MNA sanctuary celebrates 50th anniversary

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

MNA’s Stephen M. Polovich Memorial Nature Sanctuary in St. Clair County turns 50 this year! Polovich Memorial was MNA’s second sanctuary and opened on May 18, 1963. This 18.5-acre sanctuary was originally known as the Pine River Nature Sanctuary, named for the river running through the preserve.

Pine River

Pine River runs through the Polovich Memorial Nature Sanctuary in St. Clair County.

Polovich Memorial is located in a deep pocket of dense woods, just off Cribbins Road in St. Clair County. The sanctuary contains a dense forest with birch, maple, hickory, aspen, and other tree species, as well as a varied terrain of hills, gullies and streams, flood plains and a river. A half-mile trail in the sanctuary gives visitors access to Pine River, a gentle river that is often lined with wildflowers. MNA connected all the trails in Polovich Memorial into a loop in 2012, making it easier to navigate the sanctuary.

More than 65 bird species call Polovich Memorial home, making the sanctuary a favorite among bird watchers. Species found in the sanctuary include the whip-poor-will, red-headed woodpecker, wood duck, ruffed goose, and great horned owl.

The Stephen M. Polovich Memorial Nature Sanctuary was renamed after Steve Polovich, the son of nature photographer Ralph Polovich. Steve—an Eagle Scout who loved nature and sponsored nature study for Campfire Girls of Port Huron—frequently visited MNA sanctuaries with his father and three sisters. Ralph often took photos of his kids at the sanctuaries, which became an important asset to MNA and were used in many MNA publications. Steve passed away at the age of 19 on December 29, 1977, but his memory is preserved and honored through the nature sanctuary.

For more information on the Stephen M. Polovich Memorial Nature Sanctuary or other MNA sanctuaries, check out the MNA website.

Upcoming Volunteer Days Focus on Invasive Species

Volunteer Kali Bird cuts buckthorn at Columbia Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County

Volunteer Kali Bird cuts buckthorn at Columbia Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Throughout the year, MNA hosts a variety of volunteer days to give the public an opportunity to visit and help out at nature sanctuaries. Many of MNA’s volunteer days focus on removing invasive species from the sanctuaries. This year, the volunteer days tackle three main species: autumn olive, glossy buckthorn and garlic mustard.

Autumn olive and glossy buckthorn are both invasive shrubs that produce leaves early in the spring and retain them late into the fall. This causes a problem for native species, because autumn olive and glossy buckthorn shade out these native species and reduce species diversity.

Participants for the March volunteer days will most likely be removing autumn olive, glossy buckthorn and other invasive shrubs from the sanctuaries. The majority of the volunteer days in April focus on garlic mustard, one of Michigan’s worst wetland weeds.

Garlic mustard completes its life cycle in two years. During the first year, garlic mustard sprouts little green clusters of three to four rounded leaves with scalloped edges. The plant stays green through summer and into winter, which makes it easy to look for invasions during that year. In the second year, however, garlic mustard shoots up a 20- to 40-inch stalk with tiny white flowers and leaves with toothed edges. The flowers pollinate quickly, and mature seeds are dispersed by wind. The plant disappears by August, causing many to forget about it and inaccurately believe it’s gone away. Garlic mustard is rapidly dominating the forest floor, changing the woodland habitat for native species.

Regional stewardship organizer Katherine Hollins said volunteers at the Lyle and Mary Rizor Nature Sanctuary in Livingston County on March 3 will be using loppers and hand saws to cut invasive shrubs, primarily autumn olive. Once the shrubs are cut, volunteers paint the stumps with herbicide so the plant doesn’t resprout. Hollins said there will be a tutorial once the volunteer group reaches the worksite. There will also be guides to assist the volunteers who aren’t familiar with the species they’re cutting, so no experience is necessary.

MNA volunteer days aren’t just an opportunity to help rid the land of invasive species—they’re a great time to visit a nearby sanctuary, as well.

