GTRLC partners with many like-minded organizations in order to achieve collective conservation goals. Below are stories of just some of these partnerships.

Organization for Bat Conservation

There was a time when bats were far less understood – and much more maligned – than they are today. After much education and outreach by naturalists and conservation groups, even most schoolchildren understand the importance bats play in controlling insects. A single bat can eat thousands of insects each night, including mosquitos and pests that can cause harm to our farm crops and forests.

But despite the boost to their public approval rating over the years, many species of bats are still very much at risk from habitat loss, degradation, disease and other factors. As with most conservation efforts, efforts to preserve and protect bat populations need to start with a thorough understanding of the state and location of at-risk species.

GTRLC recently began an exciting partnership with the Organization for Bat Conservation, a Michigan-based nonprofit and the largest bat-focused conservation group in the Midwest. OBC is based out of and works closely with the Bloomfield Hills-based Cranbrook Institute of Science.

In the summer of 2016, GTRLC worked with OBC and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a monitoring project to survey the bats in a portion of GTRLC’s service area. Using high-tech monitoring equipment and protocols provided by OBC, GTRLC stewardship staff and longtime volunteer Paula Dreeszen conducted an acoustic monitoring survey along 30 miles of roads near Fruithaven and Arcadia Dunes.

Using special audio recording equipment designed to pick up noises made by bats, GTRLC was able to identify six different species of bats – including two species designated as “special concern” by the state – and get a general idea of where concentrations of these bats are.

“It’s really useful data that we hadn’t been able to obtain previously,” said Angie Lucas, GTRLC Senior Preserve Steward. “And this project gives us an understanding and awareness of what to look for on preserves that we didn’t have before.”

Such information is very useful to GTRLC as it makes future management decisions.

“It helps us to be generally aware that these species are present and a general idea of where they’re located,” Lucas said. “For example, if we’re doing trail work, we need to be keeping an eye out for potential roosting trees and other structures that might be used for roosting.”

OBC will use the data collected by GTRLC and several other partner organizations to allow biologists and natural resource managers to identify areas of conservation importance in the state, determine when management actions are needed and decide where to concentrate management activities, said Giorgia Auteri, Citizen Science Coordinator for OBC.

The data can also be compiled with data from other states to paint a picture of relative bat activity levels and abundances at a national level. The data will also help identify species which may be declining, and in need of extra protection efforts, Auteri said. In addition, OBC hopes to document areas that rare species are using, detect changes in how many bats there are, and identify shifts in relative abundance of one species compared to others.

None of this would be possible without partners like GTRLC. It’s expected that the partnership will continue – and perhaps expand in scope – next year.

“Organizations like GTRLC greatly expand the amount and quality of work that we are able to accomplish,” Auteri said. “Our partner organizations are more familiar with their region than we are, and thus are better able to directly recruit and train volunteers, as well as to design survey routes.”

North American Orchid Conservation Center

Throughout Michigan and the Midwest, there’s a long list of highly adaptable plants that can grow pretty much anywhere. Orchids are not on that list.

Many species of these colorful flowers are as specialized as they are beautiful, requiring just the right soil types and the presence of certain types of fungus to thrive. As such, they are particularly sensitive to habitat loss, degradation and disturbance. Add foraging from an booming deer population, harvesting by unwitting flower lovers and other threats, and the outlook isn’t rosy.

In fact, of the more than 250 native orchid species in the United States and Canada, more than half are threatened or endangered.

“Orchids are under a stress due to loss of habitat, overabundant populations of deer, invasive plants and many other factors,” GTRLC Senior Preserve Steward Angie Lucas said.

GTRLC has recently entered into a collaboration with the North American Orchid Conservation Center, itself a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Botanic Garden. The organization’s main goal is to establish a secure collection of seeds and other genetic material, which will allow for a better understanding of orchid ecology and the development of the best ways to conserve and restore dwindling populations.

By collaborating with organizations like the Conservancy, NAOCC will be able to gather material from specific regions across the country. GTRLC is fortunate to have more than 23 species already documented on its preserves and sanctuaries.

