Nurturing a Symbiotic Relationship with Michigan Nature

by Dan Burton, MNA Sanctuary Steward

March signals the end of another winter, woody invasive shrubs removal season. It is not exactly a season noted on the calendar or managed by regulators, but is well known to many volunteer stewards. For me the season begins when the trees have lost most of their leaves in late fall and ends as sap begins to swell overwintered buds in early spring. As I recently toured a prairie fen I steward noting this season’s piles of cut invasive shrubs and open canopy, I was excited for the restoration work completed. I was also saddened to see another season go, even though I knew it meant spring was around the corner.

Before restoration work. Photo by Dan Burton.

There is something about this restoration work that I find very rewarding. It is tough physical work in cold winter conditions, but I am still drawn (if not addicted) to it. Part of the draw is working outside immersed in the natural elements that awaken dormant senses not unlike the hours I spend hiking and canoeing. Part of it is the physical tasks that drain my ageing body’s meager energy reserves taking with it pent-up anxiety from everyday life and yet somehow leaving me recharged. Part of it is the positive feeling of helping out an underdog prairie fen as it fights off a formidable foe in invasive shrubs. The prairie fen has historically had the help of fire in this battle, but that friendly partner has been mostly absent these days and sorely missed by many of the prairie fen’s native flora and fauna that benefit from the open canopy created.

Another part is the human elements I find outdoors even when working solo. I usually get to work with some dedicated like minded volunteers and enjoy the camaraderie, but COVID restrictions made this a solo season. As this season came to an end and I looked around the prairie fen I had worked so hard to help in its struggle against invasive intruders, I found myself alone and thinking about my stepdad and his brother who introduced me to the outdoors as a kid. They are both gone now and in some way, I think I was hoping they would be proud of the restoration work, its benefit to wildlife, and how they played a role in it by introducing me to the outdoors so many years ago.

After restoration work. Photo by Dan Burton.

As I rested on a weathered downed tree tossing back trail mix, faded fond memories of early morning fishing and hunting trips with the two of them drifted in lifting my spirits. They would be proud of the restoration work, but being old school they likely would have questioned my sanity. It does seem crazy to think of the hours, effort and resources I put into volunteer stewardship, yet I benefit as much as the prairie fen and its fantastic native flora and fauna. I guess you could simply say I am in a symbiotic relationship with a pretty prairie fen and thankful for its many mutual benefits.


Learn more about how you can become a Sanctuary Steward with MNA and start nurturing your symbiotic relationship today at michigannature.org.

Species Spotlight: Fairy Shrimp

by Emma Kull, MNA Communications Intern

A vernal pool fills with water around the springtime, bringing new life. Here, a small crustacean hatches; a lesser known relative of the lobster.

This crustacean’s common name, fairy shrimp, is the perfect nod to its graceful demeanor in the water and its small, delicate body. These aquatic dancers glide through the water on their backs by slowly rippling their eleven pairs of legs to create propulsion. They vary in size but are typically around three quarters of an inch long.

Fairy shrimp photo courtesy Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

The fairy shrimp would not be able to survive without the protective habitat created by the emergence of vernal pools each year. Though the ephemeral nature of vernal pools makes them a safe place for fairy shrimp to live without fish predators, surviving in such impermanent conditions is no small task. Fortunately, fairy shrimp are well adapted to do just that.

Once their eggs hatch, fairy shrimp have relatively short life cycles, only about a few weeks, allowing them to age and usually reproduce within the short window provided by the pool. In the case that the vernal pool dries up too quickly for the fairy shrimp to reproduce, these clever crustaceans have a backup strategy. Each spring, only a segment of the fairy shrimp eggs that had been laid the previous year will hatch, leaving the rest to remain dormant for potentially several years. That means that the fairy shrimp population can continue to survive, even if the pool doesn’t fill with water one year.

The presence of fairy shrimp is a sign of a healthy ecosystem, as it is considered an indicator species to confirm the presence of a vernal pool; and is exciting to behold if you are lucky enough to witness it.

Spotted salamanders are another species that use vernal pools. Photo courtesy Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

As a lead partner of the Michigan Vernal Pools Partnership, the Michigan Nature Association is committed to protecting vernal pools for all of the species that use them at a number of our more than 180 Nature Sanctuaries throughout Michigan.

Women’s History Month, March 2021

March is Women’s History Month. Women have long been active leaders in the conservation movement, and so we are proud to recognize just a few of those women who have contributed to conservation, both nationally as well as here in Michigan.

MNA Founder Bertha Daubendiek and Others Paddling at Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary. Undated photo from the MNA Archives.

National/Global

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson is most well-known as being the author of Silent Spring, her bestselling book that shed light on public and environmental health concerns surrounding the use of DDT, and is widely credited with advancing the environmental movement.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a dedicated supporter of conservation in the Everglades, writing the iconic book The Everglades: River of Grass the same year that Everglades National Park was established. “”It is a woman’s business to be interested in the environment.”