“It’s usually fun to visit sanctuaries in the winter because you can often see more,” Hollins said. “Without the leaves to block your view, you get a better sense of the topography of the sanctuary, you can sometimes see birds better, and there are often animal tracks that wouldn’t be obvious except for the snow.”

Upcoming MNA volunteer days:

  • Saturday, March 2: Lyle and Mary Rizor Nature Sanctuary (Livingston County)
  • Wednesday, March 6: Big Valley Nature Sanctuary (Oakland County)
  • Wednesday, March 20: H.E. Hardy Memorial Nature Sanctuary (Livingston County)
  • Thursday, March 21: Saginaw Wetlands Nature Sanctuary (Huron County)
  • Saturday, March 23: Alton D. McGraw Memorial Plant Preserve (St. Clair County)
  • Monday, April 15: Powell Memorial Nature Sanctuary (Lenawee County)
  • Wednesday, April 17: Shiawassee River Plant Preserve (Shiawassee County)
  • Friday, April 19: Joan Rodman Memorial Plant Preserve (Washtenaw County)
  • Monday, April 22: Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary (Cass County)
  • Monday, April 22: Powell Memorial Nature Sanctuary (Lenawee County)
  • Monday, April 22: Big Valley Nature Sanctuary (Oakland County)
  • Wednesday, April 24: Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary (Cass County)
  • Friday, April 26: Hamilton Township Coastal Plain Marsh (Van Buren County)
  • Saturday, April 27: Coldwater River Plant Preserve (Kent County)
  • Sunday, April 28: Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary (Cass County)

For more information about MNA’s upcoming events, check out the events calendar.

Volunteers at a recent workday at Goose Creek Grasslands Nature Sanctuary in Lenawee County

Volunteers at a recent workday at Goose Creek Grasslands Nature Sanctuary in Lenawee County

National Invasive Species Awareness Week: March 3-8

By Katherine Hollins, Regional Stewardship Organizer – Eastern Lower Peninsula

Autumn Olive by Tracy Lee Carroll

Autumn Olive by Tracy Lee Carroll

Stewardship staff and volunteers here at MNA spend a lot of time thinking about, looking at, pulling, chopping, and otherwise dealing with invasive plants. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what anyone did to keep busy before they arrived!

Since we spend so much time dealing with established populations, it’s easy to forget that the best time to manage invasive plants is when you barely notice their presence. That’s why the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) was established.

Garlic Mustard by eLeSeA

Garlic Mustard by eLeSeA

The MISIN website is host to a great collection of tools and information to help you keep an eye out for invasive plants that may have just arrived in your neighborhood. MISIN has a series of identification tutorials  to help you learn the distinctive features of different invasives, and a free app to let you submit information right from the field.

If the list of tutorials is overwhelming, try starting with some pretty common plants like autumn olive, phragmites, or garlic mustard. See if you can find them along the road or in your neighborhood. Once you’re familiar with those, move on to some less-common, but on-the-move invasives like black swallowwort. MNA staff and seasoned volunteers are always happy to help you learn new invasives at our regularly scheduled volunteer days.

Volunteers at a Dauner Martin Nature Sanctuary workday

Volunteers at a Dauner Martin Nature Sanctuary workday

What’s even better than early detection? Prevention! Check out this short video about preventing aquatic hitchhikers, or if you’re eager to cozy up on a long winter night, the US Department of the Interior put together a hefty guide to cleaning equipment and vehicles to prevent the transport of invasives. And if you’re planning some new landscaping at your house, you can use this app or pdf to identify alternatives to invasive plants.

There are also many national events going on during National Invasive Species Awareness Week. For a complete list, visit the NISAW website. The first step is raising awareness, so don’t forget to share what you learn with your friends and neighbors!

MNA Acquires New Wetland Sanctuary in Van Buren County

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Christmas came early for MNA this past year! We purchased the Great Bear Swamp Nature Sanctuary in Van Buren County in December 2012. This particular sanctuary was chosen for its wetland values and expands protection of the Black River Riparian Corridor.

The new sanctuary

Great Bear Swamp Nature Sanctuary

The swamp at the Great Bear Swamp Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Matt Schultz.