“We want to collect materials (seeds, mycorrhizal fungi, leaves) from native orchids in the US and Canada,” said Dennis Whigham, a senior botanist with the Smithsonian. “When we conduct studies that will eventually enable us to propagate native species for conservation and restoration, we want to use genetic material that is geographically appropriate.”

This work will also let GTRLC gain a better understanding of exactly what grows on GTRLC preserves.

“In addition to assisting with future restoration research with NOACC, this collaboration also provides opportunity to gain a better quantitative understanding of current orchid population and status on our preserves,” Lucas said.

The ultimate long-term goal is to develop reliable ways to restore orchid populations and protect existing populations, with knowledge of the best techniques being shared with regional partners for their own restoration efforts.

“GTRLC will know that genetic material from species in your area is secured in regional and national seed and fungal banks,” Whigham said. “In the long term, you will be assured that you will know how to propagate all species for conservation and restoration efforts – including enabling people to establish sustainable populations of genetically appropriate plants in gardens, arboretums, and more.”

SEEDS

When it came time to build a small viewing deck at Green Point Dunes, which offers some of the best views of any of GTRLC’s preserves, Steve Lagerquist had plenty of options.

He could have hired a general contractor, of course, and the deck would have turned out just fine. But what if there was a way to achieve some other positive outcomes along the way? Lagerquist – a land stewardship specialist at GTRLC – decided to reach out the folks at SEEDS.

SEEDS is a Traverse City-based nonprofit that works heavily in the fields of ecology and sustainable design, often involving at-risk youth in the process. The organization had previously done some work with invasive species removal for GTRLC, and Lagerquist felt an infrastructure build would be a good fit. The folks at SEEDS jumped at the opportunity to get their youth working on another meaningful project in the community.

A youth team from SEEDS designed and built a beautiful deck with a natural, rough-hewn look. What’s more, the deck is built from black locust, a troublesome invasive species that SEEDS crews previously helped remove from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“It’s a great story to tell,” Lagerquist said. “They hire local youth in order to teach them useful skills, and there’s the black locust aspect – It’s just fantastic all around.”

The picturesque deck, completed in 2011, was just the first of what’s turning into many partner projects with SEEDS. Lagerquist tapped the group in 2015 to revamp aging infrastructure at Pyatt Lake on Old Mission Peninsula. They’re now set to build black locust benches for the upcoming Overlook Trail at Arcadia Dunes, a universal access trail to be completed this summer, and to improve the trail at the Elberta Dunes South Natural Area.

SEEDS considers GTRLC a tremendous partner, said Bill Watson, SEEDS’ Youth Development Director.

“GTRLC staff has always been great at engaging our young people. They help them understand why they’re doing what they are doing, how important the work is and what the impact of the work is,” Watson said. “That’s not always easy when you are cutting or pulling invasives or hauling black locust lumber up a steep hill.”

The partnership is a true “win-win,” Watson said. At-risk youth gain skills, get a chance to make a difference, and GTRLC benefits from a project sure to be enjoyed by the public for years to come.

“This allows young people to do meaningful work that has long-term positive impacts for both the land and themselves. Our members receive dozens and dozens of unsolicited ‘thank yous’ from people they don’t know who visit the natural areas where they are working,” he said. “For many of the youth working in SEEDS, they have never been thanked for anything. They end up feeling proud of themselves and the work they are a part of.”

Invasive Species Network

GTRLC has protected thousands of acres in 25 years, but it’s not enough to simply protect land and walk away. The Grand Traverse region, like so many others around the state and country, is under siege from a host of invasive species that have the ability to drastically – and sometimes permanently – damage local ecosystems.

That’s why GTRLC’s stewardship team is constantly working to battle these pests. More than two-thirds of team’s time is dedicated to eradicating invasive species, and such work could easily be their lone full-time job if not for other pressing stewardship needs. Garlic mustard, spotted knapweed, phragmites, autumn olive, baby’s breath – the list of enemies is long and daunting.

