There’s much to do on a piece of land once it’s protected as a preserve or natural area. GTRLC is responsible for maintenance and caretaking at all of our nature preserves and several of the properties that we helped protect that are now owned by local units of government. Prior to the land being open to the public, we’re often involved in cleaning up old dump sites and removing buildings (if necessary). Once the land becomes a preserve or public natural area, we’re tasked with building and maintaining trails, parking lots, benches, signs and other infrastructure. We also must monitor for boundary infringements, clean up trash or vandalism, remove obstacles and much more. This bread-and-butter stewardship work ensures that the public can make the best use out of our protected lands.
GTRLC has been at the forefront of the effort to monitor and control high priority invasive species in the region since 2002, when we first began garlic mustard removal efforts on our nature preserves. Our methods include hand removal, mechanical removal (using heavy equipment), the careful use of herbicide, prescribed burns, grazing, repairing hydrology and much more. Because the threats posed by invasive species go beyond political boundaries and any single organization’s service area, the Conservancy partners with several organizations to manage these issues. We are a proud member of the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network, which coordinates efforts to battle invasives in the region. We’re also involved in several monitoring initiatives, including“Eyes on the Forest,” which focuses on harmful invasive insect species such as the emerald ash borer, beech scale and more.
Often times, simply protecting land is not enough. Although much of the natural land protected by GTRLC is in a relatively pristine state, sometimes it is necessary to repair an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed by years or even decades of man-made impacts. GTRLC’s staff prioritizes large-scale restoration projects to benefit plant and animal species by improving habitat. Restoration is a long-term process that requires great effort to maintain, but this hard work has a cascade of ecological benefits to flora and fauna over time. Two excellent examples of our restoration work are the Arcadia Dunes Grassland and Arcadia Marsh projects:
Many plant and animal species on the State list of endangered, threatened and special concern list depend upon habitats found on GTRLC properties. Ensuring they are doing well is a top priority for GTRLC, and regular monitoring helps us keep an eye the status of these and other species. Ecological research and monitoring also helps us make management decisions regarding restoration needs, invasive species prioritization, trail & infrastructure locations and more.
One interesting monitoring task is the Floristic Quality Assessment (FQA). The FQA was developed by the DNR in order to aid in classifying the significance of an area based on its plant life. And although it only measures plants, there is a strong indication that higher plant diversity is correlated with higher overall biodiversity. Every plant in the state has been assigned a coefficient of conservatism (C) ranging from 0-10. A C value of 0 would represent a common plant that might occur anywhere, while a C value of 10 indicates a plant that is found only in undisturbed or very specific habitats. The average FQI value for natural land in Michigan is approximately 20, which does not indicate a high quality site from a floral standpoint, while a majority of GTRLC preserves are above 40. An FQI of 35 or greater is considered significant from a statewide perspective, and an FQI above 50 is considered very rare and extremely significant.
GTRLC continuously strives to balance community needs with appropriate access given plant and wildlife considerations, as well as sensitive natural features on a property. For example, at Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve, community feedback made it clear that a trail through the Marsh would be a desired asset for the community and incorporating universal access was important as well. As part of the trail planning process, staff assessed water levels, wildlife use, and other variables to select an appropriate route, and since 2013, local Audubon volunteers are assisting with marsh bird monitoring efforts along the proposed trail route to assess nesting bird use of that corridor. The data they collect will inform potential trail closure on portions of the trail that may be needed.
Before a new hiking, boardwalk, or mountain biking trail improvements are made, GTRLC strives to survey the trail corridor in advance for uncommon or unique plant species along the trail which may require the trail to be rerouted, or a plant rescue day to be scheduled.