Smithsonian Book of National Wildlife Refuges
By Eric Jay Dolin
Illustrations by John and Karen Hollingsworth
(Smithsonian Books, 258 pp.,
Brilliant color photos and fluid text explore the history, diverse wildlife, and stunning landscapes of Americas refuges. From the cypress swamps of Okefenokee to the marshes of San Francisco Bay and pristine seclusion of Alaskas ANWR preserve, Americas most treasured natural habitats have been protected as National Wildlife Refuges for one hundred years. Initiated in 1903 when Theodore Roosevelt signed a proclamation preserving Floridas Pelican Island as the first of 538 National Wildlife Refuges, they now occupy an incredible 95 million acres of the American landscape.
Linking his text with the stunning photographs of John and Karen Hollingsworth, Eric Jay Dolin draws on the rich history surrounding the refuges to reveal an interconnected story of people and nature. Dolin explores how the fledgling conservation movement found in Teddy Roosevelt a champion who set in motion one of the greatest conservation movements the world has ever seen. Following his lead, seventeen U.S. presidentsagainst a backdrop of two world wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam Warsigned proclamations, resulting today in an incredibly diverse and biologically rich refuge system that helped earn the United States its reputation as a leader in global conservation.
"The clearly written text detailing the history of National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) makes a convincing argument for their continuance and expansion. Just as compelling are the Hollingsworths' photos, taken in habitats where plants, animals and insects are protected by law. Photos of red fox pups (Agassiz, Minn.), hatching tundra swans (Yukon Delta, Alaska), an endangered Florida panther, and the Beaver Dam (Fish Springs, Utah) are testaments to the importance of the conservation movement. The voices of nature preservationists of the 19th century, such as John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, whose members fought vigorously against the wanton slaughter of birds in order to decorate women's hats, were heard by President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903 Roosevelt, who had a deep love of nature and wildlife, launched the NWR system by designating Florida's Pelican Island as a preserve for native birds. Dolin (The Duck Stamp Story) spells out the growth of federal refuges, which have survived despite a lack of funding and shifting political fortunes. Ronald Reagan, for example, tried to expand commercial use of refuges, including timber operations and drilling for oil in Alaska. Jimmy Carter, however, was a friend to conservationists and supported the whooping crane project. In 1997, President Clinton signed the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act, which set forth the mission of the system to put the wildlife and ecosystems of the refuges before any other considerations."
"When Theodore Roosevelt declared Florida's Pelican Island a preserve and breeding ground for native birds in 1903, he officially launched the National Wildlife Refuge system. After decades of exploitation, the wildlife of the U.S. was in desperate straits, with market hunters slaying hundreds of ducks per night, women wearing dead birds as hat ornamentation, and the near-extinction of the once numberless bison. Dolin explores America's National Wildlife Refuges and the movement to protect the nation's wildlife in this very readable history of a globally unique network of federal lands. The absorbing saga of the growth of the refuge system makes for fascinating reading, as politics often scuffled with biology, and inconsistencies in the laws between states, and between states and the federal government, had to be ironed out. The system now contains more than 530 refuges comprising 95 million acres of federally protected land, conserving hundreds of wildlife species and visited by millions of people every year. Illustrated with evocative color photographs and period illustrations."
"Outstanding book . . . Highly and enthusiastically recommended for all public libraries and all environmental collections."
"A terrific job . . . The result is a coffee table book worth buying a coffee table for."
The Baltimore Sun
"The remarkable photographs and accompanying text reveal the rich history of America's 538 national wildlife refuges."
"Fountain of information, meticulously detailed and intensely researched, a beautiful book . . . a wonderful addition to any wildlife enthusiast's library."
"The stories of Teddy Roosevelt . . . Ding Darling, and other indomitable historic figures are woven into the inspiring saga."
"This richly illustrated retrospective could not be more timely."
"most beautiful coffee-table book of the year . . . The author does a beautiful job."
Family Motor Coaching Magazine
"Exquisitely photographed history and overview of America's National Wildlife Refuge System . . . visually gripping and well-written."
Los Angeles Times
"This beautiful book has two distinct personalities: It is a handsome coffee table book and an informative history of the National Wildlife Refuge system in the United States. . . . The analysis is thorough and explores how particular pieces of environmental legislation (including a recent and long-overdue 1997 mission statement putting wildlife interests first within the refuges) and a growing American environmental awareness have helped to nurture the system. . . . The photography is first rate, with numerous breathtaking shots of landscapes and organisms that are found in the 538 refuges."
A National Treasure
It is hereby ordered that Pelican Island in Indian River in section nine, township thirty-one south, range thirty-nine east, State of Florida, be, and it is hereby reserved and set apart for the use of the Department of Agriculture as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.
President Theodore Roosevelt, March 14, 1903
This simple, unremarkable declaration, a mere forty-eight words, although heartily welcomed by many, was not a major event at the time. The press did not trumpet the news. There was no sense that this was the beginning of something that would produce immeasurable benefits for generations to come. Yet, by affixing his signature, Roosevelt officially launched the National Wildlife Refuge System, which is the only network of federal lands dedicated to wildlife conservation. The Refuge System is truly an American original. There is nothing else like it in the world.
