Supporting the work of First Nations in Wetland restoration: Swan Lake Marsh, Walpole Island First Nation

Swan Lake Marsh, located on St. Anne Island at Walpole Island First Nation, near Wallaceburg.

Photo: Walpole Island First Nation.

2013-2015 Funding: $175,000, including $35,000 in 2013-2014 and $49,500 in 2014-2015 provided by the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund

Other Project Contributors: Environment and Climate Change Canada, Walpole Island First Nation, Walpole Island Land Trust, and Centennial College.

The Walpole Island First Nation is continuing its wide-ranging work to restore one of the largest wetland systems on the Great Lakes, with the support of the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund.

One of the first sites to be worked on is a dyked wetland of nearly 70 hectares, called the Swan Lake Marsh, located on St. Anne Island at Walpole Island First Nation, near Wallaceburg. The Swan Lake Marsh is part of the second largest wetland system on the Great Lakes and at the crossroads of the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways. The wetland complex provides critical resting and feeding habitat for migratory waterfowl and extensive nesting habitat for a variety of other waterfowl and marsh-dwelling birds, fish and amphibians. 

Over the years, the extensive enclosure and diking of wetlands in the Great Lakes has significantly altered their hydrological function and biodiversity. 

For many years, the Swan Lake Marsh had been used as a waterfowl hunting club. In 2006, the Walpole Island First Nation decided to restore the marsh, located within its traditional Bkejwanong territory, to increase biodiversity and use it for educational and traditional purposes, such as sustenance hunting. Following extensive consultation with community residents, local fishers and hunters, a comprehensive restoration and management plan was established in 2013. The plan identifies community goals and objectives, and is guiding the implementation of various restoration activities over a three-year period.

The First Nation has made considerable progress in implementing the restoration and management plan. For example:

  • local community volunteers have completed baseline monitoring for fish and wildlife;  
  • the First Nation has partnered with community hunters and researchers from Centennial College to map the infestation of Phragmites in the marsh - a tall invasive plant species that has reduced habitat quality for many aquatic species; 
  • the road accessing the wetland has been improved to facilitate access and a berm has been reinforced and planted with native vegetation to prevent erosion, enhance plant diversity and improve water depth within the wetland;
  • with the support and involvement of Centennial College, docks and benches have been constructed to encourage community use of the wetland;
  • a mobile pump is being utilized to manage the wetland water levels; 
  • excavation of a large pond is underway to improve fish habitat within the marsh; and,
  • a viewing platform and covered pavilion will be constructed to provide shelter and serve as a meeting place for outdoor educational activities and programs.

Throughout the project, community newsletters, open houses and Ecosystem Circle meetings are being used to engage the community to solicit ideas and provide regular progress reports.

The final phase of restoration work is expected to be completed in 2016-2017. The restored wetland will provide the community the opportunity to bring youth and Elders together to learn about ethical hunting practices and survival techniques and to share stories about their historic relationship with the environment.

For more information on the St. Clair Area of Concern, please visit: Bkejwanong Territory - Walpole Island First Nation.

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