Dixon Waterfowl Refuge declared a Wetland of International Importance

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has designated the Wetlands Initiative's Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes a Wetland of International Importance, in accordance with the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

USFWS has requested that the Convention officially add the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge to its list of international "Ramsar sites." The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty of 160 member countries adopted in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 to "develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biodiversity and for sustaining human life through the maintenance of their ecosystem components, processes, and benefits/services."

Only 30 sites in the U.S. had previously received the designation, including two in Illinois: the Cache River-Cypress Creek Wetlands and the Upper Mississippi River Floodplain Wetlands. In addition to the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, three other sites in the United States will be added to the list in 2012, including the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge-Emiquon Nature Preserve (also in Illinois), according to USFWS staff.

A great egret flies over the rich restored lake and marsh habitat at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge.

The Dixon Waterfowl Refuge is located on 2,750 acres of former corn and soybean fields along the Illinois River in Putnam County, 40 miles north of Peoria. In 2001, the Wetlands Initiative turned off the drainage pumps to begin restoring the site to native habitats. Today it has been transformed into a rich mosaic of prairie, wetlands, and historic backwater lakes. The refuge now supports outstanding biodiversity with more than 670 native plants and 260 bird species.

The refuge meets six of the nine criteria required to be recognized as a Wetland of International Importance, in that it contains rare wetlands, supports endangered species and threatened ecological communities, regularly supports more than 20,000 waterbirds, and supports significant numbers of both common and extremely rare native fish species.

"Certainly, given its strategic location in the Illinois River Valley and in concert with providing restored wetland habitat that otherwise is absent or severely lacking in the Peoria Pool [...], the international avian response to the wetlands of Hennepin & Hopper has documented its significance and its qualifications for a Wetland of International Importance," wrote Dr. Stephen P. Havera, director emeritus of the Forbes Biological Station, in his letter to USFWS supporting the designation.

Initiative co-founder Al Pyott has been involved in protecting or restoring two of Illinois' Ramsar-designated sites. Pyott was instrumental in securing protection of the Cache River-Cypress Creek Wetlands site in far southern Illinois in 1990 when he was state director of the Nature Conservancy.

In 2001, as president of the Wetlands Initiative, Pyott and co-founder Donald Hey led the Wetlands Initiative to create the Hennepin & Hopper Lakes Restoration Project. Within only a few years, the site had become a major resting, feeding, and breeding ground for migratory waterfowl, prompting the Initiative to dedicate the site as the Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge in 2005.

"There can't be more than a handful of people in the country that have played a central role in the establishment of more than one Ramsar site," said Paul Botts, Initiative executive director. "This designation is not only a great honor for us but a testament to Al's vision and leadership in restoring and protecting Illinois' valuable wetland systems."

The refuge is open to the public daily for hiking, bird-watching, and paddling. A 30-foot-tall observation tower provides an expansive vista of the restored lakes and marsh, while a half-mile boardwalk trail from the boat launch parking lot allows up-close views of unique wetland plants and wildlife. Visit our Refuge visiting page here for more information.

Click here to watch TWI co-founder Al Pyott tell the story of the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge.

About the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

Member countries commit to maintain the "ecological character" of their wetlands designated as "internationally important" through wise use policies and education, to designate new wetlands for the list and ensure their effective management, and to cooperate internationally on matters impacting wetlands or wetland species. The Ramsar Convention is the only global environmental treaty concerning a specific ecosystem type. There are 1,970 designated sites worldwide.

For more information about Ramsar, click here

To see a list of current U.S. Ramsar sites, click here.