The Great Bear Swamp Nature Sanctuary, located near Breedsville, is composed entirely of forested wetlands and floods heavily during wet periods of the year. The seasonally flooded wetlands should provide habitat for amphibians, while the forest provides habitat for songbirds, woodpeckers, and wood ducks. Most of the sanctuary consists of southern hardwood swamp, with silver maple as the dominant canopy tree.  Other species that grow there include green ash, cottonwood and sycamore. The sanctuary also protects the shore of a small kettle lake.

The new sanctuary is included in a stretch of the Black River Riparian Corridor between Bangor and Gobles, and this corridor also includes MNA’s Black River Nature Sanctuary and the mouth of the Great Bear Lake Drain. This 1,800-acre corridor includes a great blue heron rookery and populations of spotted turtle and blandings turtle.

The Great Bear Swamp Nature Sanctuary is a class “C” sanctuary, which means visitors should coordinate visits with the regional organizer, steward, or MNA office prior to visitation. Though the sanctuary protects plants and wildlife, it is not very visitor-friendly; the area is very wet and there are no trails or visitor amenities planned.

 Protecting the land

MNA’s stewardship team plans to manage the sanctuary by controlling invasive shrubs that threaten the shrubby wetlands along the marsh of the lake, marking the boundaries of the sanctuary, and conducting botanical and wildlife surveys. Through these actions, they hope to protect the ecological integrity of the sanctuary, protect flooding and wetland functions, and better understand the sanctuary’s ecology.

For more information on MNA sanctuaries and stewardship, visit the MNA website.

Michigan’s Endangered Species: The Rayed Bean and the Snuffbox

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

A female rayed bean. Photo: Angela Boyer, USFWS

A female rayed bean. Photo: Angela Boyer, USFWS

Almost one year ago, two of Michigan’s native mussels, the rayed bean and the snuffbox, were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The rayed bean and the snuffbox aren’t the largest species—both are smaller than 3 inches—but threats to these small organisms can indicate big problems for the environment.

North America has the highest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world, with 300 species found on the continent. Of those species, 38 have recently gone extinct and another 77 are considered “critically imperiled,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Mussels tend to be long-lived because they can close their shells for protection. As a result, they respond to long-term ecological disturbances rather than short-term disturbances. Some call mussels the “canary in the land mine” in terms of water quality because mussel disappearances show long-term trends that are harming our waterways.

The rayed bean and snuffbox have each suffered significant declines from their original ranges. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the rayed bean, which was once found in 115 streams and lakes, has experienced a 73 percent range decline. The snuffbox has seen a 62 percent decline in occupied streams, but this range decline coupled with population losses show an actual range and population decline of at least 90 percent.

Some MNA sanctuaries contain the rivers and streams these endangered mussels could still occupy, including the Stephen M. Polovich Memorial Nature Sanctuary and the James & Alice Brennan Memorial Nature Sanctuary, both in St. Clair County.

The greatest threat to the remaining freshwater mussels is habitat loss and degradation, much of which is caused by pollution from point and non-point sources. There are some ways you can help conserve the rayed bean, snuffbox and other endangered species in Michigan:

  • Learn more about endangered species and wildlife conservation, especially the endangered species in your area. For information on the protected species in Michigan, check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or one of our past blog posts on endangered species.
  • Get involved with a conservation organization in your community. MNA hosts regular volunteer days at its sanctuaries, many of which take action to protect the sanctuary’s native and endangered species. For a list of MNA’s upcoming volunteer days, check out our events calendar.
  • Limit use of pesticides or lawn-care chemicals. This will help prevent runoff—a type of non-point source pollution—into nearby lakes and streams.
  • Plant trees and plants to help control soil erosion and avoid runoff into freshwater areas.
  • While boating, follow the rules created to help prevent the spread of exotic pests like zebra mussels. Zebra mussels and other exotic creatures act as another threat to the state’s native mussels.
  • Speak up! The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has a hotline you can call if you see someone illegally hunting, trapping or fishing a protected species.