Cooperatove Conservation Project

Detroit River Conservation Partnerships

Location: Midwest/Northern High Plains Region: Michigan

Project Summary: A community comes together to address heavily polluted river corridors, while restoring wildlife habitat and preserving recreational uses.
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Detroit River holds holds international fishing tournaments, boasting the National record for the Professional Walleye Trail.
Resource Challenge

The Detroit River connects the Upper and Lower Great Lakes, forming a partial boundary between the United States and Canada.  Flowing through one of the Nation’s most heavily industrialized areas, the river corridor has lost 97 percent of its original coastal wetlands.  Despite long-standing neglect, it supports 117 species of fish, millions of migratory birds, recreation and other uses. 

Historically, the Detroit River was a gathering place for wildlife, Native Americans, and European settlers. But over time, the river began to suffer from pollution and other negative impacts of industrialization. For many, that’s the image that takes precedence over visions of glistening water and wildlife. But that image is no longer reality. Now, the River is once again a gathering place for wildlife and families. It is being recognized as an asset in enhancing the quality of life, an attribute essential to providing competitive advantage to communities and businesses in the 21st Century.

Examples of Key Partners
USDI Fish and Wildlife Service, Greater Detroit American Heritage Rivers, Downriver Linked Greenways, DTE Energy, MI Sea Grant, Environment Canada, Metropolitan Affairs Coalition, Trust for Public Land, Friends of the Detroit River, City of Woodhaven, and many others.
Results and Accomplishments
 • Created a $25 million Greenways endowment.

• Humbug Marsh and Island, once slated for development, are now part of the International Wildlife Refuge.

• The initiative leveraged more than $43 million, a 25:1 return on investment.

• The City of Detroit and General Motors Corporation raised more than $500 million for riverfront redevelopment, including the Detroit River Walk and Michigan’s first urban state park.

• Business leaders, environmentalists, foundations, and local citizens created partnerships for a regional system of greenway trails, with $125 million worth of trails and associated improvements constructed to date.

• BASF transformed its 1,200-acre Fighting Island from a brine-disposal site to a wildlife sanctuary, earning Wildlife Habitat Council certification.

• DTE Energy signed the first cooperative management agreement with the Refuge for 656 acres, helped champion greenways and planted more than 23 million trees.

• Ford Motor Company spent $2 billion to rebuild its Rouge Plant using “green design” principles.

• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers donated 168 acres of coastal wetlands.

• Daimler-Chrysler Corporation contributed $1.5 million towards the acquisition of land for a Refuge Gateway and visitor center.


Named an American Heritage River in 1998, the Detroit River became the first International Heritage River and center of the first international wildlife refuge.

Project Contact
John Hartig
Refuge Manager
Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge



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