Friends of Sheldon Marsh, a special committee of the Firelands Audubon Society, has been involved in a year-long struggle to protect a high quality wetland complex and National Audubon Society Important Bird Area (IBA). The dedicated project coordinators are Pat Krebs and Pat Dwight, with much work done by a host of Audubon chapter members and others.
Audubon Ohio, the state office of the National Audubon Society, has recently recognized Pat Krebs and Pat Dwight as co-recipients of the “Conservationist of the Year Award.” This award is presented to individuals from Ohio who have made remarkable contributions to conservation within the past year at the local, statewide, regional, or national level.
Pat Krebs and Pat Dwight began with a deep appreciation of a wetland in Northwest Ohio and fears that this place would be degraded by a local project approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). Sheldon Marsh is a 463-acre state nature preserve along the Sandusky Bay region of Lake Erie and is one of the last forest-marsh-lake ecosystems in Ohio. From old field and hardwood forest to woodland swamp and cattail marsh, and from barrier sand beach to open lake, it provides important habitats for a host of plants and animals.
Their story is one for activists to emulate. It involves navigating a maze of governmental agencies and paperwork and forming a strategy by which enthusiasm for a wetland treasure could be directed to saving it. From initial self-described naiveté about wetland policy and government procedures, these two activists brought energy and intellect to the fight to save a wetland. The goal of Friends of Sheldon Marsh remains the effective return to the pre-construction condition of the wetland complex. To accomplish this, they engaged in information distribution through newsletters of various environmental organizations, Audubon magazine, newspapers, programs for clubs and organizations, electronic transmissions to environmentalists and birdwatchers, and a web page devoted to the Sheldon Marsh preservation effort (www.sheldonsmarsh.org). Their intensive letter writing campaign to local, state, and federal officials was effective. They secured the support of U.S. Senator George Voinovich from Ohio in efforts to complete restoration in a timely fashion. They continue to influence those in authority to restore the marsh to its former, pre-construction condition without mitigation or compromise.
Friends of Sheldon Marsh successfully garnered public sentiment to pressure elected officials, the Corps, and state agencies to achieve this goal. The Friends of Sheldon Marsh received a Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network & Fund grant in the spring of 2001 to continue efforts to bring public support to bear on the issues. Specifically, the grant enabled Friends of Sheldon Marsh to send a mass mailing to targeted citizens explaining the impact of this construction and the need for immediate action, and supported newspaper advertising including photos and critical facts. Corps Buffalo District Commander Lt. Col. Glen DeWillie will make the final decision on whether to approve or deny an “after-the-fact” Corps permit to degrade the wetlands. The decision is expected sometime in the fall of 2001. What sits in front of him are the estimated 1,500 letters and e-mails commenting on the project, in addition to the approximately 180-page transcript of the four-hour public hearing in June. Pat Krebs and Pat Dwight are to be congratulated for helping to make this all happen. Theirs is a success story—a success story made possible in part with the support of the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network & Fund.