MICHIGAN (April 29, 2022) – After years of urbanization and industrialization resulted in a historic loss of wetlands in Michigan’s St. Clair Flats region, Ducks Unlimited, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Audubon Great Lakes are working to revitalize St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area for the benefit of vulnerable species, local communities and outdoor recreationists.
Located at the southern tip of St. Clair County within the St. Clair River delta – the largest freshwater delta in the United States – St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area is recognized as a Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wetland Wonder and an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA) for the sprawling wetland habitat it provides to vulnerable bird species. St. Clair Flats comprises over 25,000 acres, and welcomes thousands of recreational visitors to southeast Michigan each year for waterfowl hunting, boating, canoeing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing.
“A haven for wildlife, St. Clair Flats is a special place to come and experience nature up close.” said John Darling, Wildlife Technician for Michigan DNR.“More than ever, conserving our natural areas calls for all hands on deck. Together, Michigan DNR, Ducks Unlimited and Audubon Great Lakes are working on projects to conserve wetlands, research vulnerable species, and engage communities for the benefit of this important natural area.”
Wetlands filter water, act as flood barriers, and serve as essential habitat for birds and other wildlife. Since the 1990s, Ducks Unlimited and Michigan DNR have partnered to conserve more than 2,600 acres of wetlands at St. Clair Flats for the benefit of migrating waterfowl, and outdoor recreationists. The next phase of the partnership involves replacing water-management infrastructure, which will enable the DNR to better control water levels and improve habitat on 1,500 acres of wetlands on Harsens Island.
“As society develops more and more of our landscape, natural areas such as St. Clair Flats take on an even greater importance for people and wildlife,” said Kali Rush, Michigan Regional Biologist for Ducks Unlimited. “We are proud to work with the DNR and Audubon on public lands that are so close to Metro Detroit and in the middle of a major bird migratory route.”
Organizations are also working to protect the region’s vulnerable species. Audubon Great Lakes, in partnership with the Michigan DNR and Detroit Audubon, has spearheaded an effort to study and protect Black Terns, which have experienced a dramatic population decline in Michigan over the past 50 years. Audubon scientists identified The Detroit River and the St. Clair Flats region as one of the 12 most important coastal wetland regions across the Great Lakes that are most important to conserve or restore for vulnerable marsh birds.
St. Clair flats is home to the current largest colony of Black Terns, which build their nests atop floating vegetation. Wetland restoration work is being done to remove invasive plants that prevent the vulnerable species from successfully nesting. Research is also underway to determine what is causing population declines. To better understand where and how many Black Terns are breeding across the state, Audubon Great Lakes will lead a group of volunteer monitors to scout for Black Terns this spring. Researchers have also used small tracking devices called NanoTags to track Black Tern movements. To pick up signals from the bird’s tiny radio transmitters, researchers built a 20-foot Motus Tower at St. Clair Flats and sites across Michigan.
“Thanks to years of research, we’re getting closer to understanding why we’re seeing such dramatic declines in Black Tern populations. This information is critical to developing conservation strategies to reverse this decline,” said Erin Rowan, Conservation Manager for Audubon Great Lakes who manages the MI Birds program. “Projects like these highlight the critical importance of programs like The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which provides funding for conservation projects across the Great Lakes. Audubon Great Lakes is calling on Congress to fully fund this critically important program for wildlife and people in the region.”
Protecting wildlife and the public lands they rely on is good for the economy. Locally, the town of Algonac and the community on Harsens Island rely on tourism dollars that are brought in by boating and fishing enthusiasts in the summer and waterfowl hunters in the fall. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found that bird watchers across the U.S. spend nearly $41 billion annually on trips and equipment.
Historically, hunters have played an integral role funding state lands conservation across the state. As hunting declines, organizations are reaching out to all Michiganders, encouraging them to engage with and support local public lands. During the COVID-19 pandemic, state public lands saw a rise in participation as residents sought ways to safely recreate. MI Birds, a partnership between Michigan DNR and Audubon Great Lakes, is building on this momentum and connecting birders to public lands through bird walks, public talks on bird conservation, and community science projects.
Members of the public are invited to the St. Clair Flats SWA Spring Open House and Birding Tour, which will take place at St. Clair Flats Wildlife Area, 3857 Columbine St, Harsens Island, MI, 48028, on Saturday, May 7 from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET. Michigan DNR, Ducks Unlimited and Audubon Great Lakes representatives will lead the tour, and share opportunities to get involved.
About Audubon Great Lakes
Audubon Great Lakes is a regional office of National Audubon Society. Learn more at gl.audubon.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive.
About Ducks Unlimited
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.
About Michigan Department of Natural Resources
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. We strive to protect natural and cultural resources, ensure sustainable recreation use and enjoyment, enable strong natural resource-based economies, improve and build strong relationships and partnerships, and foster effective business practices and good governance. Learn more about the Michigan DNR at michigan.gov/dnr.
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