Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Tour
This morning, I toured the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and other Detroit area sites along with a busload of Great Lakes advocates—to see how local restoration funding is helping local waters.
All of these sites have benefited by a coalition of funding opportunities, including Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds and those of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
Our first stop was the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. It is the only international wildlife refuge and crosses between the U.S. and Canada over the Detroit River. It was made possible through the advocacy of Congressman John Dingell of Michigan.
We went to the gateway to the wildlife refute, a former brown field where industrial waste had leached into the soil. We were greeted by the refuge manager and the site designer, who explained how to take a former industrial site back to a functioning wetland.
Now, the wetland. Over the last few years work has taken place around the refuge and already benefits to people and wildlife are visible. Nesting birds and habitat for migratory waterfowl and other migratory birds has increased.
Wetlands help prevent agricultural nutrients from entering the Detroit river and the western part of Lake Erie.
Our second stop was Pointe Mouillee, a state game area—one of the best spots for birding anywhere. It gets incredibly diverse shorebirds, songbirds and waterfowl. We saw a night heron rookery where many night herons nest and raise their young.
We learned about ways of controlling phragmites, an invasive water plant that has degraded wetland habitat across the Great Lakes region and areas of the east coast.
Last, we went to the Brancheau restoration at the confluence of Swan Creek and Lake Erie, in the shadow of the Fermi nuclear plant. The restoration is only two years into management. We looked at a large water control structure that allowed refuge staff to manipulate water levels in detailed patterns. Staff can accommodate rain events, seasonal flooding, or seches, which are Lake Erie wind-driven tides. Despite the relative newness of this restoration area, it is already extremely productive in its support for waterfowl.
My take-away from the tour is that even in extremely urban areas and areas that have been significantly impacted by industry, with the right intervention we can bring them back to be extremely successful wetlands.
Even after hundreds of year of other uses, it only take a few years to bring back the water, shelter, food and nesting areas for wildlife. The wetlands at Pointe Mouillee are already filtering nutrients, capturing excess sediment and providing wildlife habitat after only two years.