Working with the Walpole Island First Nation to restore wetlands: Swan Lake Marsh

Swan Lake Marsh.

Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada.

2011-2012 to 2014-2015 Funding: $381,970, including $114,500 provided by the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund

Other Project Contributors: Walpole Island Land Trust; the Walpole Island Heritage Centre; Sustain Our Great Lakes Grant Program; Tahgahoning Enterprises; the Canada Ontario Resource Development Agreement; Centennial College; the Walpole Island First Nation Employment and Training; and the Walpole Island First Nation.

With the support of the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, the Walpole Island First Nation has launched an exciting pilot project to restore wetland fish and wildlife habitat while using the restored site as an “outdoor classroom.”

Walpole Island, located on the St. Clair River delta at the southern edge of the St. Clair River Area of Concern, is one of the most biologically diverse areas in Canada. The island includes tallgrass prairies, oak savannas, wetlands and rare Carolinian forests, and is home to numerous rare and endangered species. Decades ago, several wetlands on the First Nation were impounded by dykes for agricultural and hunting purposes. However, the resulting separation of the marsh from the lake led to the loss of hydrological functions of the wetlands and restricted fish access to spawning and rearing habitat within the marsh.

The Project is targeting the Swan Lake Marsh on St. Anne Island, near Wallaceburg, ON. The site is a dyked 171 acre (422 ha) wetland located within two major flyways, the Atlantic and the Mississippi, and is linked to the Eastern Lake St. Clair Important Bird Area. It was one of the first wetlands within the First Nation delta to be impounded by dykes, making it a good candidate for wetland restoration. 

In 2012, using traditional knowledge and input from the community, Project partners developed a wetland restoration plan to guide activities at the site over the next five years. Repairs to the dyke and access road were started and upon completion, a water pump will be installed to control water levels within the marsh. As well, a community information session on wetland health monitoring was held, plans were prepared for the re-vegetation of the dyked area and construction was started on a pavilion. The Project also began an evaluation of different techniques to control Phragmites, a tall, invasive wetlands plant.

Looking ahead, a key priority of the Project is to involve youth and facilitate outdoor and place-based learning by using the site as an “outdoor classroom.” Elders will be able to share with youth their traditional knowledge about hunting, fishing and gathering, and volunteer “marsh monitors” from the community will be able to hone their expertise. The experience and knowledge gained through this project will be applied to future habitat restoration projects within the community.

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

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