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A Man, a Boat . . . and an Island

Paul Koegel In 1903 Pelican Island became the center of an epic battle between conservationists and feather hunters. After years of relentless slaughter, many of our most majestic birds were at the brink of extinction. Pelican Island was the last breeding ground for brown pelicans along the entire east coast of Florida and it was here that a stand was made.

Urged on by a German immigrant named Paul Kroegel, many prominent people rallied around this small island to spearhead the protection of the last remaining areas vital to the survival of wildlife. Under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, wildlife protection became a national interest, and for the first time, was based upon wildlife's intrinsic worth rather than its utilitarian value. With the stroke of a pen, on March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt set in motion a commitment to the preservation of our wildlife heritage and, in so doing, prevented many species from certain extinction.

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the birthplace of the magnificent National Wildlife Refuge System, is threatened once again. This historic jewel is losing its luster as it falls under the shadow of development. Waves continue to erode away the island's shoreline and alien plants are invading precious habitat. Yet Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, 5000 acres larger and almost 100 years older, still operated until 2001 with just one man and one boat. And until now, Pelican Island could only be visited by boat, canoe or kayak. However, public facilities, including a boardwalk and observation tower, are currently under construction to prepare for March 14, 2003.

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