About Michigan Nature Association

The Michigan Nature Association is a non-profit organization that has been dedicated to preserving Michigan’s natural heritage since 1952. MNA protects more than 10,000 acres of land in over 170 nature sanctuaries throughout the state of Michigan, from the tip of Keweenaw in the Upper Peninsula to the Indiana/Ohio border.

Dangerous Migration: One of Nature’s Most Impressive Migration Phenomena is at Risk

By William Rapai

 

*The following story appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of Michigan Nature Magazine

monarch - Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture

Many flowers—especially native plants—are terrific sources of nectar for monarch butterflies. Photo by Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture

It’s September at the Michigan Nature Association’s Goose Creek Grassland Sanctuary.

Even though asters and goldenrod are in bloom, most plants that grow here—including the three species of milkweed—are in decline. 

Hanging from the underside of a leaf, a Monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, with an urge to do only one thing: fly to Mexico.

Five generations of Monarchs have hatched already during this calendar year, but this individual is different. Always synchronized to the lifecycle of the milkweed, this Monarch inherently understands that fall is approaching and it must go. 

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Monarch butterflies are not able to survive the cold winters of most of the United States so they migrate south and west each fall to escape the cold weather. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to 2,000 miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two-way migration each year. Map courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

There are no roadmaps or guideposts for the Monarch and there will be no adults that have made the journey before to show the way. There is only an inner drive that guides the butterfly on a 2,000-mile journey south and west, across the corn belt, the hot, dry plains of Oklahoma and Texas, across the Rio Grande, and over the mountains of Mexico to a place it has never been before—the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve west of Mexico City—where it will spend the winter in hibernation.  

There are Monarchs all across the United States and the southern tier of Canada and biologists split them into two populations. The western population winters in southern California and spreads out across the west coast and the Great Basin in the summer. But the eastern population—those butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains—return to Mexico in the fall in one of the most astonishing natural phenomena on this planet. Other butterflies migrate—both north in the spring and south in the fall—but the Monarch’s journey is unique because of the distance and the entire population somehow finds its way to one location in the mountains of Mexico after being spread out across half of North America. 

 

Reason for Alarm

This eastern migratory population is in jeopardy, however. The Monarch’s population is in trouble, caught in the crossfire of changing land use and habitat loss, drought in the southern plains, dangerous pesticides, and extreme storms. In the early 1990s, the eastern population of the Monarch was estimated at more than 500 million individuals. By 2014, that number had fallen to about 34 million. The population has rebounded somewhat since then—to an estimated 56 million in 2015, according to Chip Taylor, the director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.

Even though the numbers have perked up, there is still much reason for concern. A 2016 study of this population by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego and the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that it could go extinct sometime in the next two decades. In fact, the eastern Monarch population decline has become such a concern that in 2014 President Barack Obama issued an executive order to create the National Pollinator Task Force to develop an action plan to save declining populations of honeybees and restore the eastern Monarchs to about 225 million. 

The Monarch’s population crash has increased the importance of sanctuaries like the Goose Creek Grasslands. This 70-acre sanctuary is just a postage stamp on a landscape dominated by agriculture, but it has everything a Monarch needs: flowering plants that provide nectar and plentiful milkweed, which is the only food source for Monarch larvae. This place also has sanctuary manager Rachel Maranto and many generous volunteers who work hard to remove glossy buckthorn, an invasive plant that would grow property line-to-property line and quickly dominate the entire landscape if not controlled. 

The on-the-ground work at the Goose Creek Grasslands is representative of the commitment the Michigan Nature Association has made to the Monarch. MNA has been working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and other government agencies, non-profits, and citizens to promote the health of the Monarch by promoting the planting of additional nectar plants and milkweeds.

Nectar gardens are particularly important for the Monarch’s fall migratory generation. Weight gained by those butterflies during migration will have to sustain them because they won’t eat anything until they come out of hibernation in March, says Cora Lund Preston, a communications specialist with the Monarch Joint Venture, a Minnesota-based partnership of more than 60 organizations.

