A stretch of Detroit River shoreline is going back to nature, with the re-flooding of a tract of land drained for farming a century ago.
Officials held a dedication ceremony Saturday for the 67-acre wetland restoration project. It’s the outgrowth of years of work by federal and private officials to acquire and transform the land into a home for wildlife.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bought the land in 2003, adding it to what now is the 5,700-acre Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
“One of the first steps in the process is just bringing water back to the land,” said Casey Bartkus, Michigan regional biologist for Ducks Unlimited. That means tearing up drainage pipes, or “tiles,” installed to drain the land, then putting in a low earthen dike and water control systems that allow the wildlife service to mimic the periodic flooding and drying of the land that occurs naturally.
The periodic changes in wetness also help control invasive plants and increase the diversity among native species.
The site is in the refuge’s Brancheau Unit in Monroe County’s Berlin Township, about 30 miles south-southwest of Detroit.
At least 100 years ago, owners of the farmland installed drainage to allow the growing of crops. It’s a process that occurred throughout the Detroit River and western Lake Erie watershed, Bartkus said. Overall, about 90 percent of the wetlands in the Michigan portion of the watershed have disappeared, he said. Bit by bit, projects like this are bringing some of them back.
“This project has not only restored wetland and enhanced wildlife habitat for migratory birds and other wetland-dependent wildlife, but it has reduced nonpoint source loadings of pollutants … and helped reduce the risk of flooding to local residents and businesses,” said Steve Dushane, assistant manager of the refuge.
The restoration work came from three federal grants totaling $200,000, with double and triple matching from an array of private groups. They include Ducks Unlimited, Waterfowl USA, the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, Michigan Duck Hunters Association, Metropolitan Affairs Coalition, North American Wetlands Conservation Council, and DTE Energy Co., owner of the nearby Fermi 2 nuclear power plant.
“This project is another fine example of conservation by design,” said a statement from U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, who led efforts to create the Detroit River refuge in 2001. “This project embodies a great partnership among federal, state, local and private agencies and conservation groups.”
Ducks Unlimited is a group made up primarily by duck hunters, but it is heavily involved in restoration of wetlands with a variety of uses. The new tract is eventually expected to be open to hunting.
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