In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt launched what the administration called, “A New Deal for wildlife” . Roosevelt was a life-long bird-watcher and advocate for the protection of forests and wildlife, and he took a keen interest in the subject throughout his time in office.
FDR’s first step was to set up a Committee on Wildlife Restoration in early 1934. The committee’s findings, called the Beck Report, called for drastic action to halt the plummeting numbers of migratory waterfowl across the United States, especially purchasing marginal lands for migratory bird refuges .
The work of assembling new refuges was carried out by the Bureau (formerly Division) of Biological Survey in the Department of Agriculture under director Jay Darling and John Clark Salyer . But money was needed for a massive land acquistion program, most of which would come from the Duck Stamp program.
On March 6, 1934, President Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act (commonly known as the Duck Stamp Act). It required all adult hunters to secure a hunting license from their state and attach a $1 federal Duck Stamp to it. Those stamps have provided hundreds of millions of dollars over the years for the refuge program .
A few days later, FDR signed the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. It required federal agencies working on water resources development, particularly the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers, to mitigate the adverse impacts of their projects in consultation with federal fish and wildlife agencies. It further enabled the formation of new wildlife refuges on lands held by other federal agencies .
With the finances provided by the administration and the Duck Stamp program, the Biological Survey had by mid-1935 purchased 1.5 million acres, which exceeded all prior federal land acquisitions for wildlife refuges. From there, millions more acres were bought and nearly100 refuges created under the New Deal by 1940. Another fifty would be add by the time FDR died in 1945 .
Further additions to the refuge system were carved out of federal lands. Many were taken from the national forests. Others were included in newly-founded grazing districts under the US Grazing Service, created by the Taylor Grazing Act of 1935. Support was also provided to the states for their own refuges and wildlife projects by the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937, which levied a tax on firearms used for hunting .
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) set up dozens of camps in federal wildlife refuges during the New Deal. CCC teams built water control structures, access roads, administrative buildings and trails, picnic and viewing areas for visitors, as the refuges threw open their gates to allow in the general public. The CCC would work in 36 National Wildlife Refuges between 1933 and 1943 .
In July 1940, Roosevelt consolidated all wildlife areas under federal jurisdiction into a single system of National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs). The Bureau of Biological Survey and Bureau of Fisheries were merged into the US Fish & Wildlife Service and moved into the Department of the Interior . Today, the Fish & Wildlife Service administers 560 NWRs covering 150 million acres, plus fish hatcheries, experiment stations, marine reserves and ecological field stations .
Sources: (1) Brinkley, Douglas. 2016. Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America. New York: Harper Books, p 275. (2) Brinkley, pp. 268-280. (3) Brinkley, pp. 292-97 et passim. (4) Brinkley, pp 281-83.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Duck_Stamp. (5) Brinkley, p. 285. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_and_Wildlife_Coordination_Act. (6) Brinkley, pp. 297, Appendix B. (7) Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (16 U.S.C. 669-669; 50 Stat. 917), September 2, 1937. (8) Civilian Conservation Corps, 1938. The CCC and Wildlife. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. (9) Presidential Proclamation 2416, July 25, 1940. (10) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Fish_and_Wildlife_Service.
Check out our new map and guide to the work of the New Deal in Washington, D.C. It includes 500 New Deal sites in the District alone, highlighting 34 notable sites, and includes an inset map of the area around the National Mall which can be used for self-guided walking tours.