There’s one more thing unique to this fall migratory generation: for their entire migration and hibernation, they are locked in a juvenile state called “diapause,” which makes them unable to breed. Always synchronized to the milkweed, they only become adults and breed after they emerge from hibernation in March as milkweed plants sprout in Mexico and Texas. 

But all that is months ahead for this Monarch. It’s a sunny September day, and the Monarch is torn whether to leave Goose Creek. Michigan is a pretty good place for a Monarch in any generation, says Stephen Malcolm, a professor of chemical biology at Western Michigan University. The landscapes of states to the south and southwest—Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa—are a vast monoculture of corn and soybeans that provide very little in the way of food or places to breed.  Michigan’s less agriculturally intense and more complex environmental matrix is good for Monarchs because it provides more places for milkweed and nectar plants to grow. In addition, the moderating impact of the Great Lakes limits temperature extremes. 

monarchs at Fred Dye by Adrienne Bozic

Monarch butterflies at MNA’s Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County. Photo by Adrienne Bozic.

Despite those luxuries, migratory restlessness is too much to overcome and this Monarch lifts off from a goldenrod, to start a perilous journey. This trip would be dangerous for any animal let alone one that weighs only about a half a gram—a hundred times as heavy as a grain of sand. There are predators and the risk of being struck by a speeding vehicle or being caught in an early frost. 

 

Near Impossible Challenge

Like other Monarchs traveling across the Midwest, this butterfly’s first challenge is finding food on a vast landscape of corn and soybeans. Often there are flowering plants growing along rural roads—New England aster, stiff goldenrod, black-eyed Susan—but there’s also danger here. If the plants are near an agricultural field there’s a chance they have been contaminated with neonicotinoids or some other insecticide. 

Neonicotinoids are considered harmless to humans in small amounts, but to insects like butterflies and honeybees they are deadly. The pesticide is systemic, which means it reaches into all parts of the plant and kills any insect that comes in contact with any portion of the plant. Many of the corn and soybean seeds planted across the Midwest are treated with neonicotinoids, and the insecticide is absorbed as the plant germinates and grows. Other neonicotinoids are sprayed on plants or are included in irrigation water, which unfortunately allows them to spread to nearby non-agricultural plants. For a pollinator like a honeybee, even a minute amount is lethal.

For the Monarch, however, the impact of neonicontinoids will be fully felt when a new generation arrives back in the Midwest the following spring. A 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture study showed that even if milkweeds are not treated directly, they can contain neonicotinoid compounds in levels high enough to be fatal to Monarch caterpillars if they grow near treated agriculture. (You may very well have a neonicotinoid compound in your house even if you pride yourself on not using pesticides on your garden. Have a dog or cat? If it wears a flea or tick collar, it likely has a neonicotinoid as an active ingredient.)

California monarch - Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture

Mountains west of Mexico City are the winter refuge for most of the monarch butterflies in North America. Photo by Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture.

As the Monarch approaches the Rio Grande, it and other migrating Monarchs from across the eastern United States funnel into a narrow corridor that parallels the Gulf of Mexico. There are two dangers here: drought and tropical storms. A four-year drought in this area earlier this decade took a severe toll, as Monarchs were unable to find food as they traveled through the area. In 2011 alone, 97% of Texas was in drought with 88% of the state experiencing severe drought. 

Mexico - monarchs on trees - Wendy Caldwell

After migrating from the United States and Canada, monarch butterflies spend the winter in oyamel firs at a few mountain forests in Mexico. Photo by Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture.

That drought also had an impact for three straight springs: Monarchs emerging from hibernation in March went north expecting to find young milkweed plants growing so they could breed and lay eggs and for three straight years there were almost none. A wet spring in Texas in 2015 gave the migrants a bumper crop of milkweed, and the Monarch population responded accordingly. 

