Pelican Island
Centennial Trail at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Credit: Keenan Adams/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Normally, geese fly south for the winter in flocks, returning in the spring and recognizable in their famous “v-formation.” But, there’s a singular goose that you can see flying solo year round in both Maine and Florida. You’ll see the same goose as far out into the Atlantic as the U.S. Virgin Islands and in the Pacific as far as Guam. This goose is in all 50 states and several U.S. territories.

It’s the flying goose emblem that signifies a national wildlife refuge.

The first refuge in today’s National Wildlife Refuge System was signed into being by President Theodore Roosevelt on this day 110 years ago. But while Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida represented the first time land had been set aside as a refuge for a non-marketable species — the brown pelican — there was not yet a larger system for it to be a part of. Though more refuges would be set aside in the coming years, it would be decades until they were brought together under one system.

In 1921, a bill was introduced to establish a refuge system and create a one dollar hunting stamp to help fund it. The bill would be rejected four times until it finally passed in 1929 with the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. By then, however, reference to the hunting stamp had been lost. What’s known today as the duck stamp would have to wait until the 1934 passing of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act. The Duck Stamp Act, as it’s better known, established the system of funding new wildlife refuges through revenue from hunting licenses.

In 1962, another act was passed that changed the National Wildlife Refuge System forever. The Refuge Recreation Act authorized recreational use of refuge lands so long as that recreation wouldn’t interfere with the refuge’s primary purpose of protecting species. The act was enacted largely due to public demand, but it has had positive conservation effects as well, giving more people the opportunity for wildlife- and wilderness-based educational activities, increasing public concern for conservation by bringing more people face to face with nature.

Today, the system includes 520 units and 93 million acres, nearly two thirds of which were added with a single act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980.

At American Forests, we collaborate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through our Global ReLeaf program to help keep our nation’s national wildlife refuges in good health. From our multi-year project in Hawai’i’s Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge during Global ReLeaf’s early years to our recent work reforesting 50 acres of wetlands in Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, we’re doing our part to keep that goose flying.