Michigan Rivers

The Importance of Rivers in Michigan

Blessed with more than 36,000 miles of pristine rivers and streams, few states can match the beautiful and bountiful waterways we have in Michigan. The Nature Conservancy has identified 58 rivers in the Great Lakes basin as conservation priorities.

In Southeastern Michigan, the watersheds of 10 major rivers drain directly into, and influence the health of, the Great Lakes. Roughly 2 million people, or 20% of Michigan's population, live and work in this area where land ownership is overwhelmingly private.

Many of these watersheds contain important natural areas, often in headwater areas in which remnant wetlands, uplands, and small streams occur in close proximity. Along with common wetland types such as forested swamps and marshes, some of these wetlands are globally rare, like fens.

What is a fen?

A fen is a geologically and biologically unique wetland that receives water predominately from underground alkaline rich springs rather than from precipitation.

Are fens in Michigan rare?
Globally, over 30 different kinds of fens exist, 17 of which can be found in Michigan. Though prairie fens are globally rare, Michigan contains a high concentration of more than 130. The Conservancy has protected fens in several preserves, including Ives Road Fen, Golden (now owned by Oakland Land Conservancy), Grand River, Bakertown, Dayton, Paw Paw and Tamarack Swamp.

Why are fens important to local wildlife?
The groundwater’s combination of high pH, making the soil basic, coupled with low temperatures causes decomposition to be a slow process. Numerous plants and animals have evolved in ways allowing them to tolerate the unique conditions of fens, and because fens are rare these species are also rare.

How are fens important to the Great Lakes?
Fens provide a continuous flow of clear, cool, and mineral-rich water to the Great Lakes watershed. They also serve other wetland functions including nutrient uptake and water filtration.

What are the major threats to fens?
Most, if not all, suffer from altered hydrology, altered fire regime, and invasive species.

What is The Nature Conservancy in Michigan doing to protect these uncommon wetlands?
The Conservancy continues to promote advocacy of fens and their preservation. Stewardship and volunteer efforts have been focused at the Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve and Ives Road Fen Preserve.

Landowner Incentive Program

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Landowner Incentive Program can help provide funding to better manage land in priority areas. Learn more about this program.

The primary goal of the Landowner Incentive Program is to help private landowners create and manage habitat for species that are rare and/or declining. This is accomplished by providing advice, management plans, and funding to individuals and organizations throughout the state that qualify. With almost 70% of Michigan’s landscape under private ownership, landowners play a significant role in the survival of rare species. Any private landowners or organizations with property in Michigan can request assistance. However, priority will be given to sites with LIP target species on or near the property, projects in priority areas, and projects to restore habitat in specific ecosystems. The Wildlife Division of the Michigan DNR has adopted ecosystem management as the method for managing Michigan’s wildlife resources. The ultimate goal of ecosystem management is to achieve multiple and sustainable values from our natural resources by protecting all resources.


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