Fall 2018 Michigan Nature Magazine

There is good news on the front to stem the decline of wildlife in Michigan – a powerful plan exists that could counter otherwise devastating trends.

As our feature story explains (p. 18), Michigan’s updated Wildlife Action Plan, facilitated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources with the help of MNA and other conservation partners, is designed to provide a strategic framework to coordinate conservation in Michigan for wildlife and their habitats.

We believe the Wildlife Action Plan is a conservation strategy for the state unlike anything we have had before. MNA is aligning our goals and actions with those of the Wildlife Action Plan across all our programs – land protection, habitat restoration, stewardship, outreach and education – to ensure we are providing as much value as we can.

We are proud to be a champion for the Wildlife Action Plan, but it will take many collaborators to fully implement it. As Amy Derosier, the Michigan DNR’s Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator, says in our Q&A (p. 33), “Ultimately, it will take many people at the table who care and are engaged” to implement the Wildlife Action Plan and address our growing wildlife crisis. We couldn’t agree more.

Advertisements

Estivant Pines: A Living Museum

The Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary, protecting the largest remaining stand of old growth white pines in Michigan, celebrates its 45th anniversary.

By William Rapai

Time passes slowly at Estivant Pines.

Nobody knows that better than Gary Willis, a forester with the Michigan Department of Bertha and groupNatural Resources and former assistant professor at Michigan Technological University. Willis knows this place better than most people. When you see this preserve through his eyes you begin to understand that the best way to truly appreciate this place is not to consider time in hours, years, and decades but in centuries, periods and eras.

Estivant Pines is the Michigan Nature Association’s 510 acre sanctuary in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Despite its remote location—down a pothole-strewn dirt road south of Copper Harbor—it is one of the organization’s most popular sanctuaries. Every summer, thousands of people from across the United States visit, wandering two looping trails to marvel at white pine trees that stand 120 feet tall.

But there aren’t many visitors to Estivant Pines in the late winter or early spring because the road that leads to the sanctuary is usually under several feet of snow or too muddy to be drivable. However, the period after snowmelt and before trees emerge from dormancy is the best time to see and understand time’s impact by looking down—not up—and closely examining what is and isn’t here.

What is here is volcanic bedrock that dates back to the earliest period of Earth’s history and carbonized tree stumps that are the remains of a cataclysmic forest fire more than 200 years ago. What isn’t here is surprising and confounding. The plant life in the understory is healthy—lots of lichens, mosses, ferns, maples, birches, cedars, spruces, and balsams. Surprisingly, there are few young white pines even though these 240-300 year-old trees have produced millions of viable seeds during their lifetimes.

img 1198Willis gained these insights when he was a forester for the Michigan Nature Association. In the late 1990s he started working at Estivant Pines at the request of Michigan Nature Association’s founder Bertha Daubendiek. Willis was given a unique opportunity to study these ancient trees after a logger accidentally trespassed on the sanctuary and cut a number of the trees along one of the boundaries.

Daubendiek sent Willis out to write a damage report, but during the process he started to see this incident as a unique opportunity to study how these giant trees grew. As he measured the width of the stumps and correlated individual ring-widths he began to understand these trees through the prism of time.

But it’s not just the trees that are measured in time. Much of this sanctuary sits on a high ridge of volcanic bedrock that runs between Annie Creek and the Montreal River that dates back to the earliest period of Earth’s history, some 1.1 billion years ago. In fact, Willis said, other researchers at Michigan Tech have discovered the Keweenaw was once one of the most active volcanic regions on Earth.

It’s difficult to see it from the landscape level, but Willis says if you look at an aerial photo of the peninsula, you can see a series of ridges left behind from that volcanic flow. Those ridges run parallel to the shoreline and curve as the shoreline curves and narrows as it reaches the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Even though we tend to think of these trees as old, the plant community here is in its infancy, relatively speaking. Plants—trees, shrubs and grasses—established themselves only about 10,000 years ago following the withdrawal of the Wisconsin Glacier.

Tree roots - Brittany AllenMultiple glaciers over the past 2.5 million years left behind a thin layer of soil that can support plant life but generally is not deep enough to anchor a 100-foot-tall tree. To compensate for the lack of soil, most of the pines have grown roots deep into fractures and crevices in the bedrock. Some trees have been lost to windstorms but remarkably few considering that the sanctuary sits at an altitude that varies between 200 and 500 feet above lake level. That altitude leaves these trees exposed to powerful winter winds that blow across Lake Superior. In the winter, this sanctuary can get more than 275 inches of snow in a single season. The combination of heavy, wet snow and strong wind can bring even the hardiest tree down, says Donald Dickmann, professor emeritus of silviculture and physiological ecology at Michigan State University and co-author of The Forests of Michigan. Fortunately, most of the snow that blankets the Keweenaw’s rocky ridges is light and fluffy lake effect powder.

Summer brings heavy thunderstorms and gusty winds, and the trees, which tower above the hardwood canopy, are sitting ducks for lightning strikes. One of those lightning strikes more than 200 years ago might have been the spark for a fire that ravaged this area and set the stage for the Estivant Pines as we see them today.

