St. Clair National Wildlife Area

Notice

St. Clair National Wildlife Area is open to the public for day-use only. Visitors are restricted to using official trails and viewing structures only.

Respect the environment and leave no trace.

Remember, you are responsible for your own safety.

Saint Clair National Wildlife Area (NWA) is located 19 kilometers (km) west of Chatham, Ontario. It lies within the extensive marsh habitat that spreads from Mitchell's Bay to the mouth of the Thames River, along the southeast shore of Lake Saint Clair.

Description

Originally established in 1978, the NWA is comprised of two properties: Saint Clair (244 hectares (ha)) and Bear Creek (113 ha). This area is dominated by wetland habitat, with remnant patches of tall-grass prairie. Saint Clair NWA is listed as a Ramsar wetland, an International Butterfly Reserve, and part of the Eastern Lake St. Clair Important Bird Area (IBA).

St. Clair NWA

Lake St. Clair and adjacent marshes are the most important staging area for waterfowl in Ontario, south of James Bay. The wetlands consist mainly of cattail marsh encircled by constructed dykes that mimic natural water-level changes. This area is located at the transition between two major migratory routes: the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways.

Every year during migration, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, including the tundra swan, pass through this NWA. Puddle ducks, geese and diving ducks also use this habitat as a staging area every year during migration.

This area provides important habitat for both common and rare marsh birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and rare prairie plants.

Least Bittern. Photo: Shawn Meyer

The St. Clair NWA provides habitat to 20 species at risk (endangered, threatened, and special concern), ranging from birds, mammals, fish, insects, reptiles and plants. Some examples of species at risk include:

  • least bittern
  • king rail
  • pugnose shiner
  • monarch
  • queen snake
  • eastern foxsnake
  • swamp rose mallow

Find more information on the Saint Clair NWA in the summary table below.

Management

Under the Canada Wildlife Act, NWAs are protected and managed in accordance with the Wildlife Area Regulations. The primary purpose of NWAs is to protect and conserve wildlife and wildlife habitat. For this purpose and according to the legislation, all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife can be prohibited. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all other activities are prohibited in all NWAs. However, some activities may be authorized through Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations or the issuance of permits as long as they are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWA Management and Activities section.

Access to some portions of the St. Clair NWA is restricted to protect wildlife and their habitats from disturbance. Some activities are permitted in accordance with the conservation goals of the NWA management plan. Any authorized activities are listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations; signage is also posted at access points.

Authorized activities listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations for St.Clair NWA, include:

  1. wildlife viewing on designated roads and trails and in designated areas
  2. hiking at the locations referred to in item 1
  3. operating a vehicle, other than a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle, on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas
  4. boating in the Bear Creek Unit on Bear Creek and on Maxwell Drain
  5. cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas
  6. sport fishing, other than from the shoreline, in accordance with any applicable federal permit and any authorization required by the laws of Ontario for sport fishing in that province

Within the Bear Creek Unit, public access is prohibited, except for boating in the Bear Creek Unit on Bear Creek and on Maxwell Drain. In order to provide undisturbed staging habitat for migratory waterfowl, access to other parts of the NWA is restricted, and all other activities within the NWA require a permit.

More information on access and permitting for Saint Clair NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Map of the area

Long description

This map shows the area surrounding Chatham, Ontario. The boundaries of St. Clair National Wildlife Area are indicated. This NWA is separated into two units. The Bear Creek Unit is located to the north-west of Chatham, between Highway 40 and Lake St. Clair. The St. Clair Unit is located to the west of Chatham near the Lake St. Clair shoreline. The scale on the map is in kilometers. Permanent water, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA’s location in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries.

Summary table

Summary table for St. Clair NWA
Category Information
Protected Area designation National Wildlife Areas
Province/Territory Ontario
Latitude/Longitude
  • Saint Clair Main Unit: 42°366334' North / -82°405108' West
  • Bear Creek Unit: 42°533290' North / -82°396169' West
Size 357 ha
Reason for Creation of protected area The area supports a population of a species or subspecies or a group of species, which is concentrated, for any portion of the year. Most of eastern population of Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) passes through the region in early spring. NWA contains several thousand puddle ducks and geese. The area is rare or unusual wildlife habitat, of a specific type in a biogeographic region. Species at Risk, rare species.
Date created (Gazetted)

Legal description

  • St. Clair Unit: 1978  
  • Bear Creak Unit: 1988
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Habitat/species management area – (IV)
Additional designations
  • St. Clair NWA Ramsar Site – Wetland of International Importance (St. Clair Unit)
  • Eastern Lake St. Clair – globally significant Important Bird Area (includes NWA)
  • St. Clair Marshes Complex – Provincially Significant Wetland (includes NWA) Lake St. Clair Marshes Ontario Life Science – Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (includes NWA)
  • Lake St. Clair Marshes Ontario Life Science – Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (includes NWA)
  • North American Waterfowl Management Plan Lower Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Area of Continental Significance (Eastern Habitat Joint Venture) (includes NWA)
  • Canada–United States St. Clair River Area of Concern (Bear Creek Unit)
Keystone or flagship species
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Mammals:

Birds:

Reptiles:

Invertebrates:

Fish:

Vascular plants:

Main habitat type
  • Mixedwood plains ecozone
  • Lake Erie lowland ecoregion
Invasive species Plants :

  • non-native phragmites/European common reed (Phragmites australis subsp. australis)
  • purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
  • Eurasian watermilfoil
  • frog-bit or European frog-bit
  • curly-leaf pondweed
  • water lettuce
  • flowering rush
  • reed canary grass
  • sow thistle
  • Canada thistle
  • prickly lettuce
  • white mulberry

Animals:

Additional links
Main threats and challenges
  • controlling invasive common reed (Phragmites australis)
  • mute swans
  • adjacent land use changes
Management Agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage Authorized activities listed in Schedule I.1 of the Wildlife Area Regulations for St.Clair NWA, include:

  1. wildlife viewing on designated roads and trails and in designated areas
  2. hiking at the locations referred to in item 1
  3. operating a vehicle, other than a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle, on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas
  4. boating in the Bear Creek Unit on Bear Creek and on Maxwell Drain
  5. cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on designated roads and trails and in designated parking areas
  6. sport fishing, other than from the shoreline, in accordance with any applicable federal permit and any authorization required by the laws of Ontario for sport fishing in that province

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page, any notice posted at the NWA site and the law, the law prevails, as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.

Contact us

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto, ON
M3H 5T4

Toll-free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: enviroinfo@ec.gc.ca

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