Monday, July 27, 2015

Lessons Learned from the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge by John Hartig


The Refuge's new LEED-certified Visitor Center is
 being built adjacent to Michigan's only Ramsar
 Wetland of International Importance - Humbug Marsh.
Photo credit : Jerry Jourdan
I like to think of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge as a tapestry. A tapestry is a form of textile art traditionally woven on a vertical loom and most often proudly displayed in a prominent location of a home. Individual colored threads, each unique and beautiful in their own right, are woven together to produce an exceptional piece of art more beautiful and much stronger than imagined with just the individual threads. The Refuge is like an ecological tapestry made up of numerous species and habitats that when woven together are more beautiful and much stronger than imagined with just the individual species and habitats. Much like a textile tapestry is a source of pride in the home, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge tapestry has become a source of pride in southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario.

There is no scientific doubt that this Refuge would truly be unique in its own right, because of its plethora and diversity of fish and wildlife, if it were not situated in the industrial heartland and a nearly seven-million person urban area.  But it is, and just like a rose that grows surrounded by concrete and steel is more remarkable than one that grows in a horticulturist’s garden, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is more remarkable because it is being built in the industrial heartland and within a major urban area.

Refuge celebrates completion of environmental education
 shelter in Humbug Marsh. Photo credit: D. Mitchell
The story is truly a compelling one – that cooperative conservation is helping re-create gathering places for people and wildlife along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.  These unique conservation places are now a key factor in providing the quality of life demanded by competitive communities and businesses in the 21st Century.  Equally important is that cooperative conservation is helping provide an exceptional outdoor recreational and conservation experience to nearly seven million people in the watershed.  That, in turn, is helping develop the next generation of conservationists and sustainability entrepreneurs. 

Over 200 Detroit High School Students participate
 in Sturgeon Day on the Detroit RiverWalk
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
If conservation can be brought into the industrial heartland and this major urban area through the work of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, it can be done in other urban areas.  Key lessons from building the Refuge include:

·                     Establish a compelling vision;

·                     Practice adaptive management;

·                     Build partnerships at all levels;

·                     Develop an ecosystem ethic through broad-based education, outreach, and stewardship;

·                     Connect people with nature;

·                     Build a record of success and celebrate it frequently;

·                     Quantify benefits;

·                     Involve the public in all actions to develop a sense of place and instill local responsibility               for stewardship;

·                     Recruit and train individuals to be urban change agents and facilitators; and

·                     Recruit a high-profile champion.

 
Urban conservation work is not easy and not for the faint of heart.  It is frequently underappreciated.  However, it is so important, much needed, and can be very rewarding. 

What lessons can you share from other successful urban conservation programs and what needs to be done to share these lessons within our growing urban wildlife conservation family? 

[Editor's Note:  See the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Urban Wildlife Conservation program site]





Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Compelling Citizen Science by John Hartig



John Hartig
Aldo Leopold is considered by many the father of wildlife conservation in America and an influential leader in wilderness preservation.  Clearly, if he were alive today he would be a strong proponent of the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program and its efforts to bring conservation to cities as part of a strategy to help develop the next generation of conservationists in urban areas because that is now where 80% of U.S. citizens live.  Leopold understood that conservation issues were not narrow and restricted, but multidimensional, requiring an integration of science, history, and culture to solve problems and achieve sustainable natural resource outcomes.  If you believe in citizen science and the important role it can play in bringing conservation to cities, then this Leopold quote will resonate with you:
 
“We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, or otherwise have faith in.”

This quote provides much food for thought, particularly if you want to be part of the movement to make nature part of everyday urban life. 
 
In the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge we have been championing citizen science as an important tool in bringing conservation to cities.  The Refuge was established in 2001 as the only international one in North America and one of only a few truly urban refuges.  It is now one of the 14 priority urban refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The goal of the Refuge is two-fold: to help restore and conserve continentally-significant fish and wildlife populations and their requisite habitats along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie; and to make nature part of everyday urban life to help develop the next generation of conservationists.
 
Citizens Help Undertake Detroit River Hawk Watch at one
of the three best places to watch raptor migrations in the U.S. 
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
To help develop the next generation of conservationists, a priority has been placed on reconnecting people with nature through compelling citizen science. Good examples of involving citizens in observing and understanding nature, and contributing to conservation in our Refuge, include: DetroitRiver Hawk Watch in one of the three best places to watch raptor migrations in the U.S., marsh bird monitoring, Christmas Bird Counts, common tern restoration and monitoring, habitat restoration and enhancement work through our Refuge Stewardship Crew, and soft shoreline engineering at over 50 sites in the watershed. And all of this citizen science is being done in a refuge with nearly seven million people in a 45-minute drive. 
 
