Representatives from Ducks Unlimited, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife service joined director Tony Kolenic, associate curator Michael Kost, and natural areas manager Steven Parrish for a discussion about restoration in the Great Lakes region. Photo: Alyssa Abaloz

On January 26th, Matthaei Botanical Gardens welcomed U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., for a presentation on local conservation efforts supported by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). 
Representatives from Ducks Unlimited, Healing Our Waters, Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined Tony Kolenic, Matthaei-Nichols director, and Michael Kost, associate curator, in presenting numerous restoration efforts funded by the GLRI. 
Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, described the numerous partnerships and projects supported by the GLRI. “GLRI is the foundation of our coalition. It really launched one of the most effective ecological restoration projects in the country. Right now we have had over $3.8 billion invested in the Great Lakes…that’s over 5,000 projects–most focused on cleaning up toxic hot spots, wetland restoration, habitat restoration, dam removal, and coastal restoration.”

Natural areas manager Steve Parrish pets invasive Sea Lamprey brought by a representative from the Great Lakes Fishing Commission. Photo: Alyssa Abaloz.

Restoration work in Cummings Fen, located at the north end of Matthaei Botanical Gardens, was supported by the GLRI in 2021. Over the course of just one week, a contractor from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) utilized heavy equipment to clear four acres of invasive shrubs, specifically targeting common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus), to restore the area to its prairie fen habitat.

Before and after removal of invasive shrubbery at Cummings Fen. Photos: Steven Parrish.

“The invasive removal completed in a week would have taken me my entire career,” remarked Steven Parrish, Matthaei-Nichols natural areas manager.
A globally rare wetland natural community, prairie fens provide critical habitat for the federally threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Reducing shrub cover significantly increases the amount of basking habitat for the massasauga and improves habitat for its small mammal prey. Pollinators also benefit through increased foraging habitat.

Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnake.

“It is a requirement for this grant that we match, or follow up, the work that was done, so we have opportunities to greatly expand this project by involving community, student, and faculty partners…my hope is that we can build on the work already done–ramp it up, if you will! Have stronger student and community engagement with stewardship, extending to public education as well,” – Associate Curator Michael Kost.
Kost noted the rich opportunities for inventory and monitoring of the rare prairie fen natural community. “We know a lot of the plants we have on the property, but we have very little understanding of what insects live here. We have a fair amount of knowledge about the bird communities, but not to the depth that we could. The mussels that live in the water [of Fleming Creek]–we have not surveyed the mussels since the 1940s!”
In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Matthaei-Nichols is currently working on plans for further restoration of Cummings Fen at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Dow Field at Nichols Arboretum.
When asked about future restoration plans, Kost remarked, “Cummings Fen is part of the floodplain of Fleming Creek, which runs two miles where it eventually joins the Huron River. That corridor has pockets of natural communities that are recognizable…have their native flora, but they need some invasive species control.”