The Indiana Department of Natural Resources plans to install mesh fencing in Eagle Marsh to ensure that Asian carp, an invasive species, can’t get to the Great Lakes. Betsy Yankowiak, executive director of the Little River Wetlands Project, which owns Eagle Marsh, spoke with editorial writer Stacey Stumpf about the wetlands.
Here are excerpts of the interview; listen to the entire interview by going to The Journal Gazette’s home page at www.journa1gazette.net. Click opinion, then click 5 Questions for Betsy Yankowiak.
1 What is the Little River Wetlands Project?
The Little River Wetlands Project is a not-for-profit group that started in 1990. So, we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary. And our mission is to restore and protect wetlands in the Little River Valley – and also to provide educational opportunities for our community to come out and learn about the importance of wetlands and other ecosystems.
2 Most people in Allen County are familiar with the three rivers and the Maumee watershed, but why is the Wabash watershed important?
The Little River Valley was carved out by glaciers during the Maumee torrent where glacial Lake Maumee scoured a valley from southwest Allen County to Huntington. And in this valley over time a wetland complex was created – 25,000 acres called the Great Marsh. The distinct watershed, the Continental Divide, ran pretty close to the west side of the St. Marys River. During the ditching and draining of the Great Marsh in the late 1800, some of the water was diverted from the Wabash watershed to the St. Marys watershed and that shifted the Continental Divide to the west so that divide now rests at Eagle Marsh, one of our nature preserves – 750 acres. Because of this divide. when the St. Marys River floods to a certain level, it will actually flow the Junk Ditch backward and flow onto Eagle Marsh and into the Wabash River.
3 What role does Eagle Marsh play in regional flooding issues?
Well, why are wetlands important? Wetlands are important for many reasons. First, flood storage. One acre of wetlands can hold up to 1.5 million gallons of water – that’s from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also, when it leaves, it’s going to be cleaner because the sediments and pollutants are going to be able to settle out in our shallow-water wetlands and also because vegetation, the plants that live there, will also help clean out the pollutants. They bring the pollutants up into their plant cells. And third, wetlands are so important for wildlife.
4 Why are the carp nets in Eagle Marsh necessary?
Because of the way that the floodwaters of the St. Marys do spill onto Eagle Marsh and the fact that there are carp way down in the Wabash River – not in the Little River or the Grand McCulloch Ditch which enters Eagle Marsh. If the right circumstances with flood waters and water temperatures and all depending on the fish behavior and biology, there is a chance that they could come up the Little River during spawning, enter Eagle Marsh, and if the right flood conditions happened on the St. Marys, there could be floodwaters from the Wabash River system and watershed and the St. Marys watershed that could commingle at our property. And if that occurs, then there could be a commingling of fish species. So we’re putting up a fence so we can still take in those floodwaters from Fort Wayne. So there’s going to be no extra flooding in Fort Wayne. But that mesh fence will be a barrier for those adult carp.
5 What is the most interesting thing you’ve seen at Eagle Marsh?
I get the tingles every time I see a bald eagle out there. It’s just so incredible to me to see such a beautiful and large bird out there – and being able to share it because there are so many people out there on hikes, volunteers helping out with stewardship and all these activities out there.