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St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, a migrate bird sanctuary on the Florida Gulf

St. Vincent National Wildlife Refugee
Posted at 6:30 AM, Apr 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-18 12:22:00-04

ST. VINCENT, Fla. (WTXL) — Along the Forgotten Coast, different islands give us a peek into the beauty of the Gulf while telling a story of the area.

Just a quick boat ride away lies a remote island, with more than 12,000 acres of undeveloped paradise.

"If you think about the core premise of a wilderness is, ya know, a place that is untrampled by humans," Deputy Refuge Manager for St. Vincent NWR John Stark said. "This island is about as close as you can get to that in a coastal Florida area."

Stark said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bought the island for $2.2 million in 1968.

"Birds were the primary purpose for the refugee to be established," Stark said.

St. Vincent Island will be established as a stopping point for neotropical migratory birds as they make the journey to Canada in the Spring and South America in the fall.

Stark said about 300 species of birds pass through at different times of the year.

Before it was a bird sanctuary, the island was owned by several different people through the centuries, with one of the most famous being Dr. Raymond Vaugh Pierce.

Pierce bought the island in 1907 and then constructed a residential complex on the island in 1908.

However, Pierce was more known for the animals he brought to the island.

"Right now, there are sambur deer, which is actually not a deer it's an elk, but it's called sambur deer," Stark said. "These animals were brought from Asia, such that they can be hunted on the island [by Pierce]. The ownership is passed to us, but the sambur deer remain."

In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented an island propagation site on St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge to aid in red wolf recovery. The role of this site is to maintain a wild breeding pair to propagate pups in a somewhat controlled, but natural environment.

This will provide them with experience in the wild as juveniles for the purpose of being strategically translocated into the North Carolina Nonessential Experimental Population (NC NEP) when they reach the age of dispersal at around one and a half to two years old.

The ability to translocate wild red wolves from St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge into the NC NEP is a vital component of the Red Wolf Recovery Program. There are currently four red wolves on St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge.

"They're one of the most endangered species in the world," Stark said.

Right now, there are only 300 left in the world, with more than 90 percent of them in zoos.

As hundreds of people take boat rides and enjoy the beaches, Stark said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife wants to keep the place as natural as possible, so it doesn't lose its beauty.

"If you go down to the edge of the beach, there is about a 10-mile stretch where there is not one house, and oftentimes you are the only person you'll see on the whole stretch," Stark said. "This is as close to untrampled as you can get in Florida right now. I encourage people to come to the island, but we're trying to figure out ways to do that, that is not harmful."

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