The Thrill of Victory

The Thrill of Victory

by Don A. Griffin, Friends of the Detroit River

A once in a lifetime gift came to The Friends of the Detroit River (FDR) and other Detroit River advocates in the form of a press release when, on December 21, 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law the “Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Establishment Act.” The law established the first refuge of its kind in North America.

There are more than 500 refuges in our National Wildlife Refuge system, however, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge enjoys the distinction of being the only refuge that is international. When Canada designated the Detroit River as a Canadian Heritage River on July 19, 2001, it complemented the 1998 designation of the Detroit River as one of fourteen American Heritage Rivers. The refuge system is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior, whose scientific studies, surveys, and reports provided evidence FDR used in stalling potential development of Humbug Marsh and Humbug Island, both within the boundaries of the new Refuge.

The collaborative and cooperative efforts of government officials, businessmen, and environmentalists from Canada and the United States were celebrated after the good news about the Refuge. Congressman John Dingell saw me standing behind the reporters and photographers at the celebration. He came over and threw an arm around my shoulders. I congratulated him on his success in steering the refuge bill through Congress. Congressman Dingell’s response was, “Don, you are the one who really caused this to happen . . . you and your other Friends of the Detroit River.”

Shortly after, Congressman Dingell publicly recognized the FDR and numerous other organizations and individuals who had been supportive of the legislation. “There is precious little remaining undeveloped wildlife habitat along the lower Detroit River and there is a great urgency to protect it. Our river is an invaluable resource that is essential to our economy, provides numerous recreational opportunities and is central to our quality of life,” Dingell said. After so many years of suffering the agony of defeat in efforts to preserve wetlands and other natural areas, his personal message coupled with the thrill of victory has increased the vigor and vitality of Friends of the Detroit River. Our board workshops and board meetings are well attended, better planned, more interesting and productive. We also anticipate that all of the events and activities FDR sponsors will be attended by a greater number of enthusiastic participants.

The U.S. Park Service and the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund awarded grants to FDR which assisted us in building our organization, publicizing open hearings, publishing newsletters, and increasing our membership from 35 members to over 500 dues-paying members. Also, because of these grants, we were better able to play an efficient and effective advocacy role, including the sending of timely information to the more than 5,000 interested parties on our mailing list.

FDR is considering establishment of a local Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Association and plans to send representatives to the first annual National Refuge Friends Conference entitled “Celebrate a Century of Conservation” on February 23-25, 2002 in Washington, D.C. FDR will continue to improve the quality of life by preserving all we can of what is left of the natural world.

An informative publication entitled “A Conservation Vision for the Lower Detroit River Ecosystem” has been released. For more information about the publication, the International Wildlife Refuge, or the Greater Detroit American Heritage River Initiative, go to or contact John Hartig, River Navigator, Greater Detroit American Heritage River Initiative, U.S. Coast Guard, 110 Mt. Elliott Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 49207 (e-mail:

If you wish further information about Friends of the Detroit River, please contact: Jeannine Ansley, P.O. Box 3099, Melvindale, MI 48122 or Don A. Griffin at 313-274-8930 (

*For the full text of “The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Establishment Act”, go to: and follow these links: Search: HR1230.EH then Bill and Summary & Status File 3. Text of Legislation.


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