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History of the Refuge

Old Map_Detroit River_Cropped_Portrait

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, including the Detroit River and Western Lake Erie Basin, will be a conservation region where a clean environment fosters the health and diversity of wildlife, fish, and plant resources through protection, creation of new habitats, management, and restoration of natural communities and habitats on public and private lands. Through effective management and partnering, the Refuge will provide outstanding opportunities for "quality of life" benefits as well as ecological, economic, and cultural benefits, for present and future generations. - DRIWR Vision Statement 


The Detroit River is recognized by many people as an asset to local communities and as an important natural resources in its own right. The Detroit River was designed as both an American and Canadian Heritage River, the first such international label in 1998. Today, we value the river for many natural, recreational, and cultural benefits it provides. The river has not always enjoyed such a reputation. The Detroit River and adjacent portions of the western Lake Erie Shoreline have experienced tremendous industrial development within the last 100 years. Widespread pollution, loss of coastal wetlands and environmental degradation in general became a normal course of events as the Detroit region grew in population and industry. However, along with the coming of a new century, a new attitude toward the river has emerged within local communities. 
 
Beginning in 2000, then Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Herb Grey and U.S. Congressman John Dingell charged a group of individuals as well as local, regional, state and federal agencies in the United States and Canada to clearly define a desired future state for the Detroit River Ecosystem. Out of this visioning workshop came a consensus document titled“A Conservation Vision for the Lower Detroit Ecosystem.” All U.S. and Canadian participants in that multi-stakeholder exercise agreed to the following vision statement: 
 
"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 consensus 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. 
 
The authorized Refuge boundary includes island, coastal wetlands, shoals and riverfront lands along 18 miles of the Lower Detroit River. The establishing Act included Mud Island, Grassy Island and Mama Juda Shoal, lands already managed by the Service as part of the 394-acre Wyandotte National Wildlife Refuge, created by Congress in 1961. Wyandotte NWR was established as part of a negotiated agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a 300-acre dredge area surrounding Grassy Island. Mud Island was consequently added to the Wyandotte NWR in January 2001 as a donation from the National Steel Corporation prior to the formation of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
 
Canada’s responded to the new legislation by using a number of existing Canadian laws to work in a similar fashion to grow and manage the refuge, and to work with the United States. All U.S. and Canadian agencies agreed with the concept of the international wildlife refuge and pledged to work collaboratively to achieve the conservation vision.
 
 
 
  Canada_US_Map_Priority Natural Area 
 
 
In September 2012, representatives from Canada and United States gathered on Fighting Island, in LaSalle, Ontario, to sign a collaboration agreement for the Western Lake Erie Watersheds Priority Natural Area Initiative.
 
The Priority Natural Area Initiative is a Canadian response to the U.S. Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and reflects Canada’s commitment to the Canada-U.S. Conservation Vision for the Lower Detroit River Ecosystem that was established in 2001 that called for the establishment of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Last Updated: Feb 06, 2013
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