Breton National Wildlife Refuge
Breton National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is the second oldest reserve in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Refuge was established in 1904, in southeastern Louisiana on the Breton Islands and Chandeleur Islands. Because the Refuge is located in the Gulf of Mexico, it is only accessible by boat.
During the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt learned that birds and their eggs on Breton and Chandeleur Islands were being destroyed and over-harvested. This information led Roosevelt to create the Breton Island Reservation to protect these birds and other species and give them a safe home and breeding grounds. In 1915, Roosevelt visited the islands after his presidency had ended, and it was the only refuge he ever went to. In 1938, the name of the reserve was changed to the Breton National Wildlife Refuge.
Breton and Chandeleur Islands have been home to many things over the years, such as a lighthouse station (destroyed during Hurricane Katrina), a small fishing village, a quarantine station, and an oil production facility. In 1915, a settlement consisting of a school and several families was located on the island. The settlement was evacuated prior to a hurricane that year and was subsequently destroyed, never being rebuilt. All the manmade structures were eventually destroyed by nature, and the islands are only home to the birds now. The Breton Wildlife Refuge is a favorite place of birdwatchers, artists, and fisherman.
Breton Island is part of the Plaquemines Parish, and the Chandeleur Islands are part of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Remnants of the former St. Bernard Delta, which was active about 2,000 years ago, make up the barrier islands of the Refuge. The islands are constantly changing shape and size due to the wind, tides, and tropical storms. The elevations of the NWR range from sea level to 19 ft above mean sea level. Early literature says that the Breton and Chandeleur Islands had lots of trees and even higher elevation than what exists today.
On January 3, 1975, all of the federally owned lands in Breton NWR, with the exception of North Breton Island, became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. North Breton Island was excluded from the system due to the fact that an oil facility was located there. According to the Clean Air Act, the Breton Wilderness Refuge is listed as a Class I Prevention of Significant Deterioration Area.
The Refuge is home to colonies of wading birds, seabirds, wintering shorebirds, and waterfowl. There are 23 species of seabirds and shorebirds that frequently visit the Refuge, and another 13 species nesting on various islands. You can expect to find nesting birds such as laughing gulls, Sandwich terns, and brown pelicans, among others.
During June 2005, Tropical Storm Arlene moved through the Gulf of Mexico and washed over the islands. Many of the juvenile pelicans were unable to escape the storm, and many eggs were left in their nests. An oil spill also washed directly into the nesting areas, and many of the pelicans became covered in oil. While some of the pelicans were rescued, nursed back to health, and later returned to the island, there were many more that did not survive.
Now, the wildlife seems to be recovering, with more than 2,000 brown pelican nests being reported on the Refuge in 2007.