Endangered Species Day – A Celebration of Species Protection and a Day of Action

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By Eugene Kutz, MNA Intern

An exciting day for species conservation, the 12th annual Endangered Species Day is today, May 19. This day provides an opportunity for people to learn everyday actions they can take to help protect our nation’s endangered species. Today will facilitate recognition of the extensive efforts currently in place to protect our nation’s endangered and threatened species and their habitats.

Michigan is home to fourteen endangered and twelve threatened species, comprised of eight plant species (seven threatened, one endangered) and nineteen animals (six threatened, thirteen endangered). Of these lists, two species, the piping plover and the Poweshiek skipperling, have been designated with habitats in critical condition. For a list of all Michigan Federally-listed Threatened, Endangered, Proposed, and Candidate Species, follow the link to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/lists/michigan-spp.html

Spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation, the Endangered Species Day was established in 2006 after the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution designating a day to encourage the public to become educated about, and aware of, the current threats to species and the success stories in species recovery.

Plants and animals near extinction were first provided security in the Endangered Species Act, signed into law by Congress in 1973. In a conservation win, only 9 of out of 1,800 species listed as endangered were declared extinct since the implementation of the Act. Having paved the road for the Endangered Species Day, the Act declared the importance of protecting endangered species and containing extinction prevention for hundreds of species, including the bald eagle, grizzly bear and the Florida panther.

Now Endangered Species Day is recognized across the nation and in events at schools, libraries, museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, businesses and community groups alike. It also provides the opportunity for promoting all worldwide species conservation efforts.

Butterfly Run logoThis Saturday, May 20, join the Michigan Nature Association for its third annual Karner Blue Butterfly Family Fun Run & 5K at Millennium Park in Grand Rapids, as part of the Race for Michigan Nature, a statewide series of Family Fun Runs & 5Ks stretching from Belle Isle in Detroit to Marquette in the U.P.

Each race spotlights one of Michigan’s rarest species and helps promote the importance of protecting Michigan’s remaining natural areas. This event will help raise awareness for endangered species and habitat conservation efforts. Sign up at https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/Walker/KarnerBlueButterflyRun.

Species Spotlight: Karner Blue Butterfly

Karner blue butterfly

Photo: Marilyn Keigley

By Eugene Kutz, MNA Intern

Butterflies embody the transcendent journey of nature. Fascinated with their metamorphic abilities, many harbor a love for the butterfly’s diverse incarnations. Sadly, there are ongoing threats to the habitats of many of these butterfly species. One such species is the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis), which according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declined by 99% over the past 100 years, 90% of which occurred in the past 15 years.

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Photo: Animals Time

Found near the Great Lakes and the northeast United States, this subspecies of the Melissa blue butterfly have a wingspan of about one inch. Individual adults usually live only five days or so, with females living up to two weeks. They are identified as male and female from telling characteristics. Males have a silvery or dark blue topside with narrow black margins—whereas female wings are gray-brown with a blue topside, featuring orange bands inside a black border. Both males and females sport the same gray underside with beautiful orange crescents along the edge of the wings, with scattered black spots circled with white.

In Michigan, Karner blues have historically lived in the western and southern Lower Peninsula. The amount of available habitat for Karners has reduced, causing a significant population decline. The Karner blue suffered extreme habitat loss and degradation, causing a massive population drop from 1970 to 1980, becoming federally listed as endangered by 1992. It has since been listed as a Michigan threatened species (plants and animals likely to become endangered). The species is currently surviving in at least 10 southern Michigan counties.

Karners prefer to live in oak savannas and pine barrens, and are found inhabiting areas that are partially shady with sandy soil. Previously living in a range from Maine to Minnesota, the Karner blue butterfly now exists only in smaller populations in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, New York and Minnesota and is believed to have disappeared permanently in Illinois, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire and Ontario.

