fully accomplish their conservation goals and objectives.

No refuge is an island – even the islands

In order for the National Wildlife Refuge System to achieve its wildlife conservation mission, it must look beyond refuge boundaries to surrounding ecosystems and communities. Only through proactive, collaborative, landscape-scale conservation and restoration strategies can the Refuge System effectively support Trust species and other native wildlife. This need only becomes more clear as we wrestle with the effects of a changing climate. Recent studies show that climate change is already altering the ranges of many species of birds, insects and fish, making it increasingly difficult to adequately protect these species within the confines of our existing refuge system, and requiring large-scale adaptive management strategies.

Collaborative Conservation as the New Paradigm

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a new paradigm for wildlife conservation that moves beyond refuge boundaries to create landscape-scale collaborative partnerships. National wildlife refuges can play a central role as biodiversity anchors in this evolving system of public and private conservation lands that will accommodate species migration and adaptation. As a nation, we have already made an investment in our wildlife and habitat – now it is time to leverage the investment in order to generate even greater returns for both wildlife and people.

NWRA’s Beyond the Boundaries Program

NWRA’s Beyond the Boundaries Program helps build landscape-scale partnerships in which refuges play a catalytic role in advancing a greater conservation agenda. NWRA works in close partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff in select geographic areas where lessons learned can help inform and institutionalize the new paradigm of collaborative conservation across the Refuge System, the Service, and the nation.

The basic elements of the program include:

  1. Science: Identifying science-driven conservation objectives at the landscape scale
  2. Implementation: Creating specific strategies and actions to protect and restore wildlife populations and the habitat they depend on. These strategies will be varied and might include: specific land or easement acquisition efforts, fostering cooperative management among many public and private landowners, bringing together the tools and resources for restoration projects, or supporting planning efforts to create new conservation designations.
  3. Partnerships: Forging creative and inclusive partnerships that involve multiple federal agencies, state counterparts, local businesses and nonprofit groups, and citizens including Refuge Friends groups, volunteers, and others.
  4. Funding: Leveraging many diverse sources of public and private funding to accomplish significant and measurable conservation benefit on the ground
  5. Knowledge Sharing: And, sharing lessons learned throughout the Refuge System, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the broader conservation community.


The National Wildlife Refuge Association is an independent nonprofit that is dedicated to furthering the goals and objectives of the National Wildlife Refuge System, yet NWRA also retains the flexibility of an NGO. NWRA often forms a bridge between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a range of NGO and private sector partners. Finally, because refuges attract such a diversity of supporters, from hunters and anglers to birders and hikers to ecologists, educators and engineers, NWRA represents a broad spectrum of interests and is well-positioned as a convener of many for the benefit of refuges – a role NWRA also plays in the policy arena with the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE).


Current NWRA Beyond the Boundaries focus areas

-Southern Nevada

-Oregon Coast

-Three Sisters Springs, Florida

-Greater Everglades, Florida