Large wetland sits in the foreground of a forest.
Restoring Ohio Wetlands Restoration of wetland habitat in Ohio ensures wildlife, including state-endangered sandhill cranes, can thrive. © Alexis Sakas/TNC

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Completion of Largest Wet Prairie Restoration in Northwest Ohio Improves Water Quality and Creates Wildlife Habitat

The Nature Conservancy’s Sandhill Crane Wetlands fills a missing link in a 13,000-acre corridor of protected land.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is celebrating the completion of a project that restored 280 acres of marginal farmland to native wet prairie habitat in northwest Ohio. To date, it is the largest effort in the region to return this type of rare wetland habitat to the landscape—one characterized by relatively flat land that seasonally holds water and supports diverse sedges, grasses, and shrubs. The restoration site, known as Sandhill Crane Wetlands, is part of TNC’s Kitty Todd Nature Preserve, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022 and is comprised of over 1,400 acres of diverse habitat types, including wet prairie, oak savanna and sand barren—some of the finest remaining in the region. Sandhill Crane Wetlands is situated between land protected by TNC and Metroparks Toledo, filling a critical gap and strengthening a 13,000-acre corridor of protected land throughout the Oak Openings Region.

Wetlands once dominated northwest Ohio, but have been reduced in size due to the installation of drainage infrastructure, agriculture, and land development. Today, less than 5%-10% of Ohio’s original wetlands remain. Wetlands act as nature’s kidneys, and their loss has resulted in increased fertilizers and contaminants reaching Lake Erie, a vital source of drinking water for 11 million people. At the same time, climate change has led to rising temperatures and more severe rainfall events, a perilous combination as evidenced by recurring harmful algal blooms, which are toxic to people and wildlife.

“When you consider the loss in natural habitat that has occurred here, every chance we give nature to function the way it should, we can expect to see benefits to water quality and wildlife,” said Alexis Sakas, natural infrastructure director for The Nature Conservancy in Ohio. “What’s also significant, is that we’re improving the ability for our lands to become more resilient as we continue to experience impacts from climate change.”

The restoration process included halting artificial pumping, breaking drainage tiles, and recontouring the land to rebuild the natural terrain modified by years of plowing. The site was then planted and seeded with native vegetation to reestablish the native Oak Openings Region habitat: wet prairie, emergent marsh, oak savanna and sand barren. Funding for the multi-year effort was provided by the Maumee Area of Concern and Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Programs.

Sandhill Crane Wetlands will be opened to the public following a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday, May 22nd. The event will take place from 1-4pm, and include activities for kids and guided hikes around the newly-restored site. The celebration marks the closing event of Blue Week, an annual festival highlighting the unique species of the area. To learn more or register for the event, visit nature.org/events.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.