MNA Expands with Room to Collaborate

The creation of a collaborative space at our headquarters in Okemos where nonprofit, agency and other partners can gather has been a vision since we purchased our building a few years ago. That vision is now reality with the recent completion and furnishing of our new Margaret and Clifford Welsch Environmental Education Room.

Margaret Welsch with her daughter, granddaughters and great-granddaughters

Thank you to the Welsch family!

Fostering conservation dialogue and action are primary motives behind the construction of the new room, made possible by a generous gift from Margaret and Clifford Welsch, enthusiastic supporters of MNA’s education mission. The Welsch Education Room has already been used for meetings, training workshops, educational seminars, and collaborative partnerships by groups such as Michigan Audubon, Michigan Forest Association, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Wetlands Association and the Michigan Vernal Pool Partnership.

Ed Room with groupFlexible seating and table arrangements can accommodate theatre, classroom or workshop configurations for as many as 100 participants. The room is available to any nonprofit but reservations are required, and reasonable fees may be applied for use of the room outside of normal business hours. Contact michigannature@michigannature.org to inquire about reserving the room.

To complement the Welsch Education Room, plans are underway to convert the grounds at our building from conventional office park landscaping to native plants friendly for birds, butterflies, bees and pollinators. The goal is to use the outdoor space to educate landowners and businesses about the importance and attractiveness of native landscaping.

Plant sign in the gardenMembers of District IIB of the Michigan Garden Club donated plant signs for MNA headquarters to help visitors identify a wide variety of recently installed native plants. The project to transform our conventional office park landscaping to one that is bird, bee, and pollinator friendly is a collaboration between Michigan Nature Association, Michigan Audubon (and a grant from National Audubon’s Plants for Birds program), Christopher Hart of HartScapes LLC, many volunteers, and now District IIB.

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Invasive Profile: Dame’s Rocket

By Ally Brown, MNA Intern

One problem with identifying invasive species is that, many times, they appear almost as beautiful as the native species they live among. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) has been an established invasive in North America for many years, yet without knowing the story behind this species it appears to be just another of Michigan’s many gorgeous flowering plants. This same story follows for another species in the Brassicaceae family which has been spreading throughout Michigan without the same spotlight as garlic mustard.

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Dame’s rocket. Photo: Gary Fewless.

With delicate violet flowers atop a slender green stalk, nothing about this flowering plant seems out of the ordinary for a wildflower native to Michigan; this assumption, however, is sadly misinformed. Dame’s rocket is one of the many common names for Hesperis matronalis, a close relative to the widely known invasive garlic mustard. This relation can be determined visually through examination of the petals and the similarity in shape between the leaves of the two species. An additional similarity Dame’s rocket has to garlic mustard is its two year life cycle –  the first year plant exists as a rosette low to the ground and without flowers, while the second year plant is the more recognizable image shown to the left. An important distinction to make when identifying Dame’s rocket is that it has four petals per flower head. Native phlox species appear similar in structure and flower color yet have five petals per flower head.

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Garlic mustard. Photo: K. Chayka

A plant being nonnative is not enough reason to label it as necessary to remove. For a plant or animal to be labeled as invasive it must present some danger to the health of native species or ecosystems. The abundant seed production and allelopathic nature of Dame’s rocket are a few of the characteristics which qualify it as an invasive species. Similar to other members of the mustard family, a single second year plant can produce dozens of seed pods, each containing many more individual seeds. When released from the confinement of a garden, these seedlings have the potential to overwhelm native plants, thereby altering the composition of native environments. Another characteristic of Dame’s rocket that threatens native species is that it is allelopathic, meaning it has the ability to produce chemicals which stunt the growth of surrounding plants, potentially killing them. With the potential for overwhelming native populations (especially when it is found growing alongside garlic mustard) it is extremely important that Dame’s rocket is reduced in popularity as a yard plant and any that has escaped into surrounding areas is carefully removed.