And then there is the danger of running headlong into a tropical storm entering Texas or northern Mexico from the Gulf of Mexico. Biologists say it’s common for Monarchs to survive the heavy rains and high winds by burying themselves in leaf litter, hiding under rocks, or taking shelter in a hollow part of a tree. 

Ten weeks after it left Goose Creek, this Monarch has made it safely to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in central Mexico. Technically this reserve is a tropical resort—only about 19 degrees north of the Equator—but at nearly two miles above sea level, the area has a unique microclimate and winter temperatures range between 32 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The butterflies cluster together on the branches of evergreen trees to keep warm.

But this clustering—the entire population in less than 50,000 acres—makes the Monarchs vulnerable. A storm in early March 2016 brought cold temperatures and high winds that knocked down about 133 acres of trees and killed an estimated 6.2 million butterflies. 

 

A Cycle Worth Saving

In March, the sun climbs higher overhead, the thin mountain air begins to warm and millions of Monarchs emerge from hibernation and search for food. No longer in diapause, they now also search for mates and milkweed plants to lay their eggs and continue the butterfly’s lifecycle. 

There will be as many as five generations during the year as the Monarch again spreads out across eastern North America, reaching Michigan and the Goose Creek Sanctuary in early May. 

And on a late summer day, with the milkweed in decline at a sanctuary in southern Michigan, a Monarch will emerge from its chrysalis, with an urge to do only one thing. 

monarch on a goldenrod - Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture

A monarch butterfly rests on goldenrod before continuing toward its migration destination. Photo by Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture. 

William Rapai is the author of two Michigan Notable Books: The Kirtland’s Warbler (University of Michigan Press) and Lake Invaders (Wayne State University Press). He is also the president of Grosse Pointe Audubon and has a milkweed/pollinator garden in his front yard.

Sanctuary Spotlight: Five Lakes Muskegon

Tucked away behind a series of commercial zones in Muskegon County, the Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary is a beautiful 106-acre complex of wetlands, oak-pine barrens, and dry sand prairie. With land acquisitions by MNA beginning in 1977, the sanctuary has grown many times over the years, with the latest acquisition of 25 acres in 2011.

Intense timber harvesting by the previous landowners resulted in thick regeneration of oak saplings and other woody species that began to shade out the savanna oriented understory. In 2018, MNA entered into a partnership agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Partners for Fish and Wildlife program to enhance the savanna/barrens community by conducting woody growth mowing across the new parcel.

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Aerial view of coastal plain marsh. MNA Archives.

The sanctuary is located within the Five Lakes Muskegon area, so named because although the Federal survey of 1836 showed one large body of water, it has long ago shrunk to what is known locally as the “Five Lakes”. This change in the water level could be the reason for the several different types of natural communities found here.

Such a diverse landscape as found here supports an impressive array of herptiles, particularly turtles and frogs that depend on the wetlands for water, with turtles using the surrounding sandy soils for egg laying sites. A variety of bird species use the sanctuary throughout the year; the state-threatened common loon, special-concern classified American bittern, and many species of conservation priority species including the pied-billed grebe, great blue heron, red-headed woodpecker, and field sparrow are annual visitors. The sanctuary also includes an extraordinary number of rare wildflowers, sedges, rushes and grasses.

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A volunteer holds a green frog. Photo by John Bagley.

The biodiversity of this sanctuary makes preserving this habitat a high priority in Michigan. The work being conducted at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary is an excellent example of how MNA approaches stewardship at special sites. By scientifically assessing restoration needs, seeking partnerships to secure needed resources to conduct restoration, and providing ongoing monitoring and maintenance, MNA staff and volunteers are in the best possible position to sustain imperiled natural communities and expand habitat for the rare plants and animals found within them.

MNA’s conservation work at Five Lakes Muskegon was recognized by the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition in 2019 with a “Sustainability Champion Award”; a testament to the hard work of the volunteers, stewards, and partners that help MNA achieve its goal of protecting Michigan’s natural heritage.

