Michigan is home to nine different bat species, nearly one-fifth of the total number of species in all of North America. There are many reasons to appreciate bats, from the essential pollination and pest control services that they provide, to the fact that they are the ONLY flying mammal on earth. During Bat Week, October 24-31, 2022, you can help Michigan bats by dispelling some common misconceptions about bats.
“Blind as a Bat” – although most bats have small eyes, they can actually see just fine. And with the aid of echolocation, they are able to find fast-moving insect targets at night!
Disease carriers – Not only does the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention note that fewer than 6 percent of bats tested were carriers of rabies, the fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome, which is the leading cause of population decline among many North American bats, is much more likely to be transmitted to bats from human interference with their habitat.
They ‘vant’ to suck your blood – only one species of bat (found in Mexico and South and Central America) has been known to bite humans, rarely, as they primarily feed on cattle.
Northern Long-eared Bat
Learn more about the critical role that bats play in the ecosystem, and share with your friends and family all the ways that bats are beneficial, by learning more about some of Michigan’s bat species below, and at batweek.org!
The northern long-eared bat is a federally threatened bat with a wide range. Found in 37 states in the U.S., these bats live in boreal forests for summer foraging and roosting, and caves for hibernation.
Although there are many threats to the species including habitat loss due to logging, the predominant threat by far is white-nose syndrome. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), if this disease had not emerged, it is unlikely the northern long-eared bat would be experiencing such a dramatic population decline. Numbers of northern long-eared bats, gathered from hibernacula counts, have declined by 97 to 100% across the species’ range. The USFWS is currently considering reclassifying these bats as endangered because of the threat of white-nose syndrome. Learn more about this classification process by clicking the link here.
Michigan’s eastern pipistrelle, also known as the tricolored bat, is so named for the multi-colored individual hairs of its fur, tricolored bats appear uniquely yellow-orange in contrast to other more brown-looking bats. Their “fluttery” flight pattern means that these small bats can be easily mistaken for large moths, according to the University of Michigan.
However, as one of the state’s primarily cave-hibernating species of bat, the tricolored bat has experienced significant population decline over the last 15 years, due primarily to the spread of white-nose syndrome. The fungal disease interrupts the bats hibernation cycle, causing them to become active and deplete their energy before there are available food sources in the spring. Once common across its range, estimates suggest that these bats have seen up to a 90% decrease in population since white-nose syndrome was first detected in 2006. Because of this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the tricolored bat as endangered under protection of the Endangered Species Act. Learn more about the process for classification by clicking this link.
The Michigan Nature Association is celebrating its 70th Anniversary throughout 2022. MNA’s spirited founding generation pioneered the protection of critical habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species, establishing Michigan’s oldest land conservancy and the only one that serves the entire state. They also laid the foundation for our remarkable sanctuary network, and thanks to supporters past and present, it now includes over 180 sanctuaries in 60 counties. For some plants and animals MNA protects the finest—and sometimes the only—remaining habitat. We protect Michigan nature, we protect it for everyone, and we strive to protect it forever.
Join the celebration by learning more about some of our historical milestones below, and watching our 70th Anniversary video!
from the Spring 2012 feature story in Michigan Nature magazine (with updates)
Stunning vistas of Lake Superior. Rugged shoreline harboring secluded sandy beaches. Hidden inland lakes glittering in the sunlight. Remote old-growth forests with towering, cathedral-like canopies.
Few places in the Midwest offer the natural beauty and solitude found in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.
The Michigan Nature Association has been working to protect the splendors of “Keweenaw country” since 1973. After decades of hard work by volunteers and generous support from donors, MNA currently owns approximately 20 nature sanctuaries along the peninsula, protecting a spectacular array of habitat types and rare species.
Given its name by the Ojibwa Indian tribe meaning “a place of crossing,” Indigenous people inhabited the remote region as early as 7,000 years ago. It was these native tribes that began the copper culture so commonly associated with the Keweenaw. Along with Isle Royale National Park, the Keweenaw is the only place in the country with evidence of prehistoric mining by Native Americans.
