Strange Sanctuary

Old Factories Offer New Hope for Wildlife

Visitors are flocking to see the new life emerging in brown industrial lands now morphing into vibrant ecosystems as nature reclaims idle factories, mines, docks, landfills, rail spurs, warehouses and parking lots. The unfolding rehabilitation is getting help from the likes of Julie Craves, a research supervisor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, who monitors eight vacant properties that the Ford Motor Company has remade as wildlife habitat.

Not every industrial site within the 48-mile-long Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge will be reclaimed. But, says Craves, “I have come to really love this juxtaposition of the hyper-urban with resilient nature.” She notes how strategic plantings have attracted songbirds and raptors. More than 300 species of migratory birds rest, nest and feed here.

Spurred by a need to manage thousands of idle acres, corporations like BP, Gulf Oil, Bridgestone and U.S. Steel have undertaken similar projects. One of the more unlikely is Denver’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. When the arsenal, which produced nerve gas and other chemical weapons for the U.S. Army, closed in 1992, its 27 square miles were one of the nation’s most poisonous landscapes. Today, “We’ve restored the habitat back to short-grass prairie, the way it looked in the late 1800s,” says Sherry James, visitor services manager for the refuge. The star of the new staging area is a self-sustaining, growing bison herd.


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