Michigan Nature Monday: Celebrating the Holidays with Conservation in Mind

Oh, what fun it is to decorate for the holidays in December! From decking the halls to trimming the tree and hanging mistletoe, it’s a wonderful time of the year! But wait, what’s really lurking in those decorations? It could be invasive species.

Oriental bittersweet

Those red berries in your wreath may look merry and bright, but are they from invasive oriental bittersweet or multiflora rose? Decorating with plants around the holidays can bring cheer to your home, but be sure to check that the plants you are using to decorate are not invasive! Invasive plants are commonly used to make wreaths and other holiday decorations because they are bright and readily available. However, that can be harmful to the environment since berries and seeds fall off the decorations or are eaten and spread by birds and other animals. Those lost bits result in more invasive species when the seeds sprout! For a more environmentally-friendly choice, try decorating with native plants like white pine, Michigan holly, white spruce, white cedar, and more!

a row of trees at a christmas tree farm

But what about that age-old holiday tradition of getting a live Christmas tree? Be wary of Scots (also known as Scotch) pine, a beloved Christmas tree species that is invasive in Michigan. It spreads quickly and outcompetes our native tree species. Never fear because there are lots of native trees that make great Christmas trees. For a Michigan-native Christmas tree, try balsam fir, white pine, or white spruce. Still, some folks prefer the familiar non-native Christmas trees. Douglas fir, blue spruce, Norway spruce, and Fraser fir are better choices than Scotch pine because they are not considered invasive in Michigan. Whichever species you go with, consider choosing a tree grown locally. 

One great place to get a live Christmas tree is from a local Christmas tree farm. It’s an excellent way to support local small businesses, and it can also reduce the spread of invasive species. When trees are brought in from other areas, it is hard to know what else they might carry with them. Insects like the invasive spotted lanternfly or balsam woody adelgid can lay eggs or hide on Christmas trees before transport. Those are two species that are not currently in Barry County. However, one infestation of balsam wooly adelgid was identified in Kent County and spotted lanternfly has been found in Oakland County. Both of these species are more established in other states, however. These insects can then be accidentally transported to un-infested areas by buying trees sourced from other states or counties. The best way to reduce the spread of these and other invasive insects is to purchase trees and firewood locally. Lucky for us, this is easy here in Michigan since we are the nation’s third-largest producer of Christmas trees. 

So, the next time you’re buying your holiday decorations, ask where any live plants were sourced, and check that the plants you’re buying aren’t invasive here in Michigan


This message was redistributed with permission from the Barry Conservation District. Zach Whitacre is the BCK CISMA Coordinator, providing invasive species outreach and assistance to landowners in Barry, Calhoun, and Kalamazoo Counties. If you have questions or want more information on invasive species, you can reach him through the Barry Conservation District at (269) 908-4136 or zach.whitacre@macd.org 

Advertisement

Michigan Nature Monday: Poweshiek skipperling

One of the rarest butterflies, the Poweshiek skipperling, is truly on the brink of extinction. Once abundant in the tall prairie grasslands and the prairie fens of several states and provinces in the upper Midwest, the tiny butterfly is now found only in a handful of sites in Manitoba and northern Oakland County, including an MNA nature sanctuary. Loss of habitat and other factors contributed to a decades-long—and now a relatively recent and rapid—population decline that has scientists scratching their heads and worried about what their disappearance may mean for other pollinators.

The globally endangered Poweshiek is now so rare that only 100 individual butterflies were counted in a 2021 census. Recovery plans—aided by an international partnership that includes MNA—call for captive breeding efforts to headstart individuals and increase survival to adulthood in order to build a reserve population that can be reintroduced to the wild. The Minnesota Zoo, John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan State University’s Haddad Lab, and the Michigan Nature Association are specifically collaborating within the Poweshiek Skipperling International Partnership to annually produce more individuals for wild releases in 2022 and beyond in what is known as ex situ or “offsite” conservation.

Poweshiek skipperling photo by Cale Nordmeyer, Minnesota Zoo

MNA is proud to protect habitat critical for the Poweshiek skipperling’s survival, and to be part of the important partnership that is working to save this species from extinction. We look forward to continuing participation in this partnership effort to increase the Poweshiek skipperling population in the wild in the coming years.

Learn more about our conservation work and how you can contribute at michigannature.org.

A Milestone Year

The Michigan Nature Association is celebrating its 70th Anniversary throughout 2022. MNA’s spirited founding generation pioneered the protection of critical habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species, establishing Michigan’s oldest land conservancy and the only one
that serves the entire state. They also laid the foundation for our remarkable sanctuary network, and thanks to supporters past and present, it now includes over 180 sanctuaries in 60 counties. For some plants and animals MNA protects the finest—and sometimes the only—remaining habitat. We protect Michigan nature, we protect it for everyone, and we strive to protect it forever.

Join the celebration by learning more about some of our historical milestones below, and watching our 70th Anniversary video!