Draped over the land like a vast strand of glittering jewels, the Refuge System is one of our greatest of Americas natural treasures. Its 538 refuges and thousands of waterfowl production areas contain 95 million acres, an area larger than the National Park System and about the same size as the state of Montana. There are refuges in every state and many U.S. territories and possessions, and they range in size from the diminutive 0.6-acre Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), in Minnesota, to the enormous Arctic NWR that extends over 19.6 million acres of the Alaskan landscape. The Refuge System offers an impressive array of habitatsbarrier islands, bogs, caves, coastal lagoons, coral reefs, deserts, estuaries, hardwood forests, islands, lakes, meadows, mountains, ponds, rocky coastlines, salt marshes, sand dunes, swamps, tall-grass prairies, and tundra. These habitats protect, nourish, replenish, and restore thousands of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and plants, many of which are endangered and hanging on to survival by the weakest of threads.
The Refuge System is a priceless gift we have given to ourselves. It reflects the great diversity of the tapestry of life and Americas commitment to wildlife conservation. Wherever visitors go in the Refuge System, they will experience a sense of wonder and the joy that comes from natures company. Each refuge has the power to fill up their senses and stir their soul through sights and sounds, beautiful and sublime. At Oklahomas Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, the earth trembles as a herd of buffalo thunders past. In the deep blue waters of Crystal River NWR in Florida, a manatee glides slowly over the oceans floor in search of plants to eat. The wild ponies graze near the shoreline at Chincoteague NWR, in Virginia. And at the Hatchie NWR in Tennessee there are scarlet tanagers, yellow warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, indigo buntings, goldfinches, and green-backed herons, and an orchestras worth of songbird serenades.
The beauty and diversity of the Refuge System comes through in the names of refuges. Those honoring Native American Indians have a lyrical cadence and mystical quality that evoke some of the saddest passages in this countrys history Mattamuskeet, Mashpee, Havasu, Iroquois, and Shiawassee. There are refuges named after famous Americans whose lives have enriched all of oursJohn James Audubon, Mark Twain, Rachel Carson, Senator John H. Chafee, and Lewis and Clark. Others refuges are labeled more prosaically, highlighting geographic locations or particular speciesGrays Harbor, Cape Romain, Three Arch Rocks, Oregon Islands, Attwater Prairie Chicken, Ozark Cavefish, Florida Panther, and the National Bison Range.
The history of the Refuge System, which is administered by the United States Department of Interiors Fish and Wildlife Service, mirrors this countrys fascinating, colorful, dramatic, at times disastrous, and often inspirational relationship with wildlife. The Refuge System has grown more opportunistically than strategically. Decade after decade, a combination of executive orders, statutes, direct purchases, and donations added refuges and acreage to the Refuge System. All the while, this amazing network of lands has been buffeted by conflicting imperatives, budgetary and natural droughts, management problems, organizational changes, and the mounting pressures of protecting itself from the increasingly potent threats posed by population growth and development.
The Refuge System has succeeded, first and foremost, because of the amazing and too often unheralded dedication and hard work of its employees, the people whom the American people have, in effect, hired to be caretakers of a significant part of the countrys wildlife heritage. The Refuge System is also indebted to untold thousands of other government employees, politicians, non-profit organizations, and volunteers who not only believed in it, but also fought to make it work by turning obstacles into opportunities. The fruits of their labors are on view every day.
The numbers of migratory waterfowl that rest, feed, and breed on refuges have swelled to all-time highs from all-time lows. Large game, such as bison, elk, and pronghorn antelope are prospering on refuges in the American West. Tens of millions of acres in the Refuge System are designated as wilderness, places where human impact is vanishingly small and nature approaches its original state. Marginal refuge lands have been transformed through active management into productive areas that benefit all the species that live in or migrate through them. Scores of refuges are providing habitat necessary for endangered species to survive and thrive. And on virtually every refuge in the country, any time of year, the magnificent rhythms of nature are played out with heartening regularity: a mouse digging a burrow, a jellyfish undulating through the sun-flecked water, a swan alighting on a stilled lake, a mother bear protectively watching over its cubs, and a mighty tree swaying in the breeze before a coming storm. Simple events, perhaps, but ones as important as the greatest works of humanity.
Although wildlife comes first on refuges, they are also the peoples lands, intended for the recreation and enjoyment of all. Visitors may see binoculars raise in unison as a group of patient birders spies a rare species on a distant branch. A boy and his father casting into the deep waters of a cold lake creating memories and hoping for a fish to bite. Hikers in a wilderness area standing on the spine of an exposed ridge and seeing nothing but the natural landscape in every direction. Schoolchildren listening in rapt attention as a refuge volunteer talks about the species they are likely to see on their nature walk. A photographer zooming in on a hillside and with a quick press of a button capturing forever the image of a bighorn sheep bounding across rough terrain. And, on the edge of a marsh, two hunters waiting silently in a blind for the geese to arrive.
Every year nearly 40 million people visit refuges for a special experience. But humanitys interactions with the Refuge System are often less personal. Oil and gas drilling, mining, farming, grazing, timbering, and military exercises are also acceptable activities on refuge lands as long as they dont interfere with the purposes for which the refuge was established. The varied use of refuges is a strength as well as a weakness. The Refuge System provides numerous benefits but is often stressed and strained in doing so. This is part of the dynamic tension that makes managing the Refuge System such a challenging task.
Strangely, for lands that have provided so many benefits for so long, the Refuge System is relatively unknown to many Americans. It is largely a hidden treasure, but it shouldnt be. The Refuge System is arguably our best chance to ensure that current and future generations have an opportunity to appreciate the glory of wild America. This archipelago of diverse habitats is an integral part of this countrys intimate connection to wildlife and wild places. It helps to define the character and values of the United States, and it deserves respect, support, and admiration.