|Short History of the Refuge System
Organization and Growth (l92l - l955)
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of l9l8 provided for regulations to control the taking of migratory species. Implementation of this Act did result in increased populations for a time. However, it soon became clear that effective management of the resource would require increased efforts to protect habitat. Refuges, established primarily by Executive Order, were still for the most part too few and too small to ensure the future of such wide-ranging migratory species as waterfowl and shore birds.
The first refuge acquisitions specifically for management of waterfowl came about with the Acts establishing the Upper Mississippi River Wild Life and Fish Refuge in l924 (again through impetus provided by the Izaak Walton League) and the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in 1928. Prior to this, the initial attempts to provide for the systematic acquisition of new lands for refuges had begun in l92l. A bill was introduced in Congress that would establish a "Refuge System," a Migratory Bird Refuge Commission, and a one-dollar Federal hunting stamp.
The bill was rejected four times during the next eight years. Finally, in l929, it became law under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, but only after it was stripped of any provisions for refuge hunting areas and a Federal hunting stamp. The costs for managing and expanding the system were to be funded by Congressional appropriations. Despite these shortcomings, this Act provided the authority under which the National Wildlife Refuge System grew in the years that followed.
A major stimulus for the Refuge System came in l934 with the passage of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act (known as the Duck Stamp Act). The Act's later amendments increased the price of the stamp providing a continuing source of revenue for acquisition of migratory bird habitat. They also authorized that a part of a refuge's area could be opened to waterfowl hunting (now set at 40 percent by the NWRS Administration Act of l966).
Of equal importance in l934 was the appointment by President Franklin Roosevelt of a special "blue ribbon" committee, consisting of Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, Chairman, and Thomas Beck and Aldo Leopold to study and advise him on waterfowl needs. This dynamic trio alerted the Nation, as no other group had done before, to the crisis facing the waterfowl resource as a result of drought, over-harvest and habitat destruction. They also campaigned vigorously for the funds to combat these problems. Then, in l935 "Ding" Darling was appointed head of the Bureau of Biological Survey and brought with him a dynamic and energetic young midwesterner, J. Clark Salyer II, to manage the fledgling refuge program.
For the next 3l years, until his death in l966, Salyer was the primary driving force in selecting new refuge areas and campaigning for their acquisition, in defending their integrity, in protecting the wildlife which they harbored, and in seeing that refuges were administered and managed to best serve the wildlife resource. Theodore Roosevelt, "Ding" Darling and others had a profound influence on the development of the Refuge System, but Salyer was unquestionably the "father" of the system. The imprints of his involvement remain to this day.
The year l934 also saw the passage of the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. This Act, amended several times between l934 and l965, authorizes most Federal water resource agencies to acquire lands associated with water use projects as mitigation and enhancement of fish and wildlife. The Act further provides for the management of these lands by the Fish and Wildlife Service or State wildlife agencies.
Two other important developments during these years were the Migratory Bird and Mammal Treaty with Mexico in l936 and the Lea Act of l948. The latter legislation served to greatly increase the acquisition of waterfowl habitat in California. The Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act, passed in 1937, was the authority used for establishing a number of wildlife refuges across the country. Under this Act, certain lands acquired by the Resettlement Administration were designated by Executive Order for management as refuges. Refuges acquired under this authority include Carolina Sandhills in South Carolina, Piedmont in Georgia, Noxubee in Mississippi, and Necedah in Wisconsin.
For several decades the Bureau of Biological Survey had remained in the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau (formerly Commission) of Fisheries in the Department of Commerce. In 1939 both bureaus were transferred to the Department of the Interior through an Executive Branch reorganization.
They were merged to form the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1940. Then in l956, two bureaus were formed under the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service-- the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (which included the Division of Wildlife Refuges) and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. Subsequently, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries was transferred in 1970 to the Department of Commerce and became the National Marine Fisheries Service, while the Fish and Wildlife Service still remains a bureau of the Department of the Interior.