Protecting Wetlands

Wetland - Abby Pointer

Wetland. Photo: Abby Pointer.

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

We celebrated American Wetlands Month this May! Extremely productive ecosystems, wetlands can be found in all extremes, from the tropics to the tundra, on every continent except for Antarctica. A little closer to home, Michigan wetlands provide important habitat to many species of waterfowl and fish, which play a vital role in our recreation and tourism industry, as well as our economy.

A wetland is an area where water covers the soil and is present all year or for varying, yet predictable periods of time. Wetlands form for a variety of reasons, whether from a permanent body of water, precipitation, or seasonally from rain or snow. This soil, described as hydric from its saturated quality, becomes anaerobic, or without oxygen. Therefore, the bacteria that reside there cannot use oxygen to respire, and use carbon or nitrogen, giving wetlands a high concentration of these particular molecules to create a unique ecosystem.

sandhill crane - steven kahl

Sandhill Crane. Photo: Steven Kahl.

This hydrology, the water saturation of the soil, of wetlands is a major factor in determining the type of soil that develops and the organisms that the environment can support. Since wetlands are versatile ecosystems, many types of both terrestrial and aquatic organisms can live there. In Michigan wetlands, you are likely to see a landscape covered in various sedges and rushes, and in the spring little mallard broods, perched Bobolinks, as well as a booming population of sandhill cranes!

These waterfowl, among many others, find sanctuary in wetlands, as they provide habitat and food for each year’s new brood of ducklings as well as a “rest stop” for migratory birds. About one-third of the United State’s endangered species call wetlands their home, from the American crocodile to many types of orchids! Wetlands also serve an important ecological purpose, such as acting as a buffer to prevent pollution from entering the water system, stopping widespread flooding and holding those excessive flood waters, and controlling erosion along our beautiful Michigan shoreline.

tile-drainage - Matt Miller

Wetland tiling. Photo: Matt Miller.

Unfortunately, wetlands are becoming increasingly rare due to human actions. Between filling and draining to make room for land for agriculture or development, building dams or dikes, and excessive logging, these detrimental actions have given rise to programs to restore these endangered ecosystems.

Michigan is one of only two states to have a federal wetlands program and is working toward continual restoration of these lands. Methods involve preventing the aforementioned human actions as well as taking measures to remove the tiling that drains water. This special attention from MNA, MDNR, DEQ, and other conservation groups will help guarantee that we can continue to enjoy the beauty and habitat our important wetlands provide!

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Running for Michigan Moose

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By Eugene Kutz, MNA Intern

The Michigan Nature Association is hosting the Moose on the Loose Family Fun and 5K this Saturday, August 26, 2017 in Marquette, MI. This event is a great way to show support for responsible conservation efforts and wildlife management in Michigan!

After European settlers arrived in Michigan, “moose were pretty much all over” the state, said Rachel Clark of the Michigan History Center to Michigan Radio. Following this, Michigan’s moose population declined as a result of overhunting and habitat destruction from human settlements and logging. Eventually, moose mostly disappeared from the Lower Peninsula.

Moose are currently found in two areas of the Upper Peninsula: the reintroduced population in Marquette, Baraga and Iron counties, and a smaller remnant population in the eastern UP, found primarily in Alger, Schoolcraft, Luce and Chippewa counties.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the most recent moose population survey of January 2011, an estimated 433 animals in the western Upper Peninsula were counted. No formal survey of the eastern U.P. moose population has been conducted, but estimated at about 100 animals from field observations and reports from the general public.

Moose populations in the Upper Peninsula have risen and fallen in recent years, and despite a rise in western UP populations, moose are still in need of habitat management and protection, including a balanced relationship with their natural predators, like wolves.

Populations have declined on Isle Royale, but dwindling wolf population to a single pair of adults has allowed moose to thrive, as considerations to import wolves to the island are being made to maintain predator-prey balance and vegetation growth for moose diet.

While currently listed as a “species of special concern,” the US Federal Government considered adding the moose back on the Endangered Species List last year, as this status does not afford the animals or their habitat any protections, and nearly 60% of Minnesota’s moose population has declined in the last decade.

Past attempts to repopulate the Upper Peninsula with moose, which involved shipping moose to the mainland from a large moose herd on Isle Royale, failed to restore previous numbers but succeeded in establishing a moose population, largely due to healthy habitats and increased poaching enforcement, even as poaching threats were low as citizens of the Upper Peninsula were involved with the repopulation project and had adopted the new moose population as their own.

