Passage Key Refuge Turns 100: Roosevelt’s Great Grandson Marks Conservation Milestone
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mark Ames, the great grandson of President Roosevelt, attended an event hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the adjacent Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge. Former U.S. Representative Sam Gibbons, Fish and Wildlife Service officials from Washington, D.C., and representatives from Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Mel Martinez, and Friends of Tampa Bay Refuges were also in attendance.
"Theodore Roosevelt was a dedicated naturalist who realized how important this island was for birds and took advantage of his presidential powers to protect birds and threatened wildlife habitat,” said Ames. “The island has changed over the years, but it is still critically important for birds.”
Ames added, “In a speech made in 1912 at the Progressive Convention in Chicago, TR said, "There is no greater issue than that of conservation in this country" and the value of protected land becomes even more apparent as our population grows and expand. My great grandfather was thrilled to be able to take action to conserve key areas. During his presidency he created 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. Passage Key is an important part of his conservation legacy, and I think he would be proud that a century later stewards of the land continue to cherish this reservation and to protect our natural heritage."
When it was set aside in 1905, Passage Key, located at the southern mouth of Tampa Bay, was a lush 60-acre barrier island with a freshwater lake. The island hosted more than 102 species of birds. A century later, the national wildlife refuge is a meandering island of less than 10 acres. The lake and most of the vegetation are gone, victims of a severe hurricane in 1921. But the spit of sand that is left is critically important to the bird species that still call it home. The largest population of Royal terns and Sandwich terns in all of Florida can be found today at Passage Key and Egmont Key.
President Roosevelt issued an Executive Order on October 10, 1905 establishing Passage Key as a federal bird reservation. The President established the refuge specifically for the birds’ use. Protection of Passage Key was one of several priorities for the National Audubon Society, who urged Roosevelt to establish it as a refuge. Just two years prior, he had established Pelican Island, a five-acre island in the Indian River Lagoon near Sebastian on Florida’s east coast, as the nation’s first federal bird reservation. These federal bird reservations were the first lands in what would become the National Wildlife Refuges System. Before his presidency ended, Roosevelt would establish 55 refuges.
Today Passage Key is one of three national wildlife refuges in the Tampa Bay area. Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1951, and Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1974.
Because of its small size and its importance to sensitive bird species, Passage Key National Wildlife Refuge is closed to the public. The islands that make up the Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge are also closed to the public for the same reasons. Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge is open to the public and provides many wildlife dependent activities such as bird watching and snorkeling.
As part of the ceremony, Shell Oil Company (through the Shell Marine Habitat Program), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners (through the Pinellas County Environmental Fund), and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation presented a check for $199,000 to fund a new conservation partnership for Tampa Bay’s diverse bird species. These funds will be used to create an environmental education and outreach program, eradicate invasive exotic plants, and conserve and restore coastal habitats for the three Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges.
Friends of Tampa Bay Refuges, a chapter of the Friends of the Chassahowitzka Refuge National Wildlife Refuge Complex, was formed in 2004 to support and promote the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Tampa Bay Refuges. In honor of Passage Key’s 100th anniversary, the Friends are launching an outreach campaign to recruit more members and volunteers to help protect these lands. For more information on the Friends' group, please visit their website at http://www.fcnwr.org.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at http://www.fws.gov/southeast or http://www.fws.gov/.
NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://www.fws.gov/southeast. Our national home page is at: http://www.fws.gov/news/newsreleases/, Atlanta, GA 30345, phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286