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.”

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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!

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.

Understanding Conservation Impacts on Michigan’s Rare Turtles

MNA works every day to protect the most vulnerable plant and animal species in the state. Two recent projects of particular interest are the turtle surveys being conducted at MNA sanctuaries in the southern Lower Peninsula.

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Blanding’s turtle crossing a road near Lefglen Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Rachel Maranto.

The Blanding’s turtle is a Michigan species of special concern, due to the risk of habitat fragmentation. Because the Blanding turtles utilize a range of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, they are especially impacted by the use of pesticides and the construction of roadways near wetlands, which causes fragmentation of the landscape at wetland complexes.

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Steward Rebecca Kenny holds a spotted turtle during a survey in May, 2019. Photo by Rebecca Kenny.

Spotted turtles are a Michigan threatened species, which have historically been found in the southern and western areas of the Lower Peninsula. These turtles prefer shallow wetland habitats, such as marshes and fens, and require clean water for their survival.

Both the Blanding and Spotted turtles are currently being reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for potential listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act; and both are considered vulnerable to climate change according to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. MNA Volunteers and Stewards have recently conducted preliminary surveys to better understand these species’ usage at several MNA sanctuaries. The initial Blanding’s turtle survey will determine where larger populations may exist within the MNA sanctuary system.

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Steward Dan Burton holds a spotted turtle during a survey in May, 2019. Photo by Rebecca Kenny.

It is important to continue gathering data on the habitats, plants, and animals that MNA works to protect, as monitoring helps to determine what methods and management techniques are working. MNA looks forward to these turtle surveys, and continuing to provide crucial habitat for these species in the southern Lower Peninsula.

Why We Burn

Sanctuary stewards in safety gear stand over a patch of scorched ground at Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary.

Seán Mullett, Sam Brodley, and Lance Rogalski pause for a moment while conducting a prescribed burn at Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary.

April is traditionally the peak of burn season in the land stewardship world. You’ve probably noticed more controlled/prescribed burn photos filling up your social media feed; people dressed in yellow, flames and smoke over charred ground. But for as much of the media coverage as these burns get, you don’t often see the stories behind the need for them.

Controlled burns can take place for a number of reasons – to treat and manage invasive species like autumn olive, or in some prairie environments, to prevent trees and shrubs from encroaching and crowding out essential sun-loving wildflowers and prairie plants. Over the past month, MNA stewards conducted prescribed burns at several of its sanctuaries, including Butternut Creek Sanctuary in Berrien County, the goal of which was to maintain the open grassland features of the prairie fen. Prairie fens are critical habitat for a high number of imperiled and declining species including the federally endangered Mitchell’s Satyr, one of the rarest butterflies in the world; known only to exist in Midwestern fens that were created by the retreating glaciers. While the Mitchell’s Satyr has not been observed at this particular sanctuary for a number of years, maintaining healthy prairie fen communities like that found at Butternut Creek is essential to improving threatened, fen-dependent species across the state.

In an excerpt from MNA’s spring 2011 magazine, Conservation Director Andrew Bacon explains:

Historically, fire crept through the understory of the forest, but did not necessarily ignite the mid- or upper-levels of the canopy as observed in the intense wildfires of recent times. Prior to human settlement, fire prevented shade-tolerant trees from populating oak-hickory forests, oak barrens and open communities. Without fire, trees like red maple, American beech, basswood and elm survive in the understory and fill gaps in the forest canopy.

As gaps are filled, less sunlight reaches the forest floor, making it impossible for shade-intolerant species like oak and hickory to grow. Herbaceous prairie and savanna species also become shaded out as trees become established. Slowly, the entire species composition of natural communities changes, and many species of plants and animals must find food and habitat elsewhere.

Prescribed fires have had significant and measurable results, such as restoring and protecting the habitat of the federally-endangered Karner blue butterfly. Without active management to keep these critical habitats healthy, these species and other habitat specialists like them would be at greater risk of decline.

2018 Year in Review

A Year of Milestones

2018 Year in Review Cover

Two major anniversaries distinguish a busy and exciting 2018.

The first, of course, is the 45th anniversary of the Michigan Nature Association’s campaign that prevented logging of the largest stand of old growth white pine left in Michigan and established our Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary in 1973. The drive to raise needed funds to secure Estivant galvanized individuals, organizations and service clubs from all over the state and still stands as one of MNA’s crowning achievements.

In that spirit, we were delighted to receive a $90,000 challenge grant in honor of the Estivant Pines anniversary, and this new campaign is underway as this Year in Review goes to print.  With your generous support, we will add 60 more acres to this iconic nature sanctuary and direct $90,000 in challenge dollars to stewardship needs in our nature sanctuary network.

2018 is also the 45th anniversary of the federal Endangered Species Act.  The Endangered Species Act is an essential, national framework for protecting rare, threatened and endangered species but it has been under assault since its passage in 1973.  2018 was no different and we made our voice heard by stepping up to formally oppose rule changes that could have a devastating impact on the statute. We will continue to monitor and act on threats to this critical environmental law.

One of the major limitations of the Endangered Species Act, however, is the lack of funding for protecting critical habitat.  Remarkably, twenty years before Congress passed this landmark legislation, MNA’s founders recognized the need for action to protect Michigan’s rarest and most vulnerable species and natural communities, pioneering the strategy of protecting land in Michigan to do so.  We pursue that mission every day thanks to their foresight and our members and donor who continually rally to the cause.

