- Coastal wetlands
- Primary coastal wetlands
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A Data Compilation and Assessment
Coastal Wetlands of Wisconsin's Great Lakes
The state of Wisconsin is bordered by Lake Superior to the northwest and Lake Michigan to the east. The 820 miles of combined shoreline make up a complex arrangement of ecosystems that contain a rich variety of natural features. Wetlands near the coasts of both lakes provide rich habitat for plants and animals and greatly influence the larger ecosystem processes of the Great Lakes Ecosystem. As transition zones (or ecotones) between land and water, coastal wetlands are often rich in species diversity and provide critical habitat for migratory and nesting birds, spawning fish, and rare plants. However, various types of development and recreation continue to impact coastal wetlands and limit their capacities to perform important ecosystem functions.
Numerous inventories and reports have been completed pertaining to coastal wetlands throughout Wisconsin. For example, the Bureau of Endangered Resources (BER) has completed a number of important inventory and data assessment projects over the last decade aimed at improving our understanding of coastal ecosystems and coastal wetland sites, in particular. However, at the time when this project was initiated (1999) a comprehensive synthesis of coastal wetland information for the Great Lakes had not been completed. Moreover, significant inventory gaps existed throughout the coastal zone in Wisconsin.
The focus of this project was to conduct an assessment of existing coastal wetland data to determine ecologically significant coastal wetland sites within the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior basins. The goals were to identify inventory gaps for guiding future inventory and planning efforts by the Bureau of Endangered Resources and others. The project was implemented in three phases, each one building incrementally upon the previous phase, as follows:
The first year of the project was, primarily, a survey of existing studies and resulted in the identification of 64 Primary Sites within the coastal zones of Lakes Michigan and Superior, including 28 sites near Lake Superior and 36 sites near Lake Michigan. The significance of the sites was determined based on the current level of information available. However, it was acknowledged that large data gaps existed, especially for Lake Michigan coastal wetlands. These gaps were identified focusing on NHI-related data (rare plants, animals, natural communities, and other natural features) and documented as part of the final report (Merryfield 2000) for this phase of the project. Phase I was completed in 2000.
Phase 2 was initiated in October, 2000 with the goal of filling some of the most critical data gaps and developing preliminary products intended, ultimately, to serve as the basis for public documents to be developed in subsequent phases. Several work items were completed including a "windshield survey" of 26 of 36 Lake Michigan Primary Sites (as defined in Phase 1). In addition, prioritization criteria for evaluating the "known ecological significance" of coastal wetland sites were developed and applied to all 64 sites to develop a "top 10" list of priority sites for both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Next, future inventory needs for all 64 coastal wetland sites were identified and a prioritized list of sites with large "data gaps" for both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior was developed. In addition, we initiated extensive data gathering for missing bird and fish data. Two primary databases were procured, the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas and the Wisconsin Fish Species database, in addition to a number of other important but smaller databases. Finally, we began efforts to make all of the above information available in draft format through a website and a prototype CD-ROM that would contain project reports, site descriptions for the 64 coastal wetland sites identified during Phase 1, and photographs of important ecological sites and features. The preliminary website contained the basic structure for a comprehensive overview of the information collected by BER throughout the coarse of the Coastal Wetland Assessment project.
The current phase of the project was initiated in 2001 with the primary goals of 1) continuing to gather and incorporate coastal wetlands data into BER';s Biological Conservation Database (BCD), 2) filling in data gaps as resources allowed through limited field inventory for high ranking sites identified during phase 2, and 3) developing the products that began in Phase 2 (this website, CD-ROM, and technical report including site descriptions). The ultimate intended outcome of the project (Phase 4) will be a publicly distributed product in an easy-to-read format, filled with pictures, maps and graphics that would help increase public awareness to the importance of coastal wetlands in Wisconsin. The basis for these products would be the ecologically significant sites, their site descriptions, and the regional and local ecological importance of each site.