Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
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Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge is a breeding and nesting sanctuary for the common tern a bird protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and listed as threatened in Minnesota. Photo by Alejandro Morales/USFWS.

Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge is a breeding and nesting sanctuary for the common tern, a bird protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and listed as threatened in Minnesota. Photo by Alejandro Morales/USFWS.

Celebration By Handshake

President Woodrow Wilson in Executive Orders 2199 and 3340 established a small National Wildlife Refuge consisting of two small islands that together make Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. Little did President Wilson know what the future held for the small refuge. The two islands are dedicated for native bird habitat and the refuge is the smallest refuge in the entire refuge system. Though the refuge is tiny, it has a big impact to local economy, intergovernmental partnerships and wildlife conservation. On June 12, 2015 Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge celebrated 100 years of Federal, Tribal and local community accomplishments of Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge at an event at Father Hennepin State Park in Isle, Minnesota.

Charles Wooley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Midwest Region Deputy Regional Director and Melanie Benjamin Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive shaking hands for a 20 year partnership in wildlife conservation. Photo by Alejandro Morales/USFWS.
Charles Wooley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Midwest Region Deputy Regional Director and Melanie Benjamin Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive shaking hands for a 20 year partnership in wildlife conservation. Photo by Alejandro Morales/USFWS.

The festivities started with the arrival of families and school children from local communities and summer programs to enjoy educational booths to learn about wildlife and participate in many more activities. Arts and crafts projects were a smash hit allowing all participants to create bat homes and explore a walk through an experiential “path” of the Refuge history.

Midway through the celebration, speeches and presentations were given by a host of speakers including Walt Ford, Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge Manager, Melanie Benajamin, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive and Charles Wooley, Deputy Regional Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest Region.

Special guest Melanie Benjamin Chief Executive of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe had given an impressive speech on the history of the partnership between the Service and Mille Lacs Band. It all started with a handshake between the two governments. As everyone listened and learned from what Chief Executive Benjamin had to say there was a sense of pride and camaraderie in the audience.

“As Chief Executive Benjamin mentioned, 20 years ago our two governments discussed the need to conserve, protect and enhance Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge and out of that came a handshake symbolizing trust, respect and a commitment to conservation," said Charlie Wooley, Deputy Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Midwest Region. "Madam Benjamin, I appreciate your close collaboration and I would like to shake your hand as a commitment to another 20 years of this successful partnership."

A simple handshake ignited another 20 year commitment of partnership to conserve, protect, and enhance habitat for the common tern on Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. President Wilson would be impressed if he knew how powerful his executive orders were for native bird species. Our mission is simple: working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and in the case of 100 year old Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, the common tern’s habitat, for the continuing benefit for the American people.

Alejandro Morales
Regional Office – External Affairs

Last updated: June 8, 2020