With magnifying glass in hand, I peer at the atlas and mutter to myself, "There's one, there's one."
I search for WPA, WMD, WAO, WMA, TNC, SNA, PLO, NWR, NF, NTF, NP, NM -- an alphabet soup of letters that relates directly to the polished and rough-cut diamonds we explore when vacation time arrives.
I make a mental list of these places and consider the number of days available for wandering in reckless abandon. Highlighting each individual combination of letters, I scope out the geographic lay of the land and commence connecting the locations on the map. The dot-to-dot itinerary takes shape and looks promising and impressive.
Excitement grows as I envision the places that will yield the best wildlife watching opportunities. Some are small and unknown, but could provide a unique window into a specific habitat or feature. They might produce novelties such as cryptobiotic soil or the potential to sight a rare bird, animal or plant. Other locations, such as Yellowstone National Park, cover thousands of acres, are well publicized and popular. These places conserve large tracts of land, keeping the integrity and continuity of habitat unspoiled and rich in species diversity.
Time, weather, weariness and prospective offerings will dictate if we drive through the place or spend several days exploring. We tend to like the roads less traveled, the quieter scenes with fewer people because such factors have proven to give rise to our favorite memories of the exquisite and unexpected.
So, what are the letter keys found on maps of the nation and Minnesota? Some, such as NP, NF and NWR are familiar and stand for National Park, National Forest and National Wildlife Refuge. Others, like WMA, SNA and TNC, might be less familiar. They stand for Wildlife Management Area, Scientific and Natural Area and properties of The Nature Conservancy. All are nature-related domains.
March 14, 2003 was the centennial anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System. A visit to their web site rendered much of the following information.
The 100th anniversary of the Refuge System marks a milestone in the history of wildlife conservation in America. I believe NWRs are America's greatest gift to posterity. With over 540 refuges and more than 95 million acres, the System holds the key to protecting ourselves from the havoc we wreak, wittingly and unwittingly.
Whether panning out to a magnificent landscape or zooming in to fill a photographic frame with an iridescent feather, this saga of conservation abounds with both spectacular wildlife and compelling historical figures. The scene opens in 1903 with President Theodore Roosevelt, desperate to protect Florida's last brown pelican rookery from the demand for feathers for ladies' hats, inventing the concept of federal lands for wildlife. This courageous act safeguarded not only the brown pelican, but many of the nation's signature species.
The history of like efforts winds through the major events of the 20th century -- Dust Bowl days, the New Deal, World Wars, Silent Spring and the Space Race -- before reaching the conservation cliffhanger of modern times: the race to secure some viable portion of every ecosystem in the country in the face of relentless urban growth.
Our national assemblage of habitats represents the largest system of wildlife lands in the world. With a refuge in every state, and many within short drives of major cities, it's easy to understand the importance of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
On a regional level, from moose and wolves at Agassiz Refuge in northwestern Minnesota to national champion trees at Mingo Refuge in southern Missouri, the System protects the unique natural heritage of the Midwest. There are 46 refuges in the Midwest. They focus on wetland, prairie, riverine and forest habitat for wildlife. Minnesota has 13 NWRs scattered throughout the state.
In addition, 11 Midwest Wetland Management Districts (WMD) actively acquire (with federal duck stamp funds), restore and manage prairie wetland habitat critical to waterfowl and other wetland birds. These refuges and districts are responsible for over a million acres of land and host 6.5 million visitors, who come to watch wildlife, learn through interpretive programs, hunt, fish or seek simple solitude from everyday life.
To view a magnificent collection of species and habitat on the eve of its 100th birthday, the NWR System prepared a select list of refuge "Greatest Hits" on its web site. It highlights a cross-section of photogenic wildlife spectacles that lend themselves to dramatic feature writing and film making.
If you can't visit the refuges on the Internet, the refuges will honor the century of conservation with a variety of events and activities throughout 2003. Celebrate this truly outstanding legacy by visiting your closest NWR or any of the other alphabet soup spots soon. Maybe, like me, you'll take these delightful jewels into consideration as you plan your next vacation.
For the more information about events or National Wildlife Refuges contact the specific refuge you are interested directly, visit the web site (www.nwf.gov) or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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