Honoring Pollinators During National Pollinator Week

As some of you may know, pollinators come in all shapes and sizes – from well-known bees and butterflies, to birds and even bats. These animals are critical components in a healthy ecosystem, helping plants thrive and provide food to all members of the food chain. But many pollinators have been experiencing population decline in recent years, which prompted the designation of this week in June as “National Pollinator Week” – to recognize the important role pollinators play in our world, and to focus on ways to help support pollinator populations.

MNA is proud to be a part of protecting many pollinators in Michigan – a few of these species are detailed here.

Poweshiek skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek)

Poweshiek skipperling photo by Kelly Nail, USFWS

MNA works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners to better understand the decline of the endangered Poweshiek skipperling – a small butterfly at risk of habitat loss due to agriculture and landscape development. The Poweshiek requires plants and soils normally found in prairie fen habitats, which are a vulnerable natural community in Michigan. This once abundant butterfly can now only be found in a handful of sites in the world, including at MNA Sanctuaries.

Bumble bees are some of the most recognizable pollinators in the world, and have been the predominantly referenced species in the fight to save pollinators. The Rusty-patched bumble bee is one of these that have experienced decline due to habitat loss and pesticide use. The Rust-patched bumble bee, named for the brownish-orange patch found on the backs of males and worker bees, requires grasslands and prairies with undisturbed soil for both food and housing. However, many of these areas in the Midwest have been converted to farmland and other developments, such as roads. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Bumble bees are keystone species in most ecosystems, necessary not only for native wildflower reproduction, but also for creating seeds and fruits that feed wildlife as diverse as songbirds and grizzly bears.”

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Rusty-backed bumble bee photo by Kim Mitchell, USFWS

One of the larger pollinators that can be found in Michigan is the Swallowtail butterfly. Many varieties of the Swallowtail exist, some more common than others, but they all play a critical role in the process of plant reproduction. One unique sight in Michigan is groups of swallowtails foraging along damp or muddy sand, where they sip dissolved minerals and salts. They are also for their caterpillar’s defense mechanism – a pair of false eyes that form on the fore section of their body.

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Black swallowtail butterfly photo by Marianne Glosenger.

It is critical that we recognize the important role that pollinators play in our natural communities, and work to protect those habitats that are critical for the pollinators’ survival. There are many ways that you can help pollinators that extend beyond this important week, learn more at pollinator.org or pollinators.msu.edu and canr.msu.edu/pollinators_and_pollination.

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Conservation Reserve Program Helps Restore Farmland at Tiffin River Nature Sanctuary

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Contractors for Cardno plant bare root trees using a mechanical planter at Tiffin River Nature Sanctuary.

Recently, MNA conservation stewardship staff began a multi-year prairie and forest restoration initiative at Tiffin River Nature Sanctuary in Lenawee County, which is funded by the Conservation Reserve Program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This project seeks to restore native cover on 36 acres of farmland at the sanctuary – helping to return the property to productive habitat for wildlife in the area. The project begins with planting 3500 bare root trees and approximately 150 pounds of native seed and 500 pounds of cover crop over the 36 acres, which will take several years to become well established.

Active management beginning this year will include targeted and invasive species management, as well as mowing to deter weedy competition and rodent damage to trees and shrubs. In a few years, prescribed burning will be included on portions of the restoration area.

This sanctuary lies within the Bean Creek watershed – an approximately 200 square mile area in southern Michigan. The Bean Creek flows into Ohio, where it becomes the Tiffin River, which then flows into the Maumee River and eventually into Lake Erie. Within the Bean Creek watershed, residents have observed diverse freshwater mussels, the shells of which provide habitat for aquatic insects and crayfish.

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150 pounds of native seed, 500 pounds of cover crop, and 3500 bare root trees fill an MNA work truck on its way to be planted at Tiffin River Nature Sanctuary.

Conservation Director Andrew Bacon explains that the restoration project will help enhance the quality of the Bean Creek corridor for wildlife as it restores natural vegetation on farm fields immediately adjacent to the Bean Creek. Additionally, the restored riparian fields will assist with decreasing sediment erosion and the runoff of nutrients and pesticides into the creek. “These are targeted conservation practices for the Maumee River Watershed to help improve water quality and decrease nutrient loading in the river and in western Lake Erie near Toledo.”

