Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

NWF Picks: Top Wildlife-Watching Spots

January 26, 2011, 6:35 am

Throughout its 75-year history, the National Wildlife Federation has fought to safeguard hundreds of habitats critical to sustaining the nation’s wildlife. Many of these places also turn out to be excellent places to see wild animals. Here are ten of NWF's favorite destinations, where visitors can get good looks at gray wolves, alligators, moose, elk, whooping cranes and other iconic North American species. Click through to for tips on where to look in each park!

Platte River, Nebraska
Each spring, the skies over Nebraska’s Platte River fill with birds: 10 million ducks and geese, a half million sandhill cranes and many other birds, large and small, fly in to eat and rest during the long migration to their northern breeding grounds. This seasonal gathering of birds is one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles.

Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana
In 1936—the year NWF was founded—delegations of sportsmen organized by the new national group and an affiliate, the Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF), urged the government to offset the impact of Fort Peck Dam, which was about to flood a large swath of wildlife habitat in the state. The result was the creation, by executive order, of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, a 1.1-million-acre haven of native prairie, forest and badlands that is considered one of the crown jewels of the refuge system.

Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi
Back in 1941, when NWF was still a fledgling, financially struggling organization, it teamed up with an affiliate, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation, to fight a federal water project that would have destroyed 200,000 acres of pristine wetlands and bottomland forest in the state’s Delta region. Known as the Yazoo Pumps, the project’s purpose was to dry out private land to be more suitable for commercial agriculture—at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars. At-risk wetlands and forests—dubbed “America’s Amazon” by NWF Senior Resource Specialist David Conrad—included habitat for millions of migrating and wintering waterfowl and the threatened Louisiana black bear.

Puget Sound, Washington
The orca pods that ply the waters of Washington’s Puget Sound are in trouble, declared endangered five years ago by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Scientists say the main reason for the mammals’ decline is decreased populations of chinook salmon, the orcas’ most important food. For several years, NWF’s Pacific Regional Center has been working to bring salmon back to the sound by protecting and restoring the species’ habitat. Already, a lawsuit brought by NWF has led to reforms in how the federal government implements its National Flood Insurance Program, a primary driver—along with global warming—of coastal salmon habitat loss.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
When the gray wolf was reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, NWF’s Tom Dougherty—then a member of the federal Yellowstone Wolf Committee—was the only nongovernmental representative invited to the historic event. “It was a testament to Tom’s leadership along with the contributions of other federation staff and our affiliates in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming that wolves were restored to Yellowstone,” says Steve Torbit, regional executive director in NWF’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center, who also has long campaigned to protect wolves, bears, bison and other wildlife in and around the park.

Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, New England
New England’s Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge is a refuge like no other. Spanning about 30,000 acres across four states—Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut—“it is the only refuge that has been set aside specifically to protect an entire watershed,” says Eric Palola, senior director of NWF’s Forests for Wildlife Program. A vision of the late U.S. Representative Silvio O. Conte, the refuge was created by Congress and named in his honor in 1997. In the years leading up to its creation, NWF’s Northeastern Regional Center in Vermont and national advocacy team in Washington, D.C., “actively supported this unprecedented and creative approach to securing a new national wildlife refuge,” says Palola.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
For decades, protecting the integrity of ecosystems and wildlife in the Great Lakes region has been a top priority for NWF. With its affiliates—including the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Indiana Wildlife Federation and Prairie Rivers Network—NWF has helped garner billions of dollars to improve the health of the lakes through habitat restoration, pollution cleanup and sewage-system modernization. NWF also has played a leading role winning protections against the introduction of destructive invasive species such as Asian carp.

Everglades National Park, Florida
Stretching from just south of Orlando to the Florida Keys, the Everglades is a unique aquatic ecosystem spanning more than 18,000 square miles and providing habitat for thousands of species. For decades, NWF has worked with its affiliate Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) and other groups to protect and restore the beleaguered watershed, less than 50 percent of which remains intact. In 2000, the two groups played a key role convincing Congress to pass the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, putting in motion the largest ecosystem restoration plan in U.S. history. With FWF, NWF now is litigating to protect key areas on the western side of the watershed from planned mining and other development projects.

Valle Vidal, New Mexico
Nine years ago, one of the Southwest’s premier wildlife havens was nearly turned into an industrial zone: In June 2002, the Houston-based El Paso Corporation asked the U.S. Forest Service to open up Carson National Forest’s Valle Vidal Unit to coalbed methane mining. A lush mountain basin in northern New Mexico, the 167-square-mile Valle Vidal—valley of life—teems with mule deer, black bears, mountain lions and the state’s largest elk herd.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
On the Texas coast, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is famous for hosting the continent’s largest wild flock of endangered whooping cranes—and the only flock that still migrates. Each fall, these magnificent birds, now numbering around 250, set out from nesting grounds in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and fly 2,500 miles to wintering grounds in the refuge. At Aransas, “the cranes depend almost entirely on the adjacent Guadalupe Estuary for their food, primarily blue crabs, wolf berries, clams and insects,” says Norman Johns, a water-resources scientist in NWF’s Austin-based South Central Regional Center.

Get more information about each of these places, including where to look for wildlife within the parks, at