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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Reasons to Celebrate: The Refuge System's 109th Birthday

How do you mark a 109th birthday?  

In style.  

All the more so when the honoree is an American icon, respected the world-over as a conservation force and national treasure.   

Ducks in Flight, ChincoteagueDucks take off at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: Steve Hillebrand

The birth of the National Wildlife Refuge System on March 14, 1903, ensured that our children and our children’s children will inherit an America that still has natural spaces and the wild creatures.

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 make up the nation’s premier network of public lands, providing vital habitat for thousands of animal and plant species.

The Refuge System has been a critical part of the nation’s work to clean contaminated water, improve soil quality, fight invasive pests and restore landscapes to their natural beauty.  Consider the bald eagle, the California condor, the peregrine falcon, and the brown pelican — all brought back from the brink of extinction, thanks in great part to national wildlife refuges and their dedicated staffs.

So, how does the Refuge System make your life better?  

KayakersKayaking on Laguna Atascosa Refuge in Texas, Photo: Ty D. Hume/USFWS

Wildlife refuges help filter the air we breathe and the water we drink, improving our health. Refuges give us places — often, stunning places — to fish and hike and paddle and photograph and watch wildlife or just enjoy being outdoors.  Refuges also support local communities, attracting tourist dollars, generating jobs and supplementing the educational programs of many school systems.

Blackwater refuge puppet makingMaking puppets at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Last year, 45 million people visited a national wildlife refuge.  According to an October 2011 report commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit conservation organization, refuges and other natural lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service generated about $4.2 billion in economic activity and supported more than 32,000 jobs. 

Not bad.

So how are you celebrating the Refuge System’s 109th birthday?  Start by finding a wildlife refuge near you:  http://www.fws.gov/refuges/, and experience a natural wonder.  

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