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Tour examines environmental health of the Cass River Watershed

Photo by Megan Decker • Scott Sowa and Matt Herbert collect fish and other organisms after skimming the waters of Sucker Creek in Tuscola County’s Wells Township.

By Megan Decker
Staff Writer

THUMB AREA — Several area farmers, environmentalists, ecologists and political leaders gathered on May 7 to explore the Cass River and Saginaw Bay Watersheds through the Nature Conservancy’s Saginaw Bay Watershed Project Field Trip.

The Nature Conservancy, a non-profit organization which works around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people, organized the all-day bus trip from Frankenmuth to Caro to explore and explain the Cass River and Saginaw Bay Watersheds, their biodiversities and ecologies.

According to the Nature Conservancy, the Saginaw Bay Watershed is the largest in the state of Michigan, spanning 5.5 million acres and 22 counties.

“The ecological health of Saginaw Bay and its tributaries is critically important to not only Lake Huron, but the entire Great Lakes ecosystem, as this watershed provides vital ecosystem services for both nature and people, including fish spawning habitat and abundant farmland.”

The Cass River watershed covers about 580,000 acres. Today, forests cover 19 percent of the watershed and the area is dominated by agriculture, which cover 57 percent of the land. Other land coverage and uses include wetlands, development and grasslands.

“Land use changes and other stressors affect not only the watershed’s biological communities, which include rare and threatened species, but affect the larger Saginaw Bay Watershed and Lake Huron systems that provide valuable ecosystem services to both people and wildlife.”

The Cass River is integrally connected to the Saginaw Bay. The waters of the Cass River eventually flow into the bay where they provide organic matter and other materials that contribute to the productivity of the bay’s fisheries. Also, many Saginaw Bay fish migrate up the Cass River to spawn – in fact, a recent Nature Conservancy study found that the Cass River contains habitat for 19 different Lake Huron fish species.

The trip began with overviews of Frankenmuth’s Fish Passage Project and the Cass River Greenway group near the Frankenmuth Dam. The day continued with lunch and various presentations regarding the Saginaw Bay Watershed project by staff of the Nature Conservancy at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant. Following lunch, the group traveled by bus to Wells Township for a demonstration of the biodiversity at Sucker Creek and concluded with a discussion of conservation farming practices at the Kratz Farm on Frankford Road in Caro before traveling back to Frankenmuth.

Participants of the Saginaw Bay Watershed Project Field Trip included: Amy Braun of the Kellogg Co., Thomas Cook of the Cook Family Foundation, Megan Decker of the Tuscola County Advertiser, Abby Dilley of Resolve, Michael Fassezke of Star of the West Milling Co., Jim Hergott of Saginaw Bay Resource Conservation and Development, Scott Holman of Bay Cast Inc. and Bay Cast Technologies, James Howe of Star of the West Milling Co., Renee Johnston of the Saginaw Community Foundation, Joe Kautz of the Sanilac Conservation District, Michael Kelly of the Conservation Fund, Jim Kratz of the Tuscola Conservation District, Sara McDonnell of the University of Michigan-Flint, Jim McLoskey of State Sen. Mike Green’s office, Jantzen Nishioka of the Kellogg Co., Sam Passamore of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, William Zehnder of the Bavarian Inn and Cass River Greenway Group and Robert Zeilinger of the Cass River Greenway Group. Representatives from the Nature Conservancy included: Lauri Elbing, Mary Fales, Matt Herbert, Janet Lee, Scott Sowa and Helen Taylor.

For further information about the Nature Conservancy and its focuses in Michigan, visit www.nature.org.

Filed in: Featured Articles, Local News

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