The Importance of Environmental Stewardship in Fighting Phragmites

By Hannah DeHetre, MNA Intern

The Michigan Nature Association is a land conservation organization that works to protect and preserve natural areas in Michigan by recruiting local volunteers to help maintain MNA sanctuaries as well as implementing conservation education. MNA was founded in 1952, as a bird study group, and now the organization owns and manages over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan. MNA relies heavily on volunteers and environmental stewardship. According to Rachel Maranto, the Stewardship Coordinator in the Lower Peninsula, volunteers are the “bread and butter” for MNA because “Michigan is such a big state and there are very few staff covering the state, so what is accomplished hinges on volunteer participation.”

rattlesnake

A massasauga rattlesnake that we saw at one of the MNA sanctuaries this summer. The Massasauga is, as of 2016, listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Service, U. F.), demonstrating the importance of preserving MNA sanctuaries (photo: Rachel Maranto).

To manage over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan, volunteers come out and help with work days. Over the summer, the work days involved the removal of invasive species such as autumn-olive, garlic mustard, and phragmites. According to Maranto, the management practice that is predominately used to control phragmites is spraying of herbicide. Due to her limited time, volunteers, and funding, herbicide backpacks are the tools used to deal with phrags, and it normally takes three days throughout the season to hit all the phrags in Saginaw Wetlands. Maranto also said that ideally, she would like to try mowing the phrags in the winter when the ground is frozen, and then spraying in the spring so that the vegetation is shorter, and therefore less herbicide would have to be used and it would be easier to spray. According to Maranto, the main goal of MNA in dealing with phragmites, especially at Saginaw Wetlands, is containment. Right around the sanctuary is a large invasion of phragmites around Lake Huron, and so without large-scale cooperation, all MNA can do is control the phrag invasion within their own sanctuary.

This summer, I interned at the Michigan Nature Association as a Stewardship Assistant. I spent the summer traveling to sanctuaries all around southeastern Michigan doing site-monitoring, setting up boundary markers, and most importantly: removing invasive species. We used various techniques to remove invasive species (not just phrags), such as just pulling them out of the ground, herbicide spraying, and cutting the plant and dabbing herbicide sponges on the cut stem. During my time with MNA, I got to meet some really great and dedicated volunteers, who were taking time out of their day, in the heat, to make their neighborhood a nicer place by managing their local sanctuary. Maranto told me that MNA attracts volunteers who are engaged and dedicated to helping MNA, so whenever someone leaves, it is hard to fill their shoes. For a small-scale conservation organization like the Michigan Nature Association, volunteers are vital for invasive species management. This was an interesting thing for me to learn this summer, as it really emphasizes the importance of local people caring about their neighborhood.

Lefglen sign

The entrance sign to Leflgen Sanctuary (photo: Hannah DeHetre)

My last day interning for MNA was phrag spraying at Saginaw Wetlands. Rachel, another intern, and I spent hours walking around and spraying any phragmites that we saw. It was hot and sunny, I had on a really heavy herbicide backpack, and it was really hard work. It takes real dedication and passion to work that hard for a goal that some people think is impossible to achieve, and when I asked Maranto if she ever feels discouraged, or like she is fighting a losing battle, she said that overall she is not discouraged with the work the MNA does and any discouragement that she may feel just comes from a tough day spraying phrags in the heat. She also says that overall she has seen an improvement in the phrag management in the five years that she has worked for MNA. She says that typically, one year they spray a large stand of phragmites, the next year they are dead, and the following years, volunteers just have to come back and spray any repsouts- so there is improvement, which is why Maranto does not feel discouraged.

