Open Spaces : Refuges

Teddy Roosevelt and the History of the National Wildlife Refuge System

Today, there are 553 refuges across the country, with at least one in every state, providing safety to more than 250 threatened or endangered plants and animals.  Have you ever wondered how we got there?

President Roosevelt, known for his love of nature and wildlife established Pelican Island as our first national refuge in 1903.  Though he didn’t know it at the time, Roosevelt had set the nation on the path to building the largest national Refuge System in the world. 

Throughout his presidency, refuges were established around the country, and by the time he left office in 1909, he had declared 53 refuges in 17 states and three territories.

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Last updated: June 21, 2012