In an interview for MLIVE, DNR Wildlife Division chief Russ Mason said moose populations are declining for a variety of reasons, which include habitat loss, predation and climate change, and because moose are conditioned to live in cold climates, warmer temperatures are putting all moose at risk of overheating, which leads to malnutrition and compromised immune systems.

This summer MNA celebrated Michigan Mammals Week by exploring interesting facts on native Michigan wildlife, including the moose!

For more info on Michigan moose, visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.

Moose 5K logoThe Moose on the Loose Family Fun and 5K will be a must for moose and wildlife enthusiasts and families!

Participants will have the opportunity to run along the scenic roadway of Peter White Drive on Presque Isle, a 323 acre forested oval shaped headland/peninsula which juts into Lake Superior!

Proceeds promote efforts to protect the threatened Moose throughout Northern Michigan. For more information and to sign up for the challenge go to: https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/Marquette/MooseontheLooseFamilyFunRunand5K

For questions, contact Jess Foxen: 866-223-2231 / jfoxen@michigannature.org

Showcase Sanctuary: Dowagiac Woods

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Hunter’s Creek. Photo: Dan Sparks-Jackson

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Since its establishment as a Michigan Nature Association sanctuary in 1983, Dowagiac Woods has become renowned for its dazzling, weeks-long display of spring wildflowers.  In fact, this in part is what inspired the Michigan Nature Association’s interest; shortly after a member visited the woods in 1975 and noted the abundance of Blue-eyed Mary on a 220-acre forest lot that was for sale, an appeal was made for funding to purchase it. The original purchase has since been expanded to encompass an additional 164 acres.

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Trails of Wildflowers. Photo: Judy Kepler

Every year visitors walk the trails meandering through the diverse blooms, some of which are hard to find elsewhere in the state. However, Dowagiac Woods is a unique example of the value of Michigan’s natural heritage, not just for its famed spring wildflowers, but because it’s a largely undisturbed 384-acre block of high-quality forest habitat with ample biodiversity to support a variety of Michigan-native wildlife, including many rare and some endangered species. Nearly 50 kinds of trees and hundreds of various other plant species, as well as close to 50 kinds of birds, have been catalogued by MNA. These include the Yellow-throated warbler whose clear songs grace visitors with joyful notes, the notorious Pileated woodpecker, and the rare and lovely Cerulean warbler.

Large, intact forest blocks like Dowagiac Woods are vital to the composition of habitats that support an array of wildlife, yet are becoming increasingly rare in southern Michigan as landscapes are fragmented by industry and human use. Additionally, the majority of Michigan’s intact forests reside in the upper half of the state. Thus, as the largest MNA sanctuary in the southern Lower Peninsula and a rare, high-quality example of the natural state of Michigan’s mesic southern and southern floodplain forests, Dowagiac Woods is truly a state treasure.

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Dowagiac Woods the largest MNA sanctuary in the southern Lower Peninsula. Photo: Patricia Pennell

The ecological importance of biologically diverse plant communities can’t be overstated. Plants form the basis of habitats and aid in performing various hydrological functions not limited to natural flood control, water purification, and the cycling of water. They anchor and enrich the soil, cycle important nutrients, and convert carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. Forests also act as important carbon sinks by storing large amounts of carbon dioxide. The more diverse the community of plants that make up a community, the more efficiently it can function as a whole and perform these essential services. When biodiversity drops, ecosystems become less resilient against disturbances like disease or fire, because a single species comprises a much greater proportion of the plant community and its decline takes a greater toll.

With the exception of a section of woods that was selectively cut in the 1960s, the majority of Dowagiac Woods has thankfully remained undisturbed. The Michigan Nature Association’s mission is to preserve and maintain pristine areas like Dowagiac Woods. With soil that has never been plowed and trees that have never been clear-cut, it is the closest illustration of how Michigan’s forests may have looked prior to settlement. Visitors are encouraged to walk the trails and take in the rare sights and sounds of the many unique species found there. With careful management, what remains of Michigan’s natural heritage may yet be enjoyed for generations to come.

Frogs and toads: environmentally beneficial creatures

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The warm Michigan weather brings about many different types of plants an animals, including amphibians like frogs and toads.

Often after a rain or in a wet, shaded area these critters can be found hopping around.

What’s the difference?

It might be surprising that all toads are considered frogs. Frogs and toads are both amphibians but it’s easy to tell the difference between them by a few key factors. The frog has more smooth, moist skin and longer legs. Toads are more bumpy and warty-looking. Frogs prefer to be around water and moist places whereas toads don’t require wet areas as much and can withstand drier habitats. Toads prefer to crawl rather than to hop from place to place.

