In 1904, the Sportsman’s Paradise gained a presidential ally in Theodore Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt was known as an avid outdoorsman, but it was with a swash of his pen — not with a blast of his hunting rifle — that America’s conservation president made his most significant mark on Louisiana’s ecology. Hearing that several bird species were being hunted to near-extinction for their plumage in coastal nesting grounds, Roosevelt in 1904 signed an executive order establishing the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. It was the first such refuge in the state and only the second in the country, after Florida’s Pelican Island.
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages more than 560 national wildlife refuges, including 24 in Louisiana, as well as thousands of wetlands and other special management areas, all set aside to protect the country’s wildlife, fish and plants.
- In 1915, six years after leaving the White House, Roosevelt visited Breton National Wildlife Refuge. It was the only time he ever visited one of the refuges he created.
- Among the year-round residents of Breton Sound is the brown pelican — the Louisiana state bird — which as recently as the 1970s was considered seriously endangered. In 2009, the brown pelican was delisted, marking a victory for conservation efforts.
- Continued coastal erosion is a serious threat to the refuge. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina delivered a crippling blow to the Chandeleur Islands, which are part of the refuge. Among the storm’s casualties was the Chandeleur Light, a lighthouse built in 1896 and which was added in 1986 to the National Register of Historic Places.
- Much of Roosevelt’s 1915 trip to Breton Sound was captured on film, with footage being edited into a 15-minute silent conservation film titled “Roosevelt: Friend of the Birds,” produced by Caroline Gentry for the Roosevelt Memorial Association.
- New Orleans’ Roosevelt Hotel — previously the Grunewald — was renamed to honor Theodore Roosevelt in 1923.
- Roosevelt previously visited the Gulf South in 1902, on a bear-hunting expedition that birthed the popular stuffed toy named after him: the Teddy bear.
- The Chandeleur Islands were named after the Christian Feast of Candlemas (La fete de la Chandeleur) in 1700 by explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville.
- The Chandeleur Islands are designated by the federal government as a “critical habitat” for the piping plover, an endangered sea bird that visits the refuge in fall, winter and spring.
Louisiana’s bounty of fish and game has earned it the nickname “the Sportsman’s Paradise.” But, as Roosevelt well knew, it wouldn’t be a paradise for long without efforts to preserve it for future generations. In a 1916 article for Scribner’s Magazine about his visit to the Louisiana coast, Roosevelt wrote, “To lose the chance to see frigate-birds soaring in circles above the storm, or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach — why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time.”