National Wildlife Refuge? National Park? National Preserve? …What’s The Difference?

Feb 1, 2018

In South Florida, they all have alligators. But there are some key differences between national wildlife refuges, national parks and national preserves. Here’s a snapshot:

South Florida's national wildlife refuges
Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

National wildlife refuges are public lands and waters set aside to conserve America's fish, wildlife and plants. They come in all sizes, from tiny to enormous. There are 562 national wildlife refuges in the U.S., an average of more than 10 per state. Popular visitor activities are hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, interpretation and environmental education. National wildlife refuges are operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Most national wildlife refuges do not permit camping. In South Florida: Arthur R. Marshall-Loxahatchee NWR, Crocodile Lake NWR, National Key Deer NWR, Great White Heron NWR, Key West NWR.

South Florida's national parks and preserves.

National parks strive to keep unique natural landscapes unimpaired for future generations while offering recreation opportunities. They are developed to serve a large number of visitors. Facilities for cars and walking are given priority, with off-road vehicles generally prohibited. National parks are operated by the National Park Service. In South Florida: Biscayne NP, Everglades NP, Dry Tortugas NP

National preserves are also operated by the National Park Service. Activities like hunting, fishing or oil and gas extraction may be permitted at national preserves if they don’t jeopardize the park’s natural resources. In South Florida: Big Cypress NP

Arthur R. Marshall-Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge’s 19th annual Everglades Day Festival takes place Saturday, Feb. 10.