The Kalamazoo Nature Center is pleased to announce that the Conservation Stewardship department has been awarded a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. Grant money will be used to restore approximately 1,500 acres of prairie fen and wetlands and impact an additional 500 acres of associated upland habitats within the Kalamazoo River Watershed. The goal of the restoration is to remove invasive plant species and improve the habitat for a variety of threatened and endangered plants and animals. The Kalamazoo Nature Center is partnering with Fort Custer Training Center, the Calhoun County Conservation District, the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute.
Prairie fens and the associated uplands, historically oak savanna, are critical habitats for several state and federally listed species such as the Karner Blue and Mitchell’s Satyr butterflies, Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, Eastern Box Turtle, and the Cerulean Warbler. Altogether this restoration project will improve habitat for 16 state and federally listed plant and animal species.
Restoration techniques will include biological surveys, invasive species removal, and introduction of prescribed fire.
Work began in spring 2011and will continue through 2013. As work progresses, the Nature Center and the project partners will hold field days during which the public can visit the wetlands and learn about the importance of wetlands and the plants and animals that they support.
Why are wetlands so important?
Wetlands are important habitats for many rare animals and plants. Beaver are key wetland engineers and help maintain open conditions by building dams and causing flooding and also by chewing and killing trees and shrubs that would otherwise shade out sun-loving wetland plants. Muskrat build lodges in wetlands which are later used by Canada geese for nesting. Sandhill cranes, marsh wrens and many other birds also use wetlands for nesting. In addition to providing homes for many Michigan animals, wetlands also filter groundwater and contribute to clean drinking water for people.
A Prairie fen is a specific type of wetland which occurs in glacially deposited, mineral-rich soils. These wetlands are found only in southern Michigan and in other glaciated Midwestern states. As groundwater flows through these glacial soils it absorbs calcium and magnesium and becomes more alkaline. This alkalinity is the reason that plants such as sedges thrive. Other plants found in these alkaline wetlands include hardstem bulrush, broad-leaved cat-tail, purple milkweed, white lady’s slipper, queen-of-the-prairie, rattlesnake master and common arrowhead.
In the past, fire was an important event in wetlands and the surrounding uplands. Fire cleared brush, shrubs and trees and returned nutrients to the soil and allowed sunlight to reach to ground. Wetland and savanna plants are adapted to fires and thrive after a fire has swept through. Due to development, drainage ditches and the absence of fire, most prairie fens have filled in and now exist as swamp forests, closed canopy-oak forests agriculture, or rural residential development.