Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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History of the National Wildlife Refuge System and the Carolina Sandhills NWR

Banding birds. Credit: USFWS

Banding birds. Credit: USFWS




National Wildlife Refuge System...

"If you travel much in the wilder sections of our country, sooner or later you are likely to meet the sign of the flying goose -- the emblem of the National Wildlife Refuges....Whenever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization."

Wild creatures, like men, must have a place to live. As civilization creates cities, builds highways, and drains marshes, it takes away, little by little, the land that is suitable for wildlife. And as their space for living dwindles, the wildlife populations themselves decline.

Refuges resist this trend by saving some areas from encroachment, and by preserving in them, or restoring where necessary, the conditions that wild things need in order to live." --Rachel Carson

The above selections are from an essay by Rachel Carson which introduced the series, "Conservation in Action," a collection of narratives about Refuges and the Refuge System. Carson was a scientist and chief editor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services from 1939-52. She later authored the landmark book "Silent Spring," which many consider a primary impetus for the growth of environmental awareness beginning in the 70s.

The National Wildlife Refuge System came into being on March 14, 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt established the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Public concern regarding the unrestricted harvest of wildlife for food and commerce was mounting in the latter half of the 19th century. A number of actions in protecting land for wildlife and scenic value preceded Roosevelt's move, including the federal protection of the Yosemite Valley in 1864, the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, and President Ulysses S. Grant's 1868 action to protect the Pribilof Islands in Alaska as a preserve for the northern fur seal.

But Roosevelt's creation of the three-acre preserve for brown pelicans was the genesis of the new National Wildlife Refuge system. Pelican Island NWR was quickly joined by Breton, Louisiana (1904), Passage Key, Florida (1905), and Key West, Florida (1908). Congress recognized that Roosevelt had captured the public's attention for wildlife preservation, and joined in by establishing the Wichita Mountain Forest and Game Preserve (1905), the National Bison Range in Montana (1908), and the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming (1912). By the end of his administration in 1909, Roosevelt had issue a total of 51 Executive Orders that established wildlife reservations in 17 states and 3 territories.

From these initial set asides of land, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to more than 500 refuges. Today, this system consists of more than 90 million acres in all 50 states, representing the world's most outstanding network of lands and waters dedicated to wildlife.

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Carolina Sandhills NWR History...

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1939. Its original purpose was to provide habitat for migratory birds, to demonstrate sound management practices that enhance natural resource conservation, and to provide wildlife-oriented recreation opportunities. When Carolina Sandhills Refuge was purchased by the federal government under the provisions of the Resettlement Act, the land was badly eroded and very little wildlife was to be found. Efforts began immediately to restore this damaged, barren land to a healthy, rich habitat for the plants and animals that once lived here.

Longleaf/wiregrass habitat. Credit: USFWS

Longleaf/wiregrass habitat. Credit: USFWS

Over time, the responsibilities have been added for restoration and enhancement of longleaf pine habitat for the benefit of the red-cockaded woodpecker, named as an endangered species in 1970. The Refuge operates under mandates to provide environmental education and interpretation of its work. Habitat improvement and restoration of native plant communities, monitoring the populations of the RCW and other species, and assessing the impacts of management actions on the wildlife and habitats are critical elements in the Refuge's operations.

Today, Carolina Sandhills is comprised of 47,850 acres, including fee ownership of 45,348 acres, and nine conservation easements totaling 2,502 acres. The majority of the Refuge lies in Chesterfield County, South Carolina; there is one fee title tract totaling 210 acres in Marlboro County. Numerous small creeks and tributaries, along with thirty man-made lakes and ponds and 1,200 acres of fields, support a diversity of habitats for wildlife.

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Last updated: July 28, 2010