The Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is located in northwestern Ohio along Lake Erie's shore. Historically, this region of the state was apart of what was known as the Great Black Swamp, notably covering an area larger than the state of Connecticut. However, with the advent of human settlement, it was slowly drained to make way for roads, houses, industry, and agricultural development ("Wetland History"). In 1961, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge was established to ensure that some of this–now scarce–critical habitat area was preserved for the migratory birds, waterfowl, and threatened and endangered species that rely on it. Since its establishment, the refuge has been labeled a Globally Important Bird Area and garnered a reputation for being a prime location for bird watching in the Great Lakes region ("About the Refuge").
Wetland Habitat: Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Though the refuge is recognized for its high quality wetland, grassland, and forested habitat, it was not entirely untouched by development. Prior to its establishment patches of coastal wetland habitat throughout were drained or altered, and until recently, were in need of restoration (Lewis, 2012). In 2011, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, and NOAA to restore 585 acres of critical migratory bird habitat within the refuge ("Considering Climate in Western Lake Erie Habitat Restoration"). By embarking in this partnership these organizations, are helping to ensure that bird populations continue to not only thrive but also grow within the region. Restorations of this nature have had proven impacts on the bird populations within the region (State of the Birds, 2011), many of which rely on the refuge for critical nesting or stop over habitat including the Bald Eagle, Dunlin, and multiple species of Warbler ("Wildlife & Habitat"). Targeted wetland habitat restorations on public lands have been called the "model for conservation" and have facilitated wide spread increases in wetland-dependant bird populations since the 1930s (State of the Birds, 2011).
That said, it must be noted that wildlife alone will not reap the benefits of the aforementioned habitat restoration, surrounding communities also have much to gain from this investment. Along the shore of Lake Erie in Ohio, bird watching in protected areas like the Ottawa National Wildlife refuge has been shown to generate an estimated $26 million dollars in revenue and 283 jobs annually (Xie, 2012). An exemplar of "birders" commitment to this hobby can be observed each spring during the organized "Biggest Week in American Birding." In this week alone, more than 75,000 people from across the globe travel to northwestern Ohio to participate in social events, learn from fellow birders, and watch the spring bird migrations in the fondly dubbed "Warbler capital of the world" ("$26 million into economy – Birding's 'big week' moves to Maumee Bay State Park"). The Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is one of four protected areas in northwestern Ohio that is highlighted during this event ("Biggest Week in American Birding"). Going forward, climate smart habitat restoration should be considered not only for what they contribute to sustaining wildlife populations but also for the secondary economic benefits that can result in the region.
Image Gallery Photo Credit: 1-2. The Nature Conservancy, 3. Ethan Kistler - The Biggest Week in American Birding, 4. The Biggest Week in American Birding, 5. The Biggest Week in American Birding,