Those carbonized tree stumps and little bits of charcoal strewn across the landscape point to a potent wildfire that swept through the area in the late 1700’s. Willis said it likely wiped out most of the white pines that had been standing on that spot perhaps for centuries. Just as the towering, mature pines today prevent the young pines from growing underneath, those earlier pines prevented any new ones from growing beneath them. It’s not that these trees are refusing to reproduce; it’s just their reproductive strategy. Barring a major fire, disease or insect threats, these pines could be here for another 300 years before they reach the end of their natural lifecycle. As that happens, the maples, birches, spruces, and balsams that make up the understory will continue to grow and mature and create a thick new canopy 50 feet or more under the tops of the pines. As those trees mature and die, fuel for a future fire will continue to build up on the forest floor, waiting for a spark.Marianne Glosenger - Estivant Pines NO WATERMARK hi res

When that fire eventually arrives, the pines’ continued existence will depend on its intensity. A moderate fire may not cause any damage because the old trees are protected by a thick layer of bark. But if the fire is intense enough the heat will fry the layer under the bark that transports water and nutrients up the trunk. That will kill the tree even if the fire does not reach the top branches. If that happens, the tree, knowing that it will soon die, will put all its energy into seed production. The year following the fire, massive amounts of seeds will cover the now-bare, ash-covered soil and thousands of new white pine trees will germinate if there is enough rain.

And the cycle will begin again.

Ancient white pine trees like the Estivant Pines once covered a good portion of Michigan. loggingIn the late 19th century, lumberjacks cut these trees to supply wood for houses, barns, and carriages needed by a fast-growing nation. At the time, it was thought that Michigan had an inexhaustible supply of white pine.

Only a few stands of virgin white escaped the lumberjack’s gluttony—this one, of course, one at Hartwick Pines State Park northeast of Grayling, and another stand on private property east of L’Anse are the three best known. But Don Dickmann of Michigan State says he has found small stands of them in other places in the Upper Peninsula. Those stands, like Estivant Pines, were spared through random chance and, more recently, the passion of local citizens who wanted to preserve these trees for what they represent.

nancy leonard - epines make a difference dayTwo people who have come to deeply appreciate the history represented by these pines are Bill and Nancy Leonard, who organize volunteers and stewards for the Michigan Nature Association in the Keweenaw Peninsula. They work closely with sanctuary stewards Ted and Alice Soldan to maintain the boardwalks and trails. Bill Leonard said that as he’s working he enjoys talking with visitors and is always amazed by how many people from faraway places around the country come to see these giants multiple times.

“It just pulls people back,” Leonard said.

Indeed it does. But those visitors? For now, it seems, they can take their time.

 

William Rapai is the author of three Michigan Notable Books including The Kirtland’s Warbler (University of Michigan Press) and Lake Invaders (Wayne State University Press). He is also the president of Grosse Pointe Audubon.

As seen in the feature story in the Winter 2018 issue of the Michigan Nature magazine.

Fall 2017 Michigan Nature Magazine

Fall means back to school, and that new reality brings a seasonal change to the daily migration routes for many Michigan families.

Fall is an especially great time of year to connect kids to nature and the incredible changes that unfold. As students – and their parents – adjust their new clocks and adapt to a new school year, here at MNA we are working with teachers to enrich their student’s classroom learning by using MNA nature sanctuaries as living laboratories. Our schools-to-sanctuaries initiative is creating exciting new partnerships across the state, like the one described by Addison High School teacher Aaron Wesche in this issue’s Q&A (p.33).

Cooler temperatures and decreasing daylight are signals for migratory birds and insects that it is time to leave their northern breeding grounds for warmer winter climes. Some make extraordinary difficult journeys to do so. One of the most astonishing dramas in nature is the annual Monarch butterfly migration from the northern U.S. to a tiny strip of forest in Mexico. Take yourself to a Great Lakes beach or an MNA nature sanctuary with open fields this time of year and wait and watch. You’ll very likely see one of these stunning and fragile beauties flit by as they make their miraculous journey to Mexico.

Sadly, those who have spent a lifetime watching the Monarch migration for the sheer joy of it will tell you they don’t see as many butterflies anymore. Scientists who study the Monarch have confirmed this. In this issue, noted Michigan author Bill Rapai tells the story of how the Monarch migration is now in serious danger of disappearing (p. 18).

The good news is that we can play a role in helping this extraordinary migration (while also helping other declining pollinators). We know that many of our nature sanctuaries provide necessary places for fuel and rest for Monarchs on their journey, but we also know much more needs to be done.

With your continued support MNA will be working to create more Monarch-friendly habitat within our statewide network of sanctuaries; help inspire the next generation to care about Michigan’s natural wonders like the Monarch butterfly through our education programs; and coordinate our work on Monarch conservation with the work of like-minded groups in Michigan, across the Midwest, and Mexico.

Spring 2017 Michigan Nature Magazine

MNA is no stranger to the fight to protect vulnerable species. For 65 years MNA has worked hard to secure and restore habitat and manage lands so rare plants and animals have a chance. A new endangered species listing hits hard even when it comes with the good news that federal protections will be put in place to help recover the species.

It also hits hard because of the news from Washington D.C. and Lansing about proposed deep cuts to programs that protect these vulnerable species.

The current political climate underscores the foresight of MNA’s founders. 65 years ago, a small group of spirited individuals took matters into their own hands and established an organization to do what they felt government was ignoring. How many more endangered species listings would there be without groups like MNA?

So today when so many headlines bring dismay, you only need to open the pages of Michigan Nature to find some really terrific stories of great work to protect our natural heritage. Stories made possible by people who deeply care and give from the heart – landowners, members, donors, volunteers and you.

Partnerships and collaboration are key. If the last 65 years have taught us anything, they’ve taught us that we cannot do it alone.

MNA’s mission brings people together so we can build a brighter future. We have been doing so for 65 years and will continue to do so for the next 65 years and beyond. Thank you for doing your part.

Spring 17 magazine cover