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Saving Buffalo Reef

Buffalo Reef is a 2,200-acre natural cobble feature beneath the waters of Lake Superior, located off the eastern edge of the Keweenaw Peninsula, about 20 miles northeast of Houghton. The reef is vitally important for lake trout and lake whitefish spawning.

Buffalo Reef Project Area Map

What's happening there?

Stamp sands - waste product from copper ore milling operations at the community of Gay - threaten to cover the reef.

Since milling operations at the Mohawk and Wolverine mines ended in 1932, lake currents and winds have shifted, cut away and drifted the stamp sands south about 5 miles to Buffalo Reef and Grand Traverse Harbor. Today, 1,426 acres of shoreline and lake bottom are covered by stamp sands.

Why is that a problem?

Modeling predicts that by 2025, 60 percent of Buffalo Reef no longer will be viable for lake trout and lake whitefish spawning, creating a huge threat to these fisheries and the outdoor recreation and commercial fishing industries they support. Additionally, if the stamp sands migrate south of Grand Traverse Harbor, they will threaten the undisturbed native sand that serves as habitat for juvenile whitefish.

What can you do?

Efforts are under way to save the reef. The public is a key partner in this work with state and federal governmental agencies, Native American tribes, scientists, universities and industry. Find out more about how you can get involved.

Saving Buffalo Reef

Buffalo Reef Restoration

Committee & Upcoming Meetings

  • In 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to provide $3.1 million requested by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to dredge in a natural trough area north of Buffalo Reef in summer 2019.

    The dredging is intended to buy five to seven years for the multi-entity Buffalo Reef Task Force, which was created by the EPA to develop a long-term management plan to protect the reef, Grand Traverse Bay Harbor and associated resources including lake trout and lake whitefish spawning and rearing areas.

    A steering committee was named for the task force, including Stephanie Swart, lake coordinator, Office of the Great Lakes, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy in Lansing, Michigan; Evelyn Ravindran, natural resources director, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in L'Anse, Michigan; and Tony Friona, liaison to the Great Lakes for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center in Buffalo, New York.

    In early 2018, the committee organized a public meeting in Lake Linden and a meeting of scientists at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, to organize efforts to save Buffalo Reef. More meetings have taken place since. See Upcoming Meetings and Events for the latest public outreach.

    See the Task Force timeline


    Stephanie Swart, 517-284-5046

    Lake Coordinator

    Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, Office of the Great Lakes

    Lansing, Michigan


    Carl Platz, 616-842-5510, ext 25521

    Great Lakes Program Manager

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

    Great Lakes and Ohio River Division


    Evelyn Ravindran, 906-524-5757, ext. 11

    Natural Resources Director

    Keweenaw Bay Indian Community

    L’Anse, Michigan



  • The Buffalo Reef Task Force had planned summer 2020 meetings to update the public on the latest developments. Those open house forums were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the task force released an update newsletter for the public in August, which is available on this website.


There have been previous efforts to dredge the Grand Traverse Bay Harbor and Traverse River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the harbor in 2003 and 2009. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources dredged the harbor channel in summer 2017, but a fierce October storm filled the harbor channel back in. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided $3.1 million for new dredging work. This project should buy the Buffalo Reef task force five to seven years to formulate a long-term plan to save the reef. In September 2019, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractor completed dredging of Grand Traverse Harbor and an area of beach and Lake Superior north of the harbor. In October 2019, Michigan DNR’s contractor removed a 30-foot-high cliff (175,000 cubic yards of stamp sands) from the water’s edge at Gay. This cliff, composed of tailings from the Mohawk Mill, was eroding an average of 26 feet of material per year into Lake Superior.

Native American Connections to Buffalo Reef 

Native American tribes have strong connections to Lake Superior, Keweenaw and Grand Traverse bays and the fishing resources available there.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, as well as other member tribes of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, have a vital interest in preserving Buffalo Reef, which provides many important economic, scientific and natural resource benefits.


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Great Lakes Restoration

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community

Michigan Tech

US Army Corps of Engineers