Celebrating Michigan’s Wilderness on World Rewilding Day

Today, March 20th, Michiganders across the state are celebrating the start of spring. We, too, look forward to all that this season brings including wildflowers, bird migration, and more. But today, we are especially excited about World Rewilding Day—established in 2021, World Rewilding Day raises awareness of the need for large, ‘wild’ habitat in the fight against climate change-driven extinctions.

An aerial photograph showing the Ottawa National Forest. Photo by Jason Whalen | Fauna Creative

Our recently-released video “Keep the U.P. Wild” explores one such effort in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Keep the U.P. Wild Coalition last year began a campaign to add federal Wilderness designation to more than 40,000 acres of land in the western U.P., and has since grown to include more than 300 organizations.

Designation requires congressional action, which would provide the highest level of federal land protection for the four areas within the one-million-acre Ottawa National Forest in the western Upper Peninsula: The Trap Hills, Ehlco Area, Norwich Plains, and Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness Addition.

If successful, wilderness designation would protect these areas for biological diversity, not resource extraction, while still providing opportunities for their respectful use, enjoyment, and economic benefit.

 “The scientific community has learned … that connections and scale really play an important role in the ability of many species to exist over time,” said MNA Conservation Director, Andrew Bacon. Wilderness designation at this scale would most certainly benefit the flora and fauna and provide for the natural processes that help reduce the effects of carbon in the atmosphere—one of the leading drivers of climate change.

Watch our video today, and learn more about this campaign and the coalition members at keeptheupwild.com.

Michigan’s Landscape Architects – Beavers

The Michigan Nature Association prides itself on protecting habitat for many different species, through the conservation and stewardship at our more than 180 Nature Sanctuaries. But there are times when the needs of one species are counterproductive to the needs of another.

Historically, the American beaver was hunted—nearly to extinction—by fur trading Europeans. Their resurgence across the Midwest has been thanks to conservation efforts, not only for them but also for other species as well.

A beaver swims through a pond. Photo by Lauren Ross.

Beavers are incredible builders, able to construct lodges up to 8 feet wide and 3 feet high, using only their teeth to cut branches and logs, which must then be transported over land and water to the construction site. They are also incredibly effective dam builders—significantly affecting the flow of rivers and streams, which can then flood hundreds of acres of land, creating the ponds and lakes that they require for survival. 

Beaver dam at an MNA Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Andrew Bacon.

This keystone species are the architects of wetlands and pools in riparian ecosystems—the area between land and rivers and streams. Their damming and wetland creation is invaluable for a wide diversity of wetland birds, herptiles, and insects. Where beavers are allowed to operate in their natural capacity, there are tremendous benefits for wildlife and water quality within the riparian corridor.

However, in sensitive habitats like the prairie fens, found at a particular MNA Nature Sanctuary in Oakland County, these habitat architects can actually have a destructive effect by flooding and killing these rare plant communities and the rare species which occur within them. One of the two creeks that flow through the sanctuary has been dammed by beavers for over a decade and has enlarged the lake on the eastern side of the sanctuary. If left alone, the dams could eventually flood the fen and create an emergent marsh habitat comprised primarily of cattail, pond-lilies, and other wetland species. And though this type of habitat is common across the state, the transition in this particular location is not ideal.

Prairie fen (left) photo by Dave Cuthrell, Emergent marsh (right) photo by Joshua Cohen courtesy MNFI.

The prairie fen at this sanctuary is one of the last places on earth where the federally endangered Poweshiek skipperling makes its home. The loss of occupied prairie fen habitat at this sanctuary would have a catastrophic effect on the global population of these tiny butterflies.

After consulting with several conservation scientists about the issue, MNA conservation staff determined that the beaver activity constitutes a grave threat to the rare species found within the prairie fen, and that sanctuary management would include curtailing the flooding in order to maintain access to the sanctuary. This approach—prioritizing the needs of more rare species over more abundant ones—is commonly taken by conservation organizations at both the local and national levels.

Humans, like beavers, are capable of altering their surroundings in ways that most other species are not. Like the beaver and the butterfly which cannot know that in this place is nearly all that remains of the Poweshiek skipperling, humans too have a limited amount of knowledge to guide our activities. It is, however, with conscientious and scientific thought. Nature forces us to make some very difficult decisions at times—so as we work to protect Michigan nature for everyone, we must also recognize when one species requires more of our efforts than another.

Protecting Wild Nature on Giving Tuesday

by Lauren Ross, MNA Communications & Events Coordinator

One of my favorite ways to experience nature is to stand on the shore of Lake Superior in a winter storm, the gales blowing hard, waves crashing through the ice walls that they created in a previous storm, snow obscuring the landscape and much of the horizon. It is truly a most amazing experience, but when I tell people that I enjoy feeling this raw power of nature, I can see in their eyes that they do not understand. So, let me explain…

Laying on the icy Lake Superior shoreline at sunset.

