A lot of new shopping centers and subdivisions have wetlands
at their edges. Sometimes those wetlands are as new as the buildings next to them. Developers often build new ponds when they drain and fill existing wetlands. But experts point out that many man-made wetlands can’t match up to the ecosystems that evolved over hundreds or thousands of years. One group of people is trying something it hopes will be more successful: they’re moving a wetland, piece by little tiny piece. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has the story:
A lot of new shopping centers and subdivisions have wetlands at their edges.
Sometimes those wetlands are as new as the buildings next to them.
Developers often build new ponds when they drain and fill existing wetlands.
But experts point out that many man-made wetlands can’t match up to the
ecosystems that evolved over hundreds or thousands of years. One group of
people is trying something it hopes will be more successful: they’re moving
a wetland, piece by little tiny piece. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Rebecca Williams has the story:
Making a new wetland might not seem that hard. You need certain things – a
big hole in the ground, water, plants, some frogs, some snakes. But wetland
ecologists will tell you that it’s hard to get a man-made wetland to be a
replica of a natural one.
But this group of people is giving it a try. Volunteers are leaping after
baby frogs and snakes at the edge of a wetland in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“He’s fast, look at him go!”
They’re scooping the animals up and putting them in buckets to move them to
a new manmade wetland. The original wetland is small – just half an acre –
but it’s teeming with life. It’s also sitting right where a new high
school is going to be built.
Saving the frogs and snakes and newts is turning out to be a lot of work.
The group’s caught about five thousand adults and babies in all during the last five
Dave Mifsud is a herpetologist; he studies amphibians and reptiles. He’s
in charge of the rescue. Mifsud surveyed the site last year and was
impressed that such a small wetland could hold so many species. He asked
the school district to let him lead a rescue.
“When I first proposed the idea, I was hesitant because whenever I’ve
suggested it in the past, it’s been received with laughs or a blatant no.”
Mifsud says in most construction projects, time means money. He says it’s
hard to get anyone to agree to wait while animals are moved. So, he was
surprised when school officials agreed to the rescue. Mifsud says the
school’s also trying to make the new wetland as much like the original as
possible. They’re moving water, soil, and plants from the old wetland to the
Randy Trent directs the school district’s environmental services. He says
instead of seeing Mifsud’s proposal as a headache, the school thinks of it
as a way to balance development and conservation.
“It gives us an opportunity to let our students have the history that’s
going on at this site as something to learn from.”
But critics are asking just what the school district is teaching by building
over an irreplaceable site. Ann Arbor resident Alan Pagliere is a vocal
critic of the district.
“There’s going to be a legacy left, there’s going to be a lesson taught, and what are those? You
certainly can’t teach a lesson about the environment by destroying wetlands, but clear-cutting landmark trees. These are decisions that are going to be with us for decades and the people
who are making the decisions will be gone when their terms are over.”
Pagliere says the school should preserve the existing wetland as a living
classroom instead of spending taxpayer money to destroy it and build a new
The animal rescue has its skeptics too. Jim Harding is a wildlife biologist
with Michigan State University. He says moving amphibians and reptiles is
“An adult frog or adult salamander already has its idea of where home ought
to be; we have anecdotal reports of building new ponds for salamanders
and having them return in the spring to the old site which is now a parking
(sound in, back with frogcatchers)
“Oh, I think that was mud.”
“It’s mud, it’s okay… if you’ve got the tadpoles, you can actually just dump them right on the edge.”
But herpetologist Dave Mifsud says he’s giving the frogs and toads a
fighting chance. He says the tadpoles he’s released will think of the new
pond as home. He’s also put up fences around the woods near the new pond. He
hopes they’ll direct the adults back to the new pond in the spring.
“Let’s start releasing the frogs along the edges…”
The frog-catchers’ buckets are loaded with baby frogs. Dave Mifsud’s taking
the cover off his bucket and coaxing frogs out into their new environment.
(Sound of tapping on bucket)
“Come on guys. You’ve been trying to get out of the bucket this whole time. Ah, this is the best part for me! Come on! You’re lucky if…in all my years I’ve seen maybe a handful of spring peeper babies. The fact that we were able to save these guys is incredible.”
Mifsud says it’ll be an uphill fight to make large-scale amphibian rescues
more common, but he says he isn’t known for keeping his mouth shut when it
comes to watching out for anything that leaps or slithers.
For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.