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Great Lakes Article:

Wildlife refuge crosses international borders

03/13/2002

By Scott Davis Booth News Service

SAGINAW -- Nearly a century ago, the nation's No. 1 macho huntsman became its biggest environmentalist.

Marksmen were shooting up plume bird habitats in Florida, and President Theodore Roosevelt was worried about the nation's disappearing natural wonders.

"The plume hunters were taking the feathers for hats," said Doug Spencer, manager at the Shiawassee Refuge near Saginaw. "He got very concerned about what was happening in his generation. So much loss."

To stem the tide, Roosevelt designated the nation's first wildlife refuge in 1903 -- a 6-acre site at Pelican Island, Fla.

Since then, the nation has added 93 million acres in all 50 states to the national wildlife refuge program, including one of Michigan's jewels -- the 9,400-acre Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in 1953.

And as local nature lovers prepare to celebrate the national system's 99th birthday Thursday, U.S. and Canadian officials are adding another gem -- an international refuge that extends 15 miles south along the Detroit River from the Rouge River to Monroe.

The venture will involve co-management of existing refuge or protected areas on U.S. and Canadian sides so both countries can better guard the rich diversity of river wildlife, including diving ducks, waterfowl, raptors, eagles, wading birds and great blue herons.

Spencer helps manage the 5,000-acre refuge on the U.S. side from his Shiawassee office. Borders for Canadian protected areas along the Detroit River are not yet formed.

"There has never been an international refuge before. It brings things closer," Spencer said. "We look at the river as a whole. It's just a political boundary."

John Merriman, issues coordinator with Environment Canada, the country's environmental regulatory agency, said he was looking forward to working more closely with his U.S. counterparts.

"It's a common watershed," said Merriman, whose office is in Burlington, Ontario. "Wildlife and fish don't respect political boundaries."

In December, President George W. Bush declared that the Wyandotte National Wildlife Refuge would become part of the new refuge, called the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Trenton, sponsored the legislation.

Merriman said the Canadian government has not formally recognized the area as "international refuge," but that Environment Canada has agreed in principle to take a bi-national approach in managing the river watershed.

On the U.S. side, federal officials want to extend the existing Wyandotte refuge south to Monroe. Other plans call for developing nature bike and hiking trails from the shore into Trenton and Flat Rock, and nature trails parallel to Interstate 75 south to Monroe.

Spencer said officials will meet in coming years with industries along the river to set aside land for the refuge. The entire project may take five to 10 years, he said.

Eventually, Spencer said, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to build a substation at the expanded refuge, staffed by six employees managed out of the Shiawassee refuge.

To commemorate the 99th anniversary of U.S. refuges, the Shiawassee refuge is hosting a display of owls, hawks, vultures and ducks by Joe Rogers, of Wildlife Recovery Associates, at the Greenpoint Environmental Learning Center, 3010 Maple.

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