Tribal ecosystems benefit from Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
By Jen Vanator, GLIFWC Great Lakes Program Coordinator
Odanah, Wis.—For the Anishinaabe, the protection and restoration of homeland ecosystems have always been priorities. Damage to these ecosystems and the natural resources within results in damage to tribal culture and lifeways.
With the introduction of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) in 2009, the protection, management, and restoration of the Great Lakes and their ecosystems became national priorities. This program has allowed tribes to access the resources and partnerships necessary to translate the Anishinaabe point-of-view into projects that have restored portions of the Great Lakes ecosystem and that will protect the ecosystems and resources vital to the Anishinaabe lifeway and the health of the Great Lakes.
In the two years since the GLRI was implemented, GLIFWC member tribes have succeeded in using GLRI funds to complete ecosystem restoration projects in the Great Lakes basin and surrounding areas, as well as to acquire the capacity necessary to develop and implement long-term, adaptive management plans for the future protection and maintenance of these areas.
Restoration of Great Lakes ecosystems: Wetlands and waterfowl
Tribal natural resources departments have used GLRI funds to develop and complete projects designed to enhance and restore wildlife habitat and encourage the restoration and protection of native species. In Wisconsin, the Bad River Natural Resources Department (BRNRD) used GLRI funds to enhance waterfowl habitat. Since 2010 BRNRD constructed and installed sixty waterfowl nesting structures in wetland habitats throughout the Bad River reservation. BRNRD staff built and installed twenty wood duck boxes and twenty mallard nesting cylinders, monitoring their usage rates during the 2011 field season and was able to install an additional twenty wood duck boxes in February 2012.
The Lac du Flambeau Natural Resources Department implemented a habitat restoration program on its reservation that aims to enhance wild rice and waterfowl production; benefit migratory species by increasing refuge habitat; control flooding; and provide hunting, fishing, and gathering opportunities. The project includes reconstructing a water impoundment that was flooded when a dam was breached, requiring the construction of both a control structure and spillway, and developing an environmental assessment. When completed, this project will produce 50 acres of open water, protecting approximately 1,000 acres of wetland.
Restoring the habitat for manoomin (wild rice) has been a priority for tribes throughout the region. The Lac Courte Oreilles Band is using GLRI funds to convert an old cranberry marsh into wild rice beds, including the excavation of over 30 acres of cranberry bogs. To date, the tribal natural resources department has seeded over twenty-three acres, with the tribe celebrating 2011 as the first year that wild rice was taken to seed other historic wild rice areas on the reservation. In 2012, the tribe plans to scrape and seed the southern portion of the cranberry farm.
The St. Croix Band implemented a wild rice restoration and carp removal project for Clam Lake.
In cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Burnett County Land and Water Resources Department, the tribal natural resources department removed roughly 13,000 pounds of carp while protecting 84 acres of remnant wild rice habitat with 950 feet of nylon net barrier.
Through these and other restoration projects, tribes have successfully begun the long process of restoring degraded ecosystems to ensure that they can continue to provide for the sustainable exercise of Anishinaabe lifeways.
Building tribal capacity: Baseline data & staff
In addition to providing the resources for tribes to immediately implement restoration projects, GLRI helped tribes build the capacity to develop and implement long-term management goals to protect the Great Lakes ecosystems.
One of the most important resources necessary to develop long-term management plans is site-specific data. Tribes used GLRI funds to build baseline data necessary to develop plans that address pressing issues facing the Great Lakes ecosystem. This data will be an important basis for the development of restoration, protection, and management plans throughout the Great Lakes states and critical to monitoring changes to the Great Lakes ecosystems.
Documenting invasive species/protecting native species
The Bay Mills Indian Community has surveyed over 1,600 acres of lands and waters throughout the reservation for invasive plant species. The survey recorded 22 invasive plant species on the reservation, including purple loosestrife, Japanese knotweed, giant knotweed, and narrow-leaved cattail—all high priority species. With this information, the tribe plans to implement further projects to eradicate these species using manual or chemical treatments and to design an education program to protect over 1,585 acres of submerged aquatic habitats from invasive species.
The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is also developing an invasive plant species control program to identify and control invasive species on reservations that threaten the existence of native plants, with control efforts focused on purple loosestrife, Japanese barberry, spotted knapweed, and Eurasian watermilfoil. KBIC also works in collaboration with a number of groups and agencies on invasive control efforts and native seed collection and propagation, including the United States Forest Service, Midwest Invasive Plant Network, the Baraga County Conservation District, and others.
GLIFWC has undertaken a project to survey and document the distribution and abundance of non-native plants across northern Wisconsin and western Upper Michigan. With this information, GLIFWC plans on developing a species distribution model for ten culturally significant native plants and a forecast model that will demonstrate the threat to those native plants posed by the non-native plants. The data gathered and developed through this project will help to inform and prioritize targeted management actions aimed at protecting the native plants.
Tribes have also begun to gather the data necessary to monitor the health of fish populations and habitats in lakes throughout their reservations and ceded territories. The Bay Mills Indian Community is using GLRI funds to study the linkages between tributaries and the Whitefish Bay and their significance for lake whitefish management. The tribe is taking genetic samples from lake whitefish to be analyzed by students from Lake Superior State University to determine whether the fish sampled at each site in Whitefish Bay belong to genetically distinct spawning populations.
The Red Cliff Band used GLRI money to perform a shoreline assessment to get a better understanding of the current fish community, shoreline habitat, and overall water quality along twenty-two miles of tribal shoreline. In the future, this information about the shoreline community may benefit tribal fishermen. In the first year, the tribe found an overabundance of the invasive Eurasian ruffe throughout the shoreline, with high concentrations found in multiple locations that could pose a threat to native fish targeted by tribal fishermen. The tribe plans to continue sampling through next season, with attention to shoreline areas documented with high ruffe abundance.
Tribes have used GLRI funds to hire new staff with the specific expertise necessary to track and analyze activities that have the potential to impact tribal land. KBIC hired a mining technical assistant to track mining exploration and potential mining activity within its ceded territory and reservation boundaries. The assistant compiles technical and scientific data, provides outreach to the community, and assists the tribal government in making decisions regarding mining activities. The Bad River Band has used GLRI funds to hire two seasonal and two full-time employees, including a wildlife-GIS specialist and a natural resources project coordinator, to track and analyze activities that may potentially impact the reservation, ceded territories, or the watershed.
These projects represent just a few of those that have been completed or implemented by GLIFWC and its member tribes in the two years since the GLRI was implemented. The success of these projects show that the protection and restoration of the natural world remain priorities for the Anishinaabe.