Amphibians are defined by a life-cycle that begins underwater. Baby frogs and toads start off as eggs in the water and develop into tadpoles that have gills and can swim. These tadpoles develop lungs and other body parts and, once they have matured, can enjoy life on land.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Toads and frogs breed during the spring and summer and find warm shelter to protect themselves during harsh winter months.

Where do they live?

Frogs and toads live in many places around the world including the rain forest. In Michigan they tend to live in wetlands, wooded areas, beaches and near streams or lakes.

What do they do?

Frogs consume thousands of bugs. This consumption is beneficial for people and the environment, protecting plants, getting rid of pests and maintaining a balance in the food chain and ecosystem. Frogs are also great indicators of changes in the environment as they are sensitive to even the slightest of changes. Their skin is thin and porous so any chemicals or other contaminants to the environment can be shown by a decrease of frogs in more frog-populated areas. Frogs also have provided scientists with compounds for different medicines.

A fowler's toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

A fowler’s toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

Threats to frogs and toads

Unfortunately there are many threats to frogs and toads throughout the world. Many of these are human-induced problems such as the use of harmful pesticides, habitat loss and pollution to name a few. These actions endanger frogs and toads and can be harmful for the environment which is why protecting them is important.

To learn more about frogs and toads click here. To learn about types of frogs and toads found in Michigan click here.

Share Your Yard With Amphibians

We share Michigan with 13 frog and toad species, which play a beneficial role to both humans and wetland ecosystems. With their charming choruses and appetite for virtually any pest that crosses their path, frogs and toads can be a major benefit to yards and gardens. It is even estimated that one cricket frog devours 4,800 insects in one year.

Like many of Michigan’s amphibians, frogs are small and camouflage easily among grasses, trees and soil. But with the right tricks, you can encourage these sometimes small and cold-blooded critters to come out of hiding and take haven in your backyard.

Take advantage of natural resources
A well-groomed yard may be aesthetically pleasing, but it isn’t supportive to wildlife. Frogs and toads are attracted to native ground cover, like tall grass and wildflowers. To welcome amphibians, leave leaf litter, logs and rock piles under trees and shrubs that provide natural shelter.

Build a toad house
Provide a safe place for toads to take shelter by building a toad burrow or toad house. Create a depression in soil beneath shrubs or flowers. Layer stones along the side and top of the depression, about 6-8 inches high. Or, reuse an 8-inch flower pot by creating a hole big enough for a toad to fit and placing it upturned in a shady area in your garden.

Build your own backyard pond
Add diversity to your yard by creating a pond, which is an easy ways to attract frogs, toads and other forms of wildlife. Recreate their natural habitat with vegetation like water lilies, cattails, fallen logs, ferns, wildflowers and tall grasses, which attract insects and other food for frogs as well as provide cover. Native plants and rocky areas outside of the pond serve as retreat areas for toads.

When seeking the ideal spot for your pond, choose an area on low ground and away from potential threats such as raccoons or runoff from fertilizer and pesticide use.

Ponds are best supported by clay soils and should not be built in dry, sandy soil. Ponds should be at least 12 feet long and 6 feet wide, with space for amphibians to bask along the edges of the water. Make sure the water is slow moving and shallow, about 1.5 feet deep, so that it is ideal for pond-breeding amphibians to lay their eggs.

Almost all of MNA’s 170 sanctuaries support amphibians. Visit wetland and forest type habitats for a glimpse of one of 13 species of frogs and toads. For more information about MNA and sanctuaries, visit our website.

How to Spot a Prairie Fen

By Jake McCarthy

The next time you’re out walking in nature and surrounded by sedges with damp feet, take a look around. You might find yourself in a fen, one of Michigan’s most diverse habitats. Prairie fens are nutrient-rich wetlands that use groundwater to support a wide range of plants and animals. Globally scarce, they are home to species including Eastern massasauga rattlesnake and pink and white lady slipper. Fens also improve water quality and reduce the risk of flooding.

Fens are fragile, though, and need to be recognized and protected in order to thrive. MNA protects and manages a number of fens in Michigan, including the Bullard Lake Fen Plant Preserve in Livingston County and the Robert T. Brown Nature Sanctuary in Houghton County. It can take 10,000 years for a fen to form naturally, so it’s important to do what we can to conserve the fens we have.

Here are a few ways to identify a fen:

Soil – Peat and marl are common soil types in fens. Peat, made of decaying plant matter, is spongy and bounces when you walk on it. Marl is a gray-colored and clayish soil.

