National Endangered Species Day 2022

Today, May 20, 2022, is National Endangered Species Day. Michigan is home to nearly 30 plants and animals that are listed on the federal endangered species list. MNA works to help these species recover by protecting habitat that is critical to their survival, and by educating the public about each of their crucial roles in the environment.

Learn more about one of Michigan’s rarest species below.

Poweshiek skipperling butterfly photo by Cale Nordmeyer, Minnesota Zoo.

Saving a Rare Butterfly on the Brink of Extinction

One of the rarest butterflies, the Poweshiek skipperling, is truly on the brink of extinction. Once abundant in the tall prairie grasslands and the prairie fens of several states and provinces in the upper Midwest, the tiny butterfly is now found only in a handful of sites in Manitoba and northern Oakland County, including an MNA nature sanctuary. Loss of habitat and other factors contributed to a decades-long—and now a relatively recent and rapid—population decline that has scientists scratching their heads and worried about what their disappearance may mean for other pollinators.

The globally endangered Poweshiek is now so rare that only 100 individual butterflies were counted in a 2021 census. Recovery plans—aided by an international partnership that includes MNA—call for captive breeding efforts to headstart individuals and increase survival to adulthood in order to build a reserve population that can be reintroduced to the wild. The Minnesota Zoo, John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, and Michigan State University’s Haddad Lab are specifically collaborating within the Poweshiek Skipperling International Partnership to annually produce more individuals for wild releases in 2022 and beyond in what is known as ex situ or “offsite” conservation.

Ensuring genetic diversity in a managed breeding population is always a concern, especially when wild populations are so low. All of the Poweshiek that are being bred through this partnership in the United States were collected from sites in northern Oakland County. As the MNA sanctuary has been isolated from those sites, a female collected with MNA’s permission from our sanctuary is making significant genetic contributions to the whole—a critical component of species survival.

Dave Pavlik from the MSU Haddad Lab moves a Poweshiek skipperling caterpillar to its host plant at the John Ball Zoo hoop house, where the captive rearing program takes place. Photo by Lauren Ross.

“The Minnesota Zoo, John Ball Zoo, and MSU Haddad Lab sincerely appreciate the permissions granted by the Michigan Nature Association to help improve the prospects for Poweshiek skipperling conservation and recovery,” says Dr. Erik Runquist, Conservation Biologist, Minnesota Zoo, one of the ex situ lead scientists.

Poweshiek P21.3, as she is scientifically known, or “Penny” by some, successfully laid eggs in the fall of 2021 after pairing with a male that was captive-reared at the Minnesota Zoo and before being safely returned to the sanctuary from which she was collected.

A Poweshiek skipperling pupa in captive rearing. Photo by Cale Nordmeyer, Minnesota Zoo.

Penny’s progeny will likely be used for further ex situ cross-breeding to enhance genetic diversity. But her story informs the path forward. To keep the Poweshiek from going extinct requires a multi-pronged conservation intervention to rebuild the population including management efforts to sustain the remaining habitat the butterfly requires, restoring other suitable habitat, and captive breeding to ensure there is a population left to reintroduce should the wild population blink out.

MNA’s contributions, and that of Penny’s, are a critical part of bringing the Poweshiek back from the brink with lessons learned for other rare species that inhabit prairie fens.

Bringing Michigan Nature to Your Home

In early 2021, MNA launched a new series of events exploring the rich natural history of Michigan. The “Michigan Nature at Home” virtual speaker series hosts experts from around the state who share topics with viewers including historic inventions inspired by the state’s unique natural features, how research helps us be better stewards of the land, tips and experiences in creating artistic conservation images, and more.

Presenters have included Michigan Notable Author James McCommons speaking about his recent biography of George Shiras III, who paved the way for modern-day trail cameras in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Michigan Technological University Research Professor, Dr. Rolf Peterson, provided valuable insight into the research being conducted on the relationship between Isle Royale’s wolves and moose in the world’s longest-running predator-prey study. We also heard from wildlife photographers Greg Bodker and Josh Haas, who each provided valuable tips for creating better photos while respecting the needs of wildlife. A Michigan Natural Features Inventory ecologist, Jesse Lincoln, delighted our audience with stories of how his conservation work is enhanced and informed by art, and award-winning filmmakers Chris Zuker and Jason Whalen gave viewers a sneak peek of a few films they have been creating for MNA.

These presentations have helped us reach a broad audience, beyond the borders of the state, inspiring people to care about and experience Michigan’s incredible nature from home. We look forward to providing continued informative programming in the coming months as the Michigan Nature at Home series continues.

Beginning in February 2022, get an in-depth look at some of our most diverse sanctuaries with the experts who know them best—our conservation field staff. View recordings of past presentations and register for newly announced events at michigannature.org.

National Endangered Species Day 2021

Today, May 21, 2021 is National Endangered Species Day. Michigan is home to nearly 30 plants and animals that are listed on the federal endangered species list. MNA works to help these species recover by protecting habitat that is critical to their survival, and by educating the public about each of their crucial roles in the environment. One of the ways that we accomplish that goal is by hosting our annual Race for Michigan Nature series of 5Ks throughout the state.

