To return a former wetland area disturbed by illegal ditch digging to its natural hydrologic function.

Project Description

Nearly half of the 1,000-acre Fox River National Wildlife Refuge has been heavily impacted by ditches illegally constructed to drain the area for agriculture. The soil was never tilled, but the ditches drained productive wet prairie, sedge meadow, and shallow marsh wetland habitat, upsetting the natural flood regime and degrading important wildlife habitat. Native plant species such as sedges still dominate the area; however, undesirable woody plants have invaded the area. Restoration work focused on preventing water from moving through the ditches. Specific activities included installing sheet piling structures in the ditches and backfilling with material from shallow scrapes excavated on the refuge. In total, 10,000 feet of ditches were eliminated. Ongoing work includes control of invasive species and reseeding disturbed areas.

Fox River National Wildlife Refuge Aerial View undeveloped habitat. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Aerial view of the Refuge showing the meandering Fox River (Photo by US FWS)


Project restoration created habitat conducive to wetland species, including birds (whooping crane, sedge wren, American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), yellow rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis), and greater sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), spawning fish, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, and native plant species. The hydrologic functions of the area were restored and the quality of water discharging to the Fox River has been improved by reducing the runoff of sediment, pesticides, and fertilizer. Water previously directed through the ditches can now spread across the wetland as sheetflow and create a new meandering course to the river.

Spatial Extent of Project

Restoration of 200 acres to native wetland and grassland habitat. NRDA settlement funds account for restoration of 108 acres (54% of total), other funds account for restoration of 92 acres.

Status and Funding

NRDA settlement funding was awarded in 2005 and restoration activities began the same year. Hydrologic restoration in the project area has been completed, with additional ongoing work including invasive species control, planting native species, and monitoring hydrologic conditions. The project received $150,371 in NRDA settlement funding and attracted additional matching funds and/or inkind services for a total budget of $278,371.

Project Accomplishments

The habitat value of the refuge has been improved. Hydrologic goals were met and water flows out into the wetland rather than through the illegal ditches. Ongoing monitoring will be done to (1) ensure successful restoration from both a hydrological and a wildlife perspective, (2) locate and eliminate invasive species, and (3) monitor fish and wildlife populations to help refuge managers evaluate the significance of the restored hydrology.

Fox River Wetland Restoration Activity

Ditch being filled. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Fox River Wetland Ditch Filled

Filled ditch with newly growing emergent wetland vegetation (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Contact Information

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fox River National Wildlife Refuge
(920) 387-2658