One of the few things I knew about Theodore Roosevelt before I came to work here at the Center was his strong conservation ethic that underscored his belief in leaving some of our country’s natural resources to the next generation. I learned this from my father who has great respect for the National Park Service and a memorable ride in Walt Disney World. Hey, I learned it at any rate! But, one of the great things about this job of mine is coming to understand how that legacy was formed. While the story of the Grand Canyon and even his first national refuge at Pelican Island are the most well-known stories, I find the smaller actions, the ones few of us remember now, are more interesting to me.
Today in 1905, Theodore Roosevelt established the first game preserve in the United States by executive proclamation. Wichita Forest and Game Preserve was the nation’s first big-game animal refuge. It was composed of land originally set aside by President William McKinley in 1901 before the opening of the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Indian Reservation. The official establishment coincided with the arrival of fifteen American bison from the New York Zoological Park (now the Bronx Zoo) to the new preserve to establish a herd in the park. The arrival of the bison was the result of a regional movement to protect and augment the diminishing bison population in the state of Oklahoma. In 1906, Roosevelt issued another proclamation on the preserve, adding over 3,500 more acres to the refuge. The park’s name changed to the Wichita Mountains National Forest and Game Preserve in 1907 when all forest reserves were reclassified to national forests.
Today, the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is a 59,020 acre refuge administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It is home to American bison, Rocky Mountain elk, and white-tailed deer who share the mixed grass prairie with more than fifty other mammal, 240 bird, 64 reptile and amphibian, 36 fish and 806 plant species. The park also maintains Texas Longhorn cattle as a historical and cultural legacy species of the area. Throughout its history, the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge has maintained the original goals set forth by Theodore Roosevelt; a piece of the historic landscape and ecosystem of the southwestern mountains of Oklahoma has been preserved for generations of Americans to enjoy.
Perhaps the most famous conservation portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, taken at Glacier Point, Yosemite, 1903. Detail from stereograph, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division
O’Dell, Larry. “Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.” Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/W/WI003.html
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge official home page. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/oklahoma/wichitamountains/index.html