BREVARD HISTORY: Pelican Island became the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903


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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 has become the premier National Wildlife Refuge. (Image courtesy of the Florida Historical Society)

FLORIDA HISTORIC 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, especially birds, were declining due to overhunting for plumes.

Pelican Island, a small, three-acre mangrove island, was home to thousands of brown pelicans, spoonbills and other waterfowl that used the island as a colony for their young.

In 1881, a German immigrant named Paul Kroegel settled in the Sebastian River area, noticed the unique assemblage of birds, and decided to protect the island himself.

Many famous naturalists, including Frank Chapman, have visited Kroegel and appealed to President Theodore Roosevelt on behalf of Kroegel.

Roosevelt signed the Executive Order making Pelican Island the first Federal Bird Reserve, the forerunner of the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Kroegel was hired as the island’s first warden.

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Betty T. Simpson

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