Celebrating these two major milestones bookend a year’s worth of notable activities that you will read about in this Year in Review.  None of our work is possible without the commitment of our members, donors, and volunteers, and I hope you are as proud as I am of what we have accomplished together.  Be it saving old growth white pines in the Keweenaw, protecting imperiled natural communities across our great state, or defending critical policies for threatened and endangered species, we are truly all in this together.

Thank you for all you do—I look forward to another year of working with you to protect Michigan’s incredible natural heritage.

Garret Johnson
Executive Director

 

The Importance of Environmental Stewardship in Fighting Phragmites

By Hannah DeHetre, MNA Intern

The Michigan Nature Association is a land conservation organization that works to protect and preserve natural areas in Michigan by recruiting local volunteers to help maintain MNA sanctuaries as well as implementing conservation education. MNA was founded in 1952, as a bird study group, and now the organization owns and manages over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan. MNA relies heavily on volunteers and environmental stewardship. According to Rachel Maranto, the Stewardship Coordinator in the Lower Peninsula, volunteers are the “bread and butter” for MNA because “Michigan is such a big state and there are very few staff covering the state, so what is accomplished hinges on volunteer participation.”

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A massasauga rattlesnake that we saw at one of the MNA sanctuaries this summer. The Massasauga is, as of 2016, listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Service, U. F.), demonstrating the importance of preserving MNA sanctuaries (photo: Rachel Maranto).

To manage over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan, volunteers come out and help with work days. Over the summer, the work days involved the removal of invasive species such as autumn-olive, garlic mustard, and phragmites. According to Maranto, the management practice that is predominately used to control phragmites is spraying of herbicide. Due to her limited time, volunteers, and funding, herbicide backpacks are the tools used to deal with phrags, and it normally takes three days throughout the season to hit all the phrags in Saginaw Wetlands. Maranto also said that ideally, she would like to try mowing the phrags in the winter when the ground is frozen, and then spraying in the spring so that the vegetation is shorter, and therefore less herbicide would have to be used and it would be easier to spray. According to Maranto, the main goal of MNA in dealing with phragmites, especially at Saginaw Wetlands, is containment. Right around the sanctuary is a large invasion of phragmites around Lake Huron, and so without large-scale cooperation, all MNA can do is control the phrag invasion within their own sanctuary.

This summer, I interned at the Michigan Nature Association as a Stewardship Assistant. I spent the summer traveling to sanctuaries all around southeastern Michigan doing site-monitoring, setting up boundary markers, and most importantly: removing invasive species. We used various techniques to remove invasive species (not just phrags), such as just pulling them out of the ground, herbicide spraying, and cutting the plant and dabbing herbicide sponges on the cut stem. During my time with MNA, I got to meet some really great and dedicated volunteers, who were taking time out of their day, in the heat, to make their neighborhood a nicer place by managing their local sanctuary. Maranto told me that MNA attracts volunteers who are engaged and dedicated to helping MNA, so whenever someone leaves, it is hard to fill their shoes. For a small-scale conservation organization like the Michigan Nature Association, volunteers are vital for invasive species management. This was an interesting thing for me to learn this summer, as it really emphasizes the importance of local people caring about their neighborhood.

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The entrance sign to Leflgen Sanctuary (photo: Hannah DeHetre)

My last day interning for MNA was phrag spraying at Saginaw Wetlands. Rachel, another intern, and I spent hours walking around and spraying any phragmites that we saw. It was hot and sunny, I had on a really heavy herbicide backpack, and it was really hard work. It takes real dedication and passion to work that hard for a goal that some people think is impossible to achieve, and when I asked Maranto if she ever feels discouraged, or like she is fighting a losing battle, she said that overall she is not discouraged with the work the MNA does and any discouragement that she may feel just comes from a tough day spraying phrags in the heat. She also says that overall she has seen an improvement in the phrag management in the five years that she has worked for MNA. She says that typically, one year they spray a large stand of phragmites, the next year they are dead, and the following years, volunteers just have to come back and spray any repsouts- so there is improvement, which is why Maranto does not feel discouraged.

The areas around Saginaw Wetlands are really infested, and MNA has to fight against that, and as I said before, MNA’s goal in phragmites management is containment, and that the best invasive management practice is to discover the invasion and remove it before it can get out of control, which MNA is doing well. When asked about MNA’s future plans for dealing with phragmites, Maranto said that if resources and personnel do not change, then it will be more of the same: spraying herbicide with volunteers who are willing to help. However, if some sort of biocontrol were to be developed and implemented, MNA would be a willing participant in that management practice. Another opportunity that Maranto would be interested in would be more collaborating with neighbors of sanctuaries, and with the help of partners to share the administrative burden and workload, bigger equipment could be used for ecological management.

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Another intern, Liz, and I taking a break after LOTS of phrag spraying. We still have a smile on our faces! (photo: Rachel Maranto)

The Michigan Nature Association is a conservation organization that manages and protects over 175 sanctuaries throughout Michigan. While working there this summer, I learned about and employed various management practices used by MNA to remove invasive species from their sanctuaries. More than that though, I learned about the power of local volunteers. These are people who just care about nature, and about their neighborhoods, and are willing to spend hours in the summer working hard outside for the sake of taking care of these sanctuaries. Effective conservation and management can only happen with the help of these volunteers (so go out and volunteer)!

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Bonus: Monarch caterpillar that we saw at Saginaw Wetlands (photo: Rachel Maranto)