Lupine By USFWS Joel Trick

Lupine By USFWS; Joel Trick

The wild blue lupine (Lupinus perennis) is the only food source for the Karner caterpillar larvae, and adults feed on the flowering plant nectar. Yet the habitats do not completely overlap, the Karner population range occupying only the north-most growth extent of the lupine. These factors greatly restrict where the Karner can live, endangering the species. Habitats are also lost when plants like the lupine lose in competition with other vegetation in these habitat ranges, like pine and oak trees.

Other primary causes of Karner blue habitat destruction are land development and a lack of natural disturbance, such as wildfire and grazing by large mammals. Without fire, the kind of open-canopy habitats lupine plants require become overgrown into closed-canopies. These events maintain their habitat by keeping forests from encroaching and adding in the growth of plants like the lupine. Now the Karner blue mostly survives in degraded openings, old fields, and utility and highway rights-of-way.

Researchers continue to search for the best way to manage their population. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have created and implanted a Recover Plan for protecting and restoring the Karner blue. Many butterfly collectors may wish to have a Karner blue for its rarity, but due to their low numbers even collecting a few individuals could harm their survival, and to legally collect one must obtain a permit from the FWS. In some places, the butterfly’s habitats are managed and protected. Wisconsin has implemented a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan that permits human activities in areas that support the species and its habitat. Zoos have reintroduced Karner blues by propagating them in new suitable habitats in Ohio, Indiana and New Hampshire in areas where the Karner has previously been extirpated.

At MNA sanctuaries, visitors can observe these beautiful butterflies. MNA is fighting for the conservation of the Karner blue butterfly, restoring critical habitat in several counties. MNA is protecting these “conservation-reliant” species through active restoration and stewardship, using techniques like prescribed fire, to maintain their habitat.

There are many ways people can play a critical role in protecting the future of this species by supporting local conservation efforts. In addition, help protect the Karner blue butterfly by conserving or managing your property for Karner blue and other rare species, contacting local Landowner Incentives Program (LIP) Biologists, learning more about federal programs available to landowners, supporting the use of prescribed fire to maintain prairies and savannas, and limiting or avoiding the use of pesticides near Karner blue butterfly habitats.

Learn more about this unique endangered butterfly at the Michigan Nature Association’s third annual Karner Blue Butterfly Family Fun Run & 5K on May 20 at Millennium Park in Grand Rapids. This event will help to raise awareness for endangered species and habitat conservation efforts. Sign up at https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/Walker/KarnerBlueButterflyRun.

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Karner Blue Butterfly Run in Grand Rapids. Photo: Pamela Ferris

 

Expanding Protection at Carlton Lake Wetlands

Last year MNA added 120 acres to Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary in Chippewa County. This addition solved MNA’s most serious and longstanding sanctuary access issue! Previously, access to this sanctuary was a long and cumbersome trek starting with a rugged drive, followed by a lengthy canoe ride to finally reach the entrance of the sanctuary. Now guests can access the sanctuary year-round on foot. Thanks to this land acquisition, Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary expanded to 520 acres!
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While valuable as an access acquisition in its own right, the parcel is significant as part of the overall wetland complex. The wetlands are largely comprised of emergent and submergent marsh, northern shrub thicket, and rich conifer swamp. Some of the uplands include boreal forest and mesic northern forest. Northern wet meadow and northern fen is also found on the Carlton Lake Wetlands addition. The property is very promising to see Calypso orchids and other unique plants.

Due to the large scale of this wetland complex and its location within the migratory flyway between the Straits of Mackinac and mainland Canada, a great diversity of birds have been seen using this sanctuary. This addition provides significant wetland habitat utilized by secretive marsh birds and flocks of migratory waterfowl, including black tern, sedge wren, blackburnian warbler, and spotted sandpiper. The Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary addition also hosts beaver, bear, large canids, deer, and grouse populations.

