The National Wildlife Refuge System celebrates its 108th birthday on March 14. On this date in 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on Florida’s Pelican Island to protect wild birds from bounty hunters.
President Roosevelt would go on to protect 52 more areas as wildlife sanctuaries before leaving office. Today, the Refuge System’s 553 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts support at least 700 species of birds, 220 mammals, 250 reptiles and amphibians, more than 1,000 species of fish and countless invertebrates and plants.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most remarkable and remarkably diverse US national wildlife refuges–the Serengeti of North America with its annual caribou migration. Also it a political bone of contention because of the oil wealth under the permafrost and off its shores.
Fifty years ago today, legislation creating the refuge was signed by Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton.