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Frank Gray

YouTube | Brendan Kearns

Asian carp in the Wabash River near Montezuma, Ind.

Jim Avelis | The Tribune Star.
An Asian carp leaps from the Wabash River in this file photo.

Pesky carp walls in nature preserve

It's all but official now.

At Eagle Marsh and the Little River Wetlands Project along Engle Road, they've been trying to re-create natural habitat and reintroduce native species.

Now, thanks to a new type of foreign fish, the Army Corps of Engineers will be building a huge earthen barrier to try to contain the fish and prevent it from reaching Lake Erie.

Building a 100-foot-wide earthen barrier 10 feet high is never a thrilling event for the people trying to create a nature preserve.

But it's got to be done. The Asian carp, which escaped from some farm ponds in Arkansas during floods in the 1970s, have taken over rivers in the central part of the country in the last 20 years or so.

They're everywhere, and you've probably seen film of them jumping out of the water, frightened by passing boats, flying into boats and even injuring people when they come soaring on board.

It was in 2005 that one of the fish was discovered in the Little River in Huntington, and the wetlands project on the southwest side of Fort Wayne has been a focus in the fight to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes since not long after that.

Betsy Yankowiak, the director of preserves and programs for the wetlands project, said the project will actually involve moving the continental divide to ensure that these fish can't get into the St. Marys River and make their way to Lake Erie, where they have the potential to destroy the sport fishing business there.

So what happens when you build a berm like that to keep an invasive species in check?

Well, you end up destroying a lot of native species that the people at the preserve have been trying to reintroduce.

So Yankowiak has accumulated about 150 volunteers who are willing to go into the preserve on Wednesday evenings, starting next week, and transplant some of the native species that are destined to be bulldozed under, gather seeds for native plants, and transplant them into other areas within the wetlands to preserve them.

It's bound to be messy work. We are dealing with cooler-than-normal and rainy weather in the middle of wetlands.

And the work will go on every Wednesday evening until October.

It's a daunting task, Yankowiak admits. She says she has 1,000 acres of garden.

I couldn't help but wonder, though. Having heavy equipment enter the preserve and build a gigantic earthen barrier. Is this a worst-case scenario?

If an event like this were to occur 30 years from now, when all the trees were mature and wildlife had come to rely on a stable environment, it would be worse.

But she realizes this isn't just about the Asian carp. The carp species, she said, is just the poster child for invasive species that could transfer to other bodies of water and wreak havoc.

One is a virus that attacks fish and causes massive fish kills.

So the threats that exist range all the way from giant jumping fish to microscopic organisms, she said.

So an earthen berm might be a small price to pay.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.