Learn from the past: Save the Sheboygan Marsh Ecosystem

Gary Henschel • Henschel’s Indian Museum

It is with heavy heart that I am again addressing the draining of the Sheboygan Marsh.

When you look across the marsh now, you will see that a lot of the old lake is back. Taking out the cattails the last two years has reclaimed most of the old lake boundaries.

For the last 40 years, the marsh has been drained about every five years. Every time it has been drained the mud flats have been exposed, creating more cattails which has made an artificial shoreline. The cattails have almost closed up the watershed.

Then along comes two years of heavy rain, and the unstable peat lets loose and the cattails go down to the dam. Almost all cattails taken out the last two years have been created due to the draining.

When the marsh is drained, most of the fish die just when they were coming back. Most of the fur bearing animals and aquatic life die from the lack of water.

Have any of you heard the sound of frogs singing after a warm summer rain? It’s like angels are singing praise to our creator. After a drawdown, you won’t hear the frogs sing. I will again miss that.

Draining the marsh has added to the destruction of the old growth tamaracks. A forester told me that draining at the same time as a blight didn’t help.

Have any of you tried to walk through these areas? It is almost impossible.

Can you imagine the consequences if a fire broke out? Heaven forbid there would be a fire at the same time there was a drought and drawdown.

People living around the marsh and in nearby villages should be concerned. Are the local fire departments prepared for this? All these things should be considered.

Draining the marsh changes the whole ecosystem of the area. It dries up the water in the marsh and the potholes in its perimeter.

Draining it kills a lot of the nesting waterfowl as well as the frogs, bugs and small fish waterfowl eat.

We’re told that it can only be managed for waterfowl! Doesn’t this plan address how many waterfowl have been destroyed from the lack of food and water every five years?

For 40 years we’re told that draining the marsh produces plant growth, but that only lasts for a year or two. Before the marsh was drained the first time, there were fields of wild rice planted by sportsman’s clubs; but after a drawdown it was all destroyed.

I’ve tried to raise wild rice in some of my potholes, but it all dries up when it’s drained. Northern flights of ducks and geese love wild rice and a lot of open water.

I remember before it was drained a dear friend of mine, George LaBudde, and I went in the marsh and discovered the rare and beautiful flower, the lady slipper. After a drawdown, I’ve never seen that flower again. It makes my heart sad.

For the past few years, a helicopter has sprayed cattails in the marsh. We are told that the spray is completely safe.

Remember we were told DDT was safe too. Now Round-up has been found to cause some cancers. If any of you have had a family member or friend who has had cancer or died, you can understand my concern. Why would we take such a chance, when it’s possible, that in ten or twenty years from now they find out this spray also causes cancer? It’s being sprayed right on our water supply.

I’ve been told I need to tell the facts. The fact is draining the marsh kills waterfowl, fish, frogs, trees, and plants. It changes the whole ecosystem and increases a fire hazard.

If any of you own land around a lake or marsh and you destroy a wetland or the banks, you would be in big trouble. I can’t believe it’s even legal to drain the marsh.

We’re told that it’s a very complicated problem. I believe the solution is simpler than you think.

Yes, we will still have to take out cattails, but they will get better if we let Mother Nature establish her own shoreline. Sometimes leaving things alone is better than trying to control things.

The bypass is a great tool to maintain the water level, but it should not be used to drain unless we need to build a new dam.

God has laid this heavy on my heart to speak out for all the creatures and plants in the marsh. An old Indian saying is “Never make a decision until you try to see how it will affect seven generations from now.”

Another is “Remember we are borrowing the future from our children.”

Many of you are discouraged like me, but I ask that we take this to a higher power.

There is great power in prayer. Join me in asking God to give those, who make this decision to drain the marsh wisdom and guidance to do what is right.

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