 
 
Citizen scientists help restore common tern habitat
 along the Detroit River. 
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The value and benefits of this work include: developing a personal connection to the places citizens work and study; gaining an understanding of environmental and natural resource problems, challenges, and needs; learning about scientific methods and how science contributes to management; becoming involved in environmental and natural resource management decisions; building the capacity of governments, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholder groups to fulfill their environmental and natural resource missions; and improving scientific literacy and developing a stewardship ethic.  Achieving these benefits has required effective citizen science project planning and implementation that: ensures measurable results; expands knowledge; provides meaningful experiences for volunteers; and ensure that volunteers have fun. 
 
Refuge's stewardship crew removes invasive
 buckthorn from Humbug Marsh
Photo credit: International Wildlife Refuge Alliance
 
 
 
 
What role does citizen science play in bringing conservation to your city and what creative citizen science efforts have you used or been involved in?
 
 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Becoming Part of the Community Fabric by John Hartig

The Detroit RiverWalk provides a new waterfront
porch for people and wildlife in downtown Detroit
Photo credit: SmithGroupJJR
Clearly, much needs to be done to reconnect urbanites to their land/ecosystem through compelling outdoor experiences.  Compelling outdoor experiences can lead to thinking fresh about city dwellers’ relationships to their land/ecosystem.  Thinking fresh can then lead to development of a stewardship ethic that can inspire urbanites to live differently.  Living inspired by a land/ecosystem ethic gives hope.  One of our goals of conservation organizations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should be to make sure that their programs and staff become part of the community fabric.  As Aldo Leopold noted, we must learn to love and respect the land, our ecosystem, and the place we call home. 

It is abundantly clear that urban refuges and other urban conservation places have the unique proximal natural resources to help urbanites experience nature as the supporting fabric of their everyday lives.  Whether it’s hiking, fishing, hunting, birding, learning through environmental education, photography, natural resource interpretation, or just plain exploring in the woods, urban refuges and urban conservation areas have what educators, city planners, developers, business leaders, and parents want – unique natural resources that can enhance quality of life, contribute to ecosystem health and healthful living, and nourish our sense of wonder, imagination, and curiosity.   And in the case of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, these natural resources can be seen, enjoyed, and studied in the shadows of industries and skyscrapers, providing a foretaste of sustainable development.   

1910 breakwater at Elizabeth Park
 before restoration
Photo credit: Wayne County  


Elizabeth Park shoreline after restoration
 using soft shoreline engineering - Photo Credit: USFWS 

We need unique urban conservation places, whether they be urban refuges, urban conservation areas, urban state parks, metroparks, city parks, conservancy lands, or other natural areas, or some combination of these urban conservation places, that can make nature experiences part of everyday urban life.  It was indeed quite prophetic that the great American author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, while watching civilization expand into the countryside during his lifetime (1817-1862), recommended that every town should have a forest  of 500-1,000 acres to be used for conservation instruction and outdoor recreation.  There is no doubt that unique urban conservation places will undoubtedly be part of every successful sustainable city in the future.


A few examples of how the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is becoming part of the community fabric include:
  • Refuge staff serving on the Board of Directors of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy that is building, stewarding, and programming a 5.5-mile Detroit RiverWalk in downtown Detroit – one of the largest urban waterfront redevelopment projects in the United States;
  • Being a consistent long-term supporter of well-attended community events like the Point Mouillee Waterfowl Festival that attracts up to 10,000 people each year, Hawk Fest that attracts over 4,000 people each year, and Detroit River Days that attracts over 100,000 people each year;
  • Being a supporter and champion for working beyond refuge boundaries by promoting soft shoreline engineering at over 50 locations in the watershed, creating new waterfront porches for both people and wildlife; and
  • Being a partner in regional efforts like the Detroit Heritage River Water Trail for kayaking and canoeing, the southeast Michigan greenway trail network, and the ByWays to FlyWays bird driving tour for southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario.

Indeed, there are more examples, but the point is that we need to find ways and means of becoming part of the community fabric.  To become part of the community fabric will not only require becoming involved, but staying involved for long periods of time.  Frequently, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees are encouraged to move every several years to gain experiences elsewhere and foster consistency across the National WildlifeRefuge System.  This is important, but it we are serious about becoming part of the community fabric to help make nature part of everyday urban life, then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other conservation organizations will have to recognize that relationships are critically important in urban conservation work and that there are clear advantages to encouraging employees to “put down roots” in one area to become part of the community fabric.

What creative tools and techniques are you using or have you seen that will help conservationists become part of the community fabric?