This property was purchased using the MNA Revolving Fund, established to allow MNA to respond quickly when a new piece of land like this appears on the market. Donate now to replenish the Fund and protect this valuable wetland!
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Showcase Sanctuary: Dowagiac Woods

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Hunter’s Creek. Photo: Dan Sparks-Jackson

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Since its establishment as a Michigan Nature Association sanctuary in 1983, Dowagiac Woods has become renowned for its dazzling, weeks-long display of spring wildflowers.  In fact, this in part is what inspired the Michigan Nature Association’s interest; shortly after a member visited the woods in 1975 and noted the abundance of Blue-eyed Mary on a 220-acre forest lot that was for sale, an appeal was made for funding to purchase it. The original purchase has since been expanded to encompass an additional 164 acres.

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Trails of Wildflowers. Photo: Judy Kepler

Every year visitors walk the trails meandering through the diverse blooms, some of which are hard to find elsewhere in the state. However, Dowagiac Woods is a unique example of the value of Michigan’s natural heritage, not just for its famed spring wildflowers, but because it’s a largely undisturbed 384-acre block of high-quality forest habitat with ample biodiversity to support a variety of Michigan-native wildlife, including many rare and some endangered species. Nearly 50 kinds of trees and hundreds of various other plant species, as well as close to 50 kinds of birds, have been catalogued by MNA. These include the Yellow-throated warbler whose clear songs grace visitors with joyful notes, the notorious Pileated woodpecker, and the rare and lovely Cerulean warbler.

Large, intact forest blocks like Dowagiac Woods are vital to the composition of habitats that support an array of wildlife, yet are becoming increasingly rare in southern Michigan as landscapes are fragmented by industry and human use. Additionally, the majority of Michigan’s intact forests reside in the upper half of the state. Thus, as the largest MNA sanctuary in the southern Lower Peninsula and a rare, high-quality example of the natural state of Michigan’s mesic southern and southern floodplain forests, Dowagiac Woods is truly a state treasure.

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Dowagiac Woods the largest MNA sanctuary in the southern Lower Peninsula. Photo: Patricia Pennell

The ecological importance of biologically diverse plant communities can’t be overstated. Plants form the basis of habitats and aid in performing various hydrological functions not limited to natural flood control, water purification, and the cycling of water. They anchor and enrich the soil, cycle important nutrients, and convert carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. Forests also act as important carbon sinks by storing large amounts of carbon dioxide. The more diverse the community of plants that make up a community, the more efficiently it can function as a whole and perform these essential services. When biodiversity drops, ecosystems become less resilient against disturbances like disease or fire, because a single species comprises a much greater proportion of the plant community and its decline takes a greater toll.

With the exception of a section of woods that was selectively cut in the 1960s, the majority of Dowagiac Woods has thankfully remained undisturbed. The Michigan Nature Association’s mission is to preserve and maintain pristine areas like Dowagiac Woods. With soil that has never been plowed and trees that have never been clear-cut, it is the closest illustration of how Michigan’s forests may have looked prior to settlement. Visitors are encouraged to walk the trails and take in the rare sights and sounds of the many unique species found there. With careful management, what remains of Michigan’s natural heritage may yet be enjoyed for generations to come.

Saw-Whet Owl Banding at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary

The Michigan Nature Association recently hosted a project to track saw-whet owl migration at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County. The project leader and head owl bander was Selena Creed, who has years of experience banding raptors in the Mackinac Straits.

Saw-whet owl migration routes are well-documented along the Great Lakes shoreline, but the routes they take through inland Michigan are less understood. Given that the Sharonville State Game Area and surrounding wooded complex (which includes Lefglen) represents one of the largest contiguous habitat blocks in southeast Michigan, researchers believe it was likely they would be moving through here if they travel inland.

This year a total of 13 saw-whet owls were captured across five nights using mist nets and an audio lure. This is more than enough to prove that saw-whets are using Lefglen Nature Sanctuary and the larger surrounding habitat complex as an inland migration route through Michigan!

Selena and the team examined mostly female and hatch year owls, but were treated to a couple second year/after second year/male owls as well. One owl was a recapture that had been banded earlier this fall at Hillardton Marsh, Ontario – Selena states that recaptures are somewhat rare.

