In honor of World Wetlands Day today, we at HRWC thought we’d share a little bit of info about our wetlands here in the Huron watershed.
Wetlands – Nature’s Kidneys
Wetlands, along with floodplains and shorelines, are critical environmental areas. Wetlands are saturated lowland areas (e.g. marshes and swamps) that have distinctive soils and ecology. Wetland areas filter flowing water, hold flood water, and release water slowly into surrounding drier land. These functions are critical to keeping the Huron River clean and safe for wildlife, drinking, paddling, fishing, and swimming. See our Wetland Page for more details.
The Huron Watershed’s Wetlands
The Huron watershed is home to many kinds of wetlands (the Michigan Natural Features Inventory lists 26 different kinds of wetlands that exist in our watershed!); including wet prairies, hardwood swamps, and bogs. Unfortunately, due to agricultural drainage and development, only about half of our wetlands remain.
With all the ecological services that wetlands provide to the River, it is important to keep our wetlands healthy and restore wetlands when we can. HRWC highly recommends local communities enact wetland ordinances, along with building setback requirements from wetlands, to protect our remaining wetlands.
HRWC’s Bioreserve Project is mapping and assessing wetlands and other natural areas to help target conservation efforts (come to our Field Assessment Training to learn how you can assess wetlands and other natural areas), and our Green Infrastructure programs are working with communities to protect existing and create new wetland areas, to restore the landscape’s ability to filter and control stormwater runoff.
What You Can Do
Volunteer with HRWC, learning to evaluate wetlands (their special features and plants) on May 14 at our Field Assessment Training and then join us this summer for some field assessments!
In order to keep the river system healthy, we need to encourage compact development in areas with existing infrastructure (like cities and villages and other urban areas), and preserve natural and rural areas so they can continue to provide the ecological services necessary to maintain quality of water, air, land, and life. (See our “Smart Growth Publications” webpage for more details)
Here are three recent articles that underscore this message.
A recent blog posted on the Smart Growth Network Newsletter (originally posted by the Nature Conservancy) bemoans the prevalence of zoning codes that do not allow higher density (i.e. that have minimum lot sizes), since that results in sprawling development patterns that consume more land and create more impervious cover per household. Given that all the communities in the watershed currently have these kinds of zoning codes, we have a lot of work to do to promote sustainable land use patterns.
Another SGN Newsletter post (from the Washington Post) gives a little perspective on what density looks like by comparing densities in dozens of urban areas throughout the world, and showing that most U.S. cities have plenty more room for more population and density. Even New York City has about a third of the density as London, England.
And finally, a report from the Transportation Research Board (part of the U.S. Academies of Sciences) finds that transit oriented development (which designs compact development around nodes of mass transit) greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, due to reduction of automobile usage.
HRWC has many programs that are encouraging communities to take a look at their land use policies, including Green Infrastructure and Climate Resilient Communities. The Green Infrastructure project maps out communities’ networks of natural areas so that they can guide development to areas appropriate to growth. As climate change impacts our watershed with increasing rainfall, the importance of managing stormwater in urban areas, maintaining natural areas and keeping development out of floodplains and low lying areas becomes increasingly important.
From Guest Blogger Kate Chapel
I’ve had the opportunity to coordinate the Bioreserve Project this summer as an intern for HRWC. During that time, I’ve travelled three counties including nine different townships in the watershed in over a dozen different Bioreserve sites. The sites are tracks of natural area that still remain in our watershed, helping to filter rain water, offer protection and food to wildlife, and serve humans as green infrastructure. You can check out the Bioreserve Map and learn more about how it was created here.
I’ve been to just under 30 different properties this summer, which has allowed me to see some of the most diverse and beautiful land in our watershed. Many of these properties are neighboring, which has resulted in being able to see almost the entirety of three Bioreserve sites, 91, 195, 216. While much of the time I have only been able to see glimpses of a larger forest/wetland complex, I’ve been able to see the whole of these sites, right to their edges. The sites are 778, 213 and 96 acres, respectively, totaling 1,087 acres. Site 91 is Lyon Oaks County Park in Wixom.
In addition to feeling like I’m just playing in the woods, I’ve been fortunate enough to see these places with over 20 different and amazing volunteers. I’m very grateful to these dedicated people for taking time to come out with me and for teaching me so much. Interested in volunteering next year? Check out our web page for volunteers.
The data collected this summer acts as a record for HRWC about the quality of the natural areas in the watershed. It is used by local governments and land conservancies to prioritize and purchase high quality land. The data also is combined into a report for the property owners and local land conservancies as a tool for land use planning and management. If you’re interested in an ecological assessment of your land, please check out our our web page for property owners, or contact Kris Olsson at kolsson@HRWC.org.
HRWC staff picks of favorite watershed spots, celebrating 50 years of river protection and restoration work.
Growing up in Farmington, Michigan, the Big Beach trip in our family was to take a cooler and some lawn chairs up to Kensington MetroPark, where I had a great time digging in the sand, picnicking, and swimming at Maple Beach. But the highlight of the trip was always the visit to the Kensington Nature Center. Here is where I could actually touch Things From Nature! Like furs, and skulls, and the mystery boxes you put your hand in to guess what was inside. Here is where I could watch the bees for hours (well, I’m sure now it was really minutes) toiling away in the glass-walled hive. It was here, I believe, (along with weekly episodes of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” on Channel 7), where I also discovered the importance of wildlife, natural areas, and water to our quality of life, and thus was planted the seed of my future career as an advocate for the environment. Little did I know at the time that I was recreating on the Huron River and enjoying its surrounding natural beauty, and that it would be my future workplace.
