Allouez Bay Wild Rice Restoration
BY TED KOEHLER, ASHLAND FWCO
The Allouez Bay Wild Rice Restoration restored and enhanced approximately 50 acres of emergent wetland in Allouez Bay within the St. Louis River System Area of Concern. The project resulted in improved habitat and forage quality for water-birds and waterfowl, reduced impact of invasive plant species, and reestablishment of wild rice. It also improved nearshore habitat for Lake Superior fish that inhabit Allouez Bay. Partners assisting with the project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program, University of Wisconsin Superior’s Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI), Douglas County, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC).
One-thousand-three-hundred pounds of wild rice was seeded in select locations of Allouez Bay during the first two weeks of September, 2016. GLIFWC sourced and delivered rice for the project and all rice came from waterways in Minnesota. To mimic the way wild rice would normally disperse (via wind), student workers threw handfuls of rice into the air, casting it relatively evenly throughout each inlet.
To protect some of the seeded areas from Canada geese and carp a total of 76 fence structures termed “exclosures” were installed. Wild rice is a popular food source with many species of migratory birds and its root system is food to some fish species. The exclosures allowed the rice to establish without being eaten. They were constructed so that wire fence extended to the bed of the bay so as to protect the rice on the surface and subsurface. Two seine nets were also installed across the eastern and western inlets in 2016 and the spring of 2017 for added protection from carp. Wild rice appears to be growing much better in and around the exclosures than in the rest of the bay. A team of LSRI staff surveyed 14 exclosures, finding that 13 of them had wild rice outside of the exclosure. Only three of the 13 populations outside of the exclosures had been browsed at that time.
Lake Superior. Credit: UW Superior-LSRI
Non-native cattail competes with wild rice so in July 2017, a team removed all cattail within the plots by pulling and using bow saws to cut vegetation below the surface water. All plant material was removed from the water, placed in trash bags and disposed of properly at the City of Superior landfill. Also, preliminary estimates showed that purple loosestrife made up roughly 10% of the cover in the emergent wetland areas adjacent to the seed zones. This invasive species also competes with wild rice. Biocontrol beetles were released in August 2016 in strategic locations in order to combat this problem. The beetles were concentrated in a purple loosestrife areas and surveys by LSRI has shown beetle damage on purple loosestrife plants, indicating that beetle impacts are reducing loosestrife numbers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program portion of the project was wrapped up in 2018, but habitat maintenance work and monitoring will continue at the project site into the future. Working together, this federal, state and tribal agency partnership is improving fish and wildlife habitat on public coastal waters in the State of Wisconsin. The project area is open to public hunting, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation. Waterfowl hunters frequent the area by evidence of multiple temporary hunting blinds located in our project area. Ducks, geese, swans and other migratory birds will benefit from the wild rice restoration as well as the user groups which benefit from healthy natural resources and habitat.