MICHIGAN - Audubon Great Lakes in partnership with Ottawa County Parks and over 20 stakeholders published its Grand River Coastal Corridor: Ecological Assessment and Conservation Recommendations, a comprehensive conservation analysis for the Grand River Coastal Corridor (GRCC). The GRCC is an ecologically significant area that is well-positioned to connect people and wildlife across Grand Haven, Muskegon, and Grand Rapids through landscape-scale natural area restoration and inclusive recreational access.
Using Audubon’s spatial prioritization data of top coastal wetlands for marsh bird conservation, natural inventories, scientific literature, community science data and stakeholder input, Audubon identified priority areas and recommendations for wetland conservation, restoration and management that best support wildlife while addressing climate resiliency and public health needs of local communities.
“The Grand River Coastal Corridor is home to some of the highest quality natural communities in the entire state of Michigan and supports high levels of biodiversity, including sensitive or rare species of conservation concern and is regionally and globally important for birds,” said Erin Rowan, Senior Conservation Associate at Audubon Great Lakes. “But invasive species, development and climate change have severely degraded coastal wetland habitat causing significant declines in marsh bird populations and reducing the resilience of Great Lakes communities to a changing environment.”
The corridor is ecologically significant, part of a globally recognized Important Bird Area for migratory and overwintering waterfowl, and is also a core area containing hundreds of acres of the top 20% of Great Lakes wetlands critical for marsh bird conservation in the region. It supports significant numbers of migratory birds each spring and fall, serving as a migratory hotspot and stopover site as they rest and refuel on their way to and from wintering grounds. The corridor also provides ecosystem services to communities in the form of stormwater and carbon storage, water filtration, and more, making it extremely climate resilient, particularly among the Lake Michigan shorelines. The corridor holds cultural value for the Gun Lake Tribe for Wild Rice and fisheries management and restoration.
“In order to address these ecological threats at the landscape-scale while conserving the ecological integrity of the corridor, we recommend higher levels of protections for key areas that can increase habitat connectivity and climate flow within the corridor and increase protections for currently unprotected priority wetlands,” added Rowan.
“When the Ottawa Sands acquisition became a reality, Parks staff and stakeholders knew that something really special had been created in northwest Ottawa County. Ottawa Sands was the final piece of a six-mile long connected corridor of 2,400 acres of publicly-owned duneland, Lake Michigan shoreline, and Grand River wetlands and shoreline,” said Ottawa County Parks Director Jason Shamblin. “Therefore, we set out to determine how valuable this ecological corridor may be for biodiversity. The Grand River Coastal Corridor Ecological Assessment and Conservation Recommendations Report confirms what we suspected about this area: that it is of vital importance locally, regionally, and even globally. It also identifies work that needs to be done to further ensure that it is properly maintained and enhanced.”
Some of the top priority areas for wetland conservation and restoration included in the report are Ottawa Sands, The Sag, Harbor Island and Dornbos Island.
To help prioritize conservation action across the region, the report has identified several priority areas that can increase habitat connectivity and increase the region’s resiliency across the coastal zone.
- Facilitate the establishment of a diverse collaborative group to address landscape-level issues: stakeholders should meet regularly to establish a conservation action plan for the corridor that could support and fill gaps in the existing Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds (LGROW) Watershed Management Plan and collaboratively pursue funding to implement it.
- As part of the development of a conservation action plan, stakeholders should further define and prioritize ecosystem creation, restoration, and enhancement areas.
- As part of the development of a conservation action plan, stakeholders should identify specific vegetation and wildlife management strategies for the corridor: invasive plant removal and management, such as Phragmites australis, should be prioritized as secretive marsh birds and waterfowl prefer to breed in areas without it. Hemi-marsh restoration for marsh birds could be done in conjunction with Phragmites management, as it often grows in dense stands. Deer population management is also needed if restoration efforts are going to be effective. In-stream restoration throughout the corridor could support the Lake Michigan Lake Sturgeon fishery and wild rice beds.
- Support water quality management strategies of stakeholders: incorporate habitat creation and restoration into green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) where possible and encourage the inclusion of GSI in stormwater management plans within the corridor where it currently doesn’t exist.
- Establish programs for ongoing monitoring of secretive marsh birds, conservation focal species, water quality, and macroinvertebrates to fill critical knowledge gaps and guide management actions.
- Create outreach strategies and programming to educate the public about the benefits of the corridor and how they can get involved in stewardship and monitoring efforts within the corridor.
Earlier this year, Audubon Great Lakes released its vision plan to restore the Great Lakes region. As part of this vision, Audubon used spatial data to outline 12 wetland conservation and restoration priority areas within the Great Lakes region, including the Eastern Lake MI shoreline. In this region, Audubon has partnered with Ottawa County Parks since 2018 to protect and restore critical marsh bird habitat at the mouth of the Grand River
This report was made possible through funding by the Wege Foundation in collaboration with the Ottawa County Parks Foundation and the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission.
To learn more about the findings and recommendations in Audubon’s Great Lake’s Coastal Corridor report, visit: https://gl.audubon.org/coastal-wetlands/grand-river-coastal-corridor
About Audubon Great Lakes
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive.
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