Michigan’s public lands have changed significantly since the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy began in 1982. There is more of it and it is managed much differently. The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the DNR juggle a wide array of interests in establishing priorities.
Less than one percent of the Great Lakes Basin’s original forest remains. About 213, 800 of the 600,000 remaining old growth acres are in Michigan. In the Upper Peninsula, Porcupine Mountains State Park has 31,000 acres, the largest ancient northern hardwood forest on the continent. Also in the UP are Sylvania National Wilderness (18,000 acres), Isle Royale National Park (86,000 acres), Dukes Experimental Forest (8,000 acres), and the private Huron Mountain Club Reserve (6,500 acres). In the Lower Peninsula, the major old growth area is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (12,000 acres). This has changed little in the last 30 years, signifying that at least the rate of loss has been slowed.
U.S. Forest Service lands have become increasingly managed as habitat for rare species such as the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, endangered Karner Blue butterfly, and sharp-tailed grouse. Federal refuges were once managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service almost exclusively for waterfowl. Now, the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge also manages habitat for the eastern fox snake and trumpeter swan. Lake sturgeon now spawn on a reef the MWC helped create in the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
When the MWC was founded, there was great need for habitat restorations on State Game Areas. Improvements to wetlands and grasslands were frequently done with a mix of state and private sector dollars. Then in the 1990’s considerable federal money also became available for such work on state lands. Now, federal rules and state cutbacks will likely soon shrink budgets for habitat restorations and maintenance. Many state lands remain overgrown with invasive exotic species and urgently need management to reach their full potential.
The state’s Land Trust Fund has been used to acquire important lands especially along our Great Lakes coast. New opportunities to obtain lands for green space and wildlife are available in decaying urban areas where vacant lots have plummeted in value.The next article will appear on October 15, 2012.