BREVARD HISTORY: Pelican Island Became First National Wildlife Refuge in 1903

By  //  July 21, 2020

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Roosevelt signed the executive order making Pelican Island the first federal bird reserve

The Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Indian River Lagoon in East Central Florida became the first national wildlife refuge. (Florida Historical Society image)

FLORIDA HISTORICAL SOCIETY – The Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Indian River Lagoon in East Central Florida became the first national wildlife refuge in March 1903.

By the late 1800s Florida’s wildlife populations, specifically birds, were dwindling due to over-hunting for plumes.

Pelican Island, a small three-acre mangrove island, hosted thousands of brown pelicans, spoonbills and other waterfowl that utilized the island as a rookery for their young.

In 1881 a German immigrant named Paul Kroegel moved to the Sebastian River area, 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 Theodore 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.

Kroegel was hired as the first warden overseeing the island.

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