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West Sister Island
National Wildlife Refuge

black-crowned night heron among cattails

Lake Erie, OH   
E-mail: westsisterisland@fws.gov
Phone Number: 419-898-0014
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Black-crowned night herons are just some of the residents of the rookery on West Sister Island.
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West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge

West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge is located in the western basin of Lake Erie. It is jointly owned by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Staff at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge manage the island as a wilderness area, as provided under the Federal Wilderness Act. West Sister Island is Ohio's only Wilderness Area.

In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established West Sister Island "as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife...," and it was specifically designated to protect the largest wading bird nesting colony on the U.S. Great Lakes. To protect this vital nesting area, public access is permitted for research only.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Most of the island is covered with trees. Tall hackberry trees make up most of the canopy, with an understory of poison ivy 12 feet tall.

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West Sister Island took its place in history during the War of 1812. It was here, on September 10, 1813, that Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry sent the immortal message to General William Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie: "We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop."

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The refuge is closed to public use to protect nesting birds.

Recreation and Education Opportunities
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Management Activities
The management focus on the refuge is to provide nesting habitat for the largest heron/egret rookery in the U.S. Great Lakes. The island is managed as a Federal wilderness area. Surveys are conducted during the nesting season to determine nesting success and population trends for the egrets and herons. Various other surveys are conducted on the island before and after the critical nesting period.

A pilot habitat program designed to create nesting habitat for black-crowned night herons started in 1997. This consists of cutting one acre of trees each season to allow for re-sprouting and growth. This has provided a shrub layer for the nesting black-crowned night herons.