The Ford Marsh Unit of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (DRIWR) is a 242-acre wetland near Monroe, Michigan. Due to a legacy of heavy industrial development in the region, Ford Marsh represents some of the last remaining coastal wetlands in the western basin of Lake Erie and is an important habitat for migratory populations of waterfowl, shorebirds, and landbirds. The marsh was privately managed by hunting clubs for more than 100 years before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) acquired it in 2009 and incorporated it into the DRIWR.
Beginning in 2017, multiple years of high Lake Erie water levels coupled with seiches (sudden water level rises caused by strong winds and rapid changes in atmospheric pressure) resulted in severe damage and habitat degradation to Ford Marsh. As a result of the damage, the USFWS’s ability to effectively manage Ford Marsh was lost, and the marsh’s productivity, diversity, and ecological function were greatly compromised.
In 2021, USFWS hired Barr to develop and evaluate options for restoring desired wetland functions to Ford Marsh, asking us to use a holistic approach to uncover and address the root causes of the marsh’s lack of resiliency. In pursuit of this goal, we acquired and assessed data on recent and anticipated future trends in Lake Erie water levels, storm frequency and magnitudes; nearshore currents, sediment transport and deposition patterns; Lake Erie and Ford Marsh bathymetry and topography; the geotechnical stability of an existing dike system; and vegetation and natural community inventories and mapping. In addition, Barr hosted stakeholder engagement sessions to solicit input from neighboring landowners and representatives from federal and state agencies. Using these findings, we developed multiple restoration concepts and evaluated each design concept for feasibility based on a decision matrix of solution effectiveness, constructability, embrace by stakeholders, and anticipated construction costs.
USFWS accepted Barr’s findings and is evaluating the identified restoration options with the goal of selecting a preferred option to advance to detailed design.