Coastal Wetlands

Priority Region: Green Bay

Restoring wetlands at a critically important region for Wisconsin birds.
Great Lakes Piping Plover. Photo: Tom Prestby/Audubon Great Lakes.
Great Lakes Piping Plover. Photo: Tom Prestby/Audubon Great Lakes.
Coastal Wetlands

Priority Region: Green Bay

Restoring wetlands at a critically important region for Wisconsin birds.

Protecting Birds in the Green Bay Region

Green Bay is the largest freshwater estuary in the world and a refuge for Wisconsin birds. Throughout the region there are four Audubon Important Bird Areas (IBAs), which are recognized for providing the critically important habitat for marsh birds, migratory land birds, and vulnerable shorebirds. ​

Habitat fragmentation, forest clearing, degredation and a history of pollution has resulted in a massive loss of wetlands throughout the region. The remaining wetlands are critically important to the vulnerable marsh birds that depend on them. Nearly half of Lake Michigan’s high-priority coastal wetlands lie within the Green Bay region.

Audubon Great Lakes is monitoring the region's vulnerable birds, and is working with partners to assess the overall restoration potential within the region, which will inform our future wetland restoration work.

Working in the Areas Where Birds Need Us Most 

The Green Bay region has been identified by Audubon scientists as one of the 12 most important coastal wetland regions across the Great Lakes that are most important to conserve or restore for vulnerable marsh birds. Audubon Great Lakes is working with partners in each of these priority regions to coordinate landscape-scale bird monitoring and habitat restoration.

Explore Audubon’s Vision: Restoring the Great Lakes for Birds and People to see Audubon's plans to address the biggest threats facing birds and people. 

Our Conservation & Restoration Work

Since 2016, Great Lakes Piping Plovers have been nesting in the region. In 2022, Audubon Great Lakes launched a partnership with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to coordinate a team of monitors from USFWS, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Univesity of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Northeast Wisconsin (NEW) Audubon who make daily observations to gather knowledge about these birds, to increase nest success and fledgling survival. Audubon Great Lakes also helps advocate for and educate the public about Piping Plovers in Northeast Wisconsin.

Audubon Great Lakes has also partnered with Oneida Nation and Northeast Wisconsin (NEW) Audubon Society to launch a collaborative bird survey across restored grassland and marshland sites on Oneida land to better understand how bird populations are rebounding. In 2021, volunteers counted 61 bird species, which demonstrates how the Tribe's restoration has paid off. In 2022, surveys expanded to grazed grasslands, woodlands, and shrublands.

Future restoration opportunities could include a focus on restoring the region’s natural hydrology, improving water quality, improving wetlands connectivity, expanding community involvement in local conservation, and maintaining and enhancing existing wetlands for the benefit of vulnerable marsh birds like the Yellow-headed Blackbird, Least Bittern and American Bittern. 

History of the Region 

Green Bay has historically supported an abundance of breeding marsh birds, breeding and migratory waterfowl, fish, and many other types of wildlife. Years of urbanization and pollution have degraded the region’s wetlands, particularly in the lower Green Bay area. These disturbances have facilitated the spread of invasive plants such as phragmites, reed canary grass, purple loosestrife, hybrid cattail, and glossy buckthorn in the past few decades. However, many areas of the bay are rebounding following restoration work that has targeted the management of invasive species.

Currently, the lower Green Bay region and its rivers, the Fox and East Rivers, are listed as an Environmental Protection Agency Area of Concern (AOC) due to a history of pollution from local agriculture and the pulp and paper industry.

In 2012, construction began for the Cat Island Restoration Project, a multi-partner habitat restoration project that has already added a significant amount of new habitat to the region for breeding and migratory bird species.

Project Partners & Supporters 

Audubon Great Lakes is grateful to project partners and supporters who make our work possible. 

Project Partners:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Northeast Wisconsin (NEW) Audubon Society

University of WisconsinGreen Bay  Oneida Nation

UW-Green Bay Audubon Student Conservation Chapter

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Supporters: 

Audubon’s work in the Green Bay region is supported by  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

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