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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Expanding Protection at Carlton Lake Wetlands

Last year MNA added 120 acres to Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary in Chippewa County. This addition solved MNA’s most serious and longstanding sanctuary access issue! Previously, access to this sanctuary was a long and cumbersome trek starting with a rugged drive, followed by a lengthy canoe ride to finally reach the entrance of the sanctuary. Now guests can access the sanctuary year-round on foot. Thanks to this land acquisition, Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary expanded to 520 acres!
S. Laier
While valuable as an access acquisition in its own right, the parcel is significant as part of the overall wetland complex. The wetlands are largely comprised of emergent and submergent marsh, northern shrub thicket, and rich conifer swamp. Some of the uplands include boreal forest and mesic northern forest. Northern wet meadow and northern fen is also found on the Carlton Lake Wetlands addition. The property is very promising to see Calypso orchids and other unique plants.

Due to the large scale of this wetland complex and its location within the migratory flyway between the Straits of Mackinac and mainland Canada, a great diversity of birds have been seen using this sanctuary. This addition provides significant wetland habitat utilized by secretive marsh birds and flocks of migratory waterfowl, including black tern, sedge wren, blackburnian warbler, and spotted sandpiper. The Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary addition also hosts beaver, bear, large canids, deer, and grouse populations.

This property was purchased using the MNA Revolving Fund, established to allow MNA to respond quickly when a new piece of land like this appears on the market. Donate now to replenish the Fund and protect this valuable wetland!
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Eradicating Invasive Phragmites

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

A straw-like plant ranging from 6-13 feet in height may seem quite harmless to come across. Yet, this plant, known as Phragmites, is an invasive species threatening the natural flora of Michigan.

Phragmites is the most common invasive plant species in Michigan.

Phragmites has a tall stalk with blades along its shaft and a red-colored seedhead that can fade to a straw-like color with age. Phragmites is usually found in wetland habitats like marshes and swamps.

This invasive species poses alarming impacts on biodiversity because it grows tall and in dense stands, squelching out any native plant and animal life by blocking sunlight and taking up space. Animals find it difficult to make habitats because of the density of the stands and find they have reduced vegetation to eat.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

Phragmites obstructs views and can make it difficult for people to enjoy nature because of the difficulty of traveling through the thick reeds to get to bodies of water. It also can negatively affect navigation on highways and waterways because of its height.  Phragmites has a rapid growth rate and are prone to catching and spreading fires quickly, killing natural vegetation around it and posing threat to homes and buildings nearby.

Learn how to identify invasive species like Phragmites by clicking here.

Two methods of eliminating invasive Phragmites are prescribed burns and the use of herbicides. Prescribed burns are controlled fires that kill the invasive species, allowing a chance for native vegetation to grow. Herbicides must always be used carefully and some areas even require permits before use. Mowing is recommended post-chemical treatment.

Piping plovers, Kirtland’s warblers, and the Great Lakes: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around the state and country related to conservation and the environment. Here is what happened this week in environmental news:

Credit: Don Freiday/USFWS

Piping plovers make comeback in the Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): The piping plover, a shorebird once nearly extinct, is on the rebound. There were once only 12 pairs left in the Great Lakes region, but thanks to conservation efforts. scientists are seeing an upswing in the population. The plovers should arrive on the shores of the Great Lakes in the next couple of weeks.

Judges skeptical of challenge to proposed EPA rule on climate change (The New York Times);  Lawyers for coal companies, two dozen states, and the Environmental Protection Agency argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals over a rule proposed by President Obama to curb carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. The rule would require all states to draft plans to restructure their electricity sectors and transition from coal power to cleaner forms of energy. The plaintiffs say the rule is wreaking economic havoc and that the EPA lacks the authority to issue the regulation. They have petitioned the court to block it from finalizing the rule.

New mapping of Great Lakes’ wetlands released (The Swamp School): A new and comprehensive map of the Great Lakes region’s coastal wetlands was recently released by the Michigan Tech Research Institute. The map is the first of its kind, with fluorescent bands of color outlining the Great Lakes. It displays both Canadian and U.S. wetlands along more than 10,000 miles of shoreline. The new coastal map is the result of years of work expanding on previous maps from the Michigan Tech Research Institute.

Endangered Wisconsin Kirtland’s warbler found in the Bahamas (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel): For the first time, scientists have found a Kirtland’s warbler from Wisconsin in the forests of the Bahamas. The bird was one of six warblers banded last summer in central Wisconsin. The state has a total population of fewer than 25 Kirtland’s warblers. It is estimated that there are about 4,000 total Kirtland’s warblers scattered in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario. The field crew in the Bahamas has found about two dozen total Kirtland’s warblers since mid-March.

