U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service celebrates Endangered Species Act’s 40th anniversary

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

In 1972, President Nixon declared that “conservation efforts in the United States aimed toward preventing the extinction of species were inadequate,” and asked Congress to develop comprehensive legislation regarding endangered species. The Endangered Species Act was passed on December 28, 1973, and is considered the most important piece of endangered species legislation. Since its inception, the act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects.

2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is honoring  the anniversary with a year-long celebration of the law and the country’s conservation efforts. Check out the timeline below for a list of significant events and achievements in the Endangered Species Act’s history. For more information on the legislation and the 40th anniversary celebrations, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

ESA timeline

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Snowshoeing at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary

By Nancy Leonard

Hiking along the lagoon at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Nancy Leonard

Hiking along the lagoon at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Nancy Leonard

With the snow having finally returned to the Keweenaw, the trail at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary is finally packed with fluffy new snow just in time for the afternoon snowshoe hike. On January 19, 27 hikers eagerly donned their snowshoes. Led by stewards Peter and Jill Pietila, they trekked along the trail to where Black Creek and Hills Creek join to form a picturesque lagoon.

The sanctuary acquired its name from Black Creek that flows in a northerly direction through the sanctuary before emptying into the lagoon where it enters Lake Superior. Hills Creek also flows through the sanctuary, entering on the eastern boundary and flowing westerly until it converges with the Black Creek at the lagoon.

Ruth Sablich, formerly of Calumet, donated the first 121 acres of this jewel of a sanctuary to MNA in 1991.  Driven by her perception of increased private development in the area and concerned about the future of public access to Lake Superior, Ruth spearheaded a project to raise funds to expand the sanctuary. With her persistence  additional parcels were added in 1992 and 2002 to increase the sanctuary size to 242 acres.

Our snowshoe hiking companions! Photo by Nancy Leonard

Our snowshoe hiking companions! Photo by Nancy Leonard

Natural communities known to occur here include dry northern forest, dry-mesic northern forest, back-dune forest, emergent wetland, northern wet meadow, rich conifer swamp, northern shrub thicket, volcanic cobble shore and sand and gravel beach.

That cobble shore and gravel and sand beach in its winter coat is now obscured with fantastical ice hills and valleys and curious “volcano vents” formed by the ice building up along the shoreline.  Curious hikers couldn’t help themselves and many trod carefully upon the otherworldly topography, being careful, though, to not venture too far out.

Peter led the group along the shoreline to the Pietila home. Here, the somewhat tired but very happy hikers were treated to an array of refreshments and a chance to rest, warm , and share their trail stories.

MNA will lead several more snowshoe hikes this winter! Check the Events Calendar to find a hike in your area. We hope to see you there!

Northern Goshawk spotted at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Northern Goshawk

Photo by Norbert Kenntner Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

On January 15, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer Matt Schultz led a group of 18 people on a hike at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County. While on the hike, the group spotted a juvenile northern goshawk, a bird typically found in northern North America and Eurasia.

None of the hikers were able to get a picture, but Schultz said in an email that several experienced birdwatchers were convinced it was a northern goshawk. They identified the bird by its white eye stripe, accipiter shape, large size, and its long, banded tail.

Though northern goshawks live farther north, finding them in Michigan isn’t entirely unusual. Northern goshawks will fly to the Great Plains and Midwest in the winter if prey levels fall in their native forests. They are an irruptive species—a species that irregularly migrates to another area for reasons including availability of food, suitability of climate and amount of predatory activity. Unlike traditional migrations, irruptive migrations may occur one year, then not again for many years.

MNA has other hikes and winter activities planned this season to help you keep winter restlessness at bay. Be sure to check out one of our upcoming events in your area, and maybe you’ll get lucky and see another neat species like the northern goshawk!

Keep checking MNA’s events calendar for an updated list of our winter events!

Michigan Endangered Species: The Kirtland’s Warbler

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge, one of MNA’s sanctuaries in the Upper Peninsula,. experienced a wildfire in May 2012 that affected 40 acres of the 160-acre sanctuary. The fire caused a reappearance of growth and activity among various species in the sanctuary, including young jack pine stands. This could mean good news for the Kirtland’s warbler, one of Michigan’s endangered species.

Kirtland's warbler

A Kirtland’s warbler.
Photo: Cindy Mead.

Kirtland’s warblers measure about six inches in length. Their backs and wings are bluish-grey with black streaks, and they have yellow breasts and white rings around their eyes. As with many bird species, the females are not as brightly colored as the males.

The Kirtland’s warbler is one of the most geographically restricted mainland birds in the country. They nest on the ground near lower branches and in large stands of young jack pine, which must be 5-20 feet tall and 6-22 years old, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. USFWS adds that the age of these trees is crucial to the Kirtland’s warbler’s habitat, though biologists have not yet learned why.

Jack pine stands are historically created and maintained through natural wildfires. After years of suppressing forest fires, scientists realized certain values of fire in forest ecology: for instance, fire helps jack pine cones release all their seeds. Without forest fires, the Kirtland’s warbler was losing its habitat—and, as a result, its population. Jack pine stands are now being managed through timber harvests, burning, seeding, and replanting to ensure the Kirtland’s warbler has its necessary habitat.

The Kirtland’s warbler reached record lows of only 167 singing males in 1974 and 1987. After 1987, however, the population began a dramatic increase. The primary goal of the current Kirtland’s warbler recovery plan was to re-establish a self-sustaining population at a minimum level of 1,000 pairs—a goal which was reached and surpassed in 2001. In 2012, the Kirtland’s warbler reached a record high of 2,090 singing males, up from 1,828 in 2011.

However, the Kirtland’s warbler is not a true self-sustaining population because it continues to persist through intensive management. In order to maintain the Kirtland’s warbler populations, the DNR, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue to manage the jack pine stands. They also control the cowbird population, a bird which acts as a parasite of Kirtland’s warblers’ nests. According to a five-year review published in August 2012 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a true self-sustaining population—one that is free from intensive management—is currently impossible.

The Department of Natural Resources has tips for helping sustain Kirtland’s warbler populations, including staying out of posted nesting areas, camping only in designated campgrounds, staying with tour guides and leaving pets in a safe area. For more information on the Kirtland’s warbler, check out its webpage through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

If you’re interested in seeing the recovery of MNA’s Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge nearly a year after the wildfire, MNA will host a fire ecology tour at the sanctuary on May 18. See the Calendar of Events or email Adrienne Bozic at abozic@michigannature.org for details. RSVPs are required.