The process of removing Dame’s rocket can be difficult, as it has a characteristic taproot that extends deep into the soil and makes it hard to pull by hand. One method for effectively removing small stands of this plant is to wait until a light rain has moistened the soil so that careful hand pulling can remove the entirety of the plant and its taproot. The plants should then be placed in a garbage bag that is tightly tied in order to prevent any sort of re-sprouting or further spread. For stands too large for removal of the complete plant, another method of control is to pull the seed pods off the plants and seal those in a plastic bag. This method of invasive species control has been utilized by MNA volunteers and interns at the Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary in southwest Michigan. Removal of garlic mustard seed pods has reduced the spread of invasive plants and protected the variety of wildflowers, lichen, and trees which reside in the area.

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Dowagiac Woods Workday. Photo: Jeremy Emmi

Though each part of nature holds value and beauty, when an organism is brought outside of its natural habitat into a new environment it has the potential to disrupt the equilibrium of those already there. For this reason it is important that invasive species such as Dame’s rocket are discussed and prevented from spreading through stewardship work by organizations like the Michigan Nature Association, as well as sharing knowledge about this and other invasive species to allow the beauty of native ecosystems of Michigan to be conserved.

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.

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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

 

Monarchs, American Wetlands Month, and Migratory Bird Festival: this week in environmental news

Monarch butterflies winging their way north to Michigan (MDNR): With spring now sprung in Michigan, soon we’ll be welcoming back to the state one of the most distinctive signs that summer is on its way – the brightly colored monarch butterfly. Monarchs are on their way north from Mexico, where they spend the winter months. While National Start Seeing Monarchs Day is observed annually on the first Saturday in May, it may be a few more weeks before they make their way across Michigan. One of the most well-known and beloved butterfly species in North America, with their easily recognized orange and black wing pattern, monarchs have become a much less common sight in recent decades. The eastern monarch butterfly population has declined by 90 percent over the last 20 years due mainly to habitat loss, both in their summer range – including Michigan – and in Mexico, where they overwinter. The alarming declines in monarchs and other pollinators have sparked conservation programs across the nation. There are many ways that Michigan residents can contribute to ongoing monarch conservation efforts as well. Creating habitat for monarchs and other pollinators, whether it’s in your backyard or a large field, is a great place to start. Other resources include the Create Habitat for Monarchs web page from Monarch Joint Venture and “How to build a butterfly and pollinator garden in seven steps” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Another way you can contribute to monarch butterfly conservation efforts is to monitor monarch populations by reporting any sightings at Journey North or getting involved in other monarch citizen science opportunities.

Celebrate American Wetlands Month by exploring Michigan’s wetlands (TV6): May is American Wetlands Month – a month to appreciate and enjoy the wonders of wetlands. The Department of Natural Resources encourages Michigan residents to get out and enjoy some of the outstanding wetlands the state has to offer. Try visiting one of Michigan’s Wetland Wonders for a day of hiking, birding, kayaking or fishing.

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The Keweenaw’s Migratory Bird Festival (Copper Harbor Birding): Join the Copper Harbor Birding group in celebrating the spring bird migration by offering a season full of bird and other nature related activities. The birds are the main focus, so get out there! Guided bird and nature walks are offered throughout the season.

Making your native plant choices for Michigan inland lake shorelines (MSU Extension): Michigan’s inland lakes draw many people for a variety of reasons. Being close to nature and being a part of a relaxing natural environment are not the least among them. However, the reality of owning a lake home often is at odds with what nature provides. When choosing native plants for your shoreline you should have a landscape design plan and know the Lake fetch or prevailing wind direction on your lake in relationship to your property. Then go about choosing what plants will serve your needs and aesthetic. The important thing to remember is to choose the right plant for the right place.