When we describe people as wild, we imagine chaos – a shirt buttoned askew, hair unkempt and unruly. And in nature’s wild, we see something similar though we do not apply the same judgment. In nature’s wild there is order, there is reason, whether or not we are able to comprehend it. The fresh green leaves and grass of summer are easy to appreciate, but it takes a special kind of observation to appreciate nature on a gloomy and overcast day.

In the fall and winter months, nature’s wild looks a bit like a human’s – the bare webs of tree branches outstretched like staticky-electric hair, wilting grasses like a pile of dirty laundry that didn’t quite make it to the hamper. During this time, we can see a side of nature that is ‘uncurated’ and perfectly imperfect. The wild that I experience on that windswept and icy shoreline is a powerful reminder that I am, with all of my imperfections, part of this wild nature, and I thoroughly enjoy feeling it push back as I lean into each gust.

The special places that MNA protects as Nature Sanctuaries across the state are protected because someone at some point in time connected with that particular place, either because of its beautiful native species or the incredible rarity of its landscape. Nature inspires us to think outside ourselves, beyond our daily needs and struggles, and makes us feel connected to the earth.

You may still think that my enjoyment of a winter storm on an icy beach is a bit unorthodox, but I hope that the message resonates with you. In whatever way you enjoy wildness in nature, whether that be a hike through the forest on a warm sunny day (without any bugs), or a native pollinator garden in your community, know that these places are as much a part of us as we are of them. And in order for others to enjoy them as we do now, they need our care and protection.

This #GivingTuesday, as you consider your charitable options, please consider giving to the Michigan Nature Association – and know that your gift may be helping to protect a ‘wild’ natural place that inspires someone now and in the future. Donate today at michigannature.org

Birding Trails, Fungi, and Protecting Native Species: this week in environmental news

Birdwatchers celebrate two new birding trails in Michigan (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan’s Northwest Lower Peninsula is a paradise for birdwatchers. Piping plovers, on the endangered species list, and the snowy owl nest there in the winter. The region is a stopover for thousands of birds on their way to breeding grounds. The Petoskey Regional Audubon Society, in partnership with local conservancies, plans to celebrate the launch of the Sunset Coast Birding Trail later this year. The trail will start in Mackinaw City and follow a coastal corridor through Emmet, Charlevoix and Antrim counties. According to a report of the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about the birds and their migration, 47,090 birds migrated through the straits in 2016. Another new trail, The Blue Water Birding Trail in St. Clair County, is also expected to launch this year. Michigan has six birding trails already – North Huron Birding Trail and Superior Birding Trail in the Upper Peninsula, and Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, Beaver Island Birding Trail, Sunrise Coast Birding Trail and Saginaw Bay Birding Trail in the Lower Peninsula.

piping plover

The piping plover. Image: United States Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain Prairie

Fantastic Fungi in Michigan (Oakland County Times): “Fantastic Fungi in Michigan: You don’t have to go to the rain forest to see amazing mushrooms” speaker program is being held on Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 beginning 7:30 pm at the Royal Oak Middle School (709 N. Washington). Join Mary Fredricks, Nature Society mycologist, and learn about mushrooms tiny enough to grow on oak leaves, beautiful mushrooms that are among the most poisonous known, mushrooms that are easy to overlook during the day but glow at night, and more, all growing right here in Michigan. There is no preregistration or cost for this program.

Usually the villain, invasive species odd hero for native fish (Great Lakes Echo): A native fish may be poised for a comeback in the Great Lakes with the help of an invasive species. Great Lakes cisco, also known as lake herring, typically grow about 12 to 15 inches long and at one point supported one of the largest commercial fisheries in the region. They disappeared from much of the basin around the 1950s. Now it looks like the stage has been set for their return–by an unlikely ally. Invasive quagga mussels have depleted nutrients in the lakes. Cisco do well in low-nutrient environments, unlike competing species like the invasive alewife. That gives cisco space to thrive.

cisco

Cisco caught in Lake Michigan. Image: Katie Steiger-Meister/USFWS.

Trump admin delays listing bumblebee as endangered (The Detroit News): The Trump administration delayed what would be the first endangered designation for a bee species in the continental U.S., one day before it was to take effect. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a rule Jan. 11 extending federal protection to the rusty patched bumblebee, one of many types of bees that play a vital role in pollinating crops and wild plants. It once was common across the East Coast and much of the Midwest, but its numbers have plummeted since the late 1990s.