Why We Burn

Sanctuary stewards in safety gear stand over a patch of scorched ground at Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary.

Seán Mullett, Sam Brodley, and Lance Rogalski pause for a moment while conducting a prescribed burn at Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary.

April is traditionally the peak of burn season in the land stewardship world. You’ve probably noticed more controlled/prescribed burn photos filling up your social media feed; people dressed in yellow, flames and smoke over charred ground. But for as much of the media coverage as these burns get, you don’t often see the stories behind the need for them.

Controlled burns can take place for a number of reasons – to treat and manage invasive species like autumn olive, or in some prairie environments, to prevent trees and shrubs from encroaching and crowding out essential sun-loving wildflowers and prairie plants. Over the past month, MNA stewards conducted prescribed burns at several of its sanctuaries, including Butternut Creek Sanctuary in Berrien County, the goal of which was to maintain the open grassland features of the prairie fen. Prairie fens are critical habitat for a high number of imperiled and declining species including the federally endangered Mitchell’s Satyr, one of the rarest butterflies in the world; known only to exist in Midwestern fens that were created by the retreating glaciers. While the Mitchell’s Satyr has not been observed at this particular sanctuary for a number of years, maintaining healthy prairie fen communities like that found at Butternut Creek is essential to improving threatened, fen-dependent species across the state.

In an excerpt from MNA’s spring 2011 magazine, Conservation Director Andrew Bacon explains:

Historically, fire crept through the understory of the forest, but did not necessarily ignite the mid- or upper-levels of the canopy as observed in the intense wildfires of recent times. Prior to human settlement, fire prevented shade-tolerant trees from populating oak-hickory forests, oak barrens and open communities. Without fire, trees like red maple, American beech, basswood and elm survive in the understory and fill gaps in the forest canopy.

As gaps are filled, less sunlight reaches the forest floor, making it impossible for shade-intolerant species like oak and hickory to grow. Herbaceous prairie and savanna species also become shaded out as trees become established. Slowly, the entire species composition of natural communities changes, and many species of plants and animals must find food and habitat elsewhere.

Prescribed fires have had significant and measurable results, such as restoring and protecting the habitat of the federally-endangered Karner blue butterfly. Without active management to keep these critical habitats healthy, these species and other habitat specialists like them would be at greater risk of decline.

MNA Applies for Renewal of Accreditation

Public Comment Period Open Until April 15

The Michigan Nature Association (MNA) first achieved national accreditation through the Land Trust Accreditation Commission in 2014. The accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards and practices for protecting important natural places and working lands forever.  To maintain accreditation status, MNA must renew every five years, and we are pleased to announce that we are applying for renewal of accreditation this spring.

MNA’s Big Valley Nature Sanctuary, Oakland County

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, will conduct an independent review of MNA’s policies and programs to confirm that we continue to meet the highest quality ethical and technical operation standards of a land trust. As part of the application process, a public comment period is now open.

“Maintaining accreditation is one of the many ways MNA is committed to conservation excellence,” said Garret Johnson, MNA’s Executive Director. “It means our conservation work and business practices meet the highest professional standards within the national land trust community. Earning the accreditation seal, a true mark of distinction, speaks volumes to our members, donors, and the public about our ability to uphold their trust and protect important natural lands forever.”

According to the last Land Trust Alliance census in 2016, there are approximately 1,400 land trusts across the country.  Just over 400, or about 29%, have achieved or renewed accreditation.  This network of land trusts have demonstrated fiscal accountability, strong organizational leadership, sound land transactions, and lasting stewardship of the lands they conserve, according to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.

The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending renewal applications.  Comments must relate to how MNA complies with national quality standards.  For the full list of standards, click here.

To Submit Comments on MNA’s Application

To learn more about the accreditation program and to submit a comment regarding MNA, visit www.landtrustaccreditation.org, or email your comment to info@landtrustaccreditation.org.  Comments may also be faxed or mailed to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn:  Public Comments: (fax) 518-587-3183; (mail) 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

Comments on MNA’s application will be most useful by April 15.

