Interconnected streams and wetlands are crucial habitats for many species that now run the risk of disappearing from their watery homes. In the Great Lakes, such species include river otter, lake sturgeon, brook trout, mink, leopard frog, freshwater mussels, Eastern hognose snake and several species of turtles.
Within these areas, resident creatures have fairly unique habitat needs. Wood turtles, for example, require gently sloping south- and west-facing sandy stream banks for nesting. Blanding’s turtles hide out in shallow weedy ponds, backwaters and sloughs.
To sustain and restore specialized habitats for these and other species of concern, conservation organizations must work across political boundaries. NFWF’s Sustain Our Great Lakes (SOGL) addresses this need. The bi-national, public–private program is administered by NFWF in association with ArcelorMittal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. NFWF helps to coordinate partners’ actions, leveraging the resources and skills of each organization.
In northern Michigan, SOGL is funding a project administered by the Conservation Resource Alliance (CRA) to clear artificial stream obstructions and restore wetland connections within the Manistee River watershed. Twelve dams that block fish passage are being removed, and a five-culvert road crossing that interferes with a trout stream will be replaced.
The project has both environmental and economic benefits, said CRA director Amy Beyer. “The road crossing replacement addresses a high priority negative impact to a trout stream. At the same time, it improves the transportation infrastructure in rural Kalkaska County, one of the most economically stressed regions in Michigan,” she explained.
Without this project, “we would have continuing fragmentation of habitats, breakdown of ecosystems which can no longer sustain fish and wildlife populations, and degradation of Michigan’s premier sport fisheries,” said Beyer. “Addressing these restoration opportunities proactively costs a fraction of what it would take to recover these systems after they have been lost.”
In dozens of collaborations like CRA’s Manistee River effort, NFWF partners in northern Michigan are proving that Great Lakes communities are committed to carrying out effective, efficient restoration. Reviving wetland habitats can make the region a better place for everyone — including the wildlife that make it their home.