Bringing Michigan Nature to Your Home

In early 2021, MNA launched a new series of events exploring the rich natural history of Michigan. The “Michigan Nature at Home” virtual speaker series hosts experts from around the state who share topics with viewers including historic inventions inspired by the state’s unique natural features, how research helps us be better stewards of the land, tips and experiences in creating artistic conservation images, and more.

Presenters have included Michigan Notable Author James McCommons speaking about his recent biography of George Shiras III, who paved the way for modern-day trail cameras in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Michigan Technological University Research Professor, Dr. Rolf Peterson, provided valuable insight into the research being conducted on the relationship between Isle Royale’s wolves and moose in the world’s longest-running predator-prey study. We also heard from wildlife photographers Greg Bodker and Josh Haas, who each provided valuable tips for creating better photos while respecting the needs of wildlife. A Michigan Natural Features Inventory ecologist, Jesse Lincoln, delighted our audience with stories of how his conservation work is enhanced and informed by art, and award-winning filmmakers Chris Zuker and Jason Whalen gave viewers a sneak peek of a few films they have been creating for MNA.

These presentations have helped us reach a broad audience, beyond the borders of the state, inspiring people to care about and experience Michigan’s incredible nature from home. We look forward to providing continued informative programming in the coming months as the Michigan Nature at Home series continues.

Beginning in February 2022, get an in-depth look at some of our most diverse sanctuaries with the experts who know them best—our conservation field staff. View recordings of past presentations and register for newly announced events at michigannature.org.

Protecting Wild Nature on Giving Tuesday

by Lauren Ross, MNA Communications & Events Coordinator

One of my favorite ways to experience nature is to stand on the shore of Lake Superior in a winter storm, the gales blowing hard, waves crashing through the ice walls that they created in a previous storm, snow obscuring the landscape and much of the horizon. It is truly a most amazing experience, but when I tell people that I enjoy feeling this raw power of nature, I can see in their eyes that they do not understand. So, let me explain…

Laying on the icy Lake Superior shoreline at sunset.

When we describe people as wild, we imagine chaos – a shirt buttoned askew, hair unkempt and unruly. And in nature’s wild, we see something similar though we do not apply the same judgment. In nature’s wild there is order, there is reason, whether or not we are able to comprehend it. The fresh green leaves and grass of summer are easy to appreciate, but it takes a special kind of observation to appreciate nature on a gloomy and overcast day.

In the fall and winter months, nature’s wild looks a bit like a human’s – the bare webs of tree branches outstretched like staticky-electric hair, wilting grasses like a pile of dirty laundry that didn’t quite make it to the hamper. During this time, we can see a side of nature that is ‘uncurated’ and perfectly imperfect. The wild that I experience on that windswept and icy shoreline is a powerful reminder that I am, with all of my imperfections, part of this wild nature, and I thoroughly enjoy feeling it push back as I lean into each gust.

The special places that MNA protects as Nature Sanctuaries across the state are protected because someone at some point in time connected with that particular place, either because of its beautiful native species or the incredible rarity of its landscape. Nature inspires us to think outside ourselves, beyond our daily needs and struggles, and makes us feel connected to the earth.

You may still think that my enjoyment of a winter storm on an icy beach is a bit unorthodox, but I hope that the message resonates with you. In whatever way you enjoy wildness in nature, whether that be a hike through the forest on a warm sunny day (without any bugs), or a native pollinator garden in your community, know that these places are as much a part of us as we are of them. And in order for others to enjoy them as we do now, they need our care and protection.

This #GivingTuesday, as you consider your charitable options, please consider giving to the Michigan Nature Association – and know that your gift may be helping to protect a ‘wild’ natural place that inspires someone now and in the future. Donate today at michigannature.org

Sanctuary Spotlight: Thornapple Lake

Thornapple Lake Nature Sanctuary is one of MNA’s many inland-lake sanctuaries, protecting roughly 60 acres of lakeshore where the Thornapple River enters the Thornapple Lake in Barry County. The densely forested sanctuary would be a tempting destination for hiking and exploration if not for the wet terrain making trails impractical. This type of habitat, which floods every spring, is known as a floodplain forest.

The low banks along the Thornapple River allow for the natural fluctuations in water levels.

The Thornapple River, a major tributary of the Grand River which drains into Lake Michigan, travels nearly 90 miles through primarily agricultural land, and is disrupted at several points by man-made dams built to control its frequent flooding. From the tributary east of Charlotte until it joins Thornapple Lake the river flows freely, though with the appearance of a creek.

This floodplain forest area is therefore an important part of the landscape. Floodplain forests serve an important role in increasing natural water quality as pollutants get filtered out of the floodwaters through the soil. They also provide critical habitat for several rare birds, such as Baltimore Oriole, Cerulean Warbler and American Woodcock. The saturated soils of floodplain forests thaw earlier in the spring than surrounding soils, creating critical opportunities for early migratory birds to find food on their way to summer breeding grounds.