2018 Year in Review

A Year of Milestones

2018 Year in Review Cover

Two major anniversaries distinguish a busy and exciting 2018.

The first, of course, is the 45th anniversary of the Michigan Nature Association’s campaign that prevented logging of the largest stand of old growth white pine left in Michigan and established our Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary in 1973. The drive to raise needed funds to secure Estivant galvanized individuals, organizations and service clubs from all over the state and still stands as one of MNA’s crowning achievements.

In that spirit, we were delighted to receive a $90,000 challenge grant in honor of the Estivant Pines anniversary, and this new campaign is underway as this Year in Review goes to print.  With your generous support, we will add 60 more acres to this iconic nature sanctuary and direct $90,000 in challenge dollars to stewardship needs in our nature sanctuary network.

2018 is also the 45th anniversary of the federal Endangered Species Act.  The Endangered Species Act is an essential, national framework for protecting rare, threatened and endangered species but it has been under assault since its passage in 1973.  2018 was no different and we made our voice heard by stepping up to formally oppose rule changes that could have a devastating impact on the statute. We will continue to monitor and act on threats to this critical environmental law.

One of the major limitations of the Endangered Species Act, however, is the lack of funding for protecting critical habitat.  Remarkably, twenty years before Congress passed this landmark legislation, MNA’s founders recognized the need for action to protect Michigan’s rarest and most vulnerable species and natural communities, pioneering the strategy of protecting land in Michigan to do so.  We pursue that mission every day thanks to their foresight and our members and donor who continually rally to the cause.

Celebrating these two major milestones bookend a year’s worth of notable activities that you will read about in this Year in Review.  None of our work is possible without the commitment of our members, donors, and volunteers, and I hope you are as proud as I am of what we have accomplished together.  Be it saving old growth white pines in the Keweenaw, protecting imperiled natural communities across our great state, or defending critical policies for threatened and endangered species, we are truly all in this together.

Thank you for all you do—I look forward to another year of working with you to protect Michigan’s incredible natural heritage.

Garret Johnson
Executive Director

 

The Importance of Environmental Stewardship in Fighting Phragmites

By Hannah DeHetre, MNA Intern

The Michigan Nature Association is a land conservation organization that works to protect and preserve natural areas in Michigan by recruiting local volunteers to help maintain MNA sanctuaries as well as implementing conservation education. MNA was founded in 1952, as a bird study group, and now the organization owns and manages over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan. MNA relies heavily on volunteers and environmental stewardship. According to Rachel Maranto, the Stewardship Coordinator in the Lower Peninsula, volunteers are the “bread and butter” for MNA because “Michigan is such a big state and there are very few staff covering the state, so what is accomplished hinges on volunteer participation.”

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A massasauga rattlesnake that we saw at one of the MNA sanctuaries this summer. The Massasauga is, as of 2016, listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Service, U. F.), demonstrating the importance of preserving MNA sanctuaries (photo: Rachel Maranto).

To manage over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan, volunteers come out and help with work days. Over the summer, the work days involved the removal of invasive species such as autumn-olive, garlic mustard, and phragmites. According to Maranto, the management practice that is predominately used to control phragmites is spraying of herbicide. Due to her limited time, volunteers, and funding, herbicide backpacks are the tools used to deal with phrags, and it normally takes three days throughout the season to hit all the phrags in Saginaw Wetlands. Maranto also said that ideally, she would like to try mowing the phrags in the winter when the ground is frozen, and then spraying in the spring so that the vegetation is shorter, and therefore less herbicide would have to be used and it would be easier to spray. According to Maranto, the main goal of MNA in dealing with phragmites, especially at Saginaw Wetlands, is containment. Right around the sanctuary is a large invasion of phragmites around Lake Huron, and so without large-scale cooperation, all MNA can do is control the phrag invasion within their own sanctuary.

