If conservation can be brought into the industrial heartland, it can be done elsewhere.
That’s the essential lesson from Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
The cleanup and recovery of the Detroit River represent one of the single most remarkable ecological recovery stories in North America. Out of the recovery has come the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, one of 14 priority urban wildlife refuges in the country that will bring conservation to cities and make nature part of everyday urban life.
The concept of urban wildlife refuges represents a new model for conservation – one that both restores habitats for fish and wildlife in an urban area through innovative public-private partnerships and provides a blueprint for bringing conservation to new urban audiences.
Detroit River Refuge extends along 48 miles of the lower Detroit River and western Lake Erie, and focuses on conserving, protecting and restoring habitats for 30 species of waterfowl, 113 kinds of fish and more than 300 species of birds. The refuge owns or cooperatively manages 5,834 acres of unique habitats, and partners with entities like Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the City of Windsor and Essex Region Conservation Authority in Ontario, Canada.
Detroit River Refuge has worked with more than 300 public and private organizations and leveraged over $43 million for conservation projects since 2001. Of particular significance is the Friends organization, the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, which has helped raise funds, increase outreach and form partnerships.
As other communities consider how to enhance conservation within their boundaries consider some key lessons:
We need to reconnect people with nature as part of a long-term strategy to inspire individual respect, love and stewardship of the land. This will help foster a more informed citizenry that actively supports and understands the value of conservation.
In addition to his refuge manager role, John Hartig is the author of Bringing Conservation to Cities: Lessons from Building the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, 2014.