Seney National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. The wild land that today is the refuge has not always appeared so wild. This is a land that was once heavily logged, burned, ditched, drained and cultivated. Despite repeated attempts, the soils and harsh conditions of this country would not provide a hospitable environment for sustained settlement and agriculture. So, nature claimed it once again. What was viewed as a loss by early 20th century entrepreneurs became a huge gain for the wildlife, natural resources and the people of Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula.
Seney National Wildlife Refuge is in the east-central portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, halfway between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The 95,238-acre refuge encompasses the 25,150-acre Seney Wilderness Area, which contains the Strangmoor Bog.
The Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge is located nearly 80 miles away from the headquarters. This 53-acre tract is renowned for its concentrations of birds during migration. Each year thousands of raptors, passerines and waterbirds funnel through the point, stopping here to replenish energy reserves before or after venturing across Lake Superior. The area is recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area for birds migrating between the US and Canada.
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.
Everywas 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. Refuges are special places where wildlife comes first. All activities allowed on refuges must be evaluated to make sure each activity will not conflict with the reason the refuge was founded.
Seney National Wildlife Refuge was founded in 1935. The refuge has three main purposes. The first purpose is to serve as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. Initially, the goal of the refuge was to transform the refuge’s portion of the Greater Manistique Swamp into a series of pools where Canada geese and ducks would breed. The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration started this work with the refuge staff in the 1930s and 1940s. Pool construction, which involved building a series of levees and water control structures which flooded nearly 6,200-acres of land, continued into the 1950s. However, the breeding population of ducks on the refuge never reached the size early managers hoped for, so the pool construction was stopped. Today these pools serve as a breeding ground for common loons, trumpeter swans, Canada geese, bald eagles and osprey.
The second purpose is to serve as an inviolate sanctuary for migratory birds. The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Act used money from Duck Stamp sales to purchase refuge lands. Many lands purchased with Duck Stamp funds were defined as inviolate sanctuaries. These lands, under most circumstances, must be at least partially closed to migratory bird hunting to allow birds a place of refuge and protection where they cannot be harmed.
The third purpose 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.
Dec. 10, 1935 – The Seney Migratory Bird Refuge was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.
Jan. 1936 – Three hundred flightless Canada geese were brought to the refuge in an effort to reintroduce geese to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and help establish a breeding population on the refuge.
Sept. 2, 1937 – Seney Migratory Bird Refuge was renamed to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in a mass renaming effort of more than 150 previously established refuges. The official notice is in Vol. 5 Number 147 of the Federal Register published July 30, 1940.
1936 – Late 1950s – Refuge pools were constructed by building water control structures and a series of levees from one pine island to another then flooded. Pine islands are naturally high points on the refuge dominated by red and white pine trees.
1937 – 1942 – The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration help build the newly formed refuge. They helped build roads and levees, water control structures, bridges and buildings as well as map the refuge, restore habitat and conduct wildlife surveys.
1944 – 1945 – The Civilian Conservation Corps camp was repurposed as a Conscientious Objectors Camp for people who refused to join military during World War II.
1947 – Refuge Manager, C.S. Johnson hired Elizabeth Losey the first female research biologist in the history of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
1954 – The Society of American Forests Natural Areas were formally recognized. These untouched pockets of forest are the benchmarks of what our forests would have looked like if they had not been logged.
May 30, 1965 – The visitor center was dedicated.
Oct. 23, 1970 – The 25,150-acre Seney Wilderness Area was established.
1973 – The 10,262-acre Strangmoor Bogwas established to mark its importance as a rare geological feature.
July 30, 1976 – Lightening ignited the Walsh Ditch Fire occurred which burned over 100 mi2 on refuge and state lands.
1988 – 1990 – Sandhill cranes were hand reared on the refuge in an effort to prove researchers could raise and release Whooping Cranes into the wild to help the endangered species. Although the Seney National Wildlife Refuge was not selected as the home for the Whooping Crane Project, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge has that honor, the techniques developed here.
May 16, 1991 – Ten trumpeter swans were released onto the refuge in an effort to help repopulate the Michigan swan population. Since then the numbers of swans on the refuge have grown to 200 – 250 swans and they have begun nesting off the refuge.
1998 – The Whitefish Point Unit was added to the refuge.
2012 – 1,000 feet of Lake Superior shoreline were added to the Whitefish Point Unit.
Other Facilities in this Complex
Seney National Wildlife Refuge is a complex of refuges. The refuge’s staff manages the other refuges throughout northern Michigan including Harbor Island and Huron National Wildlife Refuges. It shares management of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge with Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. It also manages the Kirtland’s Warbler Wildlife Management Area.