National Wildlife Refuge System
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Happy Birthday National Wildlife Refuge System!

On Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffer bands a brown pelican. On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on the island to protect wild birds from bounty hunters. This year’s Pelican Island festival is on March 17.

On Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffer bands a brown pelican. On March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on the island to protect wild birds from bounty hunters. This year’s Pelican Island  festival is on March 17.

Credit: John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

Scores of national wildlife refuges will host open houses and public celebrations in honor of the Refuge System’s 109th birthday on March 14. 

On this date in 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on Florida’s Pelican Island to protect wild birds from bounty hunters. Today, the Refuge System’s 556 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts provide vital habitat for thousands of animal and plant species.

Use the “Find Your Refuge” feature on the Refuge System homepage to see if your local refuge has an event scheduled. Or check the special events listings. Refuge celebrations will include:

  • Refuge System Birthday Bash!

Saturday, March 10, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. —Patuxent Research Refuge, MD
Enjoy a free festival complete with refuge tram tours, live animals, children’s crafts, music and entertainment.

  • Happy Birthday Times Two

Saturday, March 10, 9 a.m. to noon — Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC 
Take a free tram tour to celebrate the 28th birthday of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the 109th birthday of the Refuge System. Learn about the history of the area before the establishment of the refuge. Look for black bear, bald eagles and other wildlife.

  • Birding and Wildlife Tour

Wednesday, March 14, 9:30 a.m. — J.N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge, FL
Join a free naturalist-guided car caravan through the refuge to celebrate the birthday of the Refuge System! Meet at the flagpole. Learn about the history of the Refuge System and of this refuge. Choose from more than 30 free programs a week at the refuge through March.

  • 20th Annual Pelican Island Wildlife Festival

Saturday, March 17, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Riverview Park, Sebastian, FL
Celebrate the 109th birthday of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge and the National Wildlife Refuge System. Enjoy exhibits, wildlife shows, discounted boat tours to Pelican Island, live music and kids’ activities. Learn more about the festival.


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