“Wake up with the birds. Arrive in the early morning (or late afternoon) when wildlife is most active.” So reads a line from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System: A Visitor’s Guide. It’s a fitting piece of guidance since January 5th is 14th annual National Bird Day. This observance was established to raise awareness for the survival and contributions of native wild birds. Fortunately, the unspoiled terrain of America’s 560 national wildlife refuges provide a protected home to more than 700 bird species and so much more.
The concept of a “network of federal lands dedicated specifically to wildlife conservation” began with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. A king conservationist, he signed off on the first wildlife refuge at Florida’s Pelican Island. Today, the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System cooperatively manages 150 million acres of nationwide wild wealth. It’s also a sanctuary for 380 threatened or endangered species, including the rare bald eagle.
Every state has at least one wildlife refuge. And there’s at least one within an hour’s drive from every major American city. That means pretty much everyone has access to an outdoor preservation-recreation experience. In fact, the success of this system is dependent upon human activity. So much so that one side of the visitor’s guide highlights a good-sized list of recreational and educational opportunities. Wildlife viewing seasons and photography spots; historic sites and nature trails; and boating, fishing and hunting are vertically marked in the fold-out publication.
It’s hardly surprising that noncontiguous Alaska and Hawaii get their own breakout boxes on the NRW map. Alaska hosts 90 percent of Refuge System wilderness and Hawaii is, well, dazzling Hawaii. But why does the map call out North Dakota? It so happens that the Peace Garden State (best official state nickname ever) contains 63 National Wildlife Refuges, more than any other state. Way to go, ND!
From Aroostook in Maine to Ten Thousand Islands in Florida, Three Arch Rocks in Oregon to Big Boggy in Texas, national wildlife refuges are a celebration of America’s natural heritage. Clean grasslands, wetlands, forests, coastal backwaters form the anchoring landscapes. Animals such as whooping cranes, cutthroat trout, and brown bears are the occupants. But it’s the committed efforts of citizen-stewards who keep this all thriving. So get out there, people. Find refuge in wild America!
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About the author: Our guest blogger is Chelsea Milko, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Public Relations Office.