Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, located in Cameron and Vermilion parishes in southwest Louisiana, has long been managed as a haven for wildlife, avian and fish species.
Try 100 years.
The refuge, managed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), is 70,000 acres of coastal land fronting the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll find many species of animals on the refuge from alligators to waterfowl.
It’s a serene coastal wetland bordering the Gulf of Mexico for 26.5 miles and extending inland to the Grand Chenier ridge, a stranded beach ridge six miles from the Gulf. It’s flat, mostly treeless and perfect for hungry ducks and geese thanks to the organic soils that produce copious amounts of waterfowl food.
But the name wildlife refuge barely scratches the surface when considering this unique Louisiana treasure. There is so much more to tell, to see and to learn from it. LDWF tried to do just that, celebrating the 100 th anniversary of Rockefeller on Wednesday (Oct. 23, 2019). LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet and other department personnel told the story of Rockefeller during a celebration event held Wednesday that included tours of the refuge for those attending.
“Rockefeller is certainly a place that you would conjure in your mind when you think of a Louisiana refuge. But it is so much more than that,’’ Montoucet said. “It is best described as a giant outdoor laboratory. The work done here by our dedicated staff along with all the research performed in the last century truly makes Rockefeller the special place that it is.’’
The Rockefellers of New York and Edward Avery McIlhenny, whose family created and produces the famous Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce, were the driving forces behind Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge. Previously, McIlhenny helped develop State Wildlife Refuge in Vermilion Parish and Marsh Island Wildlife Refuge in neighboring Iberia Parish.
After helping to acquire those two refuges in the early 1910s, McIlhenny, who died in 1949, and Charles Willis Ward, another conservationist whom McIlhenny met in a Louisiana bait shop, began work to purchase 86,000 acres in western Vermilion and eastern Cameron parishes that would become Rockefeller. They bought the land for $212,500 (which translates to about $5.3 million today) through the Rockefeller Foundation in 1914.
On Dec. 18, 1919, the property was donated to the state hence the 100-year celebration of Rockefeller.
When McIlhenny donated Rockefeller to the state he had put in writing in the deed of donation several terms, including the property had to be maintained as a wildlife refuge, boundaries had to be posted, enforcement agents had to protect the area, no hunting or fishing and the refuge staff had to study and manage the property for wildlife. Recreational fishing is now permitted on the site, however, hunting remains prohibited.
Though the top priority for McIlhenny when he created the refuge was waterfowl, there is so much more being done now on Rockefeller.
The refuge houses more than ducks and geese. Some of the common resident animals on the property include furbearing animals like nutria, muskrat, mink and otter. There is an abundance of freshwater and estuarine fish species like largemouth bass, redfish, speckled trout and black drum.
Shrimp can also be recreationally fished on Rockefeller. You’ll also find white-tailed deer and alligators.
In fact, the research done at Rockefeller in the 1950s, 60s and 70s helped in understanding the American alligator life cycle and assisted in the removal of the species from the Endangered Species List.
“The information gathered by LDWF biologists and researchers here was so useful for so many different reasons,’’ said LDWF Program Manager Scooter Trosclair, who oversees Rockefeller. “We’ve done research that has been used in bringing back the alligator as well as how to build water control structures and impoundments for waterfowl.’’
One of the impediments facing the LDWF Rockefeller team has been coastal land loss through the years. When Louisiana took over the property, it measured about 86,000 acres. Today that number stands at about 70,000 acres. Research has been done at Rockefeller in the building of water control structures and other barriers to coastal land loss, such as rock weirs, in an effort to stop extensive land loss.
For more information on Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge go to https://www.rwrefuge.com/.