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Manmade wetlands may ease sting of development


July 14, 1997
Web posted at: 6:01 a.m. EDT (1001 GMT)

From Correspondent Joan MacFarlane

SUMPTER TOWNSHIP, Michigan (CNN) -- A natural filter for the environment, wetlands also are home to thousands of plants and animals.

However, marshes are often lost to modern development. Michigan hopes a new program will help replace some of the nature that progress has destroyed.

Here in Sumpter Township, the Crosswinds Marsh grew from farmland to wetland in about six years.

"It's had pretty good success as far as establishing wetland vegetation (goes)," said Andrea Kline, a landscape architect. "We have plenty of water on the site, and there's been over 105 species of birds that have used the site."

The result of a Michigan state law that says developers must create or set aside 1.5 acres of wetlands for every acre destroyed, Crosswinds was created by developers during the expansion of the Detroit Metro Airport, which destroyed 200 acres of natural wetlands.

"The purpose is so that the total amount of wetlands that provide filtration for this ecosystem is not diminished and all the natural features of wetlands are protected and enhanced," said Hurley Coleman of Wayne County.

Time will tell


Michigan's Department of Natural Resources issues hundreds of wetland replacement permits, but determining the success of the marshes is difficult.

The real judge on how successful wetland replacement will be is time. The DNR says at least three growing seasons are needed before success can be measured.

It took nearly $19 million in federal and local funds to create Crosswinds. Right now, it appears to be thriving, but no one can guarantee its success. In fact, critics warn that when a natural wetland is lost, it can never be completely replaced.

"It's because ... the wetlands have evolved over a long period, many of these plants are highly specialized, many of the other organisms rely on the other plants," explained Tony Reznick of the University of Michigan. "And you can't create an incredibly complex interlinked web of natural processes in an afternoon with a bulldozer. It doesn't work."


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