Perhaps more than anything else, the fight against invasive species requires a coordinated effort. Enter the Invasive Species Network, a four-county collaborative organization dedicated to the fight against invasive species in northwest Michigan. GTRLC joins the Leelanau Conservancy, the Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau and Manistee conservation districts, the Watershed Center-Grand Traverse Bay and dozens of other organizations as partners in the ISN, with GTRLC Land Stewardship Specialist Jon Throop serving as the current chairman of the organization’s steering committee.

ISN is entirely grant funded. Its steering committee completed an in-depth process to choose which invasive species have the highest priority for control. Aside from serving as the go-to spot for knowledge about the whereabouts and effective control of invasive species, ISN also seeks grant funding to hire crews to help in areas that require attention, coordinates with similar networks across the country and works heavily to educate the general public about invasive species management.

“ISN does a tremendous job with outreach and education,” Throop said. “Our region is in so much of a better place when it comes to the general public’s understanding of the type of work we do, the importance of that work, and most importantly what they can do to help stop the spread of invasives.”

GTRLC benefits from its involvement in many ways. Aside from receiving the latest knowledge in regards to invasive species management, the conservancy also sometimes receives direct help in the form of ISN-hired crews to battle invasives on conservancy preserves. GTRLC also uses ISN-produced outreach materials when working with landowners.

In turn, ISN gets a big boost from the conservancy’s involvement.  The time GTRLC staff already spends battling invasives makes ISN much more attractive in the eyes of agencies and foundations that provide grants, and sometimes that staff time can even be used as a local match for such grants.

“The leadership and stewardship GTRLC provides to ISN and its many partners is a part of what makes ISN successful, both by grant metrics and in the eyes of the community,” ISN Coordinator Katie Grzesiak said. “Because of its many on-the-ground efforts throughout ISN’s service area, GTRLC is able to share its expertise and resources to make the entire region stronger in its efforts to protect, enhance, and promote northwest Michigan’s natural habitats.

Yuba Creek Autumn Olive

Autumn olive has a long and unfortunate history in Michigan and throughout the Midwest.  Beginning in the 1940s and as recently as a few decades ago, local conservation organizations actually encouraged the planting of this non-native shrub as a way to provide wildlife habitat and erosion control in disturbed areas.

These good intentions took a turn for the worst when this incredibly dense shrub, native to Asia, began to spread aggressively and outcompete native plants. And despite the now mind-boggling assertion that it’s good for wildlife, it’s more or less the exact opposite, providing next to nothing in quality food or nesting habitat.

The Yuba Creek Natural Area in Grand Traverse County’s Acme Township is one of many places that suffers from the proliferation of this invasive plant. Protected by GTRLC in 2002 and owned by the township, this wonderful  413-acre natural area protects more than a mile of its namesake creek, along with a wide range of other habitats. But before eradication efforts began, nearly 40 acres of the natural area had an estimated 80 percent autumn olive ground cover.

Beginning in late winter of 2016 – treatment of autumn olive is most effective in the fall and winter months – GTRLC and other partners, including the Ruffed Grouse Society and a local Eagle Scout named  Sam Rojewski, began efforts to treat autumn olive at Yuba. Through a combination of chemical and mechanical methods, crews were able to treat about half of the heavily infested area so far.

Work is continuing this fall, and GTRLC hopes to eventually eradicate all autumn olive at the property – through that will likely take years of check-ups to remove any new growth.

GTRLC has been “extremely instrumental” in the removal of autumn olive at Yuba, Acme Township Zoning Administrator Shawn Winter said.

“We are a small township with very limited staff, and we simply do not have the resources to address such a widespread problem on our own,” he said.  “The GTRLC has been able to provide workers on the ground through their AmeriCorps volunteers and work on eradicating Autumn Olive at a pace that we would never be able to do by ourselves.”

And as is the case in almost every occasion where GTRLC provides assistance to a local municipality, conservancy staffers have been able to provide the expert knowledge and connections to get the job done.

