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City to protect wetland property

A Johnson Flats property is the first of several properties city council is considering to have rezoned for wildlife protection purposes.
Johnson Flats wetlands.

Grand Forks City Council is getting back to nature.

A property on Johnson Flats is the first of several city-owned properties city council is considering to have rezoned for wildlife protection purposes.

The Johnson Flats wetland—a 19.26 acre parcel located below the city cemetery and the dog off-leash park—is currently zoned rural residential. The council would like to rezone it as a park and wildlife protection area under a yet-to-be created zoning classification, said city councillor Chris Hammett.

“We want to rezone it so it is protected forever and will be there for our grandchildren’s grandchildren,” Hammett said.

The wetland is a critical nesting and foraging habitat for threatened Lewis’s woodpecker, said city engineering technologist Graham Watt. The great blue heron and the bald eagle also call the area home. People already enjoy the space too.

Watt frequently walks in the area.

“It feels like a refuge down there—the sounds of the city just disappear amid the dawn chorus of dozens of different birds and frogs,” said Watt in an email interview. “The open water, cattail marsh and swamp wetland systems are all beautiful to me and to many others—what a great place to learn about nature!”

Once the zoning has been done over the summer, the city’s manager of operations will guide improvements to the current trail system, signage and parking. The city will seek outside funding sources to pay for extras like a viewing platform and interpretive signage, Watt said.

Because this is an environmentally sensitive area, some zones will be out of bounds in an effort to protect the habitat, Hammett added.

“We are a very green council,” she said. “And because we are looking at protecting the environment anyway, we are pretty excited about this project.”

Interested in learning more? The city is hosting an information session on the Johnson Flats wetland, the Protected Natural Areas Initiative and small and innovative housing options being considered by city council on Thursday, May 26 from 3:30 - 6:30 p.m., with the location yet to be announced. The photographic work of a local high school student featuring the flora and fauna of the wetland will also be on display at the open house, Watt said.