About the Refuge

Scarecrow Island Aerial Photo

Scarecrow Island is part of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve.

About

Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1947 as a breeding ground for migratory birds. This 705-acre refuge is comprised of nine islands in Lakes Michigan and Huron. Gull, Pismire, Hat and Shoe Islands are part of the Beaver Island Archipelago in Lake Michigan and are managed by Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Sugar, Crooked and Scarecrow Islands located in Thunder Bay near Alpena, Michigan and Big and Little Charity Islands located in Saginaw Bay are managed by Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is closed to the public to protect sensitive colonial nesting waterbirds and the federally threatened plant species found on the islands.

The refuge has exceptional value to colonial nesting waterbird conservation in the Upper Great Lakes region and specific islands have been proposed as Important Bird Areas by The Audubon Society. Gull and Scarecrow Islands support nesting colonies of black-crowned night herons, while Hat Island supports one of the largest colonies of Caspian terns in Lake Michigan. Shoe, Pismire and Scarecrow Islands are designated Wilderness Areas.

Of the nine islands that are part of the refuge at least six were likely historically used by indigenous people. Gull Island was known to have a small fishing village with log shanties and wigwams. Big Charity has a historic lighthouse constructed in 1857; however it is not on agency property. Sugar Island has the remains of fish houses and associated sites. Gull Island has a steel navigation tower, the original was torn down and replaced in the 1980s. Other islands have historic and prehistoric sites which have not been studied.

In 2000, Scarecrow Island was designated as part of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve. The designation gives federal protection to more than 100 well-preserved shipwrecks at litter the bottom of Thunder Bay, near Alpena, Michigan.

Timeline

1943 – During World War II Hat Island was bombed for target practice by the U.S. Navy. Pilots trained by dropping dummy and partially charged bombs at targets on the island, pockmarking its surface. To make target practice easier the island was burned and partially covered in tar to reduce its vegetation, but once left to natural processes, trees, other vegetation and wildlife returned.

April 10, 1947 – Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge was established by Public Land Order 365 as a breeding ground for migratory birds. Shoe, Pismire and Scarecrow Islands were the first islands acquired for this refuge.

Aug. 4, 1969 – The U.S. Coast Guard ceded Gull Island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Oct. 23, 1970 – Shoe, Pismire and Scarecrow Islands were designated as Wilderness Areas.

June 15, 1995 – Hat Island was purchased from The Nature Conservancy to preserve colonial waterbird nesting grounds. Caspian terns, herring gulls, great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, ring-billed gulls, double-crested cormorants and common terns have all been recorded nesting on the islands.

1999 – A portion of Big Charity and all of Little Charity Islands were acquired through a Natural Resources Damage Assessment Agreement with General Motors Corporation.

2000 – Scarecrow Island was designated as part of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve. The designation gives federal protection to more than 100 well-preserved shipwrecks that litter the bottom of Thunder Bay, near Alpena, MI.

2011 – Sugar Island was acquired from the Nature Conservancy.

2018 – Crooked Island was purchased.

Mission

The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Purpose

Every national wildlife refuge was created for a special purpose. Some were created to protect migratory birds, others to protect threatened or endangered species or unique habitats, while others fulfill another special purpose. All activities allowed on refuges must be evaluated to make sure each activity will not conflict with the reason the refuge was founded. In the case of Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, all lands are closed to the public due to the sensitive nature of nesting colonial waterbirds and federally threatened plants.

Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1947. The refuge has three main purposes. The first purpose is to serve as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.

The second is to serve as an inviolate sanctuary for migratory birds. The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Act uses money from Duck Stamp sales to purchase refuge lands. Many lands purchased with Duck Stamp funds were defined as inviolate sanctuaries.

The third is for the conservation, management and restoration of the fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Pismire, Shoe and Scarecrow Islands make up the Michigan Islands Wilderness. It is one of 63 refuges within the National Wildlife Refuge System that have wilderness areas. Refuge wilderness areas contribute valuable wetlands, islands and deserts to the National Wilderness Preservation System. 

The Wilderness Act includes this definition: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this act an area of undeveloped federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions...”