It’s National Wildlife Refuge Week!
Happy National Wildlife Refuge Week! You didn’t know we are celebrating the Refuge System this week? There probably aren’t a lot of people who had it marked on their calendars. I’d guess there aren’t a lot of folks who are familiar with the Refuge System at all.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service manages the National Wildlife Refuge System and they write, “Clean water. Clean air. Unusual and abundant wildlife. World-class recreation. The Refuge System provides and protects it all on 150 million acres of land and water from the Caribbean to the Pacific, Maine to Alaska, plus more than 418 million acres of national marine monuments. There is at least one national wildlife refuge in every state.”
In total, there are more than 560 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts which are home to 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 1,000 species of fish. More than 380 threatened or endangered plants or animals are protected on wildlife refuges. Each year, millions of migrating birds use refuges as stepping-stones while they fly thousands of miles between their summer and winter homes. Whew!
In other words, the Refuge System is a network of habitats that benefit wildlife. And they are great places for you and I to explore, photograph wildlife, and recreate. We can hunt, fish, hike, identify birds, or attend an interpretive program. As an added bonus, most Refuges are less crowded than National Parks.
Way back in 1868, four years before Yellowstone became our first National Park, President Ulysses S. Grant set aside Alaska’s Pribilof Islands, federally-owned land, as a wildlife reserve for fur seals. In doing so, he started a conservation effort that has been the pride of the United States, and an inspiration to the rest of the world.
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed an executive order to establish the Pelican Island Migratory Bird Reservation (now the Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge) in Florida, essentially making it the first national wildlife refuge.
Since we are celebrating this week, and because there is a refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas, it’s time to get out and explore. You can search for a refuge by zip code, or by using the map here.