Restoring Irwin Wet Prairie

Enhances Wildlife Habitat

Tree removal, invasive species control, and prescribed burns at a prairie outside Toledo, Ohio, is improving habitat and protecting Lake Erie water quality.

Description

As part of the Oak Openings Region near Toledo, Ohio, Irwin Wet Prairie is one of the last pieces of natural land in the highly developed western Lake Erie basin. Irwin and the surrounding area play a crucial role in preserving Lake Erie’s water quality, filtering out the excess nutrients running off from croplands and stabilizing soil to reduce sediment loss. This ecosystem also promotes a high level of native plants, birds, and insects, and it is home to one of the last known populations of spotted turtle in Ohio. Unfortunately, much of the region’s habitat has been lost to urban development and agriculture, and what remains has been significantly degraded by the land use changes. Over a century of management for fire suppression has altered the natural plant populations in these fire-dependent ecosystems, resulting in an increase in shrubs and trees such as red maple and sassafras, which shade out native grasses and forbs. Invasive plants have moved in and further reduced the area’s biodiversity, increasing soil erosion and decreasing Irwin Wet Prairie’s ability to filter out pollutants from Lake Erie.

Thanks to a grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Nature Conservancy and several partner organizations are taking steps to restore the natural ecology of this region. Workers are removing trees, brush, and invasive species to open up the area to sunlight, allowing native plants a chance to grow. Workers have also conducted several prescribed burns to reintroduce the role of fire in the ecosystem. The Nature Conservancy is also creating habitat corridors that allow rare spotted turtles to travel between the wet prairie and their breeding grounds.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Habitat degradation
  • Invasive species
  • Sediment build up
  • Poor water quality

IRWIN WET PRAIRIE RESTORATION

A sunset over the prairie

Native species are beginning to come back to the Irwin Wet Prairie, now that red maple and Sassafras trees that were crowding out the native prairie plants have been removed. Credit: the Nature Conservancy.

Results and Accomplishments

By the end of 2018, all 467 acres in the Irwin Wet Prairie are expected to be restored. Reintroducing a varied and native plant community will improve habitat quality and enhance the region’s ability to prevent sediment and pollutants from flowing into Lake Erie. Irwin Wet Prairie is part of the Green Ribbon Initiative which aims to protect a continuous stretch of preserved habitat within the Oak Openings Region, with future plans of developing a trail system to promote outdoor recreation and public appreciation of the ecosystem.