Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory staff members are assisting The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in a project to restore a section of riverside farmland on the Toussaint River, just south of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, into a wetland preserve. The restored wetland will reduce flooding and nutrient loading to Lake Erie while providing important habitat for fish, birds, and plant life.
Ohio Sea Grant Assistant Director Dr. Chris Winslow, Stone Lab Manager Matt Thomas, and Extension Educator Tory Gabriel are using electrofishing to survey fish populations in the Toussaint, along with trap netting to find any fish that may not be as susceptible to electrical current. TNC is also partnering with Ducks Unlimited, which is providing engineering expertise, and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which owns the land.
“The Blausey Tract, one of four different areas included in the project, is 171 acres of mostly agricultural land owned by the refuge”? explains James Cole, Lake Erie Coastal Conservation Manager for The Nature Conservancy. “We’re going to reconnect it to lake hydrology because it’s right on the river, about two to three miles from the shores of Lake Erie, and we’re planning to put in a gated structure and a fish ladder that’ll allow water and nutrient exchange, as well as fish passage during low water levels, from the new restored wetland to the Toussaint and eventually Lake Erie.”? The four parcels of land add up to 582 acres to be restored.
Ohio Sea Grant’s role, funded through a partnership grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is focused on the Blausey Tract. Winslow, Thomas and Gabriel have completed the first of three sampling sessions this fall, and will add four session in the spring of 2013, and four in the fall of that year.
“Our goal is to see if the fish that we see in the river will actually use the new wetland”? says Winslow. Current low water levels have presented a challenge for the survey team, but the researchers are confident that they’ll be able to provide accurate evaluations of the area’s fish population before and after the land is connected to the river.
Construction on breaching the levee separating the land from the Toussaint is already in progress, and Cole expects construction of the gated passage to be completed by the end of 2012. Ducks Unlimited will also install a pump system from a major agricultural drainage ditch to divert water into the wetland instead of having it drain directly into the river. This allows sediments to settle and wetland plants to filter nutrients out of the water before it enters the lake, which can significantly reduce nutrient loading.
Wetlands also provide great habitat for a number of organisms, from fish and birds to plants and insects. “In my experience, when you restore a wetland, birds will find it right away”? Cole says. With birdwatching contributing $30 million to northern Ohio’s economy every year, having additional spaces where birders can observe native and migratory birds could boost the local economy as well.
Ohio State University’s Ohio Sea Grant program is part of NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 32 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For more information, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu.
Christina Dierkes, Ohio Sea Grant, firstname.lastname@example.org