“They have the expertise in best management practices that we lack, and connections to organizations such as the Ruffed Grouse Society that we were able to partner with for mechanical treatment,” Winter said.

GTRLC has been glad to help out. Controlling autumn olive at Yuba will allow native plants to once again flourish in heavily affected areas, providing quality food and nesting habitat. From a recreational standpoint, removal of this incredibly dense shrub will allow for better placement of trails across this gorgeous property. In addition, it’s been great to see the community have an excuse to roll up its sleeves and help out at the property.

“Acme Township was a great partner in the acquisition of the property, and as time goes on, as some of the early interest and enthusiasm wanes, it’s great to have an opportunity to really bring the community back together and get people engaged on that property,” GTRLC Land Stewardship Director David Foote said.

Audubon Clubs

It’s no accident that dozens of different habitat types lie within the nearly 40,000 acres protected by GTRLC since its inception. From dense woods and grasslands to coastal marshes and vernal pools, the conservancy has deliberately worked to save the best available examples of increasingly uncommon habitat.

What this means is even the casual outdoorsman can spot a very wide variety of birds and other wildlife in a few visits to key GTRLC preserves and natural areas. Follow a person with a more trained eye and a good pair of binoculars, however, and you’ll likely be in for some real treats.

Over the years, partnerships with local Audubon clubs – particularly the Grand Traverse and Benzie clubs – has allowed GTRLC to collect detailed information about wildlife on our preserves and protected areas. These clubs also frequently promote and lead wildlife and birding hikes on GTRLC preserves, engaging local residents and visitors alike.

“Not only do these clubs help us know what’s out on our protected land and land we’re considering protecting, but they are also tremendous ambassadors for the work we do,” GTRLC Executive Director Glen Chown said. “They are steadfast and invaluable partners in conservation.”

The Benzie Audubon Club was even instrumental in the creation and rehabilitation of the grasslands portion of Arcadia Dunes: The C.S. Mott Preserve. After GTRLC purchased a huge tract of land from Consumers Energy as part of the sweeping Coastal Campaign in 2003-2005, the conservancy sold large chunks of agricultural land back to local farmers.  The Audubon Club urged the conservancy to retain and rehabilitate the 400-acre grassland portion. It could have been used for farming, but is home to a considerable number of species that use increasingly rare grassland habitat.

GTRLC has since completed large-scale invasive species remediation and habitat restoration work at both the grassland and nearby Arcadia Marsh, among other places. Regular bird counts undertaken by the Benzie club have taken careful stock of birds in both places throughout the restoration processes.

“We wanted to be sure to monitor the grassland over time to make sure our restoration efforts were actually benefitting the birds,” GTRLC Senior Preserve Steward Angie Lucas said. “The goal for a lot of these projects is to improve habitat, so having the data to back up that you’re actually improving habitat for these species is very useful.”

Paula Dreeszen, a longtime GTRLC volunteer who also is very active with the Benzie club, said club members value GTRLC for all the work it’s done to protect and restore valuable habitat. GTRLC has always done a good job caring for land, she said, and she knows the club’s work monitoring and reporting birds is very useful to GTRLC stewardship staff as they work on preserves.

“We hope this information helps GTRLC staff make good decisions regarding stewardship practices, public access plans and habitat conservation,” she said. “By reporting bird counts, birders are also informing bird conservation more widely, across the state, country and world.”

The clubs educate and encourage members and non-members alike to engage in “citizen science” programs like the web-based eBird, which allows visitors to record the birds they see on any particular preserve or natural area in an online database accessible by GTRLC.

“There are people out on the marsh every day, and their eyes and ears become our eyes and ears,” GTRLC Stewardship Director David Foote said. “It’s a lot more than we can do on our own.”

The Audubon clubs regularly lead hikes at the grassland, marsh and other GTRLC preserves and protected areas. Certain fall and spring hikes are heavily attended, bringing valuable exposure to both the land and GTRLC’s work throughout the region.