Frogs and toads: environmentally beneficial creatures

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The warm Michigan weather brings about many different types of plants an animals, including amphibians like frogs and toads.

Often after a rain or in a wet, shaded area these critters can be found hopping around.

What’s the difference?

It might be surprising that all toads are considered frogs. Frogs and toads are both amphibians but it’s easy to tell the difference between them by a few key factors. The frog has more smooth, moist skin and longer legs. Toads are more bumpy and warty-looking. Frogs prefer to be around water and moist places whereas toads don’t require wet areas as much and can withstand drier habitats. Toads prefer to crawl rather than to hop from place to place.

Amphibians are defined by a life-cycle that begins underwater. Baby frogs and toads start off as eggs in the water and develop into tadpoles that have gills and can swim. These tadpoles develop lungs and other body parts and, once they have matured, can enjoy life on land.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Toads and frogs breed during the spring and summer and find warm shelter to protect themselves during harsh winter months.

Where do they live?

Frogs and toads live in many places around the world including the rain forest. In Michigan they tend to live in wetlands, wooded areas, beaches and near streams or lakes.

What do they do?

Frogs consume thousands of bugs. This consumption is beneficial for people and the environment, protecting plants, getting rid of pests and maintaining a balance in the food chain and ecosystem. Frogs are also great indicators of changes in the environment as they are sensitive to even the slightest of changes. Their skin is thin and porous so any chemicals or other contaminants to the environment can be shown by a decrease of frogs in more frog-populated areas. Frogs also have provided scientists with compounds for different medicines.

A fowler's toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

A fowler’s toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

Threats to frogs and toads

Unfortunately there are many threats to frogs and toads throughout the world. Many of these are human-induced problems such as the use of harmful pesticides, habitat loss and pollution to name a few. These actions endanger frogs and toads and can be harmful for the environment which is why protecting them is important.

To learn more about frogs and toads click here. To learn about types of frogs and toads found in Michigan click here.

MNA Volunteer Days: Red Cedar River Plant Preserve

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Part of the boardwalk at the Red Cedar River Plant Preserve Sanctuary. Photo via MNA archives.

Part of the boardwalk at the Red Cedar River Plant Preserve Sanctuary. Photo via MNA archives.

The Red Cedar River Plant Preserve is more than just a 10-acre sanctuary in Williamston, Michigan, and the only one in Ingham County. This sanctuary is one of five MNA sanctuaries within the boundaries of a city and is close to the MNA’s former headquarters.

Usually land within cities has been far too degraded for MNA to claim as a sanctuary, but because of the floodplains within the Red Cedar River Plant Preserve, this area has surprisingly maintained its natural character so close to an urban area. This sanctuary was historically known as the Williamston Floodplain.

The sanctuary consists of floodplains and wetlands because it is so close to the Red Cedar River. There are also marshy and swamp-like areas as well.

These habitats are home to plant-life like marsh marigold, skunk cabbage and jewelweed. Some types of trees that grow on the floodplain ridge are black cherry and red oak. The ridge is welcoming to visitors, giving them a place to walk and explore during spring flooding season.

Volunteers at the boardwalk. Photo via MNA archives.

Volunteers at the boardwalk. Photo via MNA archives.

This sanctuary is one of the few that MNA has built a boardwalk on and it is one of the longest and the only with an observation deck included in its design.

The area was donated in 2005 by Doug and Darlene Price, who with the help of engineer David Geyer have worked on protecting important parts of the habitat. MNA collaborated with them to change the future plans of the development of uplands in order to preserve the area within the sanctuary.

The redevelopment of the sanctuary’s boardwalk will help protect the floodplain. The old design could not withstand the severe flooding so MNA has organized volunteer days to rebuild the boardwalk with a design engineered to allow it to be more stable and provide more access to the sanctuary. About 40 feet of the boardwalk must be built this year of a total of 150 feet, and MNA is enlisting all the help it can get.

MNA extends its gratitude to engineers Jim Rossman  and Paul Rice for volunteering their time to develop the design, cost estimates and construction phases, and stewards Jim and Besty Pifer who assisted in the planning process.

Upcoming Volunteer Days:

  • Thursday, July 10 at 9 a.m.
  • Thursday, July 24 at 9 a.m.
  • Wednesday, August 20 at 9 a.m.
  • Thursday, September 11 at 10 a.m.
  • Thursday, September 18 at 10 a.m.

Please contact Rachel Maranto for more information about the project and volunteer days at rmaranto@michigannature.org.