Environmental Law & Policy

United States Fish and Wildlife Service

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners program is an invaluable resource for landowners who wish to restore and conserve their property for wildlife. (www.fws.gov)


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS or FWS) is a federal bureau within the Department of the Interior. FWS implements and enforces numerous federal environmental laws in order to "conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people [1]."

FWS serves a variety of functions to fulfill its overall responsibilities. The Service monitors and manages endangered species as well as migratory birds, lists endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, restores wildlife habitats and commercial fisheries, manages the National Wildlife Refuge System, exacts revenue through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Recreation Program [2], oversees the distribution of conservation funds to the states, and participates in international conservation efforts.

The current director of FWS is Rowan W. Gould, who assumed the post in the winter of 2010 following the passing of director Sam Hamilton.


The FWS operates a national office and a number of Regional offices[3]. The headquarters in Arlington, VA articulates operational and budgetary policies, and a number of regional offices execute those policies in eight distinct Regions. At the national level, a number of divisions, organized under Assistant Directors, oversee specific FWS programs and policies.

Divisions include:

  • Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs;
  • Fisheries and Habitat Conservation;
  • Budget, Planning, and Human Capital;
  • National Wildlife Refuge System;
  • Migratory Birds;
  • Endangered Species;
  • International Affairs;
  • Law Enforcement;
  • External Affairs;
  • Information Resources and Technology Management (CIO); and
  • Business Management and Operations.

The Service employs over 8500 employees [4] at their headquarters and among the different Regions.


Each Region operates under the supervision of a Regional Director.

Region 1 (Pacific Region) 

Region 1 includes the states of Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, as well as Pacific Island Territories. It contains a wide range of diverse habitats and environments, including old-growth rain forests and arid shrub-steppe landscapes.

FWS management in this region focuses heavily on forestry management and fisheries restoration, since such natural resource industries as logging and fishing are still the principal economic engines for many of the area's communities. Also, the Region is home to 44 federally-recognized Native American tribes—making treaty rights often essential management considerations. Region 1 is characterized by high rates of federal land ownership, particularly in Idaho.

Regional Concerns

  • Management of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the world's largest fully protected marine conservation area;
  • Threats of species extinction in Hawaii;
  • Water conflicts and water rights claims, which only quite recently began to emerge in non-arid as well as in arid habitats;
  • Detection of potential avian flu outbreaks in the United States; and
  • Conservation in Oregon's Willamette Valley.

The Regional Office is located in Portland, Oregon.

Region 2 (Southwest Region)

Region 2 includes the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Region encompasses the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts as well as Gulf Coast wetlands and barrier islands. Other habitats in the area include prairies, playa lakes, and mountains, with a maximum elevation just shy of 13,000 feet.

Eighty-three Native American tribal nations live in the region, and FWS has expressed a continued interest in intergovernmental cooperation on issues affecting tribal governance or trust resources [5]. Yet, management goals and practices often clash with established tribal traditions. For example, changes to the Bald Eagle "take" permitting process have caused a great deal of controversy among Arizona tribes [6].

Regional Concerns

  • The deterioration of resources in certain National Wildlife Refuges along the country's southern border with Mexico, resulting from heavy traffic by illegal immigrants and drug smugglers;
  • Relationship-building with the energy industry, with an eye to utilization of the Region's capacity for alternative energy development;
  • Hurricanes along the Gulf Coast;
  • Population and development pressure on the resources of the Gulf Coast;
  • Proliferation of non-native coastal species;
  • Coastal water use; and
  • Sea level rise.

The Regional Office is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Region 3 (Midwest Region)

Region 3 encompasses the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. The Region extends southward from Minnesota and the Great Lakes Region. Four of the five Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior—fall at least partially within Region 3, and Lake Michigan is contained entirely within its borders. The Region contains the basin of the Upper Mississippi River and the Ohio and Missouri Rivers, as well as tallgrass prairies, wetlands, Great Lake reefs, and northern forests.

The Region oversaw the successful recovery of several imperiled species, including the peregrine falcon, bald eagle, and gray wolf [7], and continues to monitor the progress of the whooping crane, that is currently at an all-time population high [8].

Regional Concerns

The Regional Office is located near Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

 Region 4 (Southeast Region)

In the contiguous United States, Region 4 stretches across ten states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In the Caribbean, Region 4 includes the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Navassa Island. The Appalachian Mountains extend through the Region, as do the Ozark Mountains. Also, the Region encompasses the southern half of the Mississippi River Delta. Many unique ecosystems are located in the Region, including "coastal marshes, coral reefs, bottomland hardwoods, the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains, caves, and longleaf pine forests" [9]. The Southeast Region contains five of the country's ten most populous metropolitan areas, and the population is projected to grow by another 25 percent by 2025 [10].

