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Senator Sherrod Brown visits ONWR Featured

Senator Sherrod Brown talks with ONWR Refuge Manager Jason Lucas and ODNR’s Scott Butterworth about the GLRI fish passage project. Justin Woldt.

On Friday afternoon United States Senator Sherrod Brown visited Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) near Oak Harbor. His visit was a meeting of federal employees working toward a similar goal.

Brown’s goal at ONWR on Friday was to gather information so he can better represent in Washington the interests of northern Ohio and Lake Erie, the “most vulnerable of the Great Lakes”. 

After greeting ONWR summer interns and volunteers at the solar and geo-thermal powered Welcome Center, the Senator’s hour-long question and answer tour of portions of the 10,000 acre began. ONWR Refuge Manager Jason Lewis and Scott Butterworth, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife District Manager, answered Brown’s wide-ranging and in-depth questions about the Refuge and wildlife and Lake Erie water quality issues. At one point the very knowledgeable Lewis and Butterworth joked with Brown that they were in danger of having to “go to the textbooks”.

The highlight of the tour was the stop at the first installation on Lake Erie of a fish passage between a marsh and waters flowing to the lake. The United States Geological Services (USGS), working with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited, through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, has installed a gate between a 95 acre marsh and Crane Creek. The passage, which has an anticipated life expectancy of 100 years, is showing great promise and measurable benefits. It serves to monitor fish and wildlife and water quality and can be opened and closed to hold and release water from the marsh. 

“There has been a 58 % reduction in phosphorus runoff in 24-36 hours after a seiche (storm event),” said Lewis. The phosphorus is absorbed and used by the plant life in the swamp, rather than washing down the river and into the lake to contribute to algae blooms. 

It was obvious to the naked eye that the swamp-cleansed water flowing under the gate into the river is much clearer than the murkier river water.

According to Lewis, the population of Northern Pike has had a 180 degree improvement by enhancing the nursery habitat, and there are 30 more species documented in the marsh that were not there before the re-connecting of the marsh to the river and lake.

According to sonar set up by USGS, thousands of fish move through the gate from the swamp. Lewis pointed out that in the 15 minutes that we were sitting on the bridge, a thousand fish had passed beneath us. 

Recently Senator Brown, along with US Representative Marcy Kaptur, successfully called on the House of Representatives to restore the majority of the funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) budget. The House bill that would have slashed 80% of the $285 million of GLRI funding was revisited and the majority of the GLRI budget was restored, back to $260 million. Brown continues to working to restore the remainder of the funding.

At a press conference in Cleveland on July 29 Brown stated, “It’s not right and it’s not smart that the House would propose slashing 80 percent of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. This could significantly jeopardize the economy of northern Ohio and the livelihood of its citizens. The House must act to restore GLRI funds in order to protect Ohio’s drinking water and the thousands of fishing, boating, and recreation jobs that are dependent on clean and safe waters. Congress should also pass the bipartisan Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act, which would ensure that the Great Lakes, including Lake Erie, are preserved for future generations to enjoy.” 

Sidebar: Discover ONWR

ONWR Manager Lewis: “Our vision here is to continue to open doors to everyone, to work with the Black Swamp Conservancy (and adjacent Magee Marsh) to help people recognize the value in our backyard. Come see what we have to offer. We can accommodate almost any level of activity.” 

The 10,000 acres at ONWR and adjacent Magee Marsh, along with the marshes preserved by the hunting clubs along the lake, are just a small portion of what once were 300,000 miles of Ohio’s environmentally important and resource-rich coastal marshlands.

What is evident to Senator Brown and Representative Kaptur, to the employees and volunteers at ONWR and Magee Marsh, to thousands of birders, hikers, photographers, hunters and fishermen, teachers and students, is the beauty of the marshlands and their economic benefits. 

The Refuge is open to hikers 365 days a year. For a schedule of auto tours and bus tours, along with other activities, go to www.fws.gov/refuge/ottawa or to volunteer go to www.onwra.com.

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