The Pelican Island National Wildlife became the first national refuge

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14 Mar 1903

1903 – The Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Indian River Lagoon in East Central Florida became the first national refuge on this date. By the late 1800’s Florida’s wildlife populations, specifically bird populations were dwindling due to overhunting for plumes. Pelican Island, a small 3-acre mangrove island, hosted thousands of brown pelicans, spoonbills, and other waterfowl utilized the island as a rookery for their young. In 1881, a German immigrant by the name of Paul Kroegel moved to the Sebastian River area and noticed the unique assemblage of birds and decided to protect the island himself. Many famous naturalists including Frank Chapman visited Kroegel and they appealed to President Roosevelt on Kroegel’s behalf. Roosevelt signed the executive order making Pelican Island the first federal bird reserve, the forerunner to the national wildlife refuge system. Paul Kroegel was hired as the first national wildlife manager overseeing the island.   


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