Each 5K promotes one rare, threatened, or endangered species native to Michigan, and new for 2021 is the introduction of the Virtual 5K promoting all six species in the series. Each of these species and a brief description is found below.

Species Spotlight

Karner Blue Butterfly
The Karner blue butterfly was federally listed as an endangered species in 1992 due to habitat loss, climate change, and collection. Habitat throughout the butterfly’s range has been lost due to land development and lack of natural disturbance, such as fire and grazing by large mammals. Such disturbances help maintain the butterfly’s habitat by setting back encroaching forests and encouraging lupine and flowering plant growth. Another notable threat is climate change, which is playing a role in the growth, development, and reproductive patterns of the Karner blue butterfly. A third problem is illegal collection due to the Karner blue butterfly’s rarity and beauty. Because butterfly numbers are so low, the collection of even a few individuals could harm the butterfly population. Collection is illegal without a permit.

Karner blue butterfly photo by Valerie Lindeman


Monarch Butterfly
With a historic range spanning over 3,000 miles across North and Central America, as well as the northern part of South America, the Monarch butterfly is the most well-traveled, and one of the most recognizable of the butterflies. Every spring, millions of these winged wonders make the journey north as far as Canada from their wintering spots in Mexico. Largely the result of habitat loss, there has been a nearly 90% decline in the population of the Eastern monarch, which is the largest subset of the species and that which carries its migration into Michigan. This is a grave concern, as pollinators supply 1/3 of the world’s food and 3/4 of its flowers, and apart from being lovely, Monarchs are one of the most common and widespread butterfly species. Several initiatives are underway to preserve the necessary habitats to sustain their populations, including the Monarch Joint Venture and Journey North.

Monarch butterfly photo by Adrienne Bozic


Moose
Moose are native to Michigan and occurred throughout nearly the entire state prior to European settlement. Moose disappeared from the Lower Peninsula in the 1890s, and only a few scattered individuals remain in the Upper Peninsula. One cause was from extensive logging during the early 20th century eliminating millions of acres of moose habitat. Loggers, miners, and other settlers also took these large animals for food. Another contributing factor was brain worm, a fatal neurological disease in moose. Climate change is also a significant factor as it is slowing altering habitat to be less favorable to moose, expanding the range of white-tailed deer north, which transports the brain worm and increases tick and parasite survival ultimately having a negative impact on the moose population. Fun fact: Moose is an Algonquin term that means “twig eater”.

Moose photo from MNA Archives.


Eastern Box Turtle
The eastern box turtle is known for its high-domed carapace (top shell). The shell has irregular yellow or orange blotches on a brown background that mimic sunlight dappling on the forest floor. Eastern box turtles live in open woodlands and adjacent meadows, thickets, and gardens with sandy soils for nesting, which are often near shallow ponds, swamps, or streams. It is Michigan’s only truly terrestrial turtle. Box turtles are omnivorous and will feed on a variety of food items, including earthworms, slugs, snails, insects, frogs, toads, small snakes, carrion, leaves, grass, berries, fruits, and fungi. Eastern box turtles are uncommon to rare in the southern and western Lower Peninsula. Their populations are declining due to habitat loss, collection for pets, and road mortality. Box turtles are protected by Michigan law as a special concern species.

Eastern Box Turtle from MNA Archives


Lake Sturgeon
Despite their name, lake sturgeon are also found in rivers. Sturgeon prefer large shallow lakes and rivers and the Great Lakes shorelines. They are a bottom-dwelling nearshore fish that live at water depths of 15 to 30 feet and prefer the cobbly unvegetated run and pool habitats. The lake sturgeon was once located throughout the Great Lakes, but over-harvest by European settlers, destruction of food sources, invasive species, and dam construction on spawning rivers have all had an impact on their survival. Lake sturgeon are currently listed as a state threatened species. Conservation of this ancient species will be dependent on strict control of harvests and protection of spawning rivers and fish during spawning periods. The State of Michigan prohibits commercial fishing for lake sturgeon and closely regulates sturgeon sport fishing.

Lake sturgeon photo by Michael Thomas


Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake


The eastern massasauga rattlesnake has been listed as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The rattlesnake requires federal protection due to eradication, habitat loss, snake fungal disease, and lack of management, which results in excessive shading as habitat shifts toward forest. As an indicator species, the fact that massasaugas are in serious decline is a warning bell indicating additional problems. By protecting massasaugas, we conserve natural systems that support many species of plants and animals. Massasaugas live in wetlands including wet prairies, marshes, fens, and low areas along rivers and lakes. They often hibernate in crayfish burrows but may also be found under logs and tree roots or in small mammal burrows. Unlike other rattlesnakes, massasaugas hibernate alone.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake photo by Zach Pacana

You can help us promote the need to protect habitat for the state’s most vulnerable species by sharing this post with your friends!

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.