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Published: Tuesday, 11/24/2009

New wetlands a legacy to late waterfowler

Sometimes wetlands conservationists, faced with the daunting task of restoring and rebuilding the nation's vanishing marshes and wet prairies and woodlands, must feel like the mythical Little Dutch Boy - thumb in the dike, holding back the angry North Sea.

Then comes a golden late-autumn afternoon in the sleepy countryside hard by Sandusky Bay, and suddenly prospects for the low-lying world where land and water merge looks a mite brighter.

That is because a few dozen like-minded individuals from around Ohio and across the country have gathered to salute the late Vernon P. Essi and dedicate his legacy - a beautiful, thriving, 162-acre wetlands.

Known formally as the Vern Essi Marsh addition to the Pickerel Creek State Wildlife Area in Sandusky County, this new pocket wetlands is in the heart of the southwestern Lake Erie marshes and adds to the already high-quality habitat at the 3,200-acre wildlife area.

Framed by woodlands and other marshy parcels, it boosts the available habitat for breeding and migrating Canada geese, mallards, wood ducks, and blue-winged teal. Many other species of waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, wading birds, furbearers, and the growing bald eagle population also have Vern Essi to thank, along with the many dedicated public and private partners who made Essi's wish come true.

Dave Graham, chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, struck a deep chord with his remarks at the Essi Marsh dedication.

"Ohio has lost 90 percent of its wetlands in 150 years - why try for 162 acres?" Graham asked the gathering.

It seemed so small against the vastness of the losses over the decades. But conservationists restore these little pockets as they become available, the chief said, because they know they can. They know they can make a difference.

Indeed, wetlands restoration is like reassembling a giant if intricate jigsaw puzzle, one little piece at a time. Graham added what might be one of the more momentous statements he may ever utter as chief: "We need the vision to see beyond our lifetimes."

Charlie Wooley, Region 3 assistant director for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Minneapolis, flew in to second Graham's remarks. He referred to a coastal wetlands grant program by the USF&WS, and he mentioned the Lake Erie marshes in the same breath with the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, and San Francisco Bay.

"This is a prime example," Wooley said of the Essi Marsh and its importance in the national wetlands picture.

John Pope, the president of Ducks Unlimited, was on hand from his Florida home to add DU's international prestige to the dedication. He noted the Lake Erie marsh region is the crossroads of the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways and is critically important.

"For DU, these 162 acres are another big step to filling the skies with ducks forever," Mr. Pope said.

The Essi Marsh project was funded by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, National Coastal Wetland Conservation Grant Program from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, the Fremont Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, and the Erie, Ottawa, Sandusky Chapter of Pheasants Forever.

A few words about Essi: He was a longtime Sandusky Bay waterfowler and a member of the prestigious, private Winous Point Shooting Club, America's oldest duck club. But he also was a staunch supporter of increased availability of duck hunting areas for public hunters.

Essi rose from modest means in West Cleveland and built a substantial business enterprise. "But his respect for the everyday duck hunters was ever-present," the dedication program noted. "Vern's typical cheerful disposition and eagerness for duck hunting was his trademark; a finer companion in the duck blind will rarely be found."

So the everyday waterfowlers who now set a few decoys in the newly restored marsh, or the trappers who take muskrats from it, or birders who visit it for shorebirds, songbirds, and fowl during migrations, can tip a hat in thanks to Vern Essi and his dream.

Spaces are still available for individuals, groups, or conservation clubs interested in taking kids fishing and wanting to become certified fishing instructors.

A free workshop will be Dec. 9 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Ohio Wildlife District Two headquarters, 952 Lima Ave., Findlay.

Called Passport to Fishing, it is a one-day instructor training program that qualifies individuals to become Ohio Division of Wildlife certified fishing instructors, similar to hunter education instructors.

Passport to Fishing was developed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and adopted by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. Workshops teach volunteers the basics of fishing and how to run a four-station program with a fishing event. These instructors receive a written curriculum and training aids to teach youngsters and beginning anglers the basics of fishing.

Resources available include grants, equipment, brochures, and training. To register for a workshop, call 1-800-WILDLIFE (945-3543), or visit online at wildohio.com.

On the weekend - Fun skeet shoot, 1 p.m., Sunday, Toledo Trap & Skeet, 3150 North Berkey-Southern Rd. [State Rt. 295], Berkey; entry fee plus targets and member fee, prizes; call the club at 419-829-3178.

Wooden Feather Day, Sunday, noon to 4 p.m., Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center, Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, 13229 West State Rt. 2, Oak Harbor, local carvers with carved feathers, decoy exhibit, marsh walk 1:30 p.m., refreshments by Friends of Magee Marsh; call Mary Warren at Magee 419-898-0960, ext. 31.

Contact Steve Pollick at:

spollick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6068.



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