In Memory of Edward G. Voss

By Alex Paris

Dr. Edward G. Voss, roaming botanist, inspiring professor, and long-time MNA member, died in his Ann Arbor home on February 12. He dedicated his life to the comprehensive identification and categorization of vascular plants, which is embodied by his award-winning, three-volume Michigan Flora guide. The size and clout of the series illustrates the dedication and passion Ed applied to all facets of his life: from the field to the classroom.

Photo: University of Michigan Herbarium

Though born and raised in Ohio, Ed cultivated his botanical interests while in Michigan. Vacationing as a child in Mackinac City, he was fascinated with the surrounding wildlife and began collecting it. Ed went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in biology from Denison University before uprooting to the University of Michigan, where he earned a master’s degree in biology and doctorate in botany before becoming a research assistant.

The University of Michigan would go on to serve as the trellis on which the vines of botany and teaching would root and intertwine for Ed.  He began teaching field botany at Douglas Lake even before becoming a professor, and persisted until retiring in 1996. “He made the boreal floor come alive,” says former student and MNA trustee Stan Kuchta. He was a stickler for spelling, says Stan, and fittingly served as chairman and editor of national and international plant naming committees, respectively.

By retirement (during which he continued practicing botany and teaching) Ed had racked up countless accomplishments and was known as a trusted authority in the global botanist community. Ed made one last contribution to the study of nature as co-author of the Field Manual of Michigan Flora, which was published three days after his death.

There will be two services to honor Dr. Ed Voss on March 10 in Ann Arbor: a memorial service will be held at First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor (517 East Washington St.) from 12:30-1:30 p.m., and a celebration of Ed’s life and career will be held at the University of Michigan Union, Pendleton Room, (530 South State St.) from 2-4 p.m.

Ed’s new, condensed field manual and all volumes of the Michigan Flora work can be purchased from online retailers. Michigan Flora has also taken the form of a website that is continuously updated.

In Loving Memory of Sharon Zahrfeld

By Tina Patterson

After his wife Sharon passed away, long-time member and volunteer Ted Zahrfeld approached MNA about renaming a sanctuary in her honor. In January, the Save-It-Creek Nature Sanctuary was officially renamed the Sharon Zahrfeld Memorial Nature Sanctuary. Located in Linden near the Zahrfeld home, this 35.5 acre sanctuary is a tribute to his wife of 49 years.

Ted Zahrfeld pointing to Sharon's sanctuary. Photo: Tina Patterson

A woman of many talents, Sharon was an accomplished fisher woman, liturgical environmental artist, and a fiber artist who once owned her own art gallery. Raised in east Detroit, she was working in a library where Ted first met her. During their 49 years of marriage, they raised one son and enjoyed living near their four grandsons.

Sharon inspired others as she was inspired by her father to appreciate the natural world. In addition to being a volunteer for MNA, she was a member of the Hartland Audubon Society and the Organization for Bat Conservation at the Cranbrook Institute of Science. One of her favorite activities was going to the U.P. to view bats coming out of old mine caverns at Iron Mountain.

Sharon was a woman who could call the chickadees and they would sing back to her. As Ted says, “she taught us to be caregivers of all creatures great and small.”  Greatly missed by her family, church community, and all who had the pleasure of knowing her, we thank Ted for his generous donation to MNA and the living tribute to a vibrant and beautiful woman.

In honor of Sharon, a rededication ceremony is set to take place on May 5. MNA also has a volunteer day coming up in the sanctuary on Friday, March 2 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Participants will be removing autumn olive and other invasive species. Please visit MNA’s website for more information.

MNA Partners with Jeffers High School

By Allie Jarrell

Nine years ago, students from Jeffers High School began working with MNA to restore and maintain the Robert T. Brown Nature Sanctuary. What began as an ideal spot for field trips has since evolved into numerous community service projects and hands-on learning opportunities for students.

For decades, MTU biology and forestry professors have been using the site, originally called the Lake Perrault Bog, as an opportunity for students to learn about Michigan flora and fauna outside of the classroom. A professor named Robert T. Brown was especially fond of the area and often took his students there. MNA purchased the bog in 2002, and after Robert’s passing in August of that same year, it was renamed the Robert T. Brown Nature Sanctuary. In 2003, MNA arranged a partnership with Jeffers High School so that students could continue to learn in a unique, outdoor classroom.

Photo: MNA

During their time in the sanctuary, the young volunteers constructed two boardwalks with viewing platforms, which continue to protect rare flora, such as orchids and some carnivorous plants, from being trampled. Visitors can now enjoy a worry-free stroll from the coniferous forests into the bog area of the sanctuary.  In order to carry on with their efforts, Jeffers High School has proposed a grant to receive additional funding so that the sanctuary can be incorporated into the school’s curriculum. This would enable students to continue learning about the needs of the local community while also taking ownership in protecting their home in the Lake Superior watershed.

The MNA partnership with Jeffers High School was recently renewed in order to benefit the students’ learning opportunities as well as the maintenance of the sanctuary. The Jeffers students’ efforts have been appreciated and recognized by MNA and the Michigan DNR for “creating and maintaining these important recreational areas” and “making Lake Perrault a true recreational destination for everyone.”

Forest Service Proposal to Change Wildlife Protection in National Forests

By Mitch Lex

The U.S. Forest Service released a proposal last month that will change the protection of wildlife and habitats against logging, mining and livestock grazing throughout 193 million acres of National Forest. Released as part of the final environmental impact statement for the rule, this is the fourth time since 2000 that the Forest Service has attempted such a proposal. The three previous proposals were all found to be unlawful.

Huron National Forest, Photo: Pure Michigan

Enacted in 1976, The National Forest Management Act created by Congress was designed to guide the management of the national forest system. National regulations were adopted by the Forest Service in 1982 to monitor actions such as logging, mining, livestock grazing and certain types of recreation. The rule included mandatory protection of fish and wildlife habitats and required the Forest Service to maintain populations. The plan would require that the Forest Service only maintain viable populations for species of “conservation concern.”

While this proposal may not directly affect MNA properties, it does impact the national forests that form a network with our sanctuaries.  For 60 years, MNA has been protecting endangered and threatened species, and every endangered plant species in Michigan can be found in our sanctuaries. This protection is made possible by working together with national forests such as Huron and Hiawatha to ensure that rare and endangered plants and animals can continue to live in safe habitats.

Check out the Forest Service website and this national forest interactive map for more information.

Black Creek Snowshoe Hike

By Megan Clute

Photo courtesy of Nancy Leonard

On January 14, 2012,
29 nature enthusiasts enjoyed a snowshoeing journey through the Black Creek Nature Sanctuary Trail. Despite 18 degree temperature and blustery morning weather, participants experienced the beauty of the snow-covered dunes, creeks and rivers leading to Lake Superior. From Michigan Tech students to retirees, the group consisted of both novice and experienced snowshoe hikers. The trip was guided by stewards Peter and Jill Pietila along with MNA member Nancy Leonard. They trekked through the fresh snow of Keweenaw County in conditions that were “pleasant but not too warm” according to Nancy. She also described the trip as picturesque, featuring the frozen rivers and Lake Superior which appeared as if “it could turn to ice in a moment.”

Throughout the journey, participants stopped for pictures on benches conveniently located along the trails for visitors to rest and take in the sights. After reaching Lake Superior, Peter and Jill led the hikers along the shoreline to their home located on a dune in the area. Participants were able to warm up from the hike and enjoy refreshments provided by the stewards.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Leonard

The Black Creek Sanctuary has been owned by the MNA since 1991, and in 2011 it was named one of the 20 Showcase Sanctuaries throughout the state. The sanctuary features two loops of trails, which are both two miles long, that show off the sanctuary’s sand dunes and lagoon formed by the combined waters of the Hills and Black Creeks. Visitors are welcome year-round to participate in activities such as hiking, taking photos, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Join MNA at our next snowshoe hike at the Gratiot Lake Overlook Nature Sanctuary located in Keweenaw County. The hike will take place Sunday, March 25 from 1-3 p.m. Please visit our website for further details!

Toxaphene Dwindles in the Great Lakes Region

By Mitch Lex

A recent study by the Journal of Great Lakes Research has shown a vast improvement in dwindling levels of toxaphene, a harmful pesticide that has plagued the region long after it was banned in 1982. Toxaphene was used in some areas of the Great Lakes watershed in the late 1970s and early 80s, but the majority of the pesticide entered the region from the south, where it was used heavily for agriculture and was carried north by the wind.

Toxaphene breaks down slowly and accumulates in fish, sediment and other wildlife, which has allowed it to remain in the Great Lakes long after its use was outlawed. To measure the decrease of toxaphene, researchers sampled walleye from Lake Erie and lake trout from the other Great Lakes. Toxaphene levels found in lake trout in Lake Superior showed an 86 percent decrease between 1990 and 2009, while the walleye tested in Lake Erie had the lowest toxaphene concentrations of all the lakes.

Photo: EPA

Perhaps the biggest issue with high toxaphene levels is its effect on humans.  The most common way that people come into contact with the pesticide is through eating contaminated fish, but exposure can also happen by breathing it in, touching it or drinking contaminated water. Toxaphene is a known carcinogen and can damage kidneys, liver and the nervous system.

While the Great Lakes region enjoys reduced levels of toxaphene, other areas might not be as fortunate. As levels in the region decrease, the toxins travel elsewhere, bringing their harmful effects with them.

Deciphering Michigan’s Snowy Forests

By Mitch Lex

As the heart of winter approaches and the beautiful colors of autumn are replaced by naked trees and blankets of snow, differentiating the many types of hardwoods in the mitten state becomes seemingly impossible. Separating conifers and deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves seasonally) might be the only observation one can think to make, but identifying trees like oak, maple and birch can be just as easy in the cold months of winter as it is in the heart of summer or spring—if you are looking for the right things. Although subtle, there are several defining characteristics that can be spotted on bare trees that will help you identify the many species we have here in Michigan.

The first distinctive characteristic to look for when classifying is the branching formation. Trees will have one of two formations—opposite or alternate. Opposite branching is when smaller stems are paired, with one on each side of the larger twig. Maple, ash, and dogwood are all examples of trees that exhibit opposite branching. Alternate branching occurs when the smaller twigs alternate on either side of the larger branch, such as birch, elm and redbud trees. These branching features are often more visible and easier to distinguish in the winter months than they are in warmer seasons when the leaves can disguise them.

Besides the more obvious alternate and opposite formation of twigs, there are a few more subtle differences that can be seen by those with a keen eye. The thickness of twigs, as well as how many there are, can be a telling factor in the tree species—maples and elms tend to have many smaller, thin twigs, while trees such as the walnut have fewer and thicker twigs. For those who are very observant, the buds at the tip of each twig vary dramatically between species and can differ in size, shape, color and texture. Basswood trees, found commonly in Michigan, have a unique bud structure that is a maroon red color and has two scales. Unique features on a branch like the thorns covering a hawthorn tree are also good indicators.

As the most visible and easy part to observe, the bark on trees can be one of the simplest ways to differentiate species all year round. Ridges, flakes, colors, textures and patterns are just a few properties of bark that can help distinguish tree species. The white ash, one of the most common trees throughout the state, has a distinctive diamond shape pattern throughout its ridges that make it easy to identify. Another common tree in Michigan, the paper birch, is known for its white-colored bark that peels in horizontal strips and has small black scars along the trunk.

Fruits, nuts or seeds can also be good species indicators. Animals, wind, or other factors can move these, so the seed or nut must still be attached to the tree unless you are certain of its origin. Nuts from the hickory tree and acorns from several different oak species are just a couple examples that are easy to identify.

These are just a few basic methods to help identify different trees throughout the state in the harsh months of winter. There are many tree identification books available that can help you more accurately classify species and their characteristics. With more than 100 different species and 18 million acres of trees in the state of Michigan, there is plenty of exploring and identifying to do in our forests. I hope this has been a good starting point for your winter adventures!

For more information on deciphering tree species, check out this dichotomous key!