Native wild rice is being brought back to the banks of the Fox River outside Green Bay after decades of cleanup efforts.
The Lower Fox River has been included in a Superfund program by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the river of polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB’s.
PCB’s come from the recycling of carbonless copy paper. According to the Environmental Protection Agency website, paper mills discharged approximately 250,000 pounds of this waste into the river from 1957 to 1971.
These chemicals have been shown to cause a myriad of health problems in humans from immune system suppression to cancer and neurological issues. Since they do not naturally degrade, they accumulate in the ecosystem over time, making fish and other animals wells of pollutants.
Since dredging of the river bottom began in 2006, over 130,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment has been removed from the most polluted areas of the river. Dredging is commonly used to maintain the depth of waterways for shipping boats but is also used to remove contaminated sediment for cleaning as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website says.
Ducks Unlimited, a national organization that “conserves, restores and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North American waterfowl,” has invested in bringing back native wild rice to the shores of the newly cleaned Fox River.
Graham Steinhauer, senior forest restoration major and president of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point chapter of Ducks Unlimited, said it is important for wild rice to be part of the ecosystem of the Fox River as it provides another important food source for migrating birds.
Brian Glenzinski, a local biologist, and member of Ducks Unlimited, said in a Wisconsin National Public Radio interview that the organization has spent over $4,000 on seed from Minnesota and on Nov. 9 it was spread over 20 acres of shoreline near Green Bay.
Glenzinski said it may take three to five years to know for sure if the rice will grow and survive in its new location.
Ducks Unlimited also introduced bulrush and water celery to the same areas in an effort to increase diversity and chances of success of the reintroduced plants.
The local chapter of Ducks Unlimited at UWSP has only been formally established since early 2016. It aims to educate and provide resources to members for future conservation efforts, said Steinhauer.
A common misconception is that Ducks Unlimited is a hunting organization, when in reality it is a group dedicated to conserving environments and ecosystems related to waterfowl, be those wetlands, forests or prairies. Although many members are hunters, the money raised goes toward restoration and conservation.
Ducks Unlimited has also done a removal of phragmites, an invasive long grass, from Schmeeckle Reserve that is known to be an issue across the entire Fox Valley, including the banks of the Fox River.
With luck, the wild rice will once again be able to thrive on the banks of the Fox River with the continued help of organizations like Ducks Unlimited.