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Pelican Island Refuge

This week in March of 1903, President Roosevelt created America’s first federal bird refuge. Pelican Island, Florida had long been a favorite haven for beautiful shore and wading birds where mangroves hugged the waters of the small island. Pelicans, peafowls, flamingos and spoonbills adorned the beach.

Victorian ladies’ hats also vied for the bird’s beautiful adornments. The plumage was highly sought after in the name of elegance and fashion. Consequently, birds were being killed by the tens of thousands to fulfill those vanities.  

The new refuge launched a new conservation ethic in America. Pelican Island’s new status set the stage for the formation of the National Wildlife Refuge System.  Audubon and other conservation societies also helped raise America’s awareness. 

During his time in office, Roosevelt had created 51 federal bird reservations, four national game preserves, 150 national forests and many more conservation projects that we take for granted today. Here’s Steve Stark as Roosevelt. 

“Birds that are useless for the table and not harmful to the farm should always be preserved; and the more beautiful they are, the more carefully they should be preserved. They look a great deal better in the swamps and on the beaches and among the trees than they do on hats! As yet with the great majority of our most interesting and important wild birds and beasts the prime need is to protect them, not only by laws limiting the open season and the size of the individual bag, but especially by the creation of sanctuaries and refuges. The progress made in the United States of recent years, in creating and policing bird refuges has been of capital importance. Laws to protect small and harmless wildlife, especially birds, are indispensable.”

Dakota Datebook: Remembering Theodore Roosevelt is written and performed by Steve Stark. Funding provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.

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