Important Message From The National Wildlife Refuge Association – Response to COVID-19

National Wildlife Refuge Association Logo
Sunrise over a calm Mississippi river with a large flock of geese in the distance in Port Louisa NWR by Jessica Bolser / USFWS

Sunrise over a calm Mississippi river with a large flock of geese in the distance in Port Louisa NWR by Jessica Bolser / USFWS


We are again being reminded of the important role nature and the outdoors play during times of crisis and stress. Connecting with nature improves our physical and emotional health. We can think of no better place to experience wildlife than on national wildlife refuges and that’s why we work hard to promote, protect, and enhance the National Wildlife Refuge System.

As you know, many national and state parks, national wildlife refuges and other public lands have been closed due to overcrowding to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Be sure to research the status of your local refuge and if you choose to visit wildlife refuges that remain open, remember that they are not at full staffing right now. Please do your part to keep them open by respecting CDC social distancing guidelines and following these measures:

  • · Consider the time of day you venture out and avoid peak hours for public outdoor spaces. If there are lots of cars in the parking area, come back at another time, but comply with opening and closing hours.
  • · Wash your hands before and after heading outside, whether alone or with others. Follow social distancing guidelines with your own companions, as well as with others you may encounter on the trails.
  • · Respect all signage that may indicate trails, areas, or refuges are closed.
  • · Let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back.
  • · Take what you need to be self- sufficient, including extra water, proper clothing and footwear, a first aid kit and your cell phone.
  • · Don’t go anywhere an emergency crew would have to venture to rescue you.
  • · Stay on the paths and trails, and reconsider your activities if it’s muddy. Path and trail maintenance crews may not be out for weeks, so it’s up to you to leave them in good shape.
  • · Bring bags specifically for trash and waste, and pack out your trash and any trash you (safely) find on your adventure. Then, go the extra step and don’t drop it into a public trash can, but instead take it all the way to your home and dispose of it there. The refuge may not have regular trash service for a while.
  • · The public restrooms may not be open. Take care of your needs at home.
  • · If you see someone breaking the law, notify authorities. Do not try to stop the behavior yourself.
  • · Sanitize your gear when you return home.

While we practice social distancing at home, here are some alternatives:

Enjoy Your Backyard

While national wildlife refuges often represent the best places to see wildlife in your area, you might be surprised by what you can find in your own backyard. I encourage you to share what you are seeing on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Here at my house, we are creating a list of the birds we are seeing during this time and look forward to comparing it to what we see the next time we head out to our local national wildlife refuge.

Consider Indoor Options

If you live in an urban or populated area, it may be hard to find good outdoor options and still comply with social distancing guidelines. Consider some of these indoor activities that can help you stay connected to the natural world, and if you have a good idea – share it on our Facebook page.

We want this crisis to pass as quickly as possible and we know from the CDC guidelines that social distancing is the best way for us to flatten the coronavirus curve. National wildlife refuges continue to be managed for wildlife in spite of the coronavirus and will be there for us to enjoy when this crisis ends.

Geoffrey Haskett, President, National Wildlife Refuge Association

Be well,

Geoffrey Haskett


National Wildlife Refuge Association