May 27, 2011

Where to go bird watching this weekend – the local National Wildlife Refuge

In the late 1800s the U.S. Government along with numerous independent groups began selecting and protecting lands across the country in the name of preservation. Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872, Afognak Island, Alaska in 1892 was proclaimed a "fish cultural and forest reserve" under the Forest Reserves Act to protect the breeding Fur seals on the island (“protected” for future fur harvest). In 1903 President Teddy Roosevelt declared Pelican Island, Florida as the first “bird reservation” and today it’s considered the first National Wildlife Refuge. The idea of preserving these special areas for breeding, migrating, and congregating animals was in the interest of the appreciative naturalist as well as the hunter, fisherman, and biologist and today the National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) retain this seemingly incongruous purpose. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, hunting and fishing are permitted on many refuges but careful monitoring as well financial support from hunting and fishing licenses support these pockets of wild space hopefully long into the future.

NWRs are not always rolling mountain ranges or huge tracts of open land, in fact on the east coast they are often small pockets of water, flood plain, marsh, and field protected for their important role in waterfowl migration. A look at the national map of NWRs depicts this role in the the concentration of refuges along the four major “flyways” of the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, the Rocky Mountains, and the Mississippi River Valley.

Refuges are denoted by the “flying goose” sign and are well worth a visit as they comprise diverse habitats and often remnant examples of a lost landscape. To find your nearest refuge please visit the Fish and Wildlife website.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact:

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