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 The James B. and Ann V. Nicholson Nature Center in Clinton Township is the first Macomb County-owned property to contain a conservation easement. It is located at 21417 Dunham Road, behind the Macomb County Public Works Office.

The James B. and Ann V. Nicholson Nature Center in Clinton Township is the first Macomb County-owned property to contain a conservation easement. It is located at 21417 Dunham Road, behind the Macomb County Public Works Office.

Photo provided by Kristen Myers


Conservation groups offer local avenues of action

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published March 4, 2020

 Participants in a bat monitoring program use technology to detect and record bat echolocations at Anchor Bay Woods Preserve in New Baltimore.

Participants in a bat monitoring program use technology to detect and record bat echolocations at Anchor Bay Woods Preserve in New Baltimore.

Photo provided by Kristen Myers

 Students take a field trip to the Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow, near Chelsea, Michigan. It is among the vast network of nature preserves created by The Nature Conservancy.

Students take a field trip to the Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow, near Chelsea, Michigan. It is among the vast network of nature preserves created by The Nature Conservancy.

Photo by Michael D-L Jordan, provided by Melissa Molenda

 The Nature Conservancy recently completed work on a new parking lot at Sacred Heart Church in Detroit to improve stormwater and drain management.

The Nature Conservancy recently completed work on a new parking lot at Sacred Heart Church in Detroit to improve stormwater and drain management.

Photo by Jason Whalen, provided by Melissa Molenda

METRO DETROIT — One of the benefits of living in Michigan is that nature is never far away.

In order to ensure natural habitats remain intact, nonprofit conservation groups, such as the Six Rivers Land Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy, work to protect Michigan’s approximately 8 million acres of public land.

The groups work to prevent the all-too-common decimation of wildlife corridors in suburban settings that are sacrificed to make way for new building developments, places where childhood memories often were made.

The Six Rivers Land Conservancy operates in the watersheds of the Clinton, Flint, Huron, Rouge, Shiawassee and St. Clair rivers in Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Genesee and St. Clair counties.

It forms partnerships with private landowners who voluntarily choose to permanently protect their land, and with public partners to create parks and nature preserves primarily through conservation easements.

Conservation easements restrict development on the land and grant the Six Rivers Land Conservancy the ability to enforce the restrictions. The conservation easements are binding and protect the land in perpetuity.

The Six Rivers Land Conservancy’s service area covers 1 million acres, of which 200,000 acres are currently protected from development and are open for public access, according to Six Rivers Land Conservancy Deputy Director Kristen Myers.

“Six Rivers has currently protected over 2,100 acres in our service area,” she said in an email. “Our mission is to increase public access to nature by conserving, acquiring and protecting more land in the most populated region that drives the state’s economy, and where the majority of the population resides.”

The group established 23 conservation easements, including the Nicholson Nature Center in Clinton Township, the Drayton Plains Nature Center in Waterford and Cranberry Lake Park in Oakland Township. It also established seven nature preserves, including the most recent 320-acre Anchor Bay Woods Preserve in New Baltimore.

“Six Rivers and our municipal and nonprofit partners have preserved 171 of the 320 acres so far, and our goal continues to be to acquire and preserve the remaining 149 acres by the end of 2022,” Myers said.

She said the Six Rivers Land Conservancy is the only land conservancy in southeast Michigan with an active assist program.

“We have the ability to purchase and hold land for protection or park development while government agencies apply for acquisition grants or secure other