Industrial mining began in the 1840’s and the area quickly became one of the nation’s leaders in copper exports, but the industry declined and the old mining shafts and remaining ghost towns now add a unique sense of history to the natural beauty that characterizes the Keweenaw. The mining legacy endures in both positive and negative ways. The Keweenaw National Historic Park was established in 1992 to celebrate the life and history of the Keweenaw Peninsula. But stamp sands left behind from those mining operations now threaten important spawning grounds for fisheries and other important natural features.
A Rich Natural Heritage
The Keweenaw’s distinctive geologic past and location now make it an ideal habitat for a variety of wildlife. Forming one of the Great Lakes flyways, the Keweenaw is a crucial stop for thousands of raptors traveling north in the spring and south in the fall. Bald eagles, hawks and peregrine falcons can all be seen during their migratory journeys in the Keweenaw. Birds share the habitat with larger mammals such as black bear, moose, wolf and bobcat, showcasing the ecological diversity that can be found in the peninsula.
MNA’s Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary remains one of the most extraordinary sites for visitors to explore untouched Keweenaw wilderness. Saved from logging in the 1970s, the first 160 acres acquired in 1973 have grown to slightly over 570 total acres. Those who visit can immerse themselves in one of the largest stands of old-growth eastern pine in the Midwest, with trees reaching up to 125 feet tall and five feet in diameter. Copper mine pits dug three to four thousand years ago by Native Americans can also be spotted off the sanctuary’s Cathedral Grove trail if hikers look closely.
Much of the rock material found in the peninsula was created by ongoing volcanic activity about 1.1 billion years ago during the Mid-Continent Rift, which left behind layers of thick rock that are exposed in the northern reaches around the Keweenaw. The basin that was created from this rift eventually formed current-day Lake Superior. This massive syncline was filled with sediment and now separates the rock found on the Keweenaw from Isle Royale, which is composed of the same material.
More recently, after the last ice age more than ten thousand years ago, retreating glaciers carved out the many interesting hills and features that can be seen on the Keweenaw today. And sea stacks and cave structures formed by the powerful glacial lakes left behind can be seen throughout the peninsula, including MNA’s Grinnell Memorial Nature Sanctuary.
Protecting a Scenic Treasure
Northeast of the towering Estivant Pines is the Keweenaw Peninsula’s storied Brockway Mountain Drive, the highest road between the eastern Alleghenies and the Black Hills of South Dakota. The steep cliffs and stunning views of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, make this one of the most scenic stretches of road in America. And as the road reaches the summit of Brockway Mountain, there is often more to see than Lake Superior. Raptors, which can be viewed flying at eye level, are among the tens of thousands of birds that migrate through the area.
MNA now owns six natural areas along Brockway Mountain Drive, including the 150-acre James H. Klipfel Memorial Sanctuary adjacent to the summit of Brockway Mountain. Tucked away in the Klipfel Memorial Sanctuary are rare plants found only on the Keweenaw, like the heart-leaved arnica. Once privately held, the summit of Brockway Mountain itself is owned by Eagle Harbor Township as part of an ambitious conservation plan for the area.
Public and privately-owned natural areas along Brockway Mountain Drive not only conserve land but promote tourism, the mainstay of the local economy. Unfortunately, the scenic vistas so important to the Brockway Mountain experience could be negatively impacted by the siting of a proposed cell phone tower next to an MNA nature sanctuary. In addition, migratory birds, such as eagles, falcons, and hawks, could suffer increased mortality rates, and running electrical lines across the landscape could also cause further loss of habitat for rare plants and wildlife. The Eagle Township Board denied a special use permit for the tower in September 2021, but that may not yet be the end of that issue should tower proponents try to find ways around local zoning.
The Keweenaw Peninsula is a special place, with special people. They believe in conservation and practice it in countless ways. MNA is proud of the many relationships and partnerships we have forged in the Keweenaw over the years as we have worked together to protect critical habitat, strengthen local communities, and prepare the next generation to meet the challenges ahead.
