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Earth Day 2003: A Time to Renew Our Commitment to Our Natural Heritage


April 10, 2003

Christine Eustis, 404.679-7287
Elsie Davis, 404/679-7107

Opinion-Editorial from Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

One hundred years ago, on March 14, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, a hunter and outdoorsman, took action to stop the wanton killing of Florida's brown pelican population by establishing the nation's first national wildlife refuge - - Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Sebastian. Today, that five-acre refuge is part of a 95-million-acre network of 541 refuges. Thirty-three years ago, a former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, spearheaded the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. The national environmental rally inspired grassroots educational and clean-up activities around the country - more than 20 million Americans participated. The Clean Air Act (1990) also sprouted from a later Earth Day event.

Both President Roosevelt and Senator Nelson were national leaders who led Americans to action to preserve our natural heritage.

On April 22, 2003, Earth Day will be celebrated worldwide in more than 140 countries. Clean air, clean water, nourishment, places to rest and enjoy nature - - these challenges are global and more urgent than ever before.

As we celebrate Earth Day 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also commemorating a milestone in American conservation history - - the Centennial of the National Wildlife Refuge System that we are committed to preserve. In the Southeast, the Service oversees 125 refuges totaling about 4 million acres. Nationwide, the Service conserves and protects fish and wildlife and their habitats. Refuges are located along migration routes for birds and provide safe havens for 258 federally-listed endangered and threatened species. They also save wetlands and different types of habitat, such as bottomland hardwoods, pine/savannah, and coastal marshes. These lands are part of what makes our country great - - part of our homeland. The Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to be protecting national wildlife refuges for present and future generations.

Most national wildlife refuges are open to the public. Annually, more than 35 million people visit a refuge to observe and photograph wildlife, hunt, fish, hike, or take part in educational activities. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour's drive of most major cities. To find a national wildlife refuge near you, please visit

In this Centennial year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks Americans who are looking for a way to help the environment to consider volunteering at a national wildlife refuge.

Just as President Roosevelt and former Senator Nelson were leaders, we also have a number of local heros - - our volunteers. Take Diana and Dave Hardee, both volunteers at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in St. Marks, Florida. I recently spoke with Diana. She and her husband, Dave, work at the refuge for at least 20 hours a week as Recreational Vehicle (RV) Volunteers. They are volunteering for two months at the refuge, and in return receive water, power, sewer, propane gas, and local telephone calls with computer access. The Hardees are former residents of St. Marks and now live in West Virginia. St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge has a Refuge Volunteer Group, including several local volunteers and some RV volunteers.

Diana works in the refuge gift shop and is one of several volunteers who help conduct hands-on educational activities for school groups.

"I love working with children," says Diana. "We have activities, like an insect safari, when we get in the water, dig in the dirt, and have a wonderful time."

Her husband, Dave, helps with outdoor maintenance - - marking trees, checking wood duck boxes, clearing brush, putting up or taking down deer or turkey stations for hunters.

Volunteers perform a variety of tasks at national wildlife refuges. Some other examples include fish and wildlife population surveys; taking part in special projects like bird-banding; leading bird walks, giving tours of the refuge, and photographing wildlife or natural scenery.

For information about becoming a volunteer, please visit the web site

" If someone wants to get to know an area and its wildlife, volunteering is the best way to do it," says Diana.

On April 22, 2003, Earth Day, will you renew your commitment to preserving our environment and valuable natural resources, and spend time with us on a national wildlife refuge.

                                        Sam D. Hamilton
                                        Southeast Regional Director
                                        U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

**EDITORS AND JOURNALISTS: For a photograph of Sam Hamilton, please go to and click on the photo. Please credit photo to Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at or

NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at Our national home page is at:

Atlanta, GA 30345
Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286

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