National Wildlife Refuge System

Are any wildlife refuges named for women?

Many national wildlife refuges are named for noted conservationists, artists, writers, donors, and elected officials, including four named for women.

Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge, New York

Roseate turn chasing common turn
Roseate tern chasing common tern
Credit: Kirk Rogers

The Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge near Southampton, Long Island, New York was the first refuge named for a woman when it became the 231st refuge in 1954.
Elizabeth Morton Tilton, member of a prominent family on Long Island's east end, donated the refuge's 187 acres to preserve the area's natural features from commercial development. The Morton refuge now protects and provides habitat for songbirds, ducks, geese, raptors, as well as such endangered and threatened species such as piping plovers, least terns, roseate terns, peregrine falcons, and loggerhead and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles.

Although somewhat isolated and with few amenities, the refuge draws about 113,000 people each year for birdwatching, nature study, hiking, photography, environmental education, and fishing from the beach.

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Maine

The southern coast of Maine was special to Rachel Carson, the conscience of the conservation community, former editor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the second woman to have a refuge named in her honor.

Carson is best known for book Silent Spring, alerting the public to the devastating effect that pesticides were having on birds and other wildlife. She could also be called the “first publicist” for the National Wildlife Refuge System for the series of narratives she wrote about the system and several individual refuges.

Red-tailed hawk
Red-tailed hawk
Credit: George Gentrys

"Wild creatures, like men, must have a place to live. Wherever you meet the sign of the flying goose - emblem of the National Widlife Refuges . . . respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people . . . to preserving . . . or restoring . . . the conditions that wild things need in order to live."

Rachel Carson in "The Land Behind the Sign"


Originally established in 1966 as the Coastal Maine Refuge, it was rededicated as the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in 1970. Its 10 units are scattered along 45 miles of the Maine coast, protecting about 5,000 acres of fragile, wildlife-rich coastal marshes that stretch out to sea, and the adjoining uplands.
It is prime habitat for black ducks, the threatened piping plover, many other migratory bird species, and a “haul out” area for harbor seals.

U.S.  postage stamp issued in 1981
U.S. postage stamp issued in 1981

More than 300,000 visitors come to the refuge each year for wildlife observation and photography, hunting, canoeing, environmental education, and to walk the self-guided, wheelchair-accessible trail that skirts the salt marsh and upland edge.

The mile-long Carson Trail was designed with the advice and assistance of the Maine Association of Handicapped Persons and was built by teen-aged members of the Youth Conservation Corps, the Maine Conservation Corps, three Boy and Girl Scout troops, and the Friends of Rachel Carson Refuge.

Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Three thousand miles away, on Washington's Pacific Coast, is the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer. It was renamed by Congress in 1988 to honor the late member who had served in the House of Representatives for 14 years. She was the first woman to chair an appropriations subcommittee and, as such, exerted tremendous influence on Federal natural resource agencies, including the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The refuge was initially established in 1972 as the Columbian White-tailed Deer National Wildlife Refuge to provide protected habitat for the remaining population of 230 endangered deer.

Credit: USFWS

Explorers Lewis and Clark recorded the first observation of this deer in 1806, reporting it as abundant. By the turn of the century, as the area was cleared for agriculture, the deer had disappeared from nearly all of its range and by the 1930s was thought to be extinct. Remnant populations later were discovered and now the population is estimated at about 900 animals, both on and off the refuge.
The refuge also is a wintering area for tundra swans, Canada geese, and several species of ducks. Waterbirds and raptors are common and the surrounding waters hold salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, and trout. The refuge consists of 4,757 acres of diked Columbia River floodplain and undiked islands. It offers waterfowl hunting, fishing in the adjacent rivers, and environmental education.


Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia

Elizabeth Hartwell
Credit: Liz Hartwell Environmental Education Fund

Eighteen miles south of Washington, D.C., on the banks of the Potomac River, lies a 2,277-acre parcel of land on the Mason Neck peninsula. Here on February 1, 1969, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service created the first national wildlife refuge specifically established for the bald eagle.

The refuges' hardwood forests and marshes attract songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl that depend on forests and open water for their food, nesting sites, and a place to rest.

In 1964 plans for new highway and housing developments attracted developers.  Local resident Elizabeth Hartwell and other environmental activists went to work.  Mason Neck was given top priority for federal acquisition and the initial 950 acres of Great Marsh was purchased under the Endangered Species Act. Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge was initially a satellite of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland until 1974, when it became a stand-alone refuge.

Elizabeth Hartwell had spearheaded the grassroots movement to protect habitat on the peninsula. On August 14, 2006 the refuge name was officially changed to “Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge” to honor her significant contributions to conservation.  The Liz Hartwell Environmental Education Fund was established to continue protecting the environmental, historical and public resources of the Mason Neck peninsula.

Last updated: November 8, 2012