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Milestones in Conservation

A look back at some of the most influential people and events in conservation history
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National Wildlife Refuge System—1903

Early conservation champions, led by President Theodore Roosevelt, recognized the need to protect habitat in addition to regulating wildlife harvests. As president, Roosevelt took the first federal action to set aside land specifically for the sake of wildlife. In March 1903, he signed an executive order declaring Pelican Island, a five-acre mangrove swamp near Sebastian, Florida, as the first federal bird reservation. He established more than 50 such reservations that were the building blocks of what would become the National Wildlife Refuge System. Today, this system of public land includes more than 550 refuges and 38 wetland management districts, encompassing more than 150 million acres. DU projects have been completed on many national wildlife refuges. These projects not only provide important habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, but many are also open to the public for hunting and other forms of outdoor recreation.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act—1918

Another conservation milestone of the early 20th century was the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. The act established which species of migratory birds could legally be hunted and designated the federal governments of the United States and Canada as the primary authorities for regulating migratory bird harvests. This treaty also clearly established waterfowl as an internationally shared resource—a principle that profoundly influenced many of DU's founders.

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