Habitat Restoration in Muskegon Lake: Macrophyte Assessment & Socioeconomic Monitoring

Muskegon Lake is part of the Great Lakes coastal wetlands ecosystem, which is a critical source of food and habitat for fish and wildlife within the Great Lakes. Nearly 450 acres, or almost 10%, of the lake area was lost to past industrial activities along the Muskegon Lake shoreline. Approximately 65% of the shoreline has been hardened with seawalls and concrete or rock riprap. Additionally, broken concrete, foundry slag, sheet metal, slab wood, saw dust and other materials in shallow water areas pose hazards to recreation and degrade habitat. This translates to substantial loss and fragmentation of habitat and degradation of fish and wildlife populations.

The Muskegon Lake Habitat Restoration Project was initiated by our project partners, West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC) and the Great Lakes Commission, to restore hardened shoreline areas, create or restore emergent and open-water wetlands, and remove unnatural fill in targeted areas along the south shore of Muskegon Lake. This project is a major step toward fulfilling the restoration criteria for delisting Muskegon Lake as a Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC).

In Al Steinman's lab, we are leading two important efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of the restoration work. We are conducting an assessment of the macrophyte (rooted aquatic plant) community in the lake and socioeconomic monitoring.

Macrophyte Assessment

Macrophytes (aquatic rooted plants) are excellent indicators of shoreline restoration success because they respond directly to the quality of the restored sediment and shoreline gradient, and provide critical habitat for invertebrate and fish populations. The hardened shoreline and areas of fill along Muskegon Lakes south shore have dramatically altered the environment for macrophyte growth.

We are surveying macrophyte beds in Muskegon Lake over a 4-year period: before restoration (2009 and 2010) and after restoration (2011 and 2012). We selected 4 locations that will undergo habitat restoration and 2 additional locations along the more natural north shore to serve as reference points. Where survey locations are near previously-surveyed areas, we will make comparisons with historical data. The macrophyte assessment will provide an important indicator of restoration success in Muskegon Lake.

Socioeconomic Monitoring

Restoring and protecting Muskegon Lakes wetland and aquatic habitat will result in a healthier ecosystem. It is less clear how these activities will influence the social and economic properties of the system. We hypothesize that restored habitat and improved public access to the shoreline will lead to increased property values and enhanced recreational opportunities, which generate local and regional tourism, business opportunities, and jobs. In order to test this hypothesis, we are conducting a primary economic study looking at the economic values of the ecosystem services associated with the project land area in the Muskegon Lake AOC - both before and after the restoration of the shoreline and wetland habitat.

This economic study will consist of 3 main components: 1) an analysis of the effects on local property values within 5 miles of Muskegon Lake, 2) a survey of travel costs associated with recreational users of the lake, and 3) a survey of county residents' willingness to pay for the benefits associated with ecological restoration of the lakeshore. The ecologists and policy experts in Steinman's lab have enlisted the assistance of Dr. Paul Isely, Associate Professor and Chair of Economics at GVSUs Seidman College of Business, in this monitoring effort.

Funding for this project was provided by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)


Muskegon Lake Area of Concern Habitat Restoration Project: Macrophyte Assessment
Muskegon Lake Area of Concern Habitat Restoration Project: Socio-Economic Assessment
Addendum - Muskegon Lake Area of Concern Habitat Restoration Project: Socio-Economic Assessment

Project partners:
West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC)
Great Lakes Commission
Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership
Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

Al Steinman, Project Manager: steinmaa@gvsu.edu
Paul Isely, Co-Principal Investigator, Socioeconomics: iselyp@gvsu.edu
Mary Ogdahl, Lead Technician, Macrophytes: ogdahlm@gvsu.edu

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