White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Sebastian Inlet, Florida, February 2003
Copyright 2003, Roddy Scheer
Tiny five-acre Pelican Island in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon became the first National Wildlife Refuge in the United States back in 1903 by decree of then-President Teddy Roosevelt. German immigrant Paul Kroegel lived in the area and was concerned about quickly declining populations of birds at the hands of “feather seekers” and other hunters. Kroegel enlisted the help of prominent local citizens and, eventually, noted ornithologist Frank Chapman, who alerted Roosevelt to the situation, and the rest is history.
The establishment of the refuge marked the beginning of a mainstream movement in the United States to protect wildlife for its intrinsic worth rather than for its utilitarian value. With the stroke of a pen, President Roosevelt set in motion a commitment to the preservation of wildlife and its habitat, and no doubt prevented many species from certain extinction in the future.
Today Pelican Island and its avian inhabitants face new yet nevertheless treacherous threats such as encroaching human development, water contamination, invasive species, and aggravated erosion. Environmentalists hope that the Fish & Wildlife Service’s use of Pelican Island as the symbol of the refuge system’s centennial signifies a renewed commitment to the five acres Paul Kroegel fought so passionately to save.
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