Protecting Wetlands

Wetland - Abby Pointer

Wetland. Photo: Abby Pointer.

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

We celebrated American Wetlands Month this May! Extremely productive ecosystems, wetlands can be found in all extremes, from the tropics to the tundra, on every continent except for Antarctica. A little closer to home, Michigan wetlands provide important habitat to many species of waterfowl and fish, which play a vital role in our recreation and tourism industry, as well as our economy.

A wetland is an area where water covers the soil and is present all year or for varying, yet predictable periods of time. Wetlands form for a variety of reasons, whether from a permanent body of water, precipitation, or seasonally from rain or snow. This soil, described as hydric from its saturated quality, becomes anaerobic, or without oxygen. Therefore, the bacteria that reside there cannot use oxygen to respire, and use carbon or nitrogen, giving wetlands a high concentration of these particular molecules to create a unique ecosystem.

sandhill crane - steven kahl

Sandhill Crane. Photo: Steven Kahl.

This hydrology, the water saturation of the soil, of wetlands is a major factor in determining the type of soil that develops and the organisms that the environment can support. Since wetlands are versatile ecosystems, many types of both terrestrial and aquatic organisms can live there. In Michigan wetlands, you are likely to see a landscape covered in various sedges and rushes, and in the spring little mallard broods, perched Bobolinks, as well as a booming population of sandhill cranes!

These waterfowl, among many others, find sanctuary in wetlands, as they provide habitat and food for each year’s new brood of ducklings as well as a “rest stop” for migratory birds. About one-third of the United State’s endangered species call wetlands their home, from the American crocodile to many types of orchids! Wetlands also serve an important ecological purpose, such as acting as a buffer to prevent pollution from entering the water system, stopping widespread flooding and holding those excessive flood waters, and controlling erosion along our beautiful Michigan shoreline.

tile-drainage - Matt Miller

Wetland tiling. Photo: Matt Miller.

Unfortunately, wetlands are becoming increasingly rare due to human actions. Between filling and draining to make room for land for agriculture or development, building dams or dikes, and excessive logging, these detrimental actions have given rise to programs to restore these endangered ecosystems.

Michigan is one of only two states to have a federal wetlands program and is working toward continual restoration of these lands. Methods involve preventing the aforementioned human actions as well as taking measures to remove the tiling that drains water. This special attention from MNA, MDNR, DEQ, and other conservation groups will help guarantee that we can continue to enjoy the beauty and habitat our important wetlands provide!

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Monarchs, American Wetlands Month, and Migratory Bird Festival: this week in environmental news

Monarch butterflies winging their way north to Michigan (MDNR): With spring now sprung in Michigan, soon we’ll be welcoming back to the state one of the most distinctive signs that summer is on its way – the brightly colored monarch butterfly. Monarchs are on their way north from Mexico, where they spend the winter months. While National Start Seeing Monarchs Day is observed annually on the first Saturday in May, it may be a few more weeks before they make their way across Michigan. One of the most well-known and beloved butterfly species in North America, with their easily recognized orange and black wing pattern, monarchs have become a much less common sight in recent decades. The eastern monarch butterfly population has declined by 90 percent over the last 20 years due mainly to habitat loss, both in their summer range – including Michigan – and in Mexico, where they overwinter. The alarming declines in monarchs and other pollinators have sparked conservation programs across the nation. There are many ways that Michigan residents can contribute to ongoing monarch conservation efforts as well. Creating habitat for monarchs and other pollinators, whether it’s in your backyard or a large field, is a great place to start. Other resources include the Create Habitat for Monarchs web page from Monarch Joint Venture and “How to build a butterfly and pollinator garden in seven steps” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Another way you can contribute to monarch butterfly conservation efforts is to monitor monarch populations by reporting any sightings at Journey North or getting involved in other monarch citizen science opportunities.

Celebrate American Wetlands Month by exploring Michigan’s wetlands (TV6): May is American Wetlands Month – a month to appreciate and enjoy the wonders of wetlands. The Department of Natural Resources encourages Michigan residents to get out and enjoy some of the outstanding wetlands the state has to offer. Try visiting one of Michigan’s Wetland Wonders for a day of hiking, birding, kayaking or fishing.

DNR+Common+Yellowthroat+bird

The Keweenaw’s Migratory Bird Festival (Copper Harbor Birding): Join the Copper Harbor Birding group in celebrating the spring bird migration by offering a season full of bird and other nature related activities. The birds are the main focus, so get out there! Guided bird and nature walks are offered throughout the season.

Making your native plant choices for Michigan inland lake shorelines (MSU Extension): Michigan’s inland lakes draw many people for a variety of reasons. Being close to nature and being a part of a relaxing natural environment are not the least among them. However, the reality of owning a lake home often is at odds with what nature provides. When choosing native plants for your shoreline you should have a landscape design plan and know the Lake fetch or prevailing wind direction on your lake in relationship to your property. Then go about choosing what plants will serve your needs and aesthetic. The important thing to remember is to choose the right plant for the right place.

Small snail, big problems: Researchers track invasive New Zealand mudsnail in Michigan rivers (MDNR): A tiny invader is threatening prized trout streams in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.  A mere 1/8-inch long, the New Zealand mudsnail is barely distinguishable from a grain of sand, but over time its invasive habits can affect the quality and quantity of trout and other fish in the Au Sable, Pere Marquette and Boardman rivers where it has been found. The Department of Environmental Quality recently released a new video providing an overview of New Zealand mudsnail identification. The video is the premiere in the “MDEQ Minute” series, offering 60-second views on a broad range of topics including new and potential invasive species in Michigan. If you think you have found a New Zealand mudsnail in a waterway outside of the Pere Marquette, Boardman or Au Sable rivers, report your finding using the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network website, www.misin.msu.edu, or download the MISIN app to your smartphone.

Algae blooms, planting beaches, and sky glow: this week in environmental news

Each Friday, MNA highlights environmental news stories from around the state and country. Read on for this week’s news stories:

Climate change aids toxic algae, group says (The Columbus Dispatch): According to a new report, spring rainstorms made more powerful by climate change will wash more fertilizers off farms and grow even bigger toxic-algae blooms in Lake Erie. More frequent and stronger spring rains and hotter, drier summers have contributed to algae growth. The toxic algae can produce liver and nerve toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.

Low water is high time to plant beaches (Great Lakes Echo): Ecologists are urging waterfront property owners to plant their beaches. In addition to being attractive, native plants are home to insects and coastal birds, and help protect against erosion from waves. Planting natives can also impede phragmites, which degrades wetland quality and drives wildlife away. Property owners can work with environmental organizations to obtain permits and learn about identifying native and nonnative plants.

Artificial sky glow could disrupt wildlife cycles (Conservation Magazine): A new study suggests that artificial “sky glow” produced when light from cities and roads bounces off the atmosphere back to earth could disrupt wildlife cycles. The study found the urban organisms experience more hours per night in which the sky is as bright as it would be with a full moon. Nocturnal species could increase their time hunting for food, while their prey may spend more time on the run.

EPA American Wetlands Month Book Display (University of Michigan Library): May is American Wetlands Month and the University of Michigan’s Shapiro Science Library is celebrating with an exhibit of books relating to the ecology, wildlife, and conservation of America’s wetlands. Those with MLibrary borrowing privileges may check out the books, and anyone is welcome to use the books on-site.