Sea Lamprey Office Harvests A New Success Story
From An Unusual Source: Native Plants
By Christie Deloria
East Lansing Ecological Services Field Office
After more than seven years of patience and nurturing, native plants have taken hold at the Marquette Biological Station, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The station, whose main mission is to control invasive Sea Lampreys in the Great Lakes, is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fisheries Program.
The garden hosts a plethora of native species including big bluestem grass. Bob Kahl collects seed from the mature grass at Marquette Biological Station. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo by Christie Deloria)
In the spring of 2006, when the station moved to a new facility, staff, family, and friends came out to volunteer for a weekend and planted native seeds at the office. Native plant gardens are making a comeback across the U.S. as their benefits are becoming more widely known by the public. Some of these benefits include saving water and improved water filtration, low lawn maintenance, improved habitat for native birds and butterflies, natural plant defenses which reduce use of pesticides and an overall improvement in the surrounding ecology.
The results of the station’s effort to reintroduce native habitat are finally being seen by the station’s staff, volunteers and visitors. Christie Deloria biologist with the Service noted "The native plants like big bluestem and black-eyed susan grow extensive root systems first. So, you don't notice flowers or robust stems in the first few years."
With permission from the landlord, four areas surrounding the station were planted with native plant seed and plugs. The goals behind the planting were to highlight the potential use of native species in landscaping, to minimize mowing and water use, and provide small habitat patches for birds and butterflies. It seems to be meeting all of those goals. Although the site requires less maintenance than a traditional lawn, it still requires some attention.
Bob Kahl, retired sea lamprey biologist and volunteer extraordinaire, has dedicated many hours of time tending to the native plant garden, weeding, planting, and helping these plants to grow. He's planted nearly 500 plant plugs and pulled 20-plus bags of non-native species from the four areas. This fall, he has also been out collecting seed to transfer and use at other sites.
Improving and benefiting native wildlife and habitat is one of many shared priorities identified by the agencies involved with the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, the Service being one of them. The station's transition to native prairie plants fits in with this priority to address landscape-level stressors and issues, and is now benefiting the local ecology.
The Marquette Biological Station's native plant garden is a partnership effort among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Sea Lamprey and Ecological Services Programs, Hiawatha National Forest, Marquette County Conservation District, Northern Michigan University students and various volunteers.