More than 100 people—including area residents, local officials, long-time Initiative supporters, and first-time guests—attended the Ramsar event August 8th to celebrate the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge's recognition as a Wetland of International Importance.
Under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, member countries agree to designate and conserve their most ecologically significant wetlands. Wetland areas must meet strict criteria to be added to the official list of "Ramsar Sites."
The Dixon Refuge is one of only 34 sites in the United States to have received the prestigious designation. The Emiquon Complex near Havana, Illinois, managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), was also designated this year. The Refuge and Emiquon are among very few Ramsar Sites worldwide that consist of restored, rather than preserved, wetlands. Because both sites are also along the same river system, the Initiative collaborated with TNC and USFWS to plan simultaneous events August 8th with guests attending at both Emiquon and the Dixon Refuge.
Speakers at the Refuge dedication included Marc Miller, Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and Kim Connolly, Chair of the U.S. National Ramsar Committee.
"Today's news is great news for those who treasure the environmental diversity of the Prairie State and of the Illinois River Watershed," said Miller. "The Ramsar designations for Emiquon and for the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge show how innovation in wetland restoration has put Illinois on the international map. Transforming a former drained wetland that used to be row cropped has put us in the forefront."
"This has been a subject of debate, and I think we've put the critics to rest here."
Unfortunately, the simulcast link intended to connect the Refuge with other speakers participating in the event at Emiquon experienced technical difficulties. However, a video produced by TNC with input from the Initiative and USFWS was shown at both sites on the significance of these two Ramsar wetlands on the Illinois River.
The Refuge event's Lead Sponsor was Mackie Consultants, with Ameren Illinois and North Central Bank as additional contributors. In a surprise "late-breaking news" moment, Dynegy Hennepin Power Station representatives were on hand and presented the Wetlands Initiative with a $10,000 check to help cover construction costs for the Refuge's new tower-to-dock boardwalk trail.
"We're really proud to have this area here in our backyard, and we'd like to thank the Initiative for everything they've done to make this into a really nice thing we can share with our communities," said Ted Lindenbusch, Dynegy Plant Manager.
Many local leaders from the surrounding communities were also in attendance to show their support for the Refuge, including Duane Calbow, Chairman of the Putnam County Board; Kevin Coleman, Mayor of Hennepin; Dave Donini, Mayor of Henry; and Terry Judd, President of the Hennepin Business and Betterment Association.
After the speakers, Initiative co-founder and chairman emeritus Al Pyott led the crowd in a champagne toast.
"Your attendance here today is on par with what this recognition means to us," said Pyott. "Without your help, without your participation, without your support, we wouldn't be here today."
Guests then had their choice of six activities to further explore the Refuge. Each activity, which ranged from a guided dragonfly walk to a demonstration with live fish, represented one of the six "Ramsar criteria" the Refuge met.
Thanks to everyone who attended to help us celebrate this historic recognition!