Last week I headed to Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the first national wildlife refuge. The boardwalk there has engraved planks representing each refuge, and Secretary Salazar and I are adding six more for the newest units to the Refuge System.
The new refuge units are unique in many respects, showcasing our new ways of doing business.
Two of the newest units bring conservation and recreation to cities, a commitment we made as the nation has become more urban and nature and the environment has become foreign to many Americans.
Our newest units also represent locally supported, partnership-driven conservation efforts that respect and recognize the contributions of private landowners in conserving wildlife habitat at a landscape scale.
About 70% of the land in this country is privately owned, so we know that if we're going to conserve biological diversity then we have to engage private landowners.
As part of our work with private landowners, we are trying to keep working lands working for people and the economy and for wildlife.
And we're trying to connect these working lands to our great public estate of national parks and national forests and national wildlife refuges, and state and local conservation areas.
Besides landowners, we are engaging with traditional and non-traditional partners throughout the country to craft a conservation landscape that satisfies the needs of people and wildlife.
The newest refuge units are:
Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, where we're trying to reconnect the river of grass that sustains wildlife and communities in Central and South Florida.
Swan Valley Conservation Area, an example of collective conservation by landowners who voluntarily enter their lands into easements with us, connects the Canadian Rockies with the central Rockies of Idaho and Wyoming.
Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area is made up of the largest single easement donation ever received by the Service. The Conservation Area, made possible by the staggering generosity of Louis Bacon, protects a wildlife corridor in the Southern Rockies in Colorado that spans some 170,000 acres.
Valle del Oro National Wildlife Refuge, the Southwest’s first urban refuge, is just five miles from downtown Albuquerque.
Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in New Mexico will ultimately protect and manage up to 300,000 acres of one of the most significant grassland landscapes of North America.
Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge will restore wetlands, prairie and oak savanna habitat for 109 species of concern, and will offer wildlife-dependent recreation and education for the estimated 3.5 million people within 30 miles of the project area. It is within an hour's drive for the 12 million residents of the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Rockford.
I am especially happy about the last plank. It’s not for a new refuge -- Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge was established more than 70 years ago just south of Starkville, Mississippi. But in February 2012, it was renamed the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge to honor my friend, predecessor and one of our greatest leaders -– Sam D. Hamilton.
Sam served as our 15th Director from September 2009 until his untimely death in February 2010, and everywhere you look you see his fingerprints.
Landscape-level conservation, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, strong partnerships, science-based decisions … The list goes on and on.
I had the privilege to take part in the renaming celebration.
Putting in these planks is also a great privilege. We are creating great opportunities for wildlife and everyday Americans.