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Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands

Great Lakes coastal wetlands are some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in Michigan and they are crucial to the health of the Great Lakes basin as a whole.  Coastal wetlands serve as spawning and nesting habitat for a variety of animals, help maintain water quality throughout the basin, aid in preventing erosion along exposed shorelines and offer recreational and tourism opportunities throughout the state.  Based on the Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Consortium inventory of coastal wetlands, Michigan has approximately 275,748 acres of Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Michigan has lost about 50% of the coastal wetlands that existed in Michigan prior to European settlement. In some locations, such as the Detroit River, loss is as high as 90%.  As the population of Michigan grows and brings with it the threat of additional land conversion for agriculture and industry, protection of these areas becomes more important than ever.  

Habitat types found in these coastal areas include marshes, fens, bogs, freshwater estuaries, forested dune and swale complexes, lake plain prairie and many others.  Each of these habitat types supports unique array of plant and animal species.   Development of habitat in coastal wetlands depends on a variety of factors, including shoreline configuration, glacial and bedrock geology, climate and human land use.  Fluctuating water levels also play an important role in the ecology of these systems, and are necessary to maintain biodiversity in coastal wetlands. 

Despite the impacts that have reduced the area of coastal wetland throughout the state, there is still an astonishing amount of biodiversity within these areas.  Coastal wetlands are essential to many species of fish, such as yellow perch, largemouth bass and northern pike.  Many of the unique wetland types along Michigan's coastline also provide critical habitats for numerous rare and imperiled species including the Hine's Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana), Pugnose Minnow (Opsopoeodus emiliae), Black Tern (Chlidonias niger), Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris), Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), and many others. 

Between Land and Lakes: Michigan's Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands


The State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) formed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Environment Canada has identified coastal wetlands as an imperiled resource in the Great Lakes.  In response to this finding, the EPA formed the Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands Consortium (GLCWC) to develop a basin-wide monitoring plan.  By participating in the GLCWC, the department plays an active role in the effort to coordinate monitoring among states and provinces


As wetland losses occur, the need to preserve high quality areas becomes more important.  The department's wetland strategy f includes ensuring Michigan's rarest, highest quality and most vulnerable wetland systems are identified and that strategies are developed to protect and manage these resources.  In particular, we are working on several projects to ensure protection of coastal wetland areas remains a top priority. 

Together with the department's Coastal Management Program, we are formulating a plan for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program.  This program distributes federal funds to state and local government agencies for permanent protection of coastal areas.  Michigan hopes to nominate several projects to receive this funding every year once the plan is complete. 

 We have also worked with a number of other public agencies, environmental organizations and citizen groups to identify high quality areas of Saginaw Bay through the Saginaw Bay Coastal Initiative.  The goal of this group is to collaboratively identify high quality and restorable coastal wetland sites in the bay area and distribute this information with recommendations for preservation strategies to local governments, land conservancies and drain commissioners.


The wetlands program is supporting coastal restoration efforts by collaborating with other agency's projects.  These include participating in the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge's Five Star Restoration Project.  The refuge includes Humbug Marsh, the first wetland in Michigan to receive dedication as a Ramsar wetland of international importance.

Climate Change:

In August 2011, EGLE and the Association of State Wetlands Managers held a special symposium on "Wetland Management in Response to Climate Change," in conjunction with the statewide Annual Wetlands Conference presented by the Michigan Wetlands Association.  The symposium included a variety of presentations by researchers, wetland managers, and wetland policy professionals, that focused on the goals and challenges associated with implementing climate change adaptation strategies for wetlands in Michigan.

As a result of the symposium and this project, the Association of State Wetland Managers developed a white paper outlining the climate change predictions for Michigan wetlands, and identifying specific adaptation strategies and recommendations for Michigan agencies and land managers.

Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Coastal and Inland Wetlands in the State of Michigan White Paper

The Water Resources Division considers climate change and adaptation in all programs, including the review of permit applications.  There are resources that have been developed by groups throughout Michigan which provide best management recommendations for climate change adaptation for coastal wetlands, which can be used by applicants in project planning and alternatives analysis.

In 2014 the Great Lakes Commission developed an online Toolkit of Best Management Practices for Climate Change Adaptation actions for Michigan's coastal wetlands.  This online toolkit provides case studies of different practices at two levels: institution-level practices, and project-level practices:  Great Lakes Commission "Best Management Practices for Climate Change Adaptation: Spotlight on Michigan Coastal Wetlands"

In 2014, Land Information Access Association (LIAA) conducted developed a white paper, audio-visual aids, and a website identifying specific best management strategies to assist local governments and local planners to incorporate climate change adaptation for LIAA's "Climate Change Adaptation and Local Planning Project".