Restoring and protecting vital coastal wetlands: Eastern Shore, Lake St. Clair

Coastal wetlands on the eastern shore of Lake St. Clair.Photo: St. Clair Region Conservation Authority.

2013-2014 Funding: $209,350, including $15,000 provided by the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund

Other Project Contributors: Rural Lambton Stewardship Network, the Cadotte Family, Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority, Friends of the St. Clair River, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, St. Clair Region Conservation Authority, Chatham Kent Municipality, Ontario Trillium Foundation, Stewardship Kent, Tallgrass Ontario, and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

Nearly 20 hectares of wetlands on an historic privately-owned property - one of the last remaining coastal wetlands on the eastern shore of Lake St. Clair - have been restored and protected with the support of the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund.

Restoring and creating coastal wetland habitat is a key objective of the Area of Concern’s Remedial Action Plan. The wetlands and shallow open waters of the lower St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair are considered some of the most important wetland areas in the Great Lakes basin. Located at a crossing point of the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, the coastal marshes of Lake St. Clair offer critical resting and feeding habitat for migratory waterfowl. The marshes also provide extensive nesting habitat for a variety of other waterfowl and marsh dwelling birds.

For decades, however, many wetlands in the delta and along the eastern shore of Lake St. Clair have been drained and dyked for agricultural purposes and urban development. As well, habitat in the area has been damaged by the invasive plant species phragmites, a tall perennial reed that spreads quickly, reducing habitat and food supplies for wildlife. 

The Cadotte Rex Club property, located between Mitchell’s Bay and Walpole Island, has a long history in the area, dating back to the 1830s. The property, operated today as a popular hunting and fishing lodge, is considered a provincially significant wetland, though the phragmites invasion has seriously undermined its wetland and wildlife habitat functions.

The restoration project was carried out in several phases. First, phragmites plants were removed through selective herbicide applications, flattening the reeds and carrying out a prescribed burn. Next, a four-hectare pond was created to provide turtle overwintering and basking opportunities as well as nesting opportunities for birds. Along the lake and pond, native vegetation was planted to protect the exposed soil from erosion and provide a food source for fish and wildlife. Another four hectares of native prairie plants were planted to attract grassland birds and pollinator insects. Bat and bird boxes and nests and snake hibernation structures also were installed. 

Finally, a 700-metre nature trail was constructed through the wetland, linking up with an existing path to form a four-kilometer trail ending at the Lake St. Clair shore. The trail will provide an opportunity for residents and visitors to explore this important habitat rehabilitation project and wetlands area.

For more information on the St. Clair Area of Concern, please visit: Friends of the St. Clair River.   

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