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Restoring Habitat in the Heartland

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DU and Partners Help Indiana Farmer Restore Wetland, Wildlife and Water Quality

NOBLE COUNTY, Ind., February 12, 2007 - For nearly a century, farmers and the government have fought to keep water off of one low-lying, 20-acre wetland basin in northeastern Indiana.  That is, until Gary Franklin, a farmer from Noble County decided to restore his land back to what it used to be – a thriving wetland near the Elkhart River.

Through a cost-share program called the Northeast Indiana Wetland and Grassland Initiative (Initiative), Franklin enlisted the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Ducks Unlimited (DU) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to restore the property at no cost to him.

“It’s been a wonderful addition to the farm,” said Franklin. “It wasn’t that many years ago, that would have been considered a worthless piece of ground, and now, being a useful wetland, it’s just as valuable as cropland.”

Not only is the land valuable to Franklin, it’s proven priceless to many wildlife that frequent the wetland and its surrounding habitat. 

 “The rabbits have come back,” Franklin said. “We now have a population of pheasants and a covey of quail.  The deer bed down there, and the ducks and shorebirds are just going nuts out here.”

Franklin says the first spring, there were more that 350 ducks using the restored wetland, and he counted ten different species, including mallards, northern pintails, shovelers, blue-winged teal, wood ducks, ring-necks, goldeneye and canvasbacks. 

“I’d never seen anything like that before in Indiana,” he said.  “We’ve always had wood ducks along the river, and now they’ve moved into this wetland. We counted three broods in total, and had more than 30 wood ducks.  One brood was from the DU nesting box we built from DU’s plans. It’s just been so much fun watching those little ones grow up.”

Franklin, a long-time hunter, conservatively hunts his farm. 

“I got a banded Canada goose and a nice 8-point buck this fall,” he said.  “I got my first triple on green-winged teal.  I’m just like a kid again.  There’s no place I’d rather be than right here, because of this wetland.” 

But Franklin and the wildlife in his back yard aren’t the only beneficiaries of the wetland.  The Elkhart River and all who enjoy it are reaping rewards too, DU Regional Biologist Jason Hill, explained.

“Before we restored this wetland, runoff water from surrounding croplands ran straight into the river and took nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment from the crops along with it,” Hill said. “That’s not good for water quality in a river.  It can cause all sorts of problems.  But now, runoff water hits this wetland first. Wetland plants are able to take up those extra nutrients that would pollute the river and filter them out through the vegetation and soil. Now, the water coming out of that wetland is cleaner and clearer.  It’s definitely improving the water quality of the Elkhart River.”

Franklin got the idea to restore his wetland at a DU banquet in Kendallville.  

“I was talking to the DU representatives about my aggravation at not being able to find a decent place to duck hunt, so they mentioned the DU partnership program that helps private landowners restore wetlands and grasslands,” Franklin said.

Through the initiative, the FWS, DU and DNR work together, providing technical assistance, funding and actual groundwork to help landowners restore wetlands and grasslands. The program has conserved hundreds of acres across northeast Indiana. 

Franklin’s wetland, like many farms in Noble County, was drained in 1911, through federal and county assistance that encouraged landowners to install drain tiles beneath wetlands that effectively removed the water from the basins as quickly as it came in. 

“Once that county tile went through there, people started farming that low area,” said Franklin, whose family has owned the farm since the 1950s.  In that time, it’s grown everything from mint, to corn to canary grass and cattle. 

Franklin always knew the land wasn’t meant for farming or grazing. It was just too wet. From the moment DU and partners replaced the tile drain with a water control structure to help refill and manage the wetland, Franklin knew he’d made the right decision.

“Every morning, when I walk out, I look back there and just know we did the right thing,” he said.  “It’s just been the right thing to do to quit fighting that land and help it become a useful wetland, which is what it wanted to be all along.”

Franklin says he hopes other farmers will consider doing the same on their properties.

“Farmers have a real good opportunity now to turn these low spots into useful and enjoyable wetlands,” he said.  “I would encourage people to use something like this to add value and enjoyment to their farms and communities rather than making the mistakes of the past and destroying these amazing habitats.” 

Contact: Laura Houseal
(901) 758-3764
lhouseal@ducks.org 

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with almost 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands - nature’s most productive ecosystem - and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.

 

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