Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge celebrates a century of conservation with the National Wildlife Refuge System

Friday, March 7, 2003

President Theodore Roosevelt, a world-renowned hunter, took the monumental step to create the world's finest system of conservation lands - places where wildlife comes first. His boldness ensured that wildlife would be preserved for future generations.

On March 14, 1903, President Roosevelt set aside Pelican Island in Sebastian, Florida as America's first federal wildlife sanctuary. Thanks to his courageous effort, Americans now have 95 million acres to call their own in 540 very special places around the country. These lands - the National Wildlife Refuge System - remain today as America's only network of federal lands dedicated to wildlife conservation.

It is time to wish happy birthday to Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, as America celebrates 100 years of conservation and saving wildlife that started with this five-acre island.

"If you stay in touch with national wildlife refuges, you may have a keener sense of values that can really make a positive and lasting impact on your entire life," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director. "If all you want for your kids are strip malls and suburbs, you may not yet understand the value of the Refuge System."

"We each can't afford a place in the country, but with all Americans pitching in, we can save some of the special natural places for all of us to enjoy," said Hamilton. "Together, we can help save critters and habitat by providing wildlife with a place to live so everyone has a chance to experience these stunningly beautiful areas, as well as places to fish and recreate."

The National Wildlife Refuge System is America's best kept secret, but there is at least one refuge in each state and most are within an hour's drive of major cities. The goal of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to conserve and protect wildlife and their habitats. Most refuges are open to the public for wildlife-dependent recreation and provide economic support for local communities. Nationwide, more than 35 million people visited a refuge last year to observe wildlife, hike, go birding, hunt during permitted times, or fish.

Locally, Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge, located 1/4 mile south of Turrell, Arkansas is one of 540 refuges that protects this nation's heritage. To celebrate the Centennial, Wapanocca Refuge will have an Open House on Saturday, March 15, in which the public is invited to view the various displays and information about the refuge and wildlife using the refuge. The Visitor Center located in the headquarters building near the main entrance to the refuge will be open form 9 AM to 3 PM. "Since many people are working when the visitor center is open on week days, hopefully they can come out on Saturday to view the exhibits and educational displays in the auditorium," said Glen Miller, Refuge Manager of Wapanocca. "In addition to the Visitor Center, Wapanocca is fortunate to have a 6 mile Nature Drive that takes in various types of scenic habitat. Although the refuge has been open during daylight hours for the 42 years of its existence, there are many people locally who have never been here and don't realize what they have been missing. I hope you will make the drive here to check it out."

Across the country, the refuge system provides sanctuary for 180 threatened and endangered wildlife species and 78 listed plants. Fifty-six National Wildlife Refuges were established specifically to protect a listed species, including Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in Gautier, Mississippi; Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River, Florida, for manatees; and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples, Florida. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida hosts the largest variety of threatened and endangered species in the nation including loggerhead sea turtles, bald eagles, wood storks and manatees.

Many southeast refuges are located along four major migration flyways and serve as breeding, feeding and resting places for birds during their spring and fall migrations. Some of these refuges include Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Slidell, Louisiana; Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in Brooksville, Mississippi; Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Turrell, Arkansas, and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge in Big Pine Key, Florida.

Nearly all of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 540 national wildlife refuges are open to the public for wildlife compatible recreation. Environmental education programs are offered on most refuges, fishing is allowed on 260 refuges and hunting on 300.

Centennial events will be taking place at national wildlife refuges nationwide. For more information, please visit the websites http://southeast.fws.gov/Centennial/, http://southeast.fws.gov/ or http://refuges.fws.gov/centennial/

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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