So, thank you Kensington, MetroPark, for helping to make me who I am!
- Kensington MetroPark. Photo: ellenm1
HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!
Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.
Appreciate the River, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.
Wednesday, July 8, 7pm in Waterford
Join the Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area group to learn about invasive plants, how they can harm property values, safety, and water quality.
The FREE presentation will also explain how invasive plants can be controlled, who can do it, and how property owners can all work together to reap the benefits of having a proactive plan to control invasives.
Wednesday, July 8, at 7pm at theExecutive Office Building Conference Center 2100 Pontiac Lake Rd. Building 41West Waterford, MI 48328
For more information about what you can do to control invasive plants, see HRWC’s Invasive Plants Web Page
A recent HRWC Green Infrastructure Workshop has spurred a Northfield Township resident to promote native landscapes to help our struggling bee populations. Cecilia Infante has begun a campaign to increase backyard habitat for honey bees and other pollinators. “Anyone can participate by planting pollinator friendly plants in gardens or just window boxes (you don’t even need a yard). We also want to educate residents and business owners about this environmental emergency, and encourage them to make small changes that have a big impact on the environment, such as considering alternatives to pesticides (especially neonicotinoids) and to the manicured lawns that are “food deserts” for honey bees and monarchs. Landscapes of native flowers and grasses would provide forage for pollinators while requiring far less maintenance and cost than a green lawn.”
On May 19, the White House announced its National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators (Pollinator Health Strategy 2015 (pdf)). Michigan is one of the five states slated to receive a portion of the $11 million designated to support this national cause (USDA Provides $8 Million to Help Boost Declining Honey Bee Population). While the deadline to apply for the initial $3 million has passed, there are myriad other opportunities available for those interested in participating in the recovery of the honey bee and monarch populations through the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the DNR’s Wildlife Habitat Development Efforts.
In addition to forming a network of residents creating habitats, green infrastructure and applying for conservation support, Cecilia’s group hopes Northfield Township residents will consider promoting Whitmore Lake as one of the first “Bee Cities” in Michigan (Ypsilanti is currently exploring this certification–see http://www.beecityusa.org/ ).
HRWC has long advocated for native landscapes, including installation of rain gardens as stormwater-control green infrastructure – rain gardens provide great habitat and refuge for pollinators of all kinds, including honey bees and they help protect water quality by infiltrating stormwater runoff.
DNR Guide to Backyard Wildlife Management
If you would like to learn more about enhancing habitat for pollinators, or want to connect with the newly-formed “MI Pollinator Project,” email Cecilia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to Get Outdoors and Help the Huron River?
Another in an irregular blog series about climate change
Don’t let our chilly winter and (so far) spring this year fool you — this was the warmest yet year on record globally, with 14 of the 15 warmest years on record occurring since 1900. In Alaska, organizers had to move the Iditarod sled race 300 miles north to find snow.
But despite concerted effort to deny the problem away by many of our politicians and decision makers, we are seeing a positive trend in climate awareness and alternative energy markets and technology that are turning even former vice president (and climate change icon) Al Gore into somewhat of an optimist, according to a recent New York Times article. The article lists the soaring investment in wind and solar power, the steep reduction in prices for installing alternative energies for homes, and a recent agreement with China on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as reasons to hope that we can indeed curb the worst effects of climate change.
In addition, recent polls have shown overwhelming support for changing national policies to address climate change.
So, take heart, there is still time to Save the Planet!
Ever wonder how best to protect the river and its watershed?
We think about this everyday here at HRWC.
One of the best ways to is to encourage location and design of neighborhoods and businesses to keep excess runoff and pollution out of the river. Each local government (cities, villages, and townships) in the watershed is responsible for reviewing land use development and designs within their own boundaries. That means one of the best ways to help the Huron is to ensure each local government has policies in place that allow residential and commercial development in a way that allows the river and its ecosystems to continue to function.
HRWC has two tools that can help citizens in any of the 63 different local governments in the watershed get involved in their city, village or township planning commission, board, or council.
- The Citizen’s Guide to Land Use Planning (click on link. the Citizens Guide is halfway down the page), takes readers step-by-step through the land use planning process and its importance to water quality.
- As part of a new project, Green Infrastructure Services for Local Governments, funded by the Americana Foundation, HRWC has created two checklists; one for elements recommended in a local government’s Zoning Ordinance, and another for elements recommended for their Master Plan. See how many recommended elements are in your local government’s ordinance and master plan.
HRWC is currently using the checklist in partnership with Webster Township as part of their master plan revision process. HRWC plans to be working with at least two more local governments in the next year as part of this project.
The Michigan DNR is looking for public input on their Nongame Wildlife Fund. The fund is used to fund the DNR’s efforts to identify, protect, manage and restore Michigan’s biological diversity. It is an important way the DNR can fund projects that help wildlife that do not benefit directly from management of game populations such as deer, trout, or pheasant; management for these species receives direct funding from hunting and fishing licenses.
Participate in the survey and let the DNR know that nongame wildlife are important to your enjoyment of Pure Michigan.