The Detroit River is a 51 km (32 mile) international connecting channel linking Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie. The Detroit River is one of 42 Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin ecosystem where a remedial action plan (RAP) is being developed and implemented to restore beneficial uses. The Detroit River RAP identifies "loss of fish and wildlife habitat" as one of the impaired beneficial uses. Significant loss of Detroit River wetlands and other habitats has occurred as a result of conversion of land to agriculture practices, urban development, and industrial growth. For example, 97% of the coastal wetlands on the U.S. mainland of the Detroit River have been lost to development, and the remaining 3% are threatened by development pressures. Further loss of habitat due to contaminated sediment is also documented.
On March 4, 1998, the University of Windsor's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, the Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, and other partners convened a binational conference, entitled "Rehabilitating and Conserving Detroit River Habitats".
The primary objective of the conference was to share success stories of habitat rehabilitation and conservation from both sides of the Detroit River. Secondary objectives were to:
The conference was a major success, attracting over 170 participants. Presentations describing successful habitat rehabilitation and conservation projects were well received. The conference not only highlighted Detroit River success stories, but it also allowed stakeholders to learn what steps are necessary to move forward on habitat rehabilitation and conservation projects, and of the need to recruit 'new champions' to this field.
Major conclusions of the conference included recognition that:
Conference participants recognized the urgent need for "champions" - credible individuals or groups willing to propose, publicize and implement specific habitat projects and conservation efforts. In addition, a high profile must be sustained for Detroit River habitat rehabilitation and conservation, and for related environmental issues.
The Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, its partners and conference cosponsors all recognize the important role of the transfer of scientific knowledge, and of the need to couple research with management and public issues. They pledge to convene similar conferences and public meetings in the future to promote and sustain open dialogue.