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“ I don't believe in magic. I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. They’re measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same. That’s what I believe in.”

Billy Frank Jr., member of the Nisqually Tribe

Leaders provide direction and inspiration. Below are a few leaders who challenged thinking about natural resources, how they are managed and why we conserve them.

Rachel Carson (1907-1964)

Sanderlings negotiate surf and shoreline

Rachel Carson is globally recognized for her final book, “Silent Spring,” published in 1962, documenting the harm caused by broad pesticide use and sparking public demands for change. Much of the groundwork for the book was rooted in Carson’s 15-year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which was devoted largely to exploring wildlife and ecology on national wildlife refuges. She wrote numerous pamphlets and bulletins, including a well-known series called Conservation in Action.

Carson became interested in the danger of pesticides, including DDT, while working as a marine biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Although she retired from the Service before writing “Silent Spring,” she documented the effects of DDT on marine life while with the agency.

During a television interview Carson said, “Man's endeavors to control nature by his powers to alter and to destroy would inevitably evolve into a war against himself, a war he would lose unless he came to terms with nature.” 

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine is named in her honor.


Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling (1876-1962)

Sanderlings negotiate surf and shoreline

Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling was a nationally known writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who used his work to promote wildlife conservation in the early 20th century. Then, in 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt recruited Darling to serve on the Committee for Wildlife Restoration along with two other prominent conservation-minded individuals, Aldo Leopold and Thomas Beck. The “Beck Committee” or "Duck Committee,” as it came to be called, prepared a plan to direct funds into a new wildlife program. Darling and Leopold, however, believed that with proper funding the work could be done within the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Darling, who served as director of the bureau in 1935-36, often was called the "best friend a duck ever had." His tenure lasted only 18 months, but he injected new energy into the bureau. Under his guidance, the Duck Stamp Act of 1934 brought hunters and conservationists together. Darling designed the first Duck Stamp and first drew the Blue Goose, the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida is named in his honor.


Billy Frank Jr. (1931-2014)

Sanderlings negotiate surf and shoreline

Billy Frank Jr., a member of the Nisqually Tribe in Washington state, worked to preserve his people’s traditional way of life and protect salmon, a focus of tribal life. In 2015, a year after Frank died, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Here is how a White House news release at the time described Frank:

“He was a tireless advocate for Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship, whose activism paved the way for the ‘Boldt decision,’ which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the state of Washington. Frank led effective ‘fish-ins,’ which were modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, during the tribal ‘fish wars’ of the 1960s and 1970s. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than five decades made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad.”

Frank received numerous awards, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award for Humanitarian Achievement.

“Frank left in his wake an Indian Country strengthened by greater sovereignty and a nation fortified by his example of service to one’s community, his humility and his dedication to the principles of human rights and environmental sustainability,” the White House statement said.

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Olympia, Washington, is named in his honor.


Charles Francis “Chuck” Hunt (1944-2000)

Sanderlings negotiate surf and shoreline

Charles Francis “Chuck” Hunt, a 22-year employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, served as Alaska Native liaison for the Yupik people of western Alaska’s Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Officially, he was a Yupik-English language translator. Unofficially, he used his diplomatic approach and sense of humor to ease sometimes-tense relations between Alaska Native leaders and federal managers.

Hunt worked to engage people in the science of conservation. He once wrote: “To be a leader, one does not need a title, but care, understanding and concern for the well-being of all people.” His educational efforts in more than 30 villages resulted in increased use of nontoxic shot for subsistence waterfowl hunting in western Alaska.

Hunt was also eager to bring a new generation of Alaska Native leaders into the Fish and Wildlife Service. Jim Kurth then-deputy chief of the Refuge System, recalled how Hunt would walk into the regional office in Anchorage with his big beaming smile, asking, “How many native people have you hired?”


Paul Kroegel (1864-1948)

Sanderlings negotiate surf and shoreline

Paul Kroegel is widely viewed as the first manager at what would become the first refuge, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. In the late 1800s, without state or federal laws to conserve brown pelicans and other birds that roosted near his home on the Indian River overlooking Pelican Island, Kroegel took it largely upon himself to protect them. Over time, with help from the American Ornithologist’s Union, the Florida Audubon Society and other conservationists, President Theodore Roosevelt learned of Kroegel’s passion.

On March 14, 1903, Roosevelt signed an Executive Order creating the Pelican Island Reservation. Two weeks later, Kroegel was appointed warden at a salary of $1 a month. His primary duty was to dissuade trespassers and vandals; he defended the pelicans with a badge, a shotgun and a small boat. Over the next 20 years, because of hurricanes and other factors, the pelican population on the island fluctuated — and in 1923 the pelicans abandoned the island altogether. Without pelicans to protect, Kroegel was let go from federal service in 1926. He saw brown pelicans return to the island before he died in 1948.


Olaus Murie (1889-1963) and Margaret “Mardy” Murie (1902-2003)

Sanderlings negotiate surf and shoreline

Environmentalists Olaus and Margaret “Mardy” Murie recruited U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas to help persuade President Dwight D. Eisenhower to set aside 8 million acres for the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1956. In 1980, the range was expanded to 19 million acres and renamed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

After Olaus’s death, Mardy Murie took over much of her husband's conservation work. Their log cabin home in Moose, Wyoming, where Olaus had directed The Wilderness Society, became a center of the conservation movement. From that house in the woods, Mardy began writing letters and articles, traveling to hearings and making speeches. She returned to Alaska to survey potential wilderness areas for the National Park Service and worked on the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and provided comprehensive management guidance for all public lands in Alaska. As a result, an additional 54 million acres were added to the Refuge System. The idea of preserving an entire ecological system became the intellectual and scientific foundation for the creation of a new generation of large natural parks, especially those established by ANILCA. The house in Wyoming is now a part of the Murie Ranch, a national historic landmark within Grand Teton National Park.


Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)

Aldo Leopold, a philosopher, forester and educator, was one of the great American conservationists of the 20th century. Leopold wrote extensively about humans as part of the natural world. Leopold’s writings expanded the discussion about why and how we choose to preserve natural resources. Leopold questioned the assumption that the primary motive for managing natural resources was to benefit people. Instead, he wrote that natural resources have an inherent right to protection.

His seminal book, “A Sand County Almanac” is a collection of his most insightful and thought–provoking essays. It was published in 1949, a year after his death. In the book, Leopold advocated a land ethic in which humans see themselves as part of a larger ecological community. Most important, he argued that the significant scientific discovery of the century was not technological advances such as radio or television but instead the awareness of the complexities of the natural world.

Aldo Leopold Wetland Management District, a part of the Refuge System in central Wisconsin, is named for him.


Mollie Beattie (1947-1996)

Mollie Beattie

Mollie Beattie was the first woman to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At the time of her appointment in 1993, then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt wrote that Beattie was determined to make the Service “the strongest protector of America’s wild creatures and the finest steward over America’s national wildlife refuges.” Three years later, Babbitt mourned Beattie’s death of brain cancer when she was only 49 years old. He wrote that Beattie “fought fiercely against the forces that sought to weaken the mission of our wildlife refuges, to gut the Endangered Species Act, or to turn the lights off on good science through funding cuts.”

A forester by training, Beattie worked for state agencies and conservation organizations in Vermont before coming to Washington. She sought to conserve endangered species by managing large landscapes and ecosystems. During her brief tenure with the Service, 15 national wildlife refuges were added and more than 100 habitat conservation plans were signed with private landowners.

To recognize her extraordinary work, Congress named a wilderness area in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in her honor.

Information iconStudent volunteers at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. (Photo: Ian Shive/USFWS)