Small snail, big problems: Researchers track invasive New Zealand mudsnail in Michigan rivers (MDNR): A tiny invader is threatening prized trout streams in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.  A mere 1/8-inch long, the New Zealand mudsnail is barely distinguishable from a grain of sand, but over time its invasive habits can affect the quality and quantity of trout and other fish in the Au Sable, Pere Marquette and Boardman rivers where it has been found. The Department of Environmental Quality recently released a new video providing an overview of New Zealand mudsnail identification. The video is the premiere in the “MDEQ Minute” series, offering 60-second views on a broad range of topics including new and potential invasive species in Michigan. If you think you have found a New Zealand mudsnail in a waterway outside of the Pere Marquette, Boardman or Au Sable rivers, report your finding using the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network website, www.misin.msu.edu, or download the MISIN app to your smartphone.

Learn about monarch protection at the Annual Meeting on April 29 in Grand Rapids

monarchs at Fred Dye by Adrienne Bozic

Join the Michigan Nature Association at the
2017 Annual Meeting
Frederik Meijer Gardens – Grand Rapids
Celebrating 65 Years

Saturday, April 29 – 12:30 p.m.
1000 East Beltline Ave, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Join the Michigan Nature Association for the 2017
Annual Meeting on Saturday, April 29 at 12:30 p.m.
at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
in Grand Rapids. Your free ticket to the Annual Meeting
includes admission into the Gardens and Sculpture Park!

The event will feature talks from MNA’s Executive Director
and Conservation Director, an exciting look inside some our
latest projects, and light refreshments.

Special Guest Speaker

Dr. Stephen Malcolm is a chemical ecologist and
biological sciences professor at Western Michigan University.
He will be discussing monarch butterfly conservation
in Michigan and beyond.

RSVP Today – Seating is Limited

Please RSVP by April 21 to reserve your spot.
Contact Jess at 866-223-2231 or jfoxen@michigannature.org.

We hope to see you there!

Water Quality Partnerships, Poweshiek Skipperling, and Dragonflies: this week in environmental news

Local land conservancies, Watershed Council partner up to safeguard water quality (The Livingston Post): Local land conservancies, including the Michigan Nature Association, and the Huron River Watershed Council joined forces in 2014, to help private land owners protect natural areas with the potential to impact water quality. This month, the partnership will hold information sessions throughout the Huron River’s watershed so that land owners can learn about the land protection process and register for free land assessment tools. The Huron River is considered Michigan’s cleanest urban river. It owes this designation both to historic land conservation efforts and to the watershed’s remaining natural areas.

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Reared Poweshiek skipperling. Photo: Erik Runquist/Minnesota Zoo.

Stopping Extinction of a Prairie Butterfly – Poweshiek Skipperling (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service): The Poweshiek skipperling was listed as endangered in 2014. Prairie loss and degradation led to the initial decline of the species, but causes of the recent sharp decline remain a mystery. It is suspected that several threats may be responsible, such as an unknown disease or parasite, climate change, or use of pesticides. Research has begun in an effort to narrow down the cause or causes of the decline.

Superheroes build homes for bats (Great Lakes Echo): The Organization for Bat Conservation in Bloomfield, Michigan teamed up with Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and crew to raise funds and awareness for bat conservation. The set from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is getting recycled wood to auction off in the form of bat houses. The auction will be held on EBay and the money from the sales will go to the Save the Bat campaign.

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This Pantala dragonfly is a male from Japan. Photo: Alpsdake/Wikipedia

Tiny dragonfly species crushes long-distance migration record by riding high-altitude winds (Mother Nature Network): Barely an inch and a half long, the Pantala flavescens dragonfly flies across continents and oceans. Pantala dragonflies are found all over the world. Biologists recently discovered that it’s not just that some Pantala dragonflies migrate long-distance from here to there, but rather that the worldwide Pantala population is one giant gene pool, and individuals from all corners of the world are freely interbreeding. More research will be needed to gather the evidence necessary to fully prove this new hypothesis about travel via high-altitude winds, but the dragonfly’s roughly 4,400-mile migration range puts it well ahead of any other migratory insect.