Wherever you meet this sign [National Wildlife Refuge sign], respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.
Wild creatures, like men, must have a place to live. As civilization creates cities, builds highways, and drains marshes, it takes away, little by little, the land that is suitable for wildlife. And as their space for living dwindles, the wildlife populations themselves decline. Refuges resist this trend by saving some areas from encroachment, and by preserving in them, or restoring where necessary, the conditions that wild things need in order to live.
I never realized how special the month of March truly is…of course, much of the nation is caught up in so-called March Madness right now with the end of the regular college basketball season. Now, I like college hoops as much as the next person, but, given my preferences, I would probably rather be in some remote place enjoying wildlife or hiking or just being outside. And it turns out March has been a very important month in our history for people like me, people that enjoy using our public lands of parks and refuges. March 1 was the birthday of Yellowstone National Park, and therefore of the National Park System. March 3 was the birthday of Mt. Mitchell State Park and of the North Carolina State Park System, a former employer of mine, and the caretaker of many of our state’s premier natural landscapes. And I just found out that March 14 is the birthday of the organization that presides over my other favorite group of natural settings – the National Wildlife Refuge System – our refuge system turns 112 years old today. By Executive Order of March l4, l903, President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, along Florida’s central Atlantic coast, as the first unit of the present National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS). I am a huge fan of NWRS as you may have guessed if you follow this blog. My favorite wildlife watching spot in my home state is Pocosin Lakes NWR, and I have shared the wonders and beauty of this wild place with hundreds of people over the years. But our public lands are facing many threats, from budget cutbacks to environmental challenges, and in our age of increasing population and increasing development pressures on our wild lands, the mission of the NWRS is becoming more critical to the wildlife they protect and to our own well-being. In honor of their birthday, I am sharing a few of my favorite images taken at refuge units in recent years. I encourage everyone to get out and visit a refuge (or several) in the coming months. I intend to do just that, so stay tuned. Happy birthday to a very good idea.