Supporting Native Species
“Invasive species are one of the greatest threats to conservation worldwide,” says Ann Maine, president of Lake County Forest Preserve District. Her organization, in partnership with seven others in Wisconsin and Illinois, is fighting to bring the local ecosystem back into balance with support from the Sustain Our Great Lakes program.
The coalition is working to protect a variety of lakeplain habitats — wetlands, sand prairies, savannas, sedge meadows and rare coastal communities called panne — along an 18-mile stretch of Lake Michigan coastal plain. Non-native plants have all but wiped out indigenous ones in some of this area, diminishing nesting and food sources for native wildlife.
“These 4,000-plus acres of publicly protected lands are home to 500 plant and 300 animal species. They’re also a stop-over point for 160 kinds of migratory birds, and a breeding area for many others,” explains Debbie Maurer, ecologist for the Lake County Forest Preserve District. “What’s happened over time is that extensive development, drainage ditches and culverts have degraded the habitat,” allowing invasives to take over. Many lakeplain plants, including native orchids, sedges and grasses, are already threatened or endangered. As these species disappear, local wildlife that rely on native plants and habitat (such as sandhill cranes, American bitterns and Blanding’s turtles) begin to lose ground, too.
- 524 miles of fish habitat restored
- 1,605 acres of coastal habitat restored
- 160 migratory bird species that use the coastal lake plain as habitat
Labor-intensive actions to clear out invasives are now underway from Kenosha, Wisconsin to Waukegan, Illinois. After clearing, seeds of native plants, carefully gathered by project volunteers, are sown in the exposed soil to replace invasive species that have choked the ground.
The lakeplain project is one of more than a hundred conservation efforts taking place across the region through Sustain Our Great Lakes, a bi-national, public-private program administered by NFWF and funded by partners ArcelorMittal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As the program’s lead corporate partner, ArcelorMittal has contributed crucial financial support, staff time and other resources. “The Great Lakes are a critical community and economic resource, and ArcelorMittal is committed to the sustainability of these waters and their surrounding areas,” said Bill Steers, president of ArcelorMittal USA Foundation. “With Sustain Our Great Lakes, we appreciate the spirit of collaboration that underlies the program’s design. The cooperation among all of the partners is key to maximizing our on-the-ground impact.”
Maine agrees that the public–private collaboration in Sustain Our Great Lakes sets it apart. “The breadth and commitment of the partners make this project unique,” she says. “It’s a great example of the federal government, private business, and local conservation organizations cooperating to protect unique natural resources.”