History Page Kroegel

Paul Kroegel on Pelican Island with a friend.

Historic Milestones

4,000 BC The ocean surrounding Florida began to rise, resulting in a newly formed shoreline. A chain of barrier islands and an intracoastal estuary, dotted with small islands, lined the Atlantic Coastline. The shallow waters and mangrove lined shores resulted in an estuary with remarkable biological diversity, the perfect habitat for wading and shore birds.

Mid 1800’s: Scientists documented the remarkable affinity pelicans had for one small 5-acre island, dubbed Pelican Island.

1886: Creation of the Audubon Society by George Bird Grinnell marked the beginning of the national conservation ethic.

1896: Bostonian socialite Mrs. Augustus Hemenway formed the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Hemenway was outraged by the slaughter of entire flocks of birds for their plumage, many in Florida.

1900: First meeting of the Florida Audubon Society. State Audubon Societies successfully pushed for the passage of the Lacey Act, prohibiting the interstate trade of wildlife killed in violation of state laws.

1901: Frank Chapman, ornithologist and curator of the American Museum of Natural History, organized the first Christmas bird count. William Dutcher, chairman of the American Ornithologists Union committee on bird protection traveled to Florida and assisted Florida Audubon in persuading the legislature to pass the Audubon Model Law outlawing plume hunting in the state. Dutcher administered the AOU’s Thayer Fund to hire wardens to protect birds in Florida. George Nelson, a botanist came to Florida to study brown pelicans and stayed with future Pelican Island warden Paul Kroegel. Mrs. and Mrs. Latham ran the popular Oak Lodge and encouraged visiting scientists to contact Paul Kroegel to learn firsthand the plight of the birds.

The Paul Kroegel Story

1903: On March 14, with the encouragement of Frank Chapman and the Florida Audubon Society, President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island in the Indian River Lagoon as the first federal bird reservation giving birth to the National Wildlife Refuge System. Audubon hired Paul Kroegel as the first warden of Pelican Island. By the end of his presidency, Roosevelt named 9 more reservations in Florida and a total of 55 bird reservations and national game preserves, the forerunner to the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The First Refuge is Born

1905: July 8, Warden Guy Bradley, one of four Florida wardens hired by the National Audubon society was killed in the line of duty.

1908: Warden Columbus G. MacLeod, was killed in the line of duty. The murder sparked the nation’s conscience and Audubon intensified its campaign against the wearing of feathers.

1913: By the 10th anniversary of the fledgling National Wildlife Refuge System, conserved lands included 65 units in 15 states and territories. The nation now recognized the need to conserve its wild lands and inhabitants.

1913: The Federal government first exerted authority over migratory birds in the Weeks-McClean Law.

1916: Due to the lack of federal funding, wardens were let go from several reserves in Florida. The very next year, the Alligator Bay rookery in the southwest everglades was wiped out in the absence of wardens. Paul Kroegel maintained his protection of Pelican Island.

1918: Commercial fishermen charged that the pelicans on and around Pelican Island were eating commercial fish and should not be protected. The controversy sparked a federal investigation. Testimony by Paul Kroegel, Florida Audubon Society and various scientists demonstrated that the decline in fish was caused by over-fishing, not by the natural habits of the local bird population.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act replaced the Weeks-McClean Law, providing a larger role for the federal government in managing migratory birds.

1926: Paul Kroegel was retired from service.

1934: Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act (known as the Duck Stamp Act) provided authorities and funding that enabled the Refuge System to grow.

1956: Congress passed the Fish and Wildlife Act, creating a comprehensive national fish and wildlife policy and providing authority to acquire and develop lands for national wildlife refuges.

1960’s: Joe Michael, a prominent citrus grower and local fisherman, Don Sembler and other outstanding citizens established the Indian River Preservation League. The League joined with the Florida Audubon Society to convince the State of Florida to include 422 acres of mangrove islands as part of the Pelican Island Refuge, halting the development of the area for tract housing.

1963: Pelican Island was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its status as the first federal area set aside specifically to protect wildlife.

1968: The State of Florida agreed to expand the lease with the Refuge to include 4760 acres of mangrove islands and submerged lands.

1970: Pelican Island became the smallest wilderness area (6 acres) in the National Wilderness Preservation System, under the 1964 Wilderness Act.

1973: Congress passed the Endangered Species Act.

1993: Pelican Island was recognized as a Wetland of International Importance

2001: A massive shoreline enhancement project was completed at Pelican Island. In 1903, the island’s area was 5.5 acres. Around 1943, the island began to shrink, eroding away due to natural as well as human induced wave action. By 2000, the island was less than ½ of its original size. The threat of forever losing the island that started the American conservation movement sparked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and its partners into action. An innovative plan was devised to install a 165 foot oyster shell wavebreak and plant smooth cordgrass and mangroves along the island shore to encourage sediment accretion, effectively building the island back up over time. Using a new technique and creating minimal disturbance to the island’s birds, a helicopter was be used to airlift in the oyster shell material. The Save America’s Treasures program, the Florida Inland Navigation District, the St. Johns River Water Management District, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service provided matching funds for the project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was a major partner in the effort.

2002: The acquisition of 250 acres of buffer lands to protect the refuge boundary from development was completed.

2003: Historic Jungle Trail leading to the Refuge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by Dr. Ryan Wheeler and county historian, Ruth Stanbridge.

2003: A centennial celebration marked the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first Refuge. The Centennial Trail Boardwalk was dedicated.

2009: Joe Michael Trail and Overlook completed.