The areas around Saginaw Wetlands are really infested, and MNA has to fight against that, and as I said before, MNA’s goal in phragmites management is containment, and that the best invasive management practice is to discover the invasion and remove it before it can get out of control, which MNA is doing well. When asked about MNA’s future plans for dealing with phragmites, Maranto said that if resources and personnel do not change, then it will be more of the same: spraying herbicide with volunteers who are willing to help. However, if some sort of biocontrol were to be developed and implemented, MNA would be a willing participant in that management practice. Another opportunity that Maranto would be interested in would be more collaborating with neighbors of sanctuaries, and with the help of partners to share the administrative burden and workload, bigger equipment could be used for ecological management.

volunteers

Another intern, Liz, and I taking a break after LOTS of phrag spraying. We still have a smile on our faces! (photo: Rachel Maranto)

The Michigan Nature Association is a conservation organization that manages and protects over 175 sanctuaries throughout Michigan. While working there this summer, I learned about and employed various management practices used by MNA to remove invasive species from their sanctuaries. More than that though, I learned about the power of local volunteers. These are people who just care about nature, and about their neighborhoods, and are willing to spend hours in the summer working hard outside for the sake of taking care of these sanctuaries. Effective conservation and management can only happen with the help of these volunteers (so go out and volunteer)!

monarch

Bonus: Monarch caterpillar that we saw at Saginaw Wetlands (photo: Rachel Maranto)

2016 Year in Review

2016 was an incredibly important and successful year for MNA! We are excited to provide this 2016 Year in Review, a snapshot of a remarkable year and a powerful testament to the tremendous work made possible by our members, volunteers, and donors. There are may stories to celebrate as we take a look back at a busy year. Here are just a few highlights:

  • We completed nine land acquisition projects adding more than 800 acres to our statewide network of nature sanctuaries.
  • We restored critical habitat for endangered species including the eastern prairie fringed orchid, Karner blue butterfly, Blanchard’s cricket frog and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake.
  • We worked with teachers and schools, and reached out to families and communities, to help connect children with nature.

Our founders envisioned an organization that would connect people with nature and leave a lasting legacy by protecting Michigan’s unique natural heritage. We can say with confidence that our 2016 accomplishments uphold that bold vision while preparing us for the difficult work ahead.

Thank you to our members, donors, and volunteers for making 2016 a great success and a year to remember! If you would like to support MNA, you can become a member or make a tax-deductible contribution.

2016 Year in Review Cover

 

MNA to honor outstanding volunteers at Volunteer & Donor Recognition Dinner

A festive group at a past Volunteer and Donor Recognition Dinner.

A festive group at a past Volunteer and Donor Recognition Dinner.

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Join the Michigan Nature Association for a night of good food and great fellowship as we honor those who have given their time and effort through the years to help conserve the natural beauty of Michigan. MNA is holding the 2013 Volunteer & Donor Recognition Dinner on October 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in East Lansing. MNA will present several awards, including the Volunteer of the Year Award and the Mason and Melvin Schafer Distinguished Service Award at the event.

The Volunteer of the Year Award is given to volunteers who devote many hours to MNA by attending workdays, completing file analysis, monitoring sanctuaries and volunteering in less than ideal weather conditions. This year’s Volunteer of the Year Award recipients are Bill McEachern, Barbara Mead, Mike Roys and Peter and Jill Pietila.

Charlie Eshbach, winner of this year's Mason and Melvin Schafer Distinguished Service Award

Charlie Eshbach, winner of this year’s Mason and Melvin Schafer Distinguished Service Award

The Mason and Melvin Schafer Distinguished Service Award is given to exemplary volunteers who have contributed to MNA over a minimum of 10 years. This year, the award is being given to Charles Eshbach for his service and dedication to preserving nature sanctuaries over the past 40 years.

Along with honoring these extraordinary volunteers, the event will also feature a silent auction that will benefit MNA’s conservation actions. Guests will have the opportunity to bid on big-ticket items, such as a sea kayak tour for two people and a weeklong stay at a cottage up north.

Everyone is welcome to attend the dinner. Tickets are $30, and can be purchased by calling (866) 223-2231, or emailing dcooke@michigannature.org. The deadline to RSVP is October 11. Reserve your seat today to be part of this special event!