National Wildlife Refuge System celebrates 114th birthday

By Rachel Schadegg

Canoeists explore the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia. This refuge provides longleaf pine and swamp habitat for American alligators, black bears, gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and sandhill cranes, among many others. ©TimothyJ

The National Wildlife Refuge System is celebrating its 114th Birthday on Mar. 14. On this date in 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt signed an executive order to establish Pelican Island in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon as the first Federal Bird Reservation—the initial designation of what is now a network of over 600 wildlife refuges, conservation areas, and wetland management districts.

The development of the NWR System was officially authorized by the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929, and today, through the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, has a mission to “administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.” NWR System lands currently encompass nearly 850 million acres of lands and waters, and at least one refuge is located within each state and U.S. territory.

To honor the NWR System’s 114th Birthday, the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) is asking its members and the public to share what they appreciate about the Refuge System. The messages will be shared with elected officials in Washington, D.C. to communicate the value that Americans place on the nation’s wildlife refuges. Such efforts encourage Congress to prioritize adequate NWR System funding in the future, thereby helping wildlife professionals perform important management activities like habitat restoration and invasive species removal.

The NWRA is a nonprofit organization focused on supporting the Refuge System through programs that “protect, enhance, and expand” the System and its adjacent landscapes. Founded in 1975, the NWRA works to build a strong network of friends groups, volunteers, conservationists, sportsmen, ranchers, and other nonprofit organizations to give an effective voice to the Refuge System. Through the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, also known as CARE, The Wildlife Society works with NWRA and other conservation, recreation, and scientific organizations to address NWR System funding, management, and growth issues through advocacy on Capitol Hill.

Read more about the history of the National Wildlife Refuge System and ways to celebrate its 114th birthday at the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

Rachel Schadegg is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program. Read more of Rachel's articles here.