Paul Kroegel (1864-1948) was born January 9, 1864 in Chemnitz, Germany. By age seventeen he had moved to Florida an area rich in bird life and early conservationists. Kroegel had a hard childhood and was resolved to work for things he considered important, such as wildlife conservation. Kroegel settled in Sebastian, Florida and had ample opportunity to view the slaughter of numerous birds including the brown pelican. Although initially he had no authority to protect the brown pelicans on the small island opposite his home he did his unofficial best as a citizen warden of sorts. He tried to position his sailboat and 5'6'' frame between the faster boats of gunners. He wore a big hat and carried a double-barreled 10 gauge shotgun to make his point. Kroegel did his best to distance market hunters from the island and was given assistance in this by Frank Chapman founder of Bird-Lore and a prominent figure in both the Audubon Society and the American Ornithologists' Union. Chapman helped convince Theodore Roosevelt to sign an executive order on March 14, 1903 to the effect: "It is hereby ordered that Pelican Island in Indian River. . . is hereby, reserved and set apart for the use of the Department of Agriculture as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds." It was the first segment of what eventually became the National Wildlife Refuge System. Kroegel was commissioned to be Warden of the Island and paid a dollar a month by the federal government and $7 a month by the Audubon societies to protect the birds. Roosevelt had set up the early refuges by executive order but this did not mean Congress had to appropriate any money to guard them. Kroegel was forced to supplement his minuscule salary with boat building and farming. One of Warden Kroegel's first duties was to erect a large sign on the small island stating "U.S. Reservation--Keep Off". Unfortunately the sign scared off the sensitive birds and he later took it down. Kroegel also planted the U.S. flag on a 50 foot flagpole so everyone could see this had become federal property. He loosely defined the boundaries of the bird reservation as the surrounding waters within gun range. Kroegel defended his avians assiduously but he could not control the birds nesting habits. After a brutal hurricane in 1910 many of the Pelicans moved to a nearby island. The lack of birds and a thrifty postwar government caused Kroegel to be retired in 1919, thereby giving him another first, the first agency employee to suffer mandatory retirement. He remained in the area protecting the remaining birds and died in Sebastian, Florida in 1948.
Through his caring for coastal habitats and birds, Paul Kroegel convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to designate Pelican Island as a bird sanctuary and the nation’s first national wildlife refuge. Kroegel as its ‘warden,’ or voluntary protector, was the first in a long line of refuge managers.