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Fish and Wildlife
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Fish and Wildlife

Fish and wildlife outside national parks are relatively recent Interior concerns. An independent Bureau of Fisheries was established in 1871 and later assigned to the Commerce Department, while a Bureau of Biological Survey was established in the Agriculture Department in 1885. Not until 1939 were these bureaus and their functions transferred to Interior, where they were consolidated a year later as the Fish and Wildlife Service. With these transfers the department inherited a system of federal wildlife refuges dating from 1903, when Theodore Roosevelt signed an executive order creating the Pelican Island Reservation on Florida's east coast to protect a pelican colony. Congress lent support to the refuge concept with the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929, authorizing "acquisition by purchase, gift, or lease of areas of land and water to furnish in perpetuity refuges for the adequate protection of migratory waterfowl." This act, which furthered the purpose of international treaties with Canada and Mexico, responded to growing concern about the progressive loss of wildlife habitat as millions of acres of marshland were drained for agriculture and filled for urban development. But it provided no money to purchase and maintain the refuges.

Jay N. "Ding" Darling, prominent political cartoonist for the Des Moines Register and a hunting and wildlife enthusiast, advanced the concept of a federal "duck stamp" to raise the needed funds. His idea came to fruition with the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act of 1934, which required every waterfowl hunter over 15 to purchase an annual revenue stamp. Darling, then chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey, designed the first stamp, depicting a pair of mallards over a marsh pond. Since 1949 the design has been selected in a popular national competition. The program proved highly successful: as of 1987 it had generated more than $313 million to acquire and preserve some 3.7 million acres of refuge wetlands.

In 1936 the Bureau of Fisheries hired a talented and literate young biologist who rose to become editor-in-chief of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Resigning in 1952 to pursue an independent writing career, she produced one of the most influential books of the mid-20th century. Silent Spring, published in 1962, eloquently publicized the devastating effects of DDT and other prevalent pesticides on wildlife. Her message stimulated the banning of DDT in particular and increased sensitivity to human impacts on the environment in general. Few have done more for the modern environmental movement than Rachel Carson.

The Fish and Wildlife Service was reorganized by Congress in 1956 to comprise two entities, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. Commercial Fisheries was absorbed by the Commerce Department's new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1970, and in 1974 the remaining Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife became today's United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This Interior bureau is charged by law with responsibility for migratory birds, endangered species, certain marine mammals, inland sport fisheries, and specific fishery and wildlife research functions. By 1987 it operated 434 national wildlife refuges and 150 waterfowl production areas containing more than 90 million acres, 12 major fish and wildlife laboratories and centers, 36 cooperative research units at universities, 73 national fish hatcheries, and a nationwide network of wildlife law enforcement agents.

The Fish and Wildlife Service permits a broad array of activities on its vast acreage--second only to BLM's in Interior. Although each refuge has a primary purpose in keeping with the bureau's primary mission, such recreational and commercial pursuits as hunting, fishing, timbering, farming, grazing, and oil and gas extraction are compatibly accommodated in many.

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