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.


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,, or download the MISIN app to your smartphone.

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 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.


Michigan’s Endangered Species: The Rayed Bean and the Snuffbox

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

A female rayed bean. Photo: Angela Boyer, USFWS

A female rayed bean. Photo: Angela Boyer, USFWS

Almost one year ago, two of Michigan’s native mussels, the rayed bean and the snuffbox, were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The rayed bean and the snuffbox aren’t the largest species—both are smaller than 3 inches—but threats to these small organisms can indicate big problems for the environment.

North America has the highest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world, with 300 species found on the continent. Of those species, 38 have recently gone extinct and another 77 are considered “critically imperiled,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Mussels tend to be long-lived because they can close their shells for protection. As a result, they respond to long-term ecological disturbances rather than short-term disturbances. Some call mussels the “canary in the land mine” in terms of water quality because mussel disappearances show long-term trends that are harming our waterways.

The rayed bean and snuffbox have each suffered significant declines from their original ranges. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the rayed bean, which was once found in 115 streams and lakes, has experienced a 73 percent range decline. The snuffbox has seen a 62 percent decline in occupied streams, but this range decline coupled with population losses show an actual range and population decline of at least 90 percent.

Some MNA sanctuaries contain the rivers and streams these endangered mussels could still occupy, including the Stephen M. Polovich Memorial Nature Sanctuary and the James & Alice Brennan Memorial Nature Sanctuary, both in St. Clair County.

The greatest threat to the remaining freshwater mussels is habitat loss and degradation, much of which is caused by pollution from point and non-point sources. There are some ways you can help conserve the rayed bean, snuffbox and other endangered species in Michigan:

  • Learn more about endangered species and wildlife conservation, especially the endangered species in your area. For information on the protected species in Michigan, check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or one of our past blog posts on endangered species.
  • Get involved with a conservation organization in your community. MNA hosts regular volunteer days at its sanctuaries, many of which take action to protect the sanctuary’s native and endangered species. For a list of MNA’s upcoming volunteer days, check out our events calendar.
  • Limit use of pesticides or lawn-care chemicals. This will help prevent runoff—a type of non-point source pollution—into nearby lakes and streams.
  • Plant trees and plants to help control soil erosion and avoid runoff into freshwater areas.
  • While boating, follow the rules created to help prevent the spread of exotic pests like zebra mussels. Zebra mussels and other exotic creatures act as another threat to the state’s native mussels.
  • Speak up! The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has a hotline you can call if you see someone illegally hunting, trapping or fishing a protected species.