“Birdwatching is really an extraordinary industry and a wonderful outdoor recreational opportunity for the people who engage in it,” Foote said. “For places like the grasslands and Arcadia marsh to be recognized for fantastic birding places where people can come and look for some pretty rare species, that’s pretty neat and it’s great exposure for our work and mission.”

Pollinator Strips/American Farmland Trust

Since the dawn of agriculture, pollinators have played arguably the most important role in the production of dozens of the most widely consumed fruits and vegetables.

Many of these plants wouldn’t naturally exist without pollinators, which carry pollen from one plant to another as they feed on flowers. This movement of pollen fertilizes flowers and allows these plants to reproduce. While birds, bats and other organism serve in pollinator roles, the majority are bees, flies or other insects.

Unfortunately, pollinators are increasingly at risk throughout the nation and world. Among several factors, changes in agricultural practices – particularly a move towards large-scale monocultures and heavier use of pesticides – has led to sharp declines of natural pollination services in some areas.

GTRLC is teaming up with the American Farmland Trust in a groundbreaking partnership that will increase plantings of so-called “pollinator strips” on protected lands throughout our region. After receiving a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant, the AFT contracted with GTRLC to coordinate the planting of native species known to sustain pollinators.

“We’re very excited about this program,” said Vic Lane, who is overseeing the project for GTRLC. “Pollinators serve a tremendously valuable role, both for farmers and in our local ecosystems.”

Under the agreement, Lane and GTRLC will reach out to owners of protected lands to see if they are interested in having a two-acre planting for pollinators. Lane and AFT worked with Michigan State University to create a “very customized” northwest Michigan seed mix.

“Several of their entomologists and plant biologists were involved in this, and they’ve used data from several of their protects to inform this project and make it so much better,” Lane said. “We’ll be able to create a mix that is region specific, made up of plants that will both do well here and attract the best pollinators.”

The situation should be a “win-win” for everyone involved, Lane said. Farmers will receive a small payment for hosting the plantings, but they’ll also be able to make use of land that would likely otherwise be fallow. And of course they’ll receive the benefits from having pollinators nearby.

“Simply telling people that pollinators are good is one thing,” Lane said. “Having them fully realize the benefits and the ecosystem services that pollinators provide is another.”

Lane is in the early stages of discussions with landowners. The goal is to find 20 sites, and to be very strategic about their placement. Many sites will likely be on farmland, but Lane won’t rule out other protected land that’s near large amounts of farmland.

“We want to set up this program to provide the best pollination services to our entire agricultural community,” he said.

AFT is also working to find businesses or organizations willing to invest in pollinator strip plantings.  It’s part of early forays into creating defined markets for services that boost the environment, something that very much interests the folks at the AFT.

“If we can start creating a market for ecosystem services, things like water quality, air quality, carbon sequestration, that’s going to be a very positive step,” Lane said. “In the future, it might not be just about how much money a farmer makes for the cherries he sells, it’s could also be about how much money he makes for the practices he implements that are valuable to everyone in different ways.”

Working with GTRLC was a “natural fit” for AFT, said Brian Brandt, director of Agriculture Conservation Innovations at AFT. The two organizations have worked well together for many years, and cooperation made sense for this project.

“Since we were focusing on getting pollinator habitat on preserved farms, we knew GTRLC would have connections to those landowners with existing easements and also continue to work with landowners to preserve new farms,” Brandt said. “GTRLC also is already working with farmers to help them implement conservation practices on their farms.  Considering all of these things I don’t think any other organization would have been a better partner for us to work with.”

The program is expected to get into full swing in 2017. Some details need to be ironed out, including who will handle the actual plantings, but for now, things are off to a promising start.

“This is really a pilot project at this point; we still need to work out many details of how the program will operate, the best way to work with farmers to implement the pollinator habitat, and the most effective way to educate potential investors about the benefits of pollinator habitat,” Brandt said. “In the future we hope to expand to other areas in Michigan and throughout the Midwest.”

For more information, contact Vic Lane at (231) 929-7911 or vlane@www.gtrlc.org