And we are just getting started. …
As MNA celebrates our 70th Anniversary in 2022, we look forward to protecting habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species in the Keweenaw Peninsula and other exceptional lands throughout the state. Land acquisitions on and around Brockway Mountain have been ongoing, most recently with an additional 42 acres on Brockway and a 60-acre addition to the Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary, increasing the sanctuary to 570 acres and adding a half-mile of frontage on the Montreal River—one of Michigan’s cold-water rivers that provides critical spawning grounds for trout and habitat for other aquatic species.
As part of a multi-agency partnership, MNA also supports the effort to secure nearly 16,000 acres of land for the public trust for habitat protection and recreational use. The Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Coalition—a 300-plus member organization of individuals, businesses, and recreation, conservation, and community organizations—is currently working to have the land purchased using Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars. If successful, the campaign would secure permanent, public access to these recreational and conservation lands that are now in private ownership and at risk for development.
But it is not just the conservation and recreation values that inspire Keweenaw residents to act. “There’s a soul that exists here… and at the heart of that is the wilderness,” explains Keweenaw resident and photographer Steve Brimm in a video that MNA created with the help of award-winning videographers Fauna Creative.
MNA is proud to be part of protecting the splendors of Keweenaw country. The work that we do would not be possible without the incredible support of our members, donors, and the generations of individuals who have helped us achieve our mission. And we look forward to continuing this work in the future, across the state, to protect Michigan nature forever, for everyone. You can join us at michigannature.org.
On June 15, 2012 after burning more than 21,000 acres including part of MNA’s Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge Nature Sanctuary in Luce County, the Duck Lake Fire was officially contained. Now, 10 years later, we are taking a look at what has changed at this sanctuary as a result of the fire.
The sanctuary derives its name from the surrounding area known as the Swamp Lakes which is of significant importance as a large block of wildlife habitat. This area is known to be frequented by moose, gray wolf, pine marten, and numerous other species of wildlife requiring a landscape intermingled with forests and wetlands.
The forest here is dominated by Jack and Red Pines which, once mature, create a dormant understory of easily burning materials—a critical part of the Jack Pine life cycle as their cones will not release seeds except under the extreme heat of fire.
But the Jack Pine isn’t the only benefactor of wildfire. As William Rapai wrote in the July/August issue of Jack Pine Warbler, “Only days after the fire was brought under control, bark beetles moved in to eat the damaged trees. And where there are insects, there are insect-eating birds—including the Black-backed Woodpecker, a species of special concern in Michigan… That woodpecker species is associated with burned areas because one of its primary foods—the bark beetle—attacks trees damaged by fire.”
Other species that were observed returning to or newly entering the area shortly after the fire were white-tailed deer, black bear, snowshoe hare, and gray wolf.
Beaver are common to the area, and have been able to expand their territory without human intervention in the years since the fire. At Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge, beaver activity has restored the wetlands and allowed much regrowth to occur.
Possibly the most significant result of the fire is the potential for thousands of acres of new habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler, which prefer nesting in young (5-20 years old) Jack Pine forests. These formerly endangered neotropical migrants have experienced population recovery after many years of habitat management efforts in the northern Lower Peninsula. While MNA does not have record of Kirtland’s Warbler at the Swamp Lake Moose Refuge Nature Sanctuary, the existence of young Jack Pines in the nearby forest gives hope for future populations.
Not all areas are expected to see the same recovery. Fire suppression efforts resulted in a significant amount of leaf litter and dead wood accumulating in the path of the fire, allowing the fire to burn much hotter and longer (nearly a month) than the soil is able to tolerate. “In some places, the Duck Lake Fire destroyed all the organic matter and microorganisms for some depth,” wrote William Rapai, “Particularly damaging will be the loss of the mycorrhizal fungus that is critical in the lifecycle of many species. The fungus has a symbiotic relationship with plants, helping them to absorb nurtients.”
A month after the fire, early indications were that the natural communities within Swamp Lakes Moose Refuge would recover without restoration efforts. Given the sanctuary’s wetland composition, the fire has proved beneficial, thinning out the canopy and allowing other plants like bracken fern, blueberry, and leatherleaf to regenerate. MNA will continue to monitor nature’s recovery from the fire and the landscape changes through the years.