JulieStoneman-ClaireDeBlanc - sustainabilityaward

Volunteer Steward, Claire DeBlanc, and Director of Outreach & Education, Julie Stoneman, accept the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition “Sustainability Champion” Award.

You can help MNA maintain this, and many other unique nature sanctuaries by joining a volunteer sanctuary workday – learn more at michigannature.org!

Sanctuary Spotlight: Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a Michigan Nature Association nature sanctuary is its accessibility to the public. Some sanctuaries are so “off the beaten-path” that they require a heavy duty off-road vehicle, and lots of determination on behalf of the visitor to make the journey. Others are so easily accessed, you might accidentally stumble across them during your daily commute. The Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County is one of the latter.

Fred Dye

Fred Dye at the dedication of the sanctuary on August 7, 2004.

Located along the side of M-123 at the ghost town of Kenneth in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, the sanctuary was originally named “Purple Coneflower Plant Preserve” due to the abundance of purple coneflowers that can be found blooming here in late summer. It was renamed in 2004 to honor former MNA trustee, steward, and outstanding volunteer Charles Frederic Dye, Jr.

This sanctuary is unique among MNA sanctuaries, as it contains notable cultural, natural, and geological features within its 21 acres. Visitors to the sanctuary will find karst features such as exposed bedrock, thin soils, and deep earth cracks; a unique local feature resulting from the Niagara Escarpment rock formation. There are also numerous prairie species typically found in the tall grass prairie region of Illinois, Iowa and southern Wisconsin and Minnesota.

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An American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) on a pale purple coneflower. Photo taken at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary during the Michigan Nature Association 60th Anniversary Odyssey Tour, by Marianne Glosenger.

The ghost town of Kenneth was a small and thriving logging town from the 1880s through the 1930s, which laid along the railroad line. For a short time until the 1930s, Kenneth established a Civilian Conservation Corps camp housing 300 men who worked primarily on repairing forest fire damage in the surrounding forests after a series of forest fires between 1915 and the 1930s. What is now the Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary used to contain the town’s general store and saloon, the foundations of which can still be found in the sanctuary.

Although there are no official trails at Fred Dye, it is easily navigated due to its open prairie habitat. As you travel along M-123 roughly 20 miles north of the Mackinac Bridge, be on the lookout for the distinctive MNA sanctuary sign along the west side of the road and remember to “take only pictures, and leave only footprints.”

 

Reminiscing on a Decade of Accomplishments

As we all begin another rotation around the sun, we look forward to what a new year brings with it – hope, optimism, and the promise of new beginnings. We also like to take a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of the previous year – though as we begin a new decade in 2020, MNA would like to expand that thought and remember some of our major accomplishments of the past ten years.

Since 2010, MNA has acquired nearly 40 parcels and conservation easements, bringing the total number of nature sanctuaries under MNA management to 181.

In 2012, MNA celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of our organization, which began as a group of bird enthusiasts, whose concern for protecting the ecological diversity of Southeast Michigan grew to become the oldest statewide land conservancy in Michigan.

In 2014, MNA honored its commitment to our members, donors, and the public about our ability to uphold their trust and protect important natural lands forever by successfully earning accreditation through the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission. And we followed on to that commitment with successful accreditation renewal in 2019, joining a network of more than 400 accredited land trusts across the country that have proven trustworthy in their professional excellence and conservation methods.

In the summer of 2014, MNA underwent a major move, from a 2,400 square foot house in Williamston to a 10,000 square foot office space, which we share with a number of other conservation organizations including Michigan Audubon, the Michigan Wetlands Association, and the most recent addition, the Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance.

A Space for Collaboration

MNA outgrew our office in Williamston and moved our headquarters to nearby Okemos – visit us at 2310 Science Parkway!

Also in 2014 and into 2015, MNA was a key stakeholder in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ effort to update the state’s Wildlife Action Plan – a critical and partnership driven tool in defining the wildlife and habitat conservation goals for the state over a ten-year period.

