The Nature Conservancy and partner organizations are launching a three-year, large scale endeavor to restore important Great Lakes habitats along Lake Erie and its tributaries.
The ambitious effort, which will likely be paid for in part from the federally-funded Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, aims to:
Most of the work will involve control of invasive species including common reed and buckthorn, which are expanding rapidly in wetlands throughout the Lake Erie basin. These plants take over an area quickly, crowding out native plants, eliminating wildlife habitat, and sometimes changing the way water flows over the land and into the lake.
The Conservancy is taking an aggressive approach to controlling these plants, with plans to use helicopters and amphibious vehicles to spray wetland-approved herbicides, as well as controlled burns to knock back the invasive species and let native plant populations recover, said James Cole, bird conservation manager for the Conservancy.
“Preliminary studies have shown that if we treat these areas and remove the invasives, the seed banks are rich enough to allow native plants to come back,” he said.
Research is also included in the plans, such as determining the source of invasive species in the Grand River basin and studying the changes in hydrology in the Oak Openings.
The Conservancy-coordinated projects will involve support from numerous partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies from Ohio and Michigan, county metroparks, private landowners and several other conservation organizations. The Conservancy has received preliminary approval for three grants totaling more than $2.8 million through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Final approval is anticipated soon. The projects were among 270 proposals selected from more than 1,000 applications submitted throughout the Great Lakes states.
“We’ve been doing this sort of ecological management for years on our preserves,” said Marleen Kromer, associate director of conservation for the Conservancy in Ohio. “But problems from invasive species and changes to hydrology affect whole ecosystems, so we’re looking to restore these natural systems in a range of places and across a larger landscape”.
Some of the work will be on Conservancy-owned land, including Ashtabula County’s Morgan Swamp and the Kitty Todd Nature Preserve near Toledo, but much of the funding will be used on land managed by other conservation groups or private landowners, such as the 150-year-old Winous Point Shooting Club in Port Clinton.
In the Grand River watershed, for example, the Conservancy’s partners include the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the ODNR Division of Wildlife, Geauga Parks, Lake Metroparks, and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.
“We recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats and our approach to the Great Lakes funding reflects this belief,” said Josh Knights, executive director of the Conservancy’s Ohio program. “By including others, we can help our partners get access to the resources they need for all of us to achieve our goals. For example, it does not help us over the long term to completely eliminate invasive species at one of our preserves if the adjacent property is chronically infested.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.