Saint Clair National Wildlife Area

Flocks of birdsPhoto: © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Saint Clair National Wildlife Area - landscape.

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Saint Clair National Wildlife Area (NWA) is located 19 kilometers (km) west of Chatham, Ontario. It lies within the extensive marsh habitat that exists from Mitchell's Bay to the mouth of the Thames River, along the southeast shore of Lake Saint Clair. Originally established in 1978, the NWA is comprised of two properties: Saint Clair (244 hectares (ha)) and Bear Creek (111 ha). This area is dominated by wetland habitat, with remnant patches of tall-grass prairie. Saint Clair NWA is also listed as a Ramsar wetland, an International Butterfly Reserve, and part of the Eastern Lake St. Clair Important Bird Area (IBA).

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 to mimic natural water-level changes. This area is located at the transition between two major migratory routes: the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways. Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl migrate through the Lake St. Clair region every spring and fall. A large proportion of the eastern population of Tundra Swans passes through the NWA each spring, and puddle ducks, geese and diving ducks use this habitat as a staging area every year during migration. The area also provides important habitat for both common and rare marsh birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and rare prairie plants.

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 and Swamp Rose Mallow.

More information on Saint Clair NWA can be found in the summary table below.

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NWAs are protected and managed according to the Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act. The primary purpose of NWAs is the protection and conservation of wildlife and their habitat. For this purpose, and according to the legislation, Environment and Climate Change Canada can prohibit all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all activities are prohibited. Nonetheless, Environment and Climate Change Canada has the ability to authorize some activities, whether through public notice or the issuance of permits, as long as these are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWAs Management and Activities section.

Access to some portions of the St. Clair NWA is restricted so as to protect wildlife and their habitats from disturbance. Some activities are permitted in accordance with the conservation goals of the NWA management plan. Public notices listing the authorized activities are posted at access points. Public access is limited to designated areas in the St. Clair Unit, which include a hiking trail and wildlife viewing tower that are open to the public year-round for day use only. Fishing and recreational boating are prohibited within the St. Clair Unit. Within the Bear Creek Unit, public access is prohibited, except for water access to the Maxwell and Little Bear Creeks for recreational boating and fishing (no lead sinkers). 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.

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Map of the Area

  • St. Clair NWA boundaries.
Long description for the Map

Map of the area surrounding Chatham, Ontario. The boundaries of St. Clair NWA are indicated. This protected area 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 kms. Permanent water, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. St. Clair NWA can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.

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Summary Table

This table provides summary information for the St. Clair NWA
Protected Area designationNWA

Saint Clair Main Unit: 42°366334' North / -82°405108' West

Bear Creek Unit: 42°533290' North / -82°396169' West

Size351.8 ha
Reason for Creation of protected areaThe 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)1978 - Legal description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management CategoryIV - Habitat/species management area
Additional designations
Keystone or flagship speciesMallard duck, Tundra Swan, Least Bittern, and Fox Snake.
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)20 COSEWIC bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, plant species including Least Bittern, King Rail, Pugnose Shiner, Monarch Butterfly, Queen Snake, Eastern Foxsnake, Swamp Rose Mallow.
Main habitat typeMixedwood Plains Ecozone, Lake Erie Lowland Ecoregion Ecoregion
Invasive speciesCommon Reed (Phragmites australis), Purple Loosestrife, Eurasian Watermilfoil, European Frog-bit, Flowering Rush, Mute Swan and Raccoon.
Additional linksBirds: Canada Goose
Main threats and challengesControlling invasive Common Reed (Phragmites australis), Mute swans, adjacent land use changes.
Management AgencyEnvironment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage

The following public access and authorized activities are allowed in portions of the Saint Clair Unit between sunrise and sunset daily and do not require a permit:

  • Entry to the Saint Clair Unit via the main entrance (Balmoral Line)(Figure 2);
  • Hiking, skiing and snowshoeing (on designated trail along the cross-dyke);
  • Bird and wildlife watching (from road, designated trail, and viewing tower);
  • Photography (from road, designated trail, and viewing tower);
  • Parking within the designated parking lot.

There is no authorized public access to the Bear Creek Unit except by Canada Wildlife Act permit for research and monitoring purposes.

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

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Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto Ontario
M3H 5T4
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

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