DSC_0073MNA celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2017 and into 2018 with an extremely successful fundraising campaign to expand one of our showcase sanctuaries, Estivant Pines. The campaign celebrated the sanctuary’s 45th anniversary. The newest addition to this landmark sanctuary protects an additional 60 acres of old growth white pine forest in the Keweenaw Peninsula, bringing the sanctuary to a total of 570 acres.

 

Finally, in 2019, we were honored to be a recipient of one of the Consumers Energy Foundation’s inaugural Planet Award grants, which will help us save critical habitat in the state through protection, restoration, and enhancement projects at or adjacent to eleven of our more than 180 nature sanctuaries.

We are so proud of everyone who has helped us achieve each of these amazing accomplishments, and many more, over the last decade.

Sanctuary Spotlight: Franklin F. and Brenda L. Holly

For decades, Frank and Brenda Holly visited the 80-acre family retreat in Mason County, just outside of Ludington. There is a small cottage near the southwest corner of the property that Frank and his family have been slowly building over the past several decades; the rest consists of hemlock and pine forest, featuring wetland and prairie fen. Mr. Holly’s grandfather, Henry Millwood, was a local farmer and artist who spent much of his spare time caring for this property. Mr. Holly explained, “Every year in early December, Henry would walk the mile-and-a-half from his farm, with saw in hand, to this place and look for a tall pine tree with a nicely formed top. Then, he would climb way up high on this tree and cut its top off and carry it home so that it could serve as the family’s Christmas tree for that year.”

stream-hollyns- photo credit Lauren Ross

A small stream runs through the Franklin F. and Brenda L. Holly Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Lauren Ross.

The onsite wetlands are part of a much larger wetland complex which extends to the west and the southwest, and which drain into the North Bayou on Hamlin Lake. Exploring the vast forest of this property, one will find patches of sandy earth, ferns and cattails among the red maples, eastern hemlocks, and red and white pines. A small creek runs through the property, one of many in a network of arteries that wind up in nearby Hamlin Lake.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the donation of this unique property in northern Michigan. It also marks the time in which Henry Millwood would have visited the property in search of the perfect tree. In the past year, MNA has been working to develop a walking trail on the property that will serve as an educational opportunity for the local community in conjunction with a partnership with the local schools and community organizations.

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In the summer, the open spaces of the sanctuary become dense with a variety of ferns. Photo by Robb Johnston.

You can learn more about this unique sanctuary, and about the Holly Family legacy in the Fall 2019 issue of Michigan Nature magazine – available online at michigannature.org!

2019 Photo Contest Winners Announced!

We are excited to finally announce the winners in this year’s 9th Annual Photo Contest. This year’s photo contest saw more than 200 entries from over three dozen photographers. After much deliberation, the photo contest judges selected the winners based on their photographic and ecological qualities. The winning photographers were honored at our Annual Fall Recognition Dinner on Friday, November 15th. 

Congratulations to the following winners, and thank you to all who entered this year! These beautiful photos help us tell the story of why Michigan is so worth protecting and preserving for future generations.

Category: Flora & Fauna

Honorable Mention, Julia Schachinger for “Green Heron & Painted Turtle”

GreenHeron&PaintedTurtle Julia Schachinger - HM FF

3rd Place, Mary Rasmussen for “Predacious Diving Beetle Underwater”

Mary Rasmussen predacious diving beetle - 3rd Place FF

2nd Place, Martha Hitchiner for “Blue Racer on Tree Stump”

Martha Hitchiner blue racer - 2nd Place FF

1st Place, David Dalrymple for “Greater Yellowlegs”

greateryellowleg David Dalrymple - 1st Place FF


Category: Landscapes

Honorable Mention, Deb Traxinger for “Fall Swamp Sunrise”

Fall Swamp Sunrise Deb Traxinger - HM Landscape

3rd Place, Tom Ala for “Hungarian Falls”

