Wildlife refuges bask in national celebration
Federal wildlife refuges across Michigan are celebrating the outdoors and raising public awareness of their initiatives during this year’s National Wildlife Refuge Week.
Coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge System maintains about 150 million acres in 558 refuges across the country.
The national celebration starts today and runs through this week.
Michigan has three main refuges: Seney in the Upper Peninsula, Shiawassee near Saginaw Bay and Detroit River in Southeast Michigan. The state also has several wildlife and wetland management areas.
To commemorate the week, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge will host stewardship days, buckthorn and invasive species removal and open houses, refuge Manager John Hartig said.
The refuge runs along both sides of the Detroit River in Ontario and Southeast Michigan and is the only international wildlife refuge in the United States.
The upcoming activities are a means of spreading the word about new initiatives and projects the refuge has taken on, such as brownfield restoration projects and cleanups, as well as its amenities, Hartig said.
“Not everyone knows we have a national wildlife system, and some don’t know just how much they have to offer,” he said. “Especially in an urban area, these refuges can give a quality outdoor experience for people without them having to travel for hours.”
Since the onset of industrialism, the Detroit River has lost about 97 percent of its wetlands, so one main goal of the
refuge is to keep what’s left in prime condition, Hartig said.
Currently the refuge is restoring 16 acres of former industrial property adjacent to the wetlands and working with local businesses and communities to rebuild the natural areas near the river.
“We’ve worked on 46 different projects in the watershed in the past 10 years,” Hartig said. “We put a lot of effort in to make it better, so people can better enjoy it.”
Maggie O’Connell, chief of visitor services and outreach for Fisheries and Wildlife’s Midwest Region, said the week is a major tool in putting the refuges in the spotlight at one of the most beautiful times of the year.
“We’re always trying to get more people to know that we’re here, and refuge week is a time to invite people to explore the refuges,” she said.
Mark Vaniman, refuge manager for Seney, said the vehicle-accessible portion of the refuge will remain open a week longer in honor of the national celebration. The refuge normally closes most vehicle access during the winter due to heavy snowfall, but the extra week allows visitors an extra dose of Michigan’s fall colors before winter comes, Vaniman said.
Vaniman said the week is an easy way to promote the refuge, and Seney officials took full advantage, using social media and advertising to get the message out.
“We don’t have as much name recognition as the state park services, but we are a large agency dedicated to preserving and protecting wildlife,” he said. “National Wildlife Refuge Week is a great way to promote the brand and build support.”