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Great Lakes Article:

Plans call for wetlands restoration at Arenac County wildlife area
By Jeff Kary
The Bay City Times
Published December 19, 2006

About two-thirds of the coastal wetlands along the Saginaw Bay are gone, and what remains is in pretty sorry shape, biologists say.

That's why a project to restore up to 200 acres of degraded wetlands at the Wigwam Bay State Wildlife Area in Arenac County is so significant, said Russ Terry, manager of conservation programs for the Ducks Unlimited Great Lakes-Atlantic Regional Office in Ann Arbor.

''This is a globally important habitat,'' Terry said. ''We need to take advantage of it. We're not making any more of it, but we're losing it all the time.''

Ducks Unlimited is working on a $140,000 project to restore at least 135 and up to 200 acres of wetlands at the wildlife area.

The restoration site is at the southern end of Big Creek Road near Au Gres. It's now made up of cattails, invasive phragmites and woody vegetation. Ideally, the area should be filled with a diverse range of native wetland plant life.

The money will be used to plug seven old ditches that now drain water from the area, located to the north of Smith Marsh, a 906-acre, state-managed impoundment used by hunters, bird watchers and trappers.

The project will be engineered so as not to flood any surrounding private land, Terry said, and county, state and federal permits are required.

The ditches will be plugged at both ends with dirt and rock, allowing them to hold water from rain, runoff and snow melt for longer periods of time. The wetland also will be able to take overflow water from a county drain that now connects to the seven old ditches, Terry said.

The area was drained by previous owners for agricultural purposes. The state purchased 80 acres of it a couple of years ago to allow the restoration to occur, said Barbara Avers, wildlife biologist for the state Department of Natural Resources in St. Charles.

Organizers have about half of the $140,000 in funding they need. The Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network in Bay City recently announced a $30,000 contribution.

''Saginaw Bay historically has had one of the greatest - from a biological standpoint - freshwater wetland complexes on the planet,'' said Mike Kelly of Williams Township, who administers programs for Saginaw Bay WIN.

''Saginaw Bay still has the largest freshwater coastal wetland system in the United States, and even though it's much smaller than it once was, it's still a very important resource in this region.''

Other money is coming from Ducks Unlimited, the Bay Area Community Foundation and Dow Chemical Co. Organizers expect to receive a $70,000 federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant in the spring to complete funding for the project.

Survey work on the site will start in January, Terry said.

Restoration work should be finished by the end of 2008, said Terry, who has been involved with similar projects over the years.

''It should be full of water in the spring of 2009,'' he said. ''It takes some time for nature to reverse that process that created the degraded conditions.

''We should see results in the first growing season.''

Having more water in the wetland for a longer period of time will allow more use of the area by waterfowl and wildlife, including a pair of bald eagles, a threatened species, that nest in the State Wildlife Area and other eagles that use it for hunting and feeding, Avers said.

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