Tom Ala - Hungarian Falls - 3rd Place Landscape

2nd Place, Jeremy Salo for “Misty morning in Brighton on the river”

Jeremy Salo - 2nd Place Landscape

1st Place, Paul Mrozek for “Fall Pond”

Namikong Pond, North Country Trail, Hiawatha National Forest, Em


 

Category: People in Nature

Honorable Mention, Randy Butters for “In the Light of Day”

In the Light of Day-2 - Randy Butters - HM People

3rd Place, Nan Pokerwinski for “Shade”

Shade - Nancy Pokerwinski 3rd Place People

2nd Place, Greg Bodker for “Learning Nature”

Our future - Inquisitiveness

1st Place, Randy Butters for “On the Long Blue Edge of Summer”

On the Long Blue Edge of Summer - Randy Butters 1st Place People


 

Overall Winner

William Rowan for “Sandhill Crane Mother with Adopted Canada Goose Gosling.”

Rowan_1 - William Rowan - Overall Winner

MNA Earns National Recognition

One thing that unites us as a nation is land: Americans strongly support saving the open spaces they love. For more than 65 years, MNA has been doing just that for the people of Michigan. Today, MNA announced it has renewed its land trust accreditation – proving once again that, as part of a network of over 400 accredited land trusts across the nation, it is committed to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in its conservation work.

“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.”

MNA provided extensive documentation and was subject to a comprehensive third-party evaluation prior to achieving this distinction. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission awarded renewed accreditation, signifying its confidence that MNA’s lands will be protected forever.

Accredited land trusts now steward almost 20 million acres – nearly the size of the entire state of Michigan. MNA first achieved national accreditation through the Land Trust Accreditation Commission (LTAC) in 2014, and after review of MNA’s application for renewal this spring, the LTAC announced on Wednesday that MNA had successfully earned its first renewal. Accreditation is renewed every five years, and MNA is proud to have earned this designation.

“It is exciting to recognize MNA’s continued commitment to national standards by renewing this national mark of distinction,” said Tammara Van Ryn, executive director of the Commission. “Donors and partners can trust the more than 400 accredited land trusts across the country are united behind strong standards and have demonstrated sound finances, ethical conduct, responsible governance, and lasting stewardship.”

MNA is one of 1,363 land trusts across the United States according to the Land Trust Alliance’s most recent National Land Trust Census. A complete list of accredited land trusts and more information about the process and benefits can be found at http://www.landtrustaccreditation.org.

About MNA
Established in 1952, the Michigan Nature Association is a non-profit conservation organization committed to the protection and maintenance of special natural areas throughout the state. Through stewardship, MNA works to protect the rare and endangered plants and animals that reside in these areas, and promote a program of natural history and conservation education. For more than 65 years, MNA has worked to acquire and protect more than 175 nature sanctuaries from the northern tip of the U.P. to the Indiana/Ohio border. In 2019, MNA received an inaugural Planet Award from the Consumers Energy Foundation to protect rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals in eight counties across southern Michigan. For more information on MNA and current initiatives, visit www.michigannature.org.

About the Land Trust Accreditation Commission
The Land Trust Accreditation Commission inspires excellence, promotes public trust and ensures permanence in the conservation of open lands by recognizing organizations that meet rigorous quality standards and strive for continuous improvement. The Commission, established in 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts. For more, visit www.landtrustaccreditation.org.

About the Land Trust Alliance
Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America. The Alliance represents 1,000 member land trusts supported by more than 200,000 volunteers and 4.6 million members nationwide. The Alliance is based in Washington, D.C., and operates several regional offices.

The Alliance’s leadership serves the entire land trust community—our work in the nation’s capital represents the policy priorities of land conservationists from every state; our education programs improve and empower land trusts from Maine to Alaska; and our comprehensive vision for the future of land conservation includes new partners, new programs and new priorities. Connect with us online at www.landtrustalliance.org.