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Celebrating a Century of Conservation
Centennial sectionEducationGeneral Interest sectionHabitats and Conservation sectionPolicy Makers section
  Centennial poster composite of wildlife against a tree-filled mountain with a lake in the foreground.

Centennial Perspectives from Alaska Maritime NWR

In 1909, Wallace Stegner was born and Geronimo died. A Model T Ford sold for $850.00. Peary and Henson reached the North Pole, the NAACP was founded, and gold was discovered at Iditarod Creek. It was seven years after the first oil production in Alaska, six years after the U.S./Canada border settlement. 1909 was one year before the first cabins were constructed on Ship Creek at what was to become Anchorage, five years before the extinction of the passenger pigeon, nine years before the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and 40 years before Aldo Leopold published his seminal work, A Sand County Almanac.

In 1909, the Father of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Theodore Roosevelt, was ending his second term as President. His was an illustrious political career marked by a strong passion for wild landscapes that concluded with the dawning of the Golden Age of Conservation in our country. In his earlier years, he had seen first-hand the decimation of the American Bison out west. As Governor of New York, Roosevelt was adamant that plume hunting and apparel manufacturing of bird skins be halted. Roosevelt appointed numerous national level conferences to address conservation issues of the day. He effectively used the 1891 Forest Reserves Act, the 1902 National Reclamation Act and the 1906 Antiquities Act to reshape and strengthen federal conservation legislation and management. During his tenure as President, Roosevelt used the executive order process to set aside approximately 230 million acres of federal lands.

In 1909, Roosevelt instilled his passion for conservation by placing his presidential seal on a series of simple yet profound orders that have since taken shape as the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Just 42 years after the U.S. purchase of Alaska ended Russia's control of the Great Land whose seas had produced seemingly endless supplies of fur pelts and whose skies hosted multitudes of winged species from horizon to horizon, Roosevelt also saw an Alaska wilderness that was already wearing the signs of exploitation and landscape change. Sea otters, fur seals and seabirds were possibly going the way of the American Bison. Some of his last and most significant presidential actions resulted in Executive Orders reserving and setting apart Alaskan lands "as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds." On February 27, 1909, Theodore Roosevelt signed orders reserving and setting apart Saint Matthew Island, Hall Island and Pinnacle Islet as the Bering Sea Reservation (E.O. No. 1037); Chisik and Egg Islands as the Tuxedni Reservation (E.O. No. 1039); Saint Lazaria Island as the Saint Lazaria Reservation (E.O. No. 1040); and Walrus and Otter Islands as the Pribilof Reservation (E.O. No. 1044). Volcanic Bogoslof Island and its neighboring islets were set apart as the Bogoslof Reservation on March 2, 1909, through Executive Order No. 1049.

It is fair to say that Roosevelt believed in the development and wise use of the resources this country was bestowed. But he also believed that we needed to set aside areas of great beauty and that we should safeguard the wealth of wildlife for the good of all people. Countless birds – more than 350 species of seabirds, seaducks, raptors, passerines, waterfowl, shorebirds – spend crucial breeding and nesting seasons, as well as winter seasons for arctic and southern hemisphere nesting birds, on scattered islands and headlands along coastal and offshore Alaska, many now protected as the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. From the far southern islands of Hazy, Forrester and St. Lazaria, along the Gulf of Alaska's coast, throughout the Aleutian Islands, to the Pribilof Islands and St. Matthew in the Bering Sea, and along the Chukchi Sea coast to Cape Thompson and Cape Lisburne, Roosevelt's foresight and wisdom endure. These lands and waters continue to provide crucial undisturbed, unpolluted, irreplaceable habitats for millions of birds whose wing strokes beat beyond many latitudes and across much of our nation, and for thousands of marine mammals that ply our great oceans.

So it is under the ever watchful eye of Theodore Roosevelt that we enter the second century of conservation history for the National Wildlife Refuge System. 'Teddy' believed the American West was the proving ground for one’s character; he strongly believed in and set examples of a life lived with self-determination, honesty, integrity, and character – all attributes, in his eyes, of the west, its people and the depth of how the west shapes all who touch it. The efforts of this great pioneer should give us strength. As we toil through the myriad and mundane issues of today that seem to cloud our efforts to conserve wildlands, one can only imagine the scrutiny and chastening his conservation vision received. Setting aside lands and waters dedicated to wildlife was unprecedented in our frontier country, when we more often than not tried to beat back and control the wilderness. The very idea that resources were anything but infinite was still novel, and the realization that land and wildlife populations could be subject to over-exploitation was limited or poorly understood, and often taken for granted.

Alaska is for many of us what the American West was to Roosevelt. We are shaped by the awesome beauty, vastness, and wildness of its rivers, valleys, mountains, forests, tundra, and seas. We stand watch as silent witnesses of the spectacle of thousands of caribou crashing through a river, a lone wolf trotting across a ridge, a million least auklets swirling like smoke over the surf, or a worn salmon forging upstream to its destiny. It takes strong character and determination to withstand Alaska’s harsh and unforgiving landscape, both environmentally and politically. But we are a fortunate lot. We enjoy the fruits of the labor and the vision of those before us that worked to ensure a legacy of wildness, untrammeled landscapes, inviolate sanctuaries, places where the soul can be nourished by solitude and the presence of wild creatures.

Like the many that followed and built on Roosevelt’s legacy of a system of refuges scattered across the continent, we are now charged with being the stewards of these wondrous and wild places. Where the heartbeat of conservation emanates from within and is swept across the landscape by our actions. Not so much as a continuation of the status quo, but a bestowed trust to protect and shape the refuge system with insights learned through years of scientific endeavors and public debate. Take what we have discovered in the last century, apply it appropriately to the present, and reap the rewards over the next 100 years. We are honored to be part of the first and second centuries of the National Wildlife Refuge System – Happy Birthday!

Your friends at the end of the road – Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
— March 14, 2003

".. We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope."
Wallace Stegner, December 03, 1960

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