Water Source – Unlike bogs and swamps, which are rainwater-fed, fens receive water from seeps and springs. Seeps and springs are sources of ground water that have reached the surface. It’s easier to spot both in winter because steady temperatures means they’re unlikely to freeze.

Water Level – The water level in a fen remains fairly constant. Even after a heavy rain, it won’t show significant standing water like a swamp. This is because fens draw water from the ground, not precipitation.

Hummocks – Fens are rife with hummocks, small mounds of sedges that haven’t decomposed because of the water. Hummocks are a great place for a variety of plants to grow, and dot the face of any healthy fen.

For more information on prairie fens in Michigan, how to spot them and restoration tips for landowners, visit MSU’s Prairie Fen Companion website.

To learn more about MNA’s fens and efforts to conserve them, visit our website. To join MNA staff in managing fens with prescribed burns, contact regional stewardship organizer Matt Schultz for more information at mschultz@michigannature.org.

ENDANGERED!

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Mitchell’s Satyr
By Yang Zhang

The first species featured in our “ENDANGERED!” column is the Mitchell’s satyr (pronounced say-ter), one of the world’s rarest butterflies. In Michigan, you may have the chance to spot this species, but without your help that opportunity may soon disappear.

Physical Appearance:

Mitchell’s satyr is a dark, chocolate brown, medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan that ranges from 1.5 to 1.75 inches. It has a three-part segmented body with a head, thorax and abdomen and antennae.

On the undersides of the butterfly’s rounded wings is a row of four to five orange-ringed, black circular eyespots with silvery centers. Beyond the eyespot rows on the outer part of the wing are two orange lines. The dorsal, or upper wing, is unmarked and thinly scaled. Males are slightly smaller and darker than females.

Preferred Habitat:
Mitchell’s satyr habitat is restricted to a unique type of wetland called a fen, which is a low-nutrient system that is enabled to support life with carbonate-rich ground water entering the system from seeps and springs. Fens are usually home to sedges, grasses and a wide variety of wildflowers, which makes the fen a magnet for insects including Mitchell’s satyr.

Some MNA sanctuaries, like the Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary, are carefully managed to remain a fen and provide habitat for rare species such as the Mitchell’s satyr.

Life Cycle:
An adult Mitchell’s satyr lives for only a few weeks, but it takes a year for a caterpillar to turn into a mature butterfly.

The satyr goes through three life stages. In July, females lay tiny eggs on the young leaves of low, tender plants. The eggs hatch in 7-11 days. The caterpillars, which are very small and difficult to spot, feed on tussock sedge and other fine-leafed sedges. In winter, they hibernate under the snow and emerge in spring to resume eating until they form a chrysalis. The adult butterflies emerge from a cocoon in late June, and males emerge a few days earlier than females.

List Status:
Historically, Mitchell’s satyr inhabited fens across New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and possibly Maryland. Today, the butterfly can only be found in 19 fens in southern Michigan and northern Indiana.

The greatest threat to Mitchell’s satyr is habitat loss and degradation. Most fens have been altered or drained completely for urban and agricultural development. Pesticides, fertilizer and nutrient runoff from agriculture contaminate the fen wetlands, as well. In addition, wetland alteration has led to the invasion of exotic weeds, such as glossy buckthorn, which can shade out the satyr’s food plants. It’s also believed that butterfly collectors could have contributed to the population loss of the Mitchell’s satyr. Because there are so few butterflies, the collection of even a few individuals could harm the entire population.

Protection Efforts:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) added Mitchell’s satyr to the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants on June 25, 1991. It is illegal to harm, harass, collect or kill the butterfly without a permit from FWS.

FWS also created a recovery plan that describes actions needed to help the butterfly survive and thrive so that it can be taken off the endangered species list in the future.

Michigan and Indiana’s natural resource departments and partners have developed a Habitat Conservation Plan that provides a comprehensive framework for managing fens for Mitchell’s satyr.

The Michigan Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and The Nature Conservancy are jointly preserving and improving two of the butterfly’s habitats of Michigan: the Blue Creek Fen in Berrien County and the Paw Paw Prairie Fen in Van Buren County.

How You Can Help:
MNA protects close to 30 fens, two of which are home to the Mitchell’s satyr. Fens are managed in multiple ways. One way MNA manages fens is by holding prescribed burns. A fen in decent shape requires a prescribed burn every three-to-five years. Fens with a larger presence of woody growth or invasive species may require more frequent burns every two-to-four years. MNA also manually removes invasive species from fens and protects the hydrology of the land by objecting to potential developments in the area. With the help of MNA volunteers, we strive to protect the unique habitat of the Mitchell’s satyr.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.

Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Michigan State University