Restoring Aquatic Ecosystems in Northwest Lower Michigan

Kira Davis
Kira Davis, National Parks Conservation Association
Eric Hemenway, Little Traverse Bands of Odawa
Eric Hemenway, Little Traverse Bands of Odawa

Nature Change ( is delighted to announce the release of a new documentary film about the restoration and protection of rivers and streams of Northern Lower Michigan. Created by the Nature Change team of film makers, Restoring Aquatic Ecosystems was broadcast for the first time on WCMU Public Television Sunday, October 2nd (2022).

This new ½ hour documentary shines a light on Michigan’s first indigenous-led, multi-agency collaborative created to restore and protect the ecology of streams and rivers across an entire region. Led by the Grand Traverse Band (GTB) of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Tribal Stream and Michigan Fruitbelt Collaborative includes over a dozen nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies working together to remove blockages to the natural flow of water in Michigan’s streams and rivers – often called ”the arteries of mother earth.”

Tom Nelson, Leelanau Conservancy
Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Senator

Working in relative obscurity, this little-known Collaborative has already received over $18 million in federal grants from the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and more than $30 million in local matching funds. The work completed so far has included the replacement of undersized culverts with timber bridges, the removal of old and failing dams, and the purchase of conservation easements to prevent urban development on farmland – particularly fruit farms.

In researching this documentary, filmmakers Joe VanderMeulen and Bronwyn Jones of Maple City asked why and how the people of Michigan could restore stream ecosystems after a century or more of damage caused by insensitive road construction and urban development. How could these choked waterways be revived? Can the Collaborative make any difference to the fish and wildlife that use stream corridors?

Tina Frankenburger. Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
Brett Fessell, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians

Restoring Aquatic Ecosystems was filmed in over a dozen locations across Northwest Lower Michigan in the rivers, along the streams, and with drones from the air. Viewers will see the detrimental impacts of undersized culverts and old dams on stream flow as well as improvements made by restoration projects completed in locations from in the Carp Lake River and Maple River in the north to the Boardman, Platte, Betsie, and Manistee Rivers to the south.

The film includes conversations with 15 different biologists, ecologists, engineers, and government leaders about the Collaborative’s approach and the challenges we still face to restore and preserve aquatic ecosystems for insects, fish, and wildlife.

Amy Beyer, Conservation Resource Alliance
Glen Chown, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

Restoring Aquatic Ecosystems also deals with issues related to the hunting, fishing, and gathering rights retained by the tribes of Anishinaabe people under treaties signed with the U.S. Federal government in the 1800’s. With help from GTB Tribal Councilor Tina Frankenberger, GTB Appellate Judge JoAnne Cook, and Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Archivist and Historian Eric Hemenway, viewers will learn about the critical roles aquatic ecosystems play in supplying food, fiber, and medicines to indigenous people as well as the importance of these resources to the cultural identity of the Anishinaabe people.

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