Regional Concerns

  • Aquatic species conservation and fish habitat protection;
  • Drought conditions and their repercussions on fish and mussel populations as well as local economies;
  • Climate change and sea level rise;
  • Preservation of the Everglades, especially in the face of rising sea levels; and
  • Preservation of the coastal wetlands along the Gulf Coast. The wetlands were already threatened by rising sea levels and are now in danger of experiencing further loss as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Regional Office is located in Atlanta, Georgia.

Region 5 (Northeast Region)

Region 5 covers the District of Columbia and thirteen states—Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Northeast is populous, and nearly one quarter of the United States' population resides in the Region. The Appalachian Mountains continue northward through the Region towards Canada. Notable water bodies include portions of two of the five Great Lakes—Erie and Ontario—and the Chesapeake Bay. The Northeast's landscape is largely defined by estuaries, coastal plains, salt and freshwater marshes, Atlantic northern forests, coastal beaches, and barrier islands [11].

Regional Concerns

  • Effects of dense human populations and development on fish and wildlife resources;
  • Spread of non-native species;
  • Sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, and erosion - all related to climate change - and their effects on coastal marsh habitats; and
  • A phenomenon - known colloquially as "white nose syndrome" - involving the deaths of tens of thousands of bats in the region over the past few years. [12]

The Regional Office is located in Washington, DC.

Region 6 (Mountain-Prairie Region)

Region 6 includes the states of Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. The Region is home to the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains as well as the shallow wetlands known as prairie potholes. Prairie potholes are crucial breeding grounds for many of North America's migratory waterfowl [13], and such wildlife species as the American bison and the grizzly bear live in the Region's mountain or prairie habitats. Several rivers, including the Missouri, the Platte, and the Colorado Rivers, originate in the Mountain-Prairie Region.

Regional Concerns

  • Conservation of native species such as the Northern Rockies gray wolf and the Yellowstone grizzly bear;
  • Impacts of energy development on fish, wildlife, and their habitats; and
  • Water management for the preservation of fish species in light of increased demand from developing areas

The Regional Office is located in Denver, Colorado.

Region 7 (Alaska Region)

Region 7 covers the state of Alaska, and it is the only FWS Region to manage a single state. The Region's National Wildlife Refuge system is massive, accounting for over 80 percent of all Refuge land managed by FWS. [14]. The state of Alaska is relatively undeveloped, and ofifth of the population lives in rural areas [15]. Roughly 230 federally recognized tribes live in the Region. The climate in the Region varies from the northern tundra, to boreal forests, to rain forests along the southern coast.

Regional Concerns

  • The status of the Pacific walrus, a species about which relatively little is known, amid petitions to list the animal on the Endangered Species list [16];
  • Regulation of tribes' traditional "takes" of fish and wildlife; and
  • Development pressures in the Region's wildlife refuges.

The Regional Office is located in Anchorage, Alaska.

Region 8 (Pacific Northwest Region)

Region 8 includes the states of California and Nevada (and Oregon, insofar as it encompasses the Klamath River watershed ), and was established in 1998 in response to the "unique resource challenges of the area" [17]. The Region's highly biodiverse habitats face constant pressure on land and resources from the rapid growth of surrounding communities. The landscape includes such varied environments as Pacific coastline, temperate rainforest, desert, and mountains, including the Sierra Nevada range [18].

Regional Concerns

  • Water management and permitting for conservation use, as development and population growth continue to create increased resource demand (especially in the Klamath Basin, the Central Valley refuges, and the San Francisco Bay-Delta, and areas of Nevada where groundwater supplies are strained [19])

The Regional Office is located in Sacramento, California.

Environmental Laws Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Fish and Wildlife Service plays a major role in implementing and enforcing many U.S. federal laws, including:

  • African Elephant Conservation Act
  • Airborne Hunting Act
  • Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act
  • Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
  • Alien Species Prevention Enforcement Act of 1992
  • Anadromous Fish Conservation Act
  • Animal Damage Control Act
  • Animal Welfare Act
  • Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997
  • Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act
  • Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940
  • Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act
  • Base Closure and Realignment Act
  • Bureau of Land Management Authorities
  • Bureau of Reclamation Projects
  • Cave Resources Protection Act
  • Central Valley Project
  • Chehalis River Fishery Resources Study
  • Clean Air Act
  • Clean Vessel Act of 1992
  • Cibola National Wildlife Refuge
  • Coastal Barrier Resources Act
  • Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act
  • Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972
  • Colorado River Basin Water Project Acts
  • Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish and Recovery Program
  • Colorado River Floodway Protection Act
  • Columbia Basin Project Act
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act
  • Cooperative Research and Training Units Act
  • Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act
  • Driftnet Impact Monitoring, Assessment, and Control Act
  • Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act
  • Emergency Wetlands Resources Act
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Environmental Education Act
  • Estuary Protection Act
  • Estuaries and Clean Waters Act of 2000
  • Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act
  • Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act
  • Federal Noxious Weed Act
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act, ("Clean Water Act")
  • Federal Water Project Recreation Act
  • Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act
  • Fish and Wildlife Act
  • Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
  • Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act
  • Fish-Rice Rotation Farming Program Act
  • Fishermen's Protective Act
  • Fishery Conservation and Management Act
  • Flood Control Act
  • Foreign Assistance Act
  • Forest Service Authorities
  • Fur Seal Act of 1966
  • Game Management Supply Depots Act
  • Great Lakes Critical Programs Act
  • Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act
  • Great Lakes Fishery Act
  • Great Lakes Tissue Bank
  • Great Apes Conservation Act of 2000
  • Hawaii Tropical Forest Recovery Act
  • Historic Preservation Acts
  • Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act of 1986
  • International Environment Protection Act
  • Klamath River Basin Fishery Resources Restoration Act
  • Lacey Act Amendments of 1981
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • Land Exchanges
  • Land Remote Sensing Policy Act
  • Lea Act
  • Locks and Dam 26 Replacement Act
  • Marine Mammal Protection Act
  • Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act
  • Migratory Bird Conservation Act
  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act
  • Mining and Mineral Leasing
  • Mitchell Act
  • National and Community Service Act
  • National Aquaculture Development
  • National Environmental Policy Act
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act
  • National Fish Hatchery Acts
  • National Fisheries Center and Aquarium Act
  • National Fishing Week
  • National Hunting and Fishing Day
  • National Trails System Act
  • National Wildlife Refuge Acts
  • National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act
  • National Wildlife Refuge System Centennial Act of 2000
  • New England Fishery Resources Restoration Act
  • Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 2000
  • Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act
  • Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Act
  • Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2003
  • Nutria Eradication and Control Pilot Program
  • Oil Pollution Act
  • Olympic Experimental State Forest Act
  • Organotin Antifouling Paint Control
  • Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
  • Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation
  • Pacific Salmon Treaty Act
  • Partnerships for Wildlife Act
  • Pyramid Lake/Truckee-Carson Water Rights Settlement
  • Reclamation Projects Authorization and Adjustment Act of 1991
  • Refuge Recreation Act
  • Refuge Revenue Sharing Act
  • Refuge Trespass Act
  • Renewable Resources Extension Act
  • Research Grants Act
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
  • Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994
  • Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899
  • Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1938
  • Russian River Fishery Resources Study
  • Salmon and Steelhead Conservation and Enhancement Act
  • San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program
  • Sikes Act
  • Small Reclamation Projects Act
  • Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act
  • Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act
  • Surplus Grain for Wildlife Act
  • Swan Falls Dam
  • Take Pride in America Act
  • Tariff Act of 1930
  • Tax Deductions for Conservation Easements
  • Timber Protection
  • Toxic Substances Control Act
  • Transfer of Certain Real Property for Wildlife Conservation Purposes Act
  • Trinity River Basin Fish and Wildlife Restoration
  • Tule Elk Preservation Act
  • U.S. and Japan Fishery Agreement Approval Act of 1987
  • Water Bank Act
  • Water Resources Development Act of 1976
  • Water Resources Development Acts of 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, and 1996
  • Water Resources Planning Act
  • Water Rights
  • Waterfowl Depredations Prevention Act
  • Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act
  • Wetlands Loan Act
  • Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
  • Wild Bird Conservation Act
  • Wild Horses and Burros Act
  • Wilderness Act
  • Youth Conservation Corps Act
  • Yukon River Salmon Act


The FWS emerged from a 1940 reorganization plan of the Department of the Interior that consolidated the Bureau of Fisheries and the Bureau of Biological Survey into the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife. The Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 created the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife as part of the Service. When the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife position was eliminated in 1974, pursuant to an amendment of the 1956 Act, the Bureau was designated as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [20].


^ http://www.fws.gov/fwsataglance.html.  Accessed June 1, 2010.

^ http://www.fws.gov/help/about_us.html. Accessed June 2, 2010.

^ http://www.fws.gov/pdfs/SW%20Region%202%20Transition%202009.pdf. Accessed June 1, 2010.

^ http://www.fws.gov/pdfs/Midwest%20region%203%20Transition%202009.pdf. Accessed June 1, 2010.

^ http://www.fws.gov/pdfs/SE%20Region%204%20Transition%202009.pdf. Accessed June 1, 2010.

^ http://www.fws.gov/pdfs/R5%20Transition%202009%20rev%20MN.pdf. Accessed June 1, 2010.

^ http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/types/pothole.html. Accessed June 1, 2010.

^ http://www.fws.gov/pdfs/Alaska%20Region%207%20Transition%202009.pdf. Accessed June 2, 2010.

^ http://www.fws.gov/pdfs/CA%20and%20NV%20Region%208%20Transition%202009.pdf. Accessed June 2, 2010.

Further Reading



Yanefski, J. (2014). United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbef207896bb431f69c8dc


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