Blog: John Hartig

Great rivers can, and literally have, caught fire. This week Dr. John Hartig, refuge manager of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and author of Burning Rivers, explains this phenomenon and writes about those unwilling to let the heritage and wildlife of the Detroit and Rouge River ecosystems go out in flames.

Post 1: What Makes Detroit Wild?


What major urban area:
  • Is located at the intersection of the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways and has 300,000 diving ducks stop each year?
  • Is identified in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan for its unique aquatic habitats?
  • Has been hosting an annual waterfowl festival for the last 64 years that attracts up to 10,000 people to pursue their passion of hunting and wildlife art?
  • Has been declared part of a Regional Shorebird Reserve by the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network?
  • Has one of the top 20 Biodiversity Investment Areas in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem?
  • Is considered one of the best spots to watch hawks in North America?
  • Has 27 exceptional birding sites within a one hour drive?
  • Boasts North America's only International Wildlife Refuge and only International Heritage River System right in their back yard?
  • Has 10 million walleye migrate through their river corridor each spring?
  • Boasts one of the single most remarkable ecological recovery stories in North America, as evidenced by the return of lake whitefish, lake sturgeon, walleye, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and osprey?
  • Hosts international fishing tournaments offering $1.5 million in prize money and holds the national record for a walleye caught in a Professional Walleye Trail Tournament?
  • Has a hunting, fishing, and birding economy worth tens of millions of dollars annually?
  • Holds over 1,000 sail boats races and numerous rowing regattas each year, and is rapidly gaining a regional reputation for kayaking?
  • Has one of the highest densities of registered boats in the nation?
  • Has over a 100-year history of hydroplane racing?
  • Has hundreds of miles of greenway trails for bicycling, jogging, and walking, and was the first in the country to establish a $25 million greenway fund that has leveraged another $90 million from governments and other sources?

By now you should have guessed it.  It is the Detroit metropolitan area and a secret to most that needs to be discovered.  Although cars, sports, music, and even the “"rust belt" are a major part of our national image, we need to discover our world-class water, wildlife, heritage, and recreational opportunities right in our backyard.  

An important part of our story is that the Detroit metropolitan area is rapidly gaining a national reputation for public-private partnerships for cooperative conservation.  Good examples of public-private partnerships for conservation include: DTE Energy's work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on habitat restoration for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge; General Motors Corporation's work with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy on the Detroit RiverWalk; BASF Corporation's work with U.S. and Canadian agencies to build a sturgeon spawning reef off Fighting Island; U.S. Steel's work with federal and state governments on shoreline restoration; and Automotive Components Holdings' and Ford Motor Company's donation of Ford Marsh to the refuge.  Indeed, there are additional examples and new projects in the pipeline.  

These cooperative conservation efforts are recreating gathering places for people and wildlife in the Detroit River watershed.  Further, these unique conservation places are now a key factor in providing the quality of life so important in achieving competitive advantage for communities and businesses in the 21st Century.  Equally important is that cooperative conservation is providing an exceptional outdoor experience to nearly six million people in our Detroit River watershed that is helping develop the next generation of conservationists and sustainability entrepreneurs.  There are indeed many natural resources waiting to be discovered and enjoyed in the Detroit metropolitan area.  If you haven't discovered our wild side, you should.  And you need to help tell this story!