Letter to the Editor: On National Wildlife Refuges

6 mins read

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts…There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

I am a board member of the Friends of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, a nonprofit founded in 1987. Our small group supports the refuge and its staff in many ways. The mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

As the summer slowly edges toward the fall season, I’ve been reflecting on how Rachel Carson and other refuges across the country uphold that mission every day. The land and water protected by this refuge offer sanctuary for locals who seek the strength and healing the outdoors offers people and wildlife. Refuges enhance outdoor activities like hunting and fishing, offer opportunities for young people to learn about the outdoors, and protect vital habitat.

The Rachel Carson Refuge is located along the southern Maine coast. It’s named in honor of one of the nation’s foremost biologists. After arriving in Maine in 1946 as an aquatic biologist for the FWS, Rachel Carson became entranced with Maine’s coastal habitat, leading her to write the best-seller The Sea Around Us. This landmark study, combined with her other writings, The Edge of the Sea and Silent Spring, led Carson to become an advocate on behalf of this nation’s vast coastal habitat and the wildlife – and people – that depend on it.

The refuge was established in 1966 to preserve migratory bird habitat along southern Maine’s coastal estuaries. Uniquely, the refuge’s acquisition zone is distributed across 12 towns, villages, and cities, creating many creative municipal partnerships with the federal government. Through these local and state partnerships, the FWS protects approximately 5,600 acres within a 14,800-acre acquisition zone. The FWS brings money into local municipalities through the Land, Water and Conservation Fund (LWCF), which uses revenues generated from offshore energy leases (not taxpayer dollars) to pay for new refuge lands. The FWS also supports infrastructure improvements through its operating budget.

The salt marsh habitat found at Rachel Carson Refuge is rare in Maine, which is better known for its dramatic, rocky coastline. Located along the Atlantic flyway, the refuge serves as an important stopover point for migratory birds, with shorebird migration in the spring and summer, waterfowl concentrations in the winter and early spring, and raptor migrations in the fall. Southern Maine contains a greater diversity of terrestrial vertebrates, threatened and endangered species, and woody plants than any other part of the state. Consisting of meandering tidal creeks, coastal upland, sandy dunes, salt ponds, marsh, and wetlands, the Rachel Carson Refuge provides critical nesting and feeding habitat for the threatened piping plover and a variety of migratory waterfowl.
The rocky offshore ecosystem also serves as a productive lobster nursery, a vital economic industry in Maine.

In Rachel Carson Refuge, there are many places to launch a canoe to explore the coastline for photography, fishing, and hunting. There are trails for hikers, bird watchers and photographers. There’s something for everyone who wants to breathe in the good Maine air. With the new visitor center and headquarters (to be completed in 2025), the refuge staff is training to guide kayak tours up the tidal rivers. Presently there are numerous environmental education programs offered by the staff and the Friends of Rachel Carson NWR.

In Maine, we are lucky to have six National Wildlife Refuges: Aroostook, Sunkhaze Meadows, Moosehorn, Maine Coastal Islands, Umbagog, and Rachel Carson. For recreational information, please inquire at each refuge.

There are many studies that have been published detailing the economic benefits of conserving refuge lands. The direct positive impacts on the local, regional and state economies are plentiful: outdoor tourism, lodging occupancy levels, local business revenue. The list goes on. There are also many other indirect benefits that we may not think about in our day-to-day lives. Take a hike along a rugged mountain path, cross-country ski over open fields, bird watch in a dense forest, canoe on a meandering stream, go hunt and fish in your favorite spot. All these activities enhance our quality of life. All these activities are supported by the FWS and refuges.

Get out on a National Wildlife Refuge this summer and explore your Sense of Wonder!!

Bill Durkin
Belfast, Maine
The Friends of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge


Opinion pieces reflect the views of the individual author, and do not reflect the views of the Daily Bulldog, Mt. Blue TV, or Central Maine Media Alliance. Publication of an opinion piece does not equate to endorsement of the content of the piece.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email