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 4: Happy 10th Birthday, Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge!

In 2000, then Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Herb Grey, U.S. Congressman John Dingell, and the late Peter Stroh charged a group of scientists and managers to define a desired future state for the Detroit River ecosystem. The output of that 2000 visioning workshop was a consensus document titled "A Conservation Vision for the Lower Detroit River Ecosystem." All U.S. and Canadian participants agreed to the following:

In ten years the lower Detroit River ecosystem will be an international conservation region where the health and diversity of wildlife and fish are sustained through protection of existing significant habitats and rehabilitation of degraded ones, and where the resulting ecological, recreational, economic, educational, and "quality of life" benefits are sustained for present and future generations.

This vision was then used by Congressman John Dingell to introduce legislation creating the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge that was signed into law by the President of the United States in 2001.  Canada responded by using a number of existing Canadian laws to work in a similar fashion.  North America’s only international wildlife refuge was born.

This year marks the 10th birthday of our refuge.  In ten years, we have seen:

  • The refuge grow from 300 acres to over 5,700 acres devoted to conservation
  • The preservation of Humbug Marsh, the last mile of natural shoreline on the U.S. mainland of the Detroit River, and its incorporation into the refuge in 2004
  • The designation of Humbug Marsh as a "Wetland of International Importance" under the Ramsar Convention (1,900 Ramsar sites have been designated throughout the world, 29 in the United States, and only one in Michigan)
  • The 2005 documentation of lake whitefish reproduction in the Detroit River for the first time since 1916
  • Our region singled out at the 2005 White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation for leadership in public-private partnerships for cooperative conservation
  • The creation of a ByWays to FlyWays bird driving tour in 2007 that highlights 27 exceptional birding sites in southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario
  • FLW Outdoors host the Chevy Open fishing tournament in 2008 that offered $1.5 million in prize money
  • The 2008 construction of the Fighting Island sturgeon reef that represented the first-ever Canada-U.S. funded fish habitat restoration project in the Great Lakes
  • The 2009 documentation of lake sturgeon reproduction on the Fighting Island reef, representing the first time in 30 years that lake sturgeon reproduction had been confirmed in the Canadian waters of the Detroit River
  • The 2009 documentation of osprey reproduction in Gibraltar, representing the first successful nesting in Wayne County since the 1890s
  •  The 2010 designation of the Detroit River as an "Important Bird Area" by The Audubon Society
  • The 2011 designation of Detroit as one of the top ten metropolitan areas for waterfowl hunting by Ducks Unlimited
  • Restoration of common tern (threatened species in Michigan) habitat at three locations in the Detroit River
  • The daylighting of Monguagon Creek at the Refuge Gateway in Trenton and the restoration of 67 acres of coastal wetlands at the refuge's Brancheau Unit in Monroe County; and
  • The completion of 38 soft shoreline engineering projects in the watershed    

Clearly, much has been accomplished, yet much remains to be done.  The Refuge's Comprehensive Conservation Plan calls for the refuge to grow to 12,000 acres.  The potential on the Canadian side is even greater.  I would not be surprised to see our international wildlife refuge grow to 25,000 acres in the next ten years.  This would be an amazing accomplishment and a gift to future generations.  Can you imagine this major urban area with 25,000 acres devoted to conservation?  These natural resource assets are critically important to: changing the perception of our region from that of the "rust belt" to one of a "green" urban area with exceptional outdoor recreational opportunities; enhancing "quality of life"; providing ecosystem services and benefits that ensure community competitive advantage; and attracting and retaining the next generation of employees for businesses.

Our refuge is now a major source of community pride.  If you haven't experienced your international wildlife refuge, I encourage you to go birding at one of the sites along our Byways to Flyways Bird Driving Tour, come to one of the open houses at Humbug Marsh or the Gibraltar Bay Unit, go kayaking on our Detroit River Heritage Water Trail, go fishing for a trophy walleye, go hunting in one of the most historic waterfowl hunting areas in the Great Lakes, bicycle along our regional greenway trail system, take part in one of the refuge stewardship activities, and much more.  If you are looking for a close-to-home, exceptional, outdoor recreational experience, you will not be disappointed!

Humbug Marsh - Michigan's only "Wetland of International Importance" designated under the Ramsar Convention (photo courtesy of Visual Image Productions)