President Theodore Roosevelt set aside tiny Pelican Island as a bird haven on March 14, 1903, ordering the first federal land dedication to wildlife and thus creating the National Wildlife Refuge System. Pelican Island Wilderness and National Wildlife Refuge is comprised primarily of water in the wide lagoon of the Indian River. Human development near the shoreline currently threatens the fragile but highly productive waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to acquire an insulating buffer zone along the eastern boundary.
Fifteen threatened and endangered species live here, including manatees. A huge natural supply of fish provide food for wading birds that nest in the area. Other nesting birds crowded onto the island include brown pelicans, common egrets, snowy egrets, reddish egrets, great blue herons, little blue herons, tricolored herons, black-crowned night herons, white ibis, glossy ibis, double-crested cormorants, anhingas, and oyster catchers. This Wilderness is one of the smallest units in the National Wilderness Preservation System and is closed to the public.
Closed Wilderness Area
Ten of the National Wilderness Preservation System's 803 wilderness areas are closed to access and use by the general public. Most of these closed areas are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The core mission of the Service's National Wildlife Refuge System is conservation of native fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. The Pelican Island Wilderness, part of the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, is closed to visitation to protect wildlife and other natural, cultural, and/or other resources consistent with the conservation purpose(s) of the refuge. Wilderness designation provides an additional level of protection for the wilderness portion of this refuge, but does not open the area to public access or use.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.