Today, we celebrate 113 years of kids holding their first fish, birds finding a safe haven for nesting, boots getting muddy just miles outside the city, and conservation advancing on 560 National Wildlife Refuges across the country.
On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida’s Pelican Island as the first wildlife refuge. Having worked at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, and as a frequent visitor to refuges all across the country, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits they offer to hunters, anglers, birdwatchers, trailrunners, and every American who loves to spend time outdoors.
And National Wildlife Refuges undoubtedly play a huge role in conservation in North America. With refuges in every U.S. state, spanning more than 150 million acres in total, the crucial habitat they provide is paramount for fish and wildlife. More than 700 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 1,000 species of fish call these areas home.
While many refuges are key stopover points for migratory birds, it’s not difficult to see why sportsmen flock to them, too. Thousands of hunters and anglers rely on National Wildlife Refuges each year for their hunting and fishing opportunities. In 2011, 46.5 million visitors to wildlife refuges pumped $2.4 billion into surrounding communities, supporting over 35,000 jobs.
Now, more than ever, we should fight to keep refuges funded, maintained, and open to recreation. As most of you are well aware, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, became the focus of controversy earlier this year, when extremists seized refuge facilities and called for the federal government to hand over public lands. Public access was forcibly barred and efforts to manage invasive carp populations were blocked for 41 days. The economic and ecological effects may not be fully apparent for months or years.
The best way to celebrate the National Wildlife Refuge System at a time when public lands are under duress from this type of movement is simply to use and enjoy them—find your local refuge and take advantage of the opportunities provided there!
We’d love to hear about your experiences, too. Post your pics with #PublicLandsProud on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and we’ll share our favorites.