MNA’s Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge Impacted by Duck Lake Fire

By Adrienne Bozic and Chelsea Richardson

Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge Fire Damage

Some of the fire damage at Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge. Photo by Adrienne Bozic

On May 23, a lightning strike sparked a wildfire that burned more than 21,000 acres in the eastern Upper Peninsula, the third largest Michigan wildfire in modern history. This fire burned for 20 days before it was considered 100 percent contained.

The toll on local homeowners was devastating; the fire destroyed 136 structures, including 47 homes, a store, and the famous Rainbow Lodge at the mouth of the Two Hearted River. The fire stretched all the way to Lake Superior, almost thirteen miles north of its southern extent. At final tally, the fire burned 21,069 acres, making it the third-largest wildfire in modern Michigan history after the 25,000-acre Mack Lake Fire (1980) and the 72,000-acre Seney Fire (1976).

A total of 300 personnel assisted with the Duck Lake Fire, building 42.6 miles of fire line, almost half of them dug by hand. Cooperating agencies included the Michigan State Police, Luce County Sheriff’s Department, Luce County Emergency Management, Wisconsin DNR, American Red Cross and Salvation Army. Many news reports noted that Luce County and Newberry residents would line the streets in the evening as fire personnel drove home for the night, cheering loudly and holding signs thanking them for their hard work.

Bracken Fern Sprouting

Some signs of life at the sanctuary as bracken fern sprouts from the soil. Photo by Adrienne Bozic

Many natural areas in Luce County were affected by the fire, which can have potentially positive ecological responses in fire-adapted ecosystems such as those found in the Duck Lake fire area. Many ecosystems throughout Michigan are fire-dependent and require periodic fire to maintain their specific ecology and function. According to the DNR website, prescribed fire is also used to maintain habitats such as prairies. Many endangered species depend on warm season grasses and prairie remnants for their survival. Fire is also used to maintain large openings and oak savannahs. Savannahs are open, park-like areas with scattered trees. These areas need periodic fires to keep brush and trees from turning them into a forest.

A portion of MNA’s Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge was burned in the Duck Lake fire. On June 26, MNA’s Upper Peninsula Regional Stewardship Organizer Adrienne Bozic visited the sanctuary to survey the fire damage. Approximately 40 acres of the 160-acre sanctuary were affected, mainly along the southern tier of the property. The fire exhibited interesting behavior south of Pike Lake, possibly due to varying forest types present which have differing levels of combustibility and burn at different rates. For example, in Swamp Lakes, the fire abruptly stopped at areas dominated by broad-leaved hardwoods such as maple, which presumably formed a fire break of less-flammable material. Continue reading

Michigan’s Unusually Warm Summer: Climate Change or Just Weather?

By Chelsea Richardson

2012 Duck Lake Fire

Some of the wildfire damage at Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge.

With all of the extremely hot, dry weather we’ve been having this summer in Michigan, many people are wondering what is going on. Some argue that it’s global warming and others argue that it’s just a hot summer, but here at the Michigan Nature Association we were curious about what the experts were saying about this topic.

Michigan weatherman Jake Dunne talked about the weather back in March; he said “Folks, we are in the midst of a HISTORICAL run of weather… an event that will put March of 2012 in the record books, not to mention a month that will be talked about for decades.” No one could have predicted the string of over 100 degree days we would be getting. Scientists won’t say if global warming is the cause of these 100 degree days or if it’s responsible for the 3,215 daily record high temperatures that were set in June. Linking individual weather events to climate change takes a lot of time along with intensive study, complicated mathematics, and computer models.

According to an article in Time Science, since 1988 climate scientists have warned that climate change would happen. Along with the heat rising, it would also bring more droughts, more sudden downpours, and more widespread wildfires.  So far this year 2.1 million acres have been burned by wildfires. MNA’s Swamp Lake Moose Refuge Sanctuary was affected by the Duck Lake fire in the U.P.; a good portion was completely burned (we’ll talk more about this in a blog post later in the week).

Sometimes weather conditions like this are not caused by global warming, although it is too early to say exactly what the cause of this freak weather is, weather is variable and weird things happen. While at least 15 climate scientists told The Associated Press that this long hot U.S. summer is consistent with what is to be expected in global warming, history is full of such extremes, said John Christy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He’s a global warming skeptic who says, “The guilty party in my view is Mother Nature.”

Brad Garmon, director of conservation and emerging issues at the Michigan Environmental Council, wants everyone to “start reading up on this stuff; it’s going to happen more often in the decades to come, whether we like it or not.”