A great blue heron hunts along the shoreline at Thornapple Lake Nature Sanctuary.

The area around Thornapple Lake, however, has become heavily developed over the years with waterfront homes and neighborhoods which intersect the shoreline. The development impacts the ability of waterfowl and other species to use the lake for feeding and breeding. Concerned with the overdevelopment of the lakeshore, Richard and Rosemary Shuster donated the land that has become Thornapple Lake Nature Sanctuary in 2009.

Many of MNA’s Nature Sanctuaries are known for being incredible destinations for hiking with spectacular overlooks, abundant spring wildflowers, and more. But sanctuaries like Thornapple Lake are a reminder that prioritizing the protection of Michigan’s rich natural heritage for wildlife and not just human enjoyment, is just as worthwhile.

Making an Impact as an MNA Intern

by Emma Kull, MNA Communications Intern

Like many who now work in the field of conservation, I grew up with a special affinity to animals. Of course, I loved the ones that lived in my home. We would always compare our house to a zoo–and by ‘we’, I mean my dad, who was constantly attempting to be the voice of reason whenever my sister and I would point at a new creature in a pet store and yell ‘that one!’. I loved all animals, though, not just the ones who relied on me to take care of them. I loved the deer that would occasionally stroll beyond the nearby park boundaries and wander into our front yard. I loved the moles that our neighbors would spend hours trying to get off their property. I loved the chipmunks that would find their way into our attic and drive everyone mad, the birds that would sing to us in the morning, and the squirrels that ran up and down our fences all afternoon. I wasn’t sure how to help them, but I desperately wanted to do something. Naturally, when it came time for me to choose a field of study in college, that admiration and appreciation of animals played a large role in my decision.

Emma Kull at a natural area in Michigan. Photo courtesy Emma Kull.

Now a graduate of Michigan State University, I have more than a love for animals, but an understanding of them as well. This is key to doing any conservation work, and a lesson that I continue to learn everyday in the work that I do both at Howell Nature Center, and at the Michigan Nature Association.

At Howell Nature Center, I work directly with injured, impaired, and sick wildlife. The reality of working with wildlife is that it is hard. There are hundreds of animals that can’t be saved, and that is a call that someone has to make nearly every day. Sometimes even more difficult, is the ones that can be saved – these are the ones that you have to let go. Protecting wildlife is not about caretaking them. The best case scenario when an injured animal comes in is that they are released back into the wild. The part of you that loves animals wants to keep them safe in your care forever, but the part of you that understands animals knows they need to be wild.

Photo courtesy Emma Kull.

As an intern at MNA, I get to experience a whole other side of conservation work. This often looks like the ‘bigger picture’. In order to protect biodiversity and maintain healthy ecosystems, we must work to conserve habitats and species populations, not just individual animals. I’ve found the experience I’ve gained already at MNA to be invaluable as a tool for promoting conservation efforts. Though it is very different from the work I do at Howell Nature Center, it is closely related in that it promotes the true needs of the environment and wildlife. Once again, this comes with a true understanding of animals and not just an innate admiration.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive an opportunity to work at the Detroit Zoo over the summer. I am inspired by all of the important and groundbreaking work the DZS is doing for the welfare of their animals and the conservation of species in the wild. If you’re a frequent visitor of the Detroit Zoo, you might not see every animal every time. This is because the Detroit Zoo is a leading zoo in captive animal welfare and designs their exhibits with an emphasis on the individual animal’s wellbeing. Though guest experience is also extremely important, it is never allowed to interfere with the zoo’s important mission of ‘Saving and Celebrating Wildlife’. Thus, instead of keeping resident animals in smaller habitats with fewer shelters to make them more visible to guests, the Detroit Zoo teaches guests that their animals are more than just a sight to see. They focus on educating the public on important conservation issues, and they bring together people and animals through animal ambassador programs that are safe for the animals and provide guests with a more close-up picture. I’m proud to have a zoo in our community that is leading the way in these important issues, and I am excited to contribute to those efforts.

When you care about animals the way I do, it is such a rewarding experience to work to protect them, even if it’s not quite how you imagined it being as a kid. It can be more challenging than expected and often much less hands on. It can even be upsetting or heartbreaking. However, it is truly worth it for the change that you’ll make, the amazing people that you’ll meet, and all the creatures that you’ll help.

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In the fall of 2021, Emma Kull began a graduate program at the University of Michigan’s Rackham Graduate School in the Environment and Sustainability program. We thank Emma for her contributions to MNA’s work and wish her the best in her endeavors. You can make a difference too as a Communications Intern with the Michigan Nature Association. Visit michigannature.org to learn more about how to apply.