national wildlife refuges

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

The area to the west of Key West is one of the country's oldest national wildlife refuges. And now all of its islands are under federal protection.

Ballast Key was developer David Wolkowsky's special retreat, a privately owned island 8 miles west of Key West.

It was the only private land within the boundaries of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Teddy Roosevelt created that refuge in 1908.

Peter Haden / WLRN

In South Florida, they all have alligators. But there are some key differences between national wildlife refuges, national parks and national preserves. Here’s a snapshot:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

  Key deer were almost hunted to extinction. By 1950, as few as 25-50 of the animals were left.

But the creation of the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key and protection under the Endangered Species Act have led to a comeback. The most recent population study estimates the herd at 900 to 1,000.

"They are truly one of the success stories of conservation," said Adam Emerick, a refuge biologist who gave an update on the Key deer to the Monroe County Commission this week.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

Boaters from the Lower Keys often escape to the nearby islands of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge was created in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect birds from plume hunters. Several of the islands have beaches that are attractive to boaters — and to nesting sea turtles and shorebirds.