This summer, I interned at the Michigan Nature Association as a Stewardship Assistant. I spent the summer traveling to sanctuaries all around southeastern Michigan doing site-monitoring, setting up boundary markers, and most importantly: removing invasive species. We used various techniques to remove invasive species (not just phrags), such as just pulling them out of the ground, herbicide spraying, and cutting the plant and dabbing herbicide sponges on the cut stem. During my time with MNA, I got to meet some really great and dedicated volunteers, who were taking time out of their day, in the heat, to make their neighborhood a nicer place by managing their local sanctuary. Maranto told me that MNA attracts volunteers who are engaged and dedicated to helping MNA, so whenever someone leaves, it is hard to fill their shoes. For a small-scale conservation organization like the Michigan Nature Association, volunteers are vital for invasive species management. This was an interesting thing for me to learn this summer, as it really emphasizes the importance of local people caring about their neighborhood.

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The entrance sign to Leflgen Sanctuary (photo: Hannah DeHetre)

My last day interning for MNA was phrag spraying at Saginaw Wetlands. Rachel, another intern, and I spent hours walking around and spraying any phragmites that we saw. It was hot and sunny, I had on a really heavy herbicide backpack, and it was really hard work. It takes real dedication and passion to work that hard for a goal that some people think is impossible to achieve, and when I asked Maranto if she ever feels discouraged, or like she is fighting a losing battle, she said that overall she is not discouraged with the work the MNA does and any discouragement that she may feel just comes from a tough day spraying phrags in the heat. She also says that overall she has seen an improvement in the phrag management in the five years that she has worked for MNA. She says that typically, one year they spray a large stand of phragmites, the next year they are dead, and the following years, volunteers just have to come back and spray any repsouts- so there is improvement, which is why Maranto does not feel discouraged.

The areas around Saginaw Wetlands are really infested, and MNA has to fight against that, and as I said before, MNA’s goal in phragmites management is containment, and that the best invasive management practice is to discover the invasion and remove it before it can get out of control, which MNA is doing well. When asked about MNA’s future plans for dealing with phragmites, Maranto said that if resources and personnel do not change, then it will be more of the same: spraying herbicide with volunteers who are willing to help. However, if some sort of biocontrol were to be developed and implemented, MNA would be a willing participant in that management practice. Another opportunity that Maranto would be interested in would be more collaborating with neighbors of sanctuaries, and with the help of partners to share the administrative burden and workload, bigger equipment could be used for ecological management.

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Another intern, Liz, and I taking a break after LOTS of phrag spraying. We still have a smile on our faces! (photo: Rachel Maranto)

The Michigan Nature Association is a conservation organization that manages and protects over 175 sanctuaries throughout Michigan. While working there this summer, I learned about and employed various management practices used by MNA to remove invasive species from their sanctuaries. More than that though, I learned about the power of local volunteers. These are people who just care about nature, and about their neighborhoods, and are willing to spend hours in the summer working hard outside for the sake of taking care of these sanctuaries. Effective conservation and management can only happen with the help of these volunteers (so go out and volunteer)!

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Bonus: Monarch caterpillar that we saw at Saginaw Wetlands (photo: Rachel Maranto)

2018 Photo Contest Winners Announced!

Congratulations to our 2018 Photo Contest winners! Thank you to everyone that submitted a photo – we had many great options to choose from! Photos were submitted in three categories: Flora & Fauna, Landscapes, and People in Nature in order to capture Michigan’s natural beauty.

Grand Prize Winner!
“Cedar Waxwing” by Heike DeWolf

Overall Winner - DeWolf, Heike - Cedar Waxwing

Flora & Fauna

First Place:
“Beetle” by Nancy Pokerwinski

Second Place:
“Got an itch!” by Mary Zednik

Third Place:
“Knit Craft” by Dani Weng

Honorable Mention:
“Goodnight Tom Boy” by Dustyn Blindert

Landscapes

First Place:
“Mission Creek” by Paul Mrozek

Second Place:
“Pancake Ice” by Deb Traxinger

Third Place:
“One Golden Morning” by Ellen Stevens

Honorable Mention:
“On the Black River” by Michael Crawford

People in Nature

First Place:
“Gotcha!” by Mary Zednik

Second Place:
“Capture the Sun” by Greg Bodker

Third Place:
“On the Edge” by Dustyn Blindert

Honorable Mention:
“Couple on Icy Beach” by Nancy Pokerwinski