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Aerial view of Point au Sable.
Cofrin Center for Biodiversity

Point au Sable Nature Preserve

Point au Sable is located on a prominent peninsula along the east shore of Lower Green Bay. It is one of the few unmodified estuarine wetlands in the entire Lake Michigan ecosystem. Each spring and fall, thousands of migratory waterfowl, gulls, terns, shorebirds, and passerines pass through Point au Sable on their way south. Recent studies have documented over 200 bird species on or near Point au Sable during a single year.

In 2012, The Cofrin Center for Biodiversity received a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to fund the restoration of coastal areas of Point au Sable that had been invaded by non-native species, especially areas invaded by Phragmites australis. Phase 1 of this project will attempt to restore standing water and native vegetation to the 25 acre coastal lagoon at the tip of the point.

Coastal Restoration Plan (Phase 1) (pdf)

Application to conduct research on a UW-Green bay natural area.

About the Point

Its importance as a stop-over for migrating waterfowl is the main reason that this area escaped development. Most of Point au Sable has been privately owned as a duck hunting camp since the turn of the century, leaving it relatively undeveloped. According to historical maps, no public road has ever traversed the point, and residential development has stopped at the base of the peninsula. During the 1990's The Nature Conservancy acquired several important tracts at Point au Sable, which were turned over to the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. The main portion of the point was donated by John Rose, a Green Bay businessman and member of the ownership group which has protected the Point for many years. During a public ceremony in 1999, Rose proclaimed that the Point was donated so that it would be held in perpetuity "for the birds." In order to promote responsible stewardship and appreciation for Point Sable, the Fox River Group of paper manufacturers created an endowment at UW-Green Bay researchers to conduct studies of the Point au Sable ecosystem. Ongoing research and monitoring will help guide policies that ensure long-term protection of Point au Sable and other coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes.

Glacial activity during the late Pleistocene widened the bay of Green Bay and created a gradual deepening from west to east, so that most of the eastern shore rises abruptly onto a steep slope. Most of the large wetlands are located on the west shore of the bay and reflects the contrasting development of wetland vegetation on both sides of the bay. Point au Sable contains one of the only large wetlands on the east shore of Green Bay.

Water levels play a critical role in determining which communities persist in the Pt. au Sable landscape. The aquatic habitats on Point Sable are strongly influenced by changing water levels in Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Computerized water-level monitoring stations have been established in the lagoon and at the outlet of Wequiock Creek to help us understand the dynamics of the estuarine environment. Results so far show a remarkably changeable system, with water levels rising and falling as much as 50 cm within an hour. The lagoon, on the other hand, exhibits much more gradual water level changes, although it receives "pulses" of water periodically throughout the year.

Recent low water levels in Green Bay illustrate the dynamic interactions between the bay and adjacent habitats. Water level changes most drastically affect the vegetation in marshes on Point au Sable and other coastal wetlands. During periods of persistent high water, an open water complex develops across most of the low areas. In years of extremely low water, like 1999, large areas of mud flat are exposed in the lagoon and marsh. Annuals such as soft-stemmed bullrush (Scirpus validus) recolonize the exposed flats and become a dominant feature of the wetland vegetation. As the water levels return to normal, the marsh will slowly succeed back to cattails (Typha spp.).

Point au Sable encompasses a variety of terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Communities vary depending on hydrology. The most extensive natural communities represented today are: Floodplain forest, Shrub-carr, Sedge meadow, Emergent aquatic, Open water, and Great Lakes beach.

An inventory of plants and animals at Point au Sable is being developed. Extensive bird research is ongoing and has resulted in an extensive species list. Amphibians and reptiles have also been surveyed. A list of wetland plants is available by request. In 2011 and continuing in 2012 students are conducting surveys of the fish in the creeks and the lagoon.

Point au Sable is an important stopover for migratory birds and provides habitat for a diversity of breeding species, including one of the highest densities of woodpeckers reported in North America. Bird surveys are conducted at permanent census locations that include forest, wetland, shrub, and shoreline habitats. Since 1999, more than 200 species have been recorded. Bird survey points are visited 2-3 times each week during the spring and fall migration periods, and approximately weekly during the breeding season and winter. Highlights include American White Pelican, Peregrine Falcon, Snowy Egret, Least Bittern, and (during migration) virtually all of the migrant warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers found in northeastern Wisconsin.

History

Green Bay has changed drastically since the French first explored the Bay in the mid to late 1600's. Upon their arrival, they called the Bay "Baye des Puants" after the great amount of mud and mire seen along the shorelines. Both Green Bay and the "Rivies des Puants" (Fox River) were noted for large numbers of "bustards, ducks, teal, and swans" which were attracted to extensive beds of "wild oats" (wild rice). Grassy marshes made up the east shore of the Fox River. Early explorers of Green Bay and the Fox River wrote of the vast forests that bordered the bay: hemlock, pine, spruce, and fir along the east side, and cedar and tamarack on the west that gradually gave way to mixed hardwoods that continued into Minnesota. Crossing these deep impenetrable forests to the Mississippi and Wisconsin River trade routes was nearly impossible.

During the past century Point au Sable has been owned by residents who have generally maintained the natural qualities of the site. Development on the point itself has been limited to several semi-permanent structures used as duck hunting camps. In order to prevent Pt. Sable from being developed, each member of the early camps agreed to sell his share of the point only to one of the other members. John Rose, the last remaining member of the duck camp, donated his property to the Nature Conservancy in 1997. Coupled with two earlier purchases at the base of the point, The Nature Conservancy now owns a significant part of the point and adjacent land, to be forever preserved as an example of a Great Lakes coastal ecosystem.

Since Point au Sable is the only large wetland on the east shore, it attracts thousands of waterfowl that stage in Green Bay before spring and fall migrations. After the Civil War and before strict game laws were in place, market hunters and sport hunters would shoot ducks of all kinds during these periods of high waterfowl concentration. Hunters were able to push their skiffs within range of feeding flocks and kill dozens at a time. It has been estimated that no less than half a million waterfowl were shot in lower Green Bay during the late 1800's and early 1900's. Most of these ducks were brought to market in Chicago for ten to twenty cents apiece. Duck numbers have been reduced significantly since that time, and the lower Green Bay ecosystem has changed significantly. However, Point au Sable has remained one of the best duck hunting areas in northeastern Wisconsin.

Public Access

The Point au Sable Tract is accessible only by water or with a guide who has permission to cross the private land. The road from County Road A is locked and cannot be used to visit the Point. Information about management of the Point can be obtained from the Cofrin center for Biodiversity. The Point au Sable Reserve includes three separate tracts that are separated by private property. Parking for visitors is possible along Point Lane, where trails loop through the lowland hardwood forest near the central and western part of the tract. Access to the Sedge Meadow Tract is possible through the wet forest / shrub woodland south of the trail.

Hiking is allowed on trails. Dogs, bicycles, and motorized vehicles are prohibited. Hunting is only allowed with permission. Contact biodiversity@uwgb.edu for more information.