Evan B. Jaynes


"Very well then, I So Declare It." This is supposedly what President Theodore Roosevelt said early in 1903 when he was informed that there was not any law that would prevent him from making Pelican Island a federally protected wildlife reserve. Shortly thereafter, on March 14, 1903, Roosevelt issued an executive order that established Pelican Island-a small and seemingly unremarkable piece of land off Florida's Atlantic-facing coast-as the nation's first wildlife sanctuary. Proclaiming that the island be "reserved and set apart for the use of the Department of Agriculture as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds," the action may seem at first to be a noteworthy but ultimately benign act. Land had previously been set aside in the United States for other purposes, such as national parks or as American Indian reservations. But never before had American land been reserved specifically for its wild fauna. The decision to establish small and obscure Pelican Island as the nation's first wildlife refuge can be seen as, in the words of ecologist J. Peyton Doub, a "watershed incident" for conservation in the United States.

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