Though the experts disagree on what is causing the extreme weather conditions, one thing is certain: organizations like MNA must continue to work to protect and maintain Michigan’s special natural areas, a task that can be harder in extreme weather. If you’d like to help, consider joining MNA for a volunteer day to help out at a sanctuary near you.

June 24 Botany Walk in the Keweenaw

By Nancy Leonard, Keweenaw Shores II Steward

Purple-Fringed Orchid

Lesser Purple-Fringed Orchid. Photo by Nancy Leonard

Twenty-seven people joined Karena Schmidt and myself for a Sunday afternoon of botanizing at Keweenaw Shores II at Dan’s Point in the Keweenaw.  This Class C plant preserve is on an ancient conglomerate beach at the northernmost edge of the Keweenaw Peninsula.  Tilted rocks and hidden crags create depressions for collected water but also provide high and dry exposures. An unusually large number of plant species ranging from bog plants to those preferring exposed dry rock as their home can be found here.

Although we were concerned with such a large number of explorers having a negative impact on a sensitive area, our worries soon diminished as enthusiastic botanizers spread out naturally in small groups, moving with great care across the rough beach terrain. Before entering the preserve, we had reviewed the importance and fragile nature of the preserve, what plants might be found here and their ranking, and how best to navigate without doing harm.

The showiest find of the day was the Lesser Purple-Fringed Orchid  (Platanthera psychodes).  In a good year, dozens of these colorful orchids can be found here.

Common Butterwort

Common Butterwort. Photo by Nancy Leonard

The Pale Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja septentrionalis), a state-ranked threatened plant, was in bloom and everyone was thrilled at their abundance to be found here.

Even though the bloom time had passed for the tiny insect-devouring Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), a plant of special concern, a few still-blooming plants were discovered in a protected place beside a liverwort.  The lichen-covered rock captivated some members of the group and Karena readily shared her knowledge of lichen lore with them.

Weather-wise, the day was just as perfect.  A slight breeze off Lake Superior kept participants cool and comfortable even though it was sunny.  Most were reluctant, even after more than two hours of exploring, to leave this beautiful preserve.

If you’d like to join MNA on a field trip at a sanctuary near you, visit MNA’s Calendar of Events. We hope to see you in the field!

MSU Celebrates 50 Years of ‘Silent Spring’

By Chelsea Richardson

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been 50 years since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. This book has been called one of the signature events in the birth of the environmental movement.

Carson always knew she wanted to be a writer and at age 11 she published her first book. While in college she went against the status quo of “science is too rigorous of a field for women” and changed her major from English to biology in 1928. After receiving her master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, Carson spent 17 years at the U.S. Bureau of Fish and Wildlife Service where after a few years she became editor-in-chief. During this time, she began writing books about the sea, but it wasn’t until years after her resignation from the U.S. Bureau of Fish and Wildlife Service in 1952 that she started writing Silent Spring.

Silent Spring started as an article for a magazine and then grew to a full blown book that took four and a half years to write.

In 1962, Silent Spring opened the world’s eyes to the potential dangers of pesticide use. People started to look critically at what was happening around them and direct effects of the book resulted in increased scientific study of the effects of pesticides. Regulatory laws were enacted, dissenters were empowered, and practices were changed. DDT insecticide was banned in 1972, 10 years after Silent Spring was published.

The Michigan State University Museum revisits the publication of this landmark book, credited with launching the modern environmental movement. “Echoes of Silent Spring: 50 Years of Environmental Awareness” opened in the Heritage Gallery on May 29.

Most readers and observers of Silent Spring say that the outcomes of the book have been positive, while others say that the impacts have been negative. The MSU museum would like to invite people to come to the exhibit, read the book and make their own judgments.

Research in Silent Spring is close to home at Michigan State. The major case study observing birds that experienced tremors and then death after consuming large amounts of the pesticide DDT as it accumulated in soil, and consequently, in their food source, earthworms, took place on MSU’s campus.  Part of the exhibit showcases ongoing correspondence between Carson and MSU ornithologist George Wallace, whose papers are now part of the Museum’s collections.

Wallace and his students documented the dying birds on MSU’s campus. They collected birds from MSU and they were either dead or dying from tremors in the late 1950s. These scientists carried out tests on many of the birds’ carcasses, and in most cases found elevated levels of the pesticide DDT. This is one of the many studies that Carson uses in her book.

The exhibit runs through December 30 at the MSU Museum. Visit the Museum website for more information and to experience a virtual exhibition.