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Detroit River-Western Lake Erie Basin Indicator Project

INDICATOR: Land Conservation for Wildlife in the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

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Background

Figure 1. Map of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (click the map for a larger version).

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge was established by an Act of Congress on December 21, 2001 (Public Law 107-91). It is the only International Wildlife Refuge in North America and includes islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands along 48 miles of Detroit River and western Lake Erie shoreline. Its location is unique – situated in a major metropolitan area. The authorized acquisition boundary of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge extends from the confluence of the Rouge and Detroit Rivers to the Michigan-Ohio border in the western basin of Lake Erie (Figure 1).

This area has made great progress since the major pollution problems in the 1970s. Over 35 years of pollution prevention and cleanup programs, and conservation initiatives, have resulted in dramatic improvements in environmental quality of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie. These environmental improvements have resulted in one of the most remarkable ecological recoveries in North America. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for building and managing the refuge, and works through conservation partnerships throughout the watershed.

Status and Trends

Conserving remaining sensitive wildlife habitats in and around the Refuge is a high priority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its many partners. To guide this conservation work the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. This CCP articulates management goals and objectives, and strategies, to guide management of the Refuge until 2020. The preferred management approach is to focus on cooperative management – where the Refuge grows primarily through management agreements with industries, government agencies, and other organizations. Partnerships at all levels will be essential to achieve the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the goals of the CCP for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Indeed, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is rapidly gaining a national reputation for its public-private partnerships for conservation.

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge began in 2001 with 304 acres that included Grassy Island and Mamajuda Shoal. Later that year Mud Island was donated to the Refuge by National Steel Corporation (now U.S. Steel Corporation). In 2002 the Refuge expanded to include Calf Island. In 2003 the Refuge signed its first cooperative management agreement with DTE Energy to add Lagoona Beach Unit at Fermi Power Plant and the Brancheau Unit in Monroe, Michigan. In 2004, a milestone year for the Refuge, Humbug Marsh (the last remaining mile of natural shoreline along the U.S. mainland of the Detroit River) was acquired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and protected in perpetuity as part of the Refuge. Also in 2004 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers donated the Strong Unit in Monroe, Michigan. In 2005, cooperative management agreements were signed with Automotive Components Holdings for Eagle Island Marsh Unit and with University of Toledo for Gard Island. In 2006, the Refuge nearly doubled in size with the signing of a cooperative management agreement with The Nature Conservancy for Erie Marsh along the lower portion of western Lake Erie (Figure 1). In total, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge has grown from approximately 304 acres in 2001 to over 5,047 acres in 2007 (Figure 2). The Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge has set a land conservation target of 12,000 acres (i.e., the Service has identified 12,000 acres of marshes, wetlands, islands, shoals, and uplands that could potentially be conserved through acquisitions, easements, and cooperative agreements).

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Management Next Steps

Figure 2. The cumulative growth of acreage in the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, 2001-2007. (table of these data)

Conserving remaining high quality habitats is the top priority of the Refuge. This is particularly important to recognize in a relatively new Refuge with limited staff. Limited staff resources are directed to expanding the Refuge through acquisitions and cooperative management agreements while opportunities still exist.

Managers will also be placing a high priority on further developing public-private partnerships and building capacity through the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance to develop a dedicated group of volunteers. Priority emphasis is also being placed on establishing a similar cooperative management agreement process in Canada to simultaneously increase the Refuge property on the Canadian side of the River.

Research/Monitoring Needs

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge recognizes the need to have strong linkages between science and management. The Refuge is currently managed for continuous improvement, where the state of the resource is assessed, priorities are set, and management actions are taken in an iterative fashion. The Detroit River-Western Lake Erie Indicator Project is a good example of ecosystem assessment. However, much more needs to be done, particularly in establishing a systematic and comprehensive biological program. This biological program needs to include standardized vegetation surveys, waterfowl surveys, colonial waterbird nesting counts, and others, and be complementary to the current research conducted in the Detroit River-Western Lake Erie watershed. In addition, Refuge monitoring and management must be integrated with the Lake Erie Millennium Network, the Lake Erie Lakewide Management Plan, the Detroit River Remedial Action Plan, the Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and others.

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References

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (U.S. FWS). 2005. Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment. pp. 1-65.

Links for more information

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

Michigan Sea Grant, Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, Birdwatching Eco-tourism & Education Project, Michigan Sea Grant and the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance exit EPA

Midwest Natural Resources Group, Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, Building North America's Only International Wildlife Refuge in the Industrial Heartland exit EPA

Contact Information regarding Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge growth

John Hartig, Manager
Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge
E-mail: John_Hartig@fws.gov

Steve Dushane, Assistant Manager
Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge
E-mail: Steve_Dushane@fws.gov

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