Thank you to Gary Hofing for taking very high-quality photos that provide great documentation of the banding process and measurements/data collected from each bird, including how they are aged using a blacklight to see wing molt pattern.

What are migratory bird stopover sites?

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

A flock of migrating birds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A flock of migrating birds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When birds migrate to warmer climates, their long distance travel requires them to take frequent breaks to rest and refuel in order to complete their long journey. Just like people need to make pit stops for food and rest during long car rides, birds need places along the way that provide areas with food, water and shelter from the weather and predators. These sites are known as stopovers and they are essential for bird migrations. Areas like woods, wetlands and beaches with an adequate amount of food and shelter help the species survive and migrate from year to year. The Great Lakes area provide important stopover sites for waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, raptors and owls.

There are three types of stopover sites for birds and each one serves an important purpose for migration. They are fire escapes, convenience stores and full-service hotels.

Fire escapes

Fire escape stopovers sites that receive less use because they are lacking in food and other resources but they are essential during high stress situations. These areas are typically small isolated patches of habitat. They can be a city park, a small island on the Great Lakes, a freighter, a docked boat or a lighthouse. Birds use these fire escapes when they need a short term break break from flying due to bad weather or predators.

Convenience stores

Convenience stores sites that are larger than fire escapes, such as a county park and forested patches in cities. They provide a limited source of shelter and food, but enough for birds to take a short rest and eat enough to gain energy to continue their migration.

Full-service hotels

Full-service hotels are sites where migrating birds can rest fully for several days and load up on food without a risk of predators. They are extensive, intact areas that are rich in resources with a diverse array of habitats that can house a large number of birds. Examples of full-service hotels are state or national parks, expansive forests, national wildlife refuges or state wildlife areas.

Tar sands threat in Great Lakes region pipelines

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of all surface freshwater on the planet, providing drinking water for 30 million people. The Lakes are home to a fishery worth $7 billion annually and multiple species, including threatened and endangered animals. The Great Lakes are crucial to the economies of the surrounding states.

The Mackinac Bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Mackinac Bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Recently, the National Wildlife Federation wrote an article about the old pipeline that runs under the Mackinac Bridge under Lakes Michigan and Huron. The pipeline is 60 years old and carries 22 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas fluids daily across the Straits of Mackinac. The 60-year-old pipeline is part of the Lakehead Pipeline System that carries crude oil to refineries in the Great Lakes region.

“We are dealing with a 60-year-old pipeline in one of the most sensitive areas of the world, and it carries one of the dirtiest, most toxic types of oil on the planet – tar sands-derived crude,” said Andy Buchsbaum, director of NWF’s Great Lakes Regional Center in Ann Arbor.

Tar sands oil is heavier than traditional crude, which increases the likelihood of ruptures because the pipelines are designed to transport lighter conventional crudes. Tar sands oil contains more cancer-causing chemicals, emits more greenhouse gases when burned, and is harder to clean up because it can sink in water. In the forests of western Canada, it has poisoned local waters, killed wildlife, and threatened human health.

According to government officials, the pipeline (Line 5) crossing the Straits has never leaked. However, there is good reason to believe a rupture is possible in the future. The pipeline is partially owned by Enbridge, Inc., a Canadian-based oil transporter. The company has a history of careless maintenance and frequent oil spills. Recently, an Enbridge Partners pipeline ruptured and dumped 1 million gallons of tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River. The spill sickened over 300 people, killed numerous fish and birds in the area, and disrupted the river’s ecosystem. The cleanup will cost an estimated $1 billion. Enbridge Inc. pipelines have suffered nearly 800 spills in the United States since 1999.

The National Wildlife Foundation wants Enbridge to replace the 60-year-old pipeline, and they have also filed a petition asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop shipments of tar sands-derived crude through any U.S. pipelines until safety regulations are improved.

If the pipeline were to rupture, it would cause significant damage to numerous types of wildlife in Michigan. For more information, see the article that appeared in National Wildlife magazine.