Wildlife refuge crosses international borders
By Scott Davis Booth News Service
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,
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
the Rouge River
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
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
"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.
"It's a common watershed," said Merriman, whose
office is in Burlington,
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
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
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