Image showing timeline of events in Michigan Nature Association history.
Top to bottom: What started as a bird watching group in 1951 signs articles of incorporation in 1952. In the 1960s, the organization acquires its first 10 properties, including its first Upper Peninsula property. In the 1970s, MNA joins the “Save the Pines” campaign and acquires one of its crown jewels: the Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. In the 1980s, Twin Waterfalls Memorial Plant Preserve becomes the 100th property protected by MNA. In the 1990s, MNA creates nearly 40 new nature sanctuaries that will become the most frequently visited. In the 2000s, MNA partners with the Michigan Karst Conservancy to protect the Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary. In the 2010s, MNA is awarded accreditation by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, and earned its first renewal in 2019. In the 2020s, MNA joins the “Keep the U.P. Wild” Coalition, seeking wilderness designation for more than 40,000 acres of land in the Upper Peninsula. Today, MNA celebrates 70 years of protecting Michigan’s natural heritage.

Seeking Wilderness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

photos and story by Lauren Ross, Communications & Events Coordinator

On a busy holiday weekend in late summer, I drove north as many people do, through slow-moving construction traffic, and past backed up lines of cars at the tollbooth on the Mackinac Bridge, continuing on until the number of cars on the road dwindled and the primary landmarks became decaying, abandoned motels and towering rows of pines. From there, turning off the main road onto a dirt road, I followed my GPS to an old forest service road (more two-track than road) up and down hills, and swerving left and right to avoid large rocks. Eventually I reached the end of the road, a big yellow sign on a pole announced “ROAD ENDS.”


At the trailhead a boot brush station informs visitors of the need to “Stop Invasive Species in their Tracks.” Beyond that, a trail is barely visible among the roots and rocks of the forest. I am grateful for the white diamonds nailed to trees that provide reassurance I am still on the path. It’s half-past three in the afternoon now, and the warmth of the sunlight peaks through cracks in the forest canopy. A recently downed tree partly blocks the trail about halfway in, but makes a nice seat as I swing my legs over. I know I am nearly there when I begin seeing blue diamonds through the trees—indicating the North Country Trail.


An old military-style canister rests on a post at the junction, inside are maps and a notebook for trail users to sign. There is a mix of factual information and colorful commentary on people’s treks. I continue straight across the NCT toward an opening in the trees. I have to duck past a few low-hanging branches, but soon come out onto a rock face to see the expanse of thousands of acres of forest, as far as I can see in all directions. A creek meanders through the trees several hundred feet below, and I am struck by the immense silence out on this cliff face. With barely a bird chirping, only a light breeze rattling the leaves overhead, I feel I must whisper to myself thoughts of awe and delight so as to not disturb the peace.


Back on the NCT, I headed in search of a suitable spot to set up my tent. The goal, an amazing sunrise view off to the east, overlooking those thousands of acres of forest. I finally decided on a spot about a mile from the initial overlook and set up my tent a safe distance from the edge of another cliff. Boiling some water to rehydrate my backpacking meal, I watched the long shadow of the ridge I was on extend out over the forest below as the sun began to set behind me to the west. I walked out onto the bluff and watched the nearly-full moon shine brightly in the bluish-purple sky that was becoming gradually darker. Then, with what remained of the day’s light I went to hang my food bag in a tree to keep it out of reach of any bears in the area.

A panoramic view from the overlook near camp.


At 3 a.m. I woke to my alarm as planned and laced up my boots, grabbed my camera, and carefully made my way to the cliff’s edge, my headlamp lighting the way. After setting up my tripod and camera, I turned off my headlamp and let my eyes begin to adjust to the darkness. Faintly in the sky over the ridge to the north, I could see the flashes of light indicating the aurora borealis was active, and so I released the shutter on my camera. “Pillars!” I spoke more loudly to myself now—a measure of security to ensure that my presence didn’t surprise any wildlife in the night. For nearly an hour I watched the lights dance, shrinking and growing and shrinking again in intensity.

The northern lights made a much-appreciated appearance overnight.


At 6:30 a.m. I woke again, the black sky turning gray as it began to regain its blue hue. In the forest below a fog had formed in the cool night air, and as the sun rose up over the horizon it released the moisture from the confines of the tree canopy where it gathered in low spots around creeks and ponds. With the aid of the fog, individual trees stood out in the forest below, and features of the landscape that were previously camouflaged became well-defined. The sun rose up over the nearby ridge, warming my face after a chilly night, and signaling that it was time to pack up and hike out before the day became too hot. But for one last moment, I took a deep breath of the fresh forest air and reveled in all that I had witnessed.

Sunrise from camp.


In Michigan, few places remain where people can experience nature on such a large scale. And though we have been reminded in recent years how important connecting to nature can be for our minds, bodies, and souls, threats continue to arise that could erase those places as we know them. Difficult to ignore were the flashing red lights of distant wind turbines even in this very remote place, a reminder that human-altered landscapes are everywhere. And like a crumpled piece of paper, these places, once altered, can never be the same again. So, they deserve our protection now.

Learn more about a coalition to protect this wilderness area in Michigan Nature Presents: Keep the U.P. Wild