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Celebrating a Century of Conservation
Centennial sectionEducationGeneral Interest sectionHabitats and Conservation sectionPolicy Makers section

Pelican Island Speech for Time Capsule Event

— Speech by USFWS Director Steve Williams, March 13, 2003

We are gathered here today because 100 years ago tomorrow, Theodore Roosevelt had the vision and foresight to begin the creation of a system of lands dedicated to conserving this nation's wildlife. It was here in Indian River County he set-aside the very first parcel of land at Pelican Island. Roosevelt would go on to set aside 54 more federal bird reservations and big game preserves – the precursors to the national wildlife refuge system. Each of these conservation lands were Roosevelt's gift to the future – to us.

But what was it like, a century ago, here at Pelican Island? We have some idea thanks to some historical artifacts – Paul Kroegel's gun and badge remain, and his family has taken excellent care of his home. Some photos of Kroegel and Chapman are preserved at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center, and the original Executive Order signed by Theodore Roosevelt is housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. These priceless treasures help us understand who these brave individuals were, and what it was like to be here, in Indian River County, paving the way for conservationists and nature lovers for a century to come.

And so it is fitting then that as we celebrate this Centennial of the National Wildlife Refuge System, we send forth gifts to those who will follow, in the form of time capsules. We are preserving information and artifacts about the work we do today. A century from now, these will be priceless treasures to future generations:

  • Treasures like a packet of prairie seed mixture from Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District in Minnesota, sent forward toward a time when, we hope, America's native grasses will be thriving.

  • Treasures like a magnificent set of Tule elk antlers, a contribution from the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in California. We can be fairly certain that a century from now, our children will have the opportunity to see Tule elk in the wild because we are conserving habitat for them on national wildlife refuges.

  • Treasures like a memorial to Richard Guadagno, a refuge manager, thought to have been among those who, on 9-11, resisted the terrorists aboard Flight 93, the aircraft that went down in Pennsylvania. A century from now, Rich's heroism will be remembered – both as a protector of wildlife and one who gave his life for his country on that tragic day.

  • We also have some things that may not seem like treasurers today – documents like habitat conservation plans and brochures – but to the conservationists of 2103, these articles will undoubtedly hold valuable and important lessons
It is with great pleasure today that we dedicate the National Wildlife Refuge System Centennial Time Capsule Display. Indian River Mall will host the exhibit for 30 days, after which it will travel to Washington, D.C. for the National Wildlife Refuge System Conference in November. It will then be temporarily housed at our National Conservation Training Center, until a future date when we hope to construct its permanent home at a Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center.

Also during the next few weeks, more than 100 national wildlife refuges across the country will dedicate time capsules, containing artifacts representing American wildlife conservation today. Through these time capsules, we are documenting and preserving the course of conservation history at the locations where you can see conservation in action.

Our wildest guesses probably can not tell us what life will be like 100 years from today. How many of our wilderness areas will still be wild? Which of our at-risk species will have recovered, and will some of the plants and animals that share our earth now be gone, lost forever? What unimagined challenges, political, social, and economic, will the conservationists of tomorrow face?

We can't know the answer to those questions, but by preserving our history, we are giving future generations a window into how we live and work today – and hopefully, they will take some courage, and perhaps even inspiration, by looking back upon the gifts we give them.

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