Americans won’t have to look far to celebrate their proud conservation heritage this month. Many national wildlife refuges around the country will host open houses and public celebrations in honor of the 109th birthday of the National Wildlife Refuge System on March 14; hundreds will offer great opportunities for wildlife viewing.
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. Today, the Refuge System’s 556 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts make up the nation’s premier network of public lands, providing vital habitat for thousands of animal and plant species.
Americans reap added benefits in improved human health and recreation, such as fishing, hiking, photography and wildlife watching. Refuges also support local communities, attracting tourist dollars, generating jobs and supplementing the educational programs of many school systems.
Last year, 45 million people visited a national wildlife refuge. According to an October 2011 report commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit conservation organization, refuges and other natural lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service generated about $4.2 billion in economic activity and supported more than 32,000 jobs.
“National wildlife refuges are national treasures that play a critical role in preserving America’s rich wildlife legacy,” says U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Without refuges’ important conservation work, the country would lose many species of plants and animals that help clean our air, filter our water, pollinate our crops and boost our understanding of our place in the natural world.”
Refuge celebrations this month include:
- Refuge System Birthday Bash!
Saturday, March 10, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Patuxent Research Refuge, MD
This free festival includes refuge tram tours, live animals, children’s crafts, music and entertainment. Enjoy live performances at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. by Billy B, the Natural Science Song and Dance Man. Hear a talk about wildlife artist Bob Hines at 1 p.m.
- Happy Birthday Times Two
Saturday, March 10, 9 a.m. to noon — Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC
Take a free tram tour to celebrate the 28th birthday of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the 109th birthday of the Refuge System. Learn about the history of the area before the establishment of the refuge. Look for black bear, bald eagles and other wildlife.
- Birding and Wildlife Tour
Wednesday, March 14, 9:30 a.m. — J.N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge, FL
Join a free naturalist-guided car caravan through the refuge to celebrate the birthday of the Refuge System! Meet at the flagpole. Learn about the history of the Refuge System and of this refuge. Choose from more than 30 free programs a week at the refuge through March.
- 20th Annual Pelican Island Wildlife Festival
Saturday, March 17, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Riverview Park, Sebastian, FL
Celebrate the 109th birthday of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge and the National Wildlife Refuge System. Enjoy exhibits, wildlife shows, discounted boat tours to Pelican Island, live music and kids’ activities. Learn more about the festival.
- Birthday Celebration
Saturday, March 17, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. — Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. MD
Celebrate 109th birthday of National Wildlife Refuge System. Meet at refuge office.
Refuges are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Every state has at least one national wildlife refuge. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major cities.
Use the “Find Your Refuge” feature on the Refuge System homepage to see if your local refuge has an event scheduled.