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Published: Wednesday, 4/19/2006

Habitats for wildlife paying off

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE Converting corporate lands to wildlife habitat is nothing new. But an effort organized by the Detroit office of the Wildlife Habitat Council has been paying great dividends, organizers say.

In 10 years, the council s Huron River to Lake Erie project has helped convert more than 30 corporate properties to protected habitats, including at least three in Monroe County.

DTE Energy Co. s Fermi 2 and Monroe Power Plant properties have a combined 1,450 acres of protected wetlands, while the Automotive Components Holdings plant near Sterling State Park has contributed 240 acres of wetlands to the mix an area known as Eagle Island Marsh. Even though the properties are corporate-owned, they are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through an agreement organized by the Habitat Council.

The concept is based on a basic idea, organizers say.

Some companies own vacant land in rural areas that is not in use for whatever reason. We help them make it useful for wildlife, said Martha Gruelle, who directs the project for the Habitat Council.

We have embraced it pretty strongly, said DTE spokesman John Austerberry. A lot of our properties not being used provide buffer zones around our facilities. We have chosen to take steps to restore those sorts of properties to wildlife habitats.

Ms. Gruelle said the project s focus is evolving.

We re changing the scope, she said. Formally, we were working just in the St. Clair River area. But in the last few months we ve been hooking up the St. Clair River people with the Detroit River and western Lake Erie groups. We have a new committee that met in February. We re committed to expanding the wildlife habitat in this area.

The Wildlife Council also is working closely with organizers of the growing Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Eagle Island Marsh, for instance, has become a part of the wildlife refuge.

Goals are as varied as the properties. For instance, at the Ford River Rouge plant a stream protection program was set in place in which native plants were planted along the river shore to help clean up the chemical runoffs from farm fields before they reach the stream, Ms. Gruelle said.

Migratory bird flyways and restoring nesting habitats is another area of focus.

DTE officials say there have been numerous successes on their properties in the seven years they have been involved in the habitat program.

A pair of American bald eagles nest on the Fermi 2 property. The American lotus, an endangered plant, flourishes at both the Fermi 2 and Monroe Power Plant sites. A pair of rare Peregrine falcons, one of the world s fastest birds, was spotted at the power plant site 10 years ago. Since then, they have multiplied to 15, according to Roberta Urbani, a DTE environmental planner.

That illustrates that our properties are very hospitable to wildlife, she said. As development continues [in the area] our property pretty much has become the remaining habitat for some of these species.

Ms. Gruelle said one of the best parts of the program is the frequent participation of company employees, community volunteers, and students. For example, DTE has formed a relationship with a children s education center in Bolles Harbor.

We have kids coming in to observe the bald eagles, Ms. Urbani said.

Ms. Gruelle said public education is a major part of the program. An atlas published by the Habitat Council in 2002 detailing the area s wildlife and plantlife proved so popular a reprint is in the works.

The focus remains to continue to persuade companies to contribute their vacant lands to the effort.

Having two habitats beside each other is twice as good, so we re looking at companies near existing parks or other habitats, Ms. Gruelle said .

Contact George Tanber at gtanber@theblade.comor 734-241-3610.



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