Margaret Murie

Margaret Murie accomplished great things in her work to preserve wilderness in Alaska. Dubbed the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement” by the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, one of her great victories was the establishment and expansion of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Dr. Dorceta Taylor

Dorceta Taylor is an environmental sociologist, who was the first black woman to earn a PhD from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Her research into the history of environmental injustices in America has been captured in several of her books.

Read about more women who made great conservation strides in this article by The Wilderness Society.

Michigan

Bertha Daubendiek

Bertha Daubendiek (second from right) and a group of visitors at an MNA Nature Sanctuary. Undated photo from MNA Archives.

Bertha Daubendiek was born in Montana, but moved to Michigan in 1936. She worked as a secretary and a court reporter for several years prior to founding the Michigan Nature Association in 1952. What began as a bird study group has grown to become the oldest statewide land conservancy in Michigan, protecting habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species at its more than 180 Nature Sanctuaries throughout the state. Bertha also authored the “Michigan’s Natural Beauty Road Law” which was enacted in 1970, and prevents widening of roadways without public hearings. For her many contributions to conservation in Michigan, Bertha was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Historical Society’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

Emma Genevieve Gillette

Genevieve Gillette was born and raised in the Lansing, Michigan area, and was the first female graduate of the landscape architecture program at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) in 1920. As a close friend of P.J. Hoffmaster, then superintendent of state parks, Genevieve was enlisted to scout areas in the state with the potential to become state parks. Genevieve raised public support and funding for state parks at Ludington, Hartwick Pines, Wilderness, Porcupine Mountains, P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, as well as Kensington Metropark and the national lakeshores at Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Her biography on the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame states: “It might justly be said of Gillette: ‘If you seek her monument, look about you.”

Huldah Neal

Huldah Neal has been described as “the epitome of what contemporary newspapers referred to as the ‘new woman’ of the 1890s.” A native of the Lower Peninsula’s Grand Traverse County, Huldah reportedly became frustrated by poaching of fish and game, and determined to resolve the issue herself. This is how Huldah became the first female conservation officer in the country; as game warden, she patrolled the remote areas of the county enforcing fish and game laws, and garnering national attention. Huldah paved the way for women in conservation enforcement, with dozens of women serving as conservation officers in Michigan recently.

Edith Munger

Most Michiganders know that the state bird is the American robin, a classically recognizable bird. Though you may not know that we have Edith Munger, first woman president of the Michigan Audubon to thank for this designation, as it was her campaign celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Michigan Audubon in 1929 that resulted in the naming of the state bird.

Joan Wolfe

Another founding woman was Joan Wolfe, who in 196 established the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, the first diverse member environmental advocacy organization in the state. She coordinated the drafting and passage of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act of 1970. Joan also served on a number of environmental boards and commissions including the Natural Resources Commission, the Natural Resources Trust Fund Board, and more.

A group visits an MNA Nature Sanctuary. Undated photo from MNA Archives.

These are just a few of the amazing women who have made great strides for conservation in their communities. At MNA, we are proud to have been part of the incredible history of women in the environment and look forward to more women having a positive impact on protecting Michigan nature forever, for everyone.

Sanctuary Spotlight: Mystery Valley

by Zach Pacana, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer

If cabin fever is setting in and all of your go-to getaways are busier than ever, it may be time to switch things up and seek out an alternative destination. Presque Isle County in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula is a treasure trove of discovery. Much of northeastern Michigan is composed of limestone rock, but if you look more closely, you will see that there is a lot going on beneath the surface.

There are a number of protected and managed karst features in Alpena and Presque Isle County. Karst terrains are characterized by caves, steep valleys, swallow holes (a place where water disappears or sinks underground), and a general lack of surface streams because drainage is underground. The resulting landscape provides unusual habitats for plants and animals.

Exposed karst formations at Bruski Sink in Presque Isle County. Photo by Zach Pacana, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer.

In what would otherwise appear to be typical farmland in Presque Isle County are three of these karst features within minutes of each other, and each uniquely different. Bruski Sink and Stevens Twin Sinks are owned and managed by the Michigan Karst Conservancy both offering stellar views of exposed rock faces as well as a short but steep causeway. The 76-acre Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary, which is managed by both the Michigan Nature Association as well as the Michigan Karst Preserve, is regarded as the finest known example of a karst valley with a swallow hole in Michigan.

A welcome kiosk at Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary informs visitors to the features of this unique area. Photo by Zach Pacana, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer.

Your adventure begins with roadside parking and a trail leading you past a series of earth cracks (Caution: DO NOT CLIMB IN THE EARTH CRACKS!). The path continues further down into the heart of Mystery Valley where you find a recessed valley floor and a large sinkhole. Water rising from beneath the surface often creates a lake that covers the west and lower ends of the valley. Most of the water reaches the surface through a sinkhole in the bedrock at the valley’s west end. Snowmelt and rain runoff also contribute to the water levels. As water flows through the underground drainage system toward Lake Huron, Mystery Valley’s “disappearing” lake drains back through the sinkhole… and disappears.

A sinkhole filled with water at Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Randy Butters.

So if you are looking to experience a unique piece of Michigan nature, look no further than MNA’s Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary, and remember to take only pictures, and leave only footprints.

Learn more and get involved at michigannature.org.