Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1966 in cooperation with the State of Maine to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds. Located along 50 miles of coastline in York and Cumberland counties, the refuge consists of eleven divisions between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth. It will contain approximately 9,125 acres when land acquisition is complete. The proximity of the refuge to the coast and its location between the eastern deciduous forest and the boreal forest creates a composition of plants and animals not found elsewhere in Maine. Major habitat types present on the refuge include forested upland, barrier beach/dune, coastal meadows, tidal salt marsh, and the distinctive rocky coast.
History of the Refuge
The southern Maine coast has been treasured for over 11,000 years. The Abenaki, Sokaki and Saco peoples established thriving cultures using the coastal rivers that provided fresh water, transportation routes, abundant fish, shellfish, and lowland wildlife. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in the region in 1604. Shortly thereafter and into the 1700’s, European settlers made their livelihood from the coast and adjacent marshes. They also pressed inland to clear land for development and to obtain lumber for the emerging shipbuilding business. In the 1800’s, southern Maine shipbuilding reached its height. Vessels up to 400 tons were manufactured in Kennebunkport, and locally-built schooners boosted trade. The fishing industry supported many people and commercial hunters made their living from the wildlife frequenting local marshes. Recreational use of the Maine Coast increased in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Interest and access were particularly spurred by the arrival of the railroad in 1842. Thousands of visitors came by train, trolley and later, automobile. Now, tourism and recreational activities rank highest in the area’s economy. Between 260,000 to 330,000 nature enthusiasts from all over the world visit the refuge annually.
Rachel Louise Carson ( 1907-1964)
Rachel Carson was a world-renowned marine biologist, author and environmentalist. She served as an aquatic biologist and Editor-in-Chief for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. During her tenure, she composed a series of articles on Atlantic Coast wildlife refuges. Ms. Carson was born in Pennsylvania in 1907. Though the mystery of the sea and its creatures captivated her at an early age, the Maine coast particularly inspired her. Beginning in 1952, she summered on Southport Island, where she studied its beach and tide pools to research The Edge of the Sea (1955). Through tireless investigation for her greatest work, Silent Spring (1962), she linked the unrestrained use of post-World War II chemical pesticides with fearsome, biological consequences. Overcoming industry and government pressure to abandon her research, she persevered. Carson simply and convincingly explained the connections between humans and all creatures of the Earth. She alerted generations to use chemicals with utmost caution, warning that their improper use has dreadful effects on public health and the environment. Rachel Carson died in 1964, a victim of cancer. As fitting recognition of her tireless work, this refuge, first known as the Coastal Maine National Wildlife Refuge, was renamed in her honor on October 28, 1969 and formally dedicated June 27, 1970.
April 2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. By publishing it, Carson has been credited with launching the contemporary environmental movement and awakening the concern of Americans for the environment.
Learn more about Carson's life and career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Read her comments on wildlife refuges.