Monroe News: Officials: Pointe Mouillee a success story
Pointe Mouillee State Game Area is in Berlin Township, tucked along the Lake Erie shoreline.
If you have an interest in wildlife, hunting, birding or fishing in southeast Michigan, it’s probably a site you’ve visited over the years.
The reason: It’s considered the largest fresh water marsh restoration project in North America, with about 5,200 acres dedicated to wildlife and water quality.
“This place is pretty spectacular,” Gildo Tori, senior director of regional policy at Ducks Unlimited, said Friday morning.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, was the guest of honor Friday at the site as Tori and other local wildlife officials and volunteers showed him some of the restoration and habitat improvements that have taken place in recent years.
“It’s just incredible the continuity of care out here,” the congressman said as the tour wrapped up.
Three federal programs are considered important funding sources for Pointe Mouillee: The North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and America’s Conservation Enhancement Act.
“I applaud you for your efforts,” Walberg said as the group concluded its reports and split up into a vehicle convoy for a driving tour.
About a dozen people were part of the event, many of them representing Ducks Unlimited or the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Walberg has been a frequent visitor to Pointe Mouillee.
For him, Friday was a chance to catch up on long term projects and also to see how things worked out this year under the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ staffing complications throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The consensus of those attending the meeting was that Pointe Mouillee’s success relies, in a large part, on local wildlife and environment organizations pooling their respective financial and volunteer resources.
That cooperation in the private sector allows state officials to leverage a significant local match when seeking federal funding.
“It takes a lot of money, a lot of resources to do this work,” said Chris Sebastian, public affairs coordinator for Ducks Unlimited.
Pointe Mouillee was once privately-owned hunting and agriculture property. The state acquired the property in 1945.
Joseph Robinson, supervisor for South Eastern Lower Peninsula Region for Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said the site needed a lot of work to get back to its natural wetlands habitat.
Those participating in the tour explained the ecological history: Parts of lower Michigan and northern Ohio were once part of the Great Black Swamp.
As the Lake Erie water levels rose and fell over the years, so did the waters in the wetlands surrounding the lake. That cycle fed an environment diverse in plants, birds and other wildlife.
The varied habitat is why southeast Michigan became part of bird migration paths.
As people started to settle in specific areas, they drained water out to create agricultural fields and residential areas.
One of the impacts of halting the natural cycle and keeping inland water levels stable for too long was the introduction of invasive species such as the phragmites, a tall reed plant that is commonly seen in the region.
Manually changing the environment also throttles native plant growth, as some species will only emerge during certain conditions.
But Sebastian said it’s possible to restore the natural habitat by restoring the wet, dry cycle that once was seen in the wetlands.
At Pointe Mouillee, that work has been primarily achieved through a series of artificial dikes, barriers and mechanical water pumps. The work also includes rebuilding of dikes and clearing downed trees where needed.
One of the tour stops was at the Bad Creek unit site where Robinson explained the efforts had pushed a former soybean field back into wetlands.
The Bad Creek restoration started in 2014, a portable pump now floods the 74-acre wetland as needed.
Near that site is the Cripple Point Unit, a 28-acre wetland area that is in the last stages of restoration.
As the visitors talked about the events of the past year, the conversations included the fact that much of the DNR staff was sidelined this spring under Michigan’s “stay home” orders.
In addition, the department was not able to hire summer staff. So when the full-time staff was allowed back in the field, they had a lot of seasonal repairs and cleanup to catch up on.
In the meantime, Tori said, Michigan residents had a marked increase in participation in outdoor recreation activities. After all, it was something that they could do even under COVID-19 restrictions.
“People want to come out for their mental health and physical health,” he added.
For more than 70 years, the Pointe Mouille Waterfowl Festival had helped educate the public about the site and allowed wildlife organization members network to the extent that has been done.
“We’re working together,” said Joe Marra, a member of Ducks Unlimited and a festival committee member. “It’s kind of unique to this area.”
When Walberg asked how the cancellation of the 2020 festival might affect future local finances, the response was that they hoped to compensate for it in the long run.
“We need to get creative and keep expanding our partnerships,” said Kali Rush, regional biologist with Ducks Unlimited.
This article originally appeared in the October 24 edition of the Monroe News.