Refuge History - 1900-1945


First Law to Protect Wildlife
Passage of the Lacey Act sets the stage for a new century of safeguarding wildlife. The national law prohibits commercial hunting of birds and animals to sell as meat, feathers, or skins - a widespread practice in the 1800s.

National Wildlife Refuge System is Born
President Roosevelt names tiny Pelican Island on Florida’s east coast as the nation’s first bird sanctuary. This marks the beginning of what would become our National Wildlife Refuge System.

Wildlife Reserves for Alaska
Even in the frontier of Alaska, Roosevelt recognizes the need to protect habitat for wildlife. He establishes the first reservations for seabirds on St. Matthew and Bogoslof islands (Bering Sea), Chisik and Duck islands in Tuxedni Bay (Cook Inlet), Walrus and Otter islands in the Pribilofs, and St. Lazaria Island in Southeast Alaska. These lands are now part of today’s Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Window on the Past
Archaeologist Waldemar Jochelson is the first to study the prehistoric Aleut village sites in the Aleutian Islands.

First International Wildlife Treaty Protects Fur Seals and Sea Otters
After intense commercial hunting of fur seals and sea otters since the mid-1700s, relief came for the animals that remained.

The international Treaty for the Protection and Preservation of Fur Seals halted pelagic (at sea) hunting of both the fur seal and sea otter. A government harvest of fur seals, with profits shared by the treaty nations, would continue on Alaska’s Pribilof Islands until 1985. Today, the Pribilof Aleuts take a few hundred seals annually for food.


Three More Seabird Areas Protected
President Taft establishes three new reservations for the protection of native birds: Forrester Island and Hazy Islands in Southeast Alaska, and Chamisso Island in northwest Alaska. All are part of today’s Alaska Maritime Refuge.

Aleutian Islands - For the Birds!
The entire Aleutian Chain from Unimak west to Attu becomes a national reservation for native birds, fur farming, reindeer herding, and development of the fisheries.

Birds Know No Borders
The U.S. Congress passes the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that regulates bird hunting under the 1916 Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds between the United States and Canada [signed by Great Britain]. Mexico, Russia and Japan join later, thereby protecting all the birds that we share.

Fur farmers purposely drops off mice on Chankliut Island to serve as winter food for their free-roaming foxes.

Sheep were put ashore on Unalaska and Unimak and grazing leases were requested.

For Sea Animals, Not Fox Farming
President Hoover adds Amak Island (northwest of Cold Bay) and nearby islets to the Aleutian Islands Reservation after biologist Olaus Murie recommends that the islands’ habitat for birds, sea lions, walruses and sea otters be protected, not leased for fox farming. Hoover also designates the Semidi Islands Reservation that includes surrounding marine waters. These units will become part of the Alaska Maritime Refuge.

Plants Show Connection to Siberia
Swedish botanist Eric Hultén arrives in Unalaska to begin what would become the definitive collection and description of plants of the Aleutian Islands. He was the first to see similarities to plants he found in Siberia and in 1937 named Beringia, the Ice Age land connection between North America and Siberia. Hultén’s monumental botanical works are a legacy still relied on by researchers in the Alaska Maritime Refuge today.

Tiny New Fern Seen
W J Eyerdam, assistant to Eric Hultén, spots a tiny fern on Atka Island in the central Aleutians that was new to the world’s botanists. The Aleutian shield fern is now an official endangered species and only found on Adak Island to the west of Atka.


More Sea Otters
Botanist Eric Hultén reports seeing a growing number of sea otters in the western Aleutian Islands after their near extermination there during fur trading days. The 1911 international treaty protecting them seems to be working.

Flowers in the Snow
Isobel Wylie Hutchison, explorer and botanist from Scotland, rides the Coast Guard Cutter Chelan throughout the Aleutians, stopping to make botanical collections at key islands. Hutchison also studied plants on Kodiak and the Pribilof Islands. Her herbarium specimens, deposited in the British Museum, provide more data for Eric Hultén’s descriptions of the flora of the region.

First Inventory of Aleutian’s Wild Treasures
Olaus Murie begins his two-year expedition to all islands in the Aleutian bird reserve. He makes the first inventory of its wildlife. Victor Scheffer joins Murie in 1937 and continues an inventory of fishes in 1938. Together they write the North American Fauna report on the Aleutian Islands.

A Warning
While inventorying Aleutian wildlife Olaus Murie sees the folly of trying to protect seabirds while promoting fox farming - the original purposes of the Aleutian Island Reservation.

He warns that the Aleutian Canada goose and many other native birds would soon disappear, eaten by the free-roaming, non-native foxes. He noted that the wily fox was "extremely clever, being able to seize diving seabirds in the water, as much as a foot below the surface…and to leap as far as ten feet across to a pinnacle after eiders."

Smithsonian Archaeological Expedition
Ales Hrdlicka leads a Smithsonian Aleutian expedition for three field seasons. Team members Bill Laughlin and Paul Guggenheim return to the island many times to bring the Aleut past to light. Guggenheim mapped additional prehistoric sites during World War II while stationed in the Aleutians as a medical doctor.


Japanese Withdraw from Treaty
The 1911 treaty to protect fur seals and sea otters from at-sea hunting loses Japanese cooperation. Japanese ships roam the Bering Sea and along the Aleutian Islands.

New Name, New Emphasis
The Aleutian Islands Reservation is renamed the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Management begins in earnest as game wardens are stationed on Amchitka Island to discourage Japanese fishing crews from poaching sea otters. The Refuge’s 114-foot (35 m) M/V Brown Bear patrols the Aleutians year-round. Then-Secretary of the Interior Ickes acts on Olaus Murie’s warnings and approves regulations that end fox farming on some islands in favor of protecting birds.

World War II rolls with unstoppable force over the Refuge islands, uprooting the First People in the Aleutians and Pribilofs, and leaving a trail of bomb craters, harbors, runways, bases, and outposts.

3-4 June 1942
Japan Invades Alaska
The Japanese drop bombs on Unalaska /Dutch Harbor in the eastern Aleutian Islands of Alaska.

7 June 1942
Japanese seize the Refuge islands of Attu and Kiska. They take the 42 Aleut residents of Attu prisoners and eventually all 11 men of the remote Kiska Weather Detachment. The violent Aleutian weather will be friend and foe to both sides before the war ends.


11 June 1942
Bombs Away
The first bombs are dropped on the Japanese occupying Kiska. Planes and a dozen men are lost. "Weather permitting" air crews will fly reconnaissance and bombing missions to Kiska and Attu islands from air fields almost a thousand miles east on Umnak Island and Cold Bay on the Alaska Peninsula until a closer air field can be constructed in September.

12 June 1942
The American military begins to evacuate Aleuts from Aleutians and Pribilofs. A demolition crew from the USS Gillis burns the Aleuts’ homes on Atka, with all their personal possessions still in them.

14-15 June 1942
Evacuation and After
Pribilof Aleuts are evacuated from their islands with several hours notice and start their journey to internment in abandoned salmon canneries and mines in Southeast Alaska until May 1944. A total of 881 Aleuts were removed from their homes in the Aleutian and Pribilof islands.

U.S. Soldiers occupy the Pribilof Islands. In 1943 they kill 22 Japanese caught poaching fur seals. The Aleut men are brought back to the islands temporarily in the summer of 1943 to harvest fur seals for the government.

30 August 1942
Lagoon Becomes Runway
Allies land on Adak Island in the central Aleutians. They drain a saltwater lagoon and build a working runway in 12 days, cutting in half the distance planes need to fly to reach Kiska or Attu. Adak remains a military base until the end of the 1990s.

12 January 1943
Closer and Closer
Allies wade ashore on Amchitka. They build a fighter air strip within 75 miles of Kiska..

11-29 May 1943
Deadly Battle
In snow and freezing temperatures, 11,000 Allied troops land on Attu to retake that refuge island from 2,350 Japanese troops. The Battle of Attu becomes the second deadliest battle in the Pacific war. After the last assault by the Japanese, the American forces capture only 29 prisoners. Allied casualties total 3,829 men - including 549 combat deaths, 1,148 wounded, and 2,132 to accidents and that deadly foe, the Aleutian weather.

28 July 1943
Fog Saves Lives
Under cover of fog, Japanese submarines and surface vessels come to evacuate their 5,000 troops from Kiska.

14 August 1943
Kiska Empty but Deadly
A combined U.S. and Canadian force of 33,000 troops invade Kiska only to find it abandoned by the Japanese. The landing costs 21 lives due to friendly fire and accidents, while a mine in the harbor sinks a destroyer with the loss of 72 men. That ends the action of the Aleutian Campaign.

Allied troops abandon the Aleutians at the end of the Pacific war, but the military keeps a strong presence on many established bases such as Adak.