Thousands of people traveled to the hamlet of Ninilchik last week to celebrate the centennial of the National Wildlife Refuge System started by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Among them Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Gale Norton, Ninilchik born Lt. Governor Loren Leman, and Teddy Roosevelt look-alike and impersonator Keith McGough from Pennsylvania. From its beginnings at Pelican Island, Florida, in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has played a key role in conserving our nation's wildlife and wild lands. Today Refuges are located in every State and a number of U.S. Territories and possessions. There is a refuge within an hour's driving time of every major metropolitan area in America. "Alaska represents the core of our refuge system," Sec. Norton told those gathered under sunny summer skies. Norton expressed her delight in officially removing the Canada goose from the Endangered Species list, the symbol of the Refuge systems centennial celebration.
The Secretary also presented conservation awards to Unocal Alaska, Marathon Oil Co., and the Kenai River Sportfishing Assoc. She presented Lt. Governor Loren Leman with a woolen trade blanket that symbolized the work Alaska has done to preserve its wild lands. The Lt. Governor presented Secretary Norton with a fresh saltwater caught salmon from his beach site near Deep Creek as a symbol of the bounty of Alaska and to thank the Secretary for visiting Ninilchik. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge manager Robin West presented Norton with a carved moose horn commemorating the former Moose Range and the celebration. The U.S. is the only country in the world that has a national network of lands set aside just for wildlife conservation.
What will the next 100 years hold for the Refuge system? Deputy Refuge Manager Jim Hall dusted off his crystal predicted, "A hundred years from now will show great changes in the Refuge system. Our population dynamics are changing, fuel cell technology is on the horizon and that will change the way we do business from electrical transmission lines to the oil & gas industry and those technological changes will effect the way we manage Refuges in the future."
The huge party went off without a hitch due to the overall effort of the staff and management at the KNWR and was enjoyed by all who attended. According to Refuge Manager Robin West, it was committee system management at its best, "We had a committee for everything from food to entertainment and security. Everyone took a part and did their jobs very well. We're very pleased," said West. In remarks embodying the spirit of President Roosevelt, impersonator Keith McGough told those assembled at the celebration, "The First half of your life is the universe's gift to you and the second half of your life is your gift to the universe. For those of you obviously given much, much indeed is rightfully expected in return. Not only for yourself, your community and family, but for your efforts in conservation."
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