An urban wetland with big watershed impact

Land trusts working in the Great Lakes basin understand that protecting fresh water means protecting the land. Here are some of the ways they are helping keep the Great Lakes great.

By Laura Eklov May 11, 2021

The Green Bay watershed is one of the largest freshwater estuaries in the world. Spanning 10.6 million acres, it is the source of one-third of the surface water flowing into Lake Michigan. What happens in the watershed has a high impact on the lake’s water quality.

The 148-acre Oconto Preserve holds a unique place in the landscape for protecting fresh water and cleaning water from the surrounding area before it flows into Green Bay and on to Lake Michigan. Oconto Marsh has several hydrologic connections to the bay and extremely high ecological value. It is adjacent to 234 acres of emergent marsh managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as the Green Bay West Shore State Wildlife Area. Oconto Preserve is both a WDNR Legacy Place, marking it an area of exceptional natural heritage and an Import-ant Bird Area critical to waterfowl, shorebirds, migrating birds and breeding rare birds.

The accredited Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust prioritizes the preservation of important coastal wetlands to protect Lake Michigan’s water quality and abundant wildlife. Its Oconto Preserve includes wetlands rated high or exceptional for water quality, flood abatement, carbon storage and wildlife habitat. Through partnerships with Ducks Unlimited, WDNR and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, plans are underway to raise funds to enhance the state wildlife refuge and restore 25 acres of wetland, creating northern pike spawning habitat.

The town of Oconto’s elected officials and NEWLT are enthusiastic about the opportunities provided by the preserve. “We are really excited about this preserve. It continues our effort to preserve some of the most important remaining wetlands and migratory bird habitat along Green Bay’s west shore. As important, this is also a place that the people of Oconto can use for outdoor recreation and student learning,” says Deborah Nett, NEWLT’s executive director. “This project is a win for the environment and the community.”

Learn more at In the weeks ahead, watch our blog for other ways land trusts are making a difference in the Great Lakes basin.