Transformation of an Industrial Brownfield into an Ecological Buffer for Michigan’s Only Ramsar Wetland of International Importance
The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge spans 77 km along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie, and is the only unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System that is international. A key unit of the refuge is the 166-ha Humbug Marsh that represents the last kilometer of natural shoreline on the U.S. mainland of the river and Michigan’s only “Wetland of International Importance” designated under the 1971 International Ramsar Convention. Adjacent to Humbug Marsh is an 18-ha former industrial manufacturing site (now called the Refuge Gateway) that is being remediated and restored as an ecological buffer for Humbug Marsh and the future home of the refuge’s visitor center. Restoration and redevelopment activities have included: cleanup and capping of contaminated lands; daylighting a creek ( i.e. , deliberately exposing the flow of a creek that was historically placed underground in a culvert) and constructing a retention pond and emergent wetland to treat storm water prior to discharge to the Detroit River; restoring coastal wetland, riparian buffer, and upland habitats; and constructing two roads, hiking/biking trails, and a kayak/canoe landing to offer wildlife-compatible public uses that allow visitors to experience this internationally-recognized natural resource. This project has been described as transformational for the region by restoring an industrial brownfield into high quality wildlife habitat that expands the ecological buffer of a Ramsar site. Specific restoration targets for the site include: achieving a net gain of 6.5 ha of wetlands in a river that has lost 97% of its coastal wetlands to development; restoring 10.1 ha of upland buffer habitat; treating invasive Phragmites along 4 km of shoreline; and treatment of invasive plant species in 20.2 ha of upland habitats in Humbug Marsh. Further, the Refuge Gateway is being restored as a model of environmental sustainability for nearly seven million residents within a 45-minute drive. Key lessons learned include: reach broad-based agreement on a sustainability vision; identify and involve a key champion; establish core project delivery team; ensure up-front involvement of regulatory agencies; recruit and meaningfully involve many partners; expect the unexpected; practice adaptive management; place a priority on sound science-based decision making; ensure decision-making transparency; measure and celebrate successes, including benefits; and place a high priority on education and outreach.
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