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Know the West

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: A chronology


Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, Can she save ecosystems?

1885: Congress creates the Section of Economic Ornithology within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and appoints prominent naturalist C. Hart Merriam to head it. Merriam begins an exhaustive survey of the geographic distribution of the nation's birds and mammals.

1892: President Benjamin Harrison creates the Afognak Forest and Fish Culture Reserve in Alaska, the nation's first wildlife refuge.

1903: President Theodore Roosevelt establishes the nation's second wildlife refuge, on Florida's Pelican Island. During his first term he creates 50 more refuges.

1905: Congress creates the Bureau of Biological Survey in recognition of Merriam's work.

1916: Congress ratifies the Migratory Bird Treaty with Canada.

1929: Congress passes the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, authorizing the creation of a nationwide system of refuges to preserve critical habitat for wintering and nesting waterfowl.

1933: President Franklin D. Roosevelt appoints J.N. "Ding" Darling to head the Biological Survey. Darling and his chief of refuges, J. Clark Salyer II, buy up land at Depression-era prices, increasing the size of the refuge system to nearly 14 million acres.

1934: Congress passes the Duck Stamp and Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, providing money for refuge management.

1937: Congress passes the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, also known as Pittman-Robertson, providing money for states from a tax on rifles, ammunition and archery equipment to purchase critical game habitat and conduct wildlife research.

1939: Congress moves the Bureau of Biological Survey to the Interior Department, merges it with the Bureau of Fisheries from the Commerce Department, and names the new agency the Fish and Wildlife Service.

1949: Congress agrees to double the price of duck stamps for federal refuges in exchange for the service's agreement to open the refuges to waterfowl hunting.

1953: Douglas McKay, President Eisenhower's Interior secretary, opens some refuges to oil and gas exploration.

1973: Congress passes the Endangered Species Act, destined to become the nation's most powerful environmental law, and puts the Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of enforcing it.

1980: Congress passes the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, creating nine new wildlife refuges, including the 18 million-acre Arctic Refuge, and expanding seven other units. In all, the law adds 54 million refuge acres in Alaska, tripling the size of the refuge system.

1981: President Reagan appoints James Watt as Interior Secretary. Watt launches a campaign to increase "economic uses' of wildlife refuges.

1990: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the northern spotted owl as a threatened species, setting in motion a national debate over how to weigh the value of species against timber jobs in the Pacific Northwest.

1993: Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt reinvents the National Biological Survey, transferring 1,500 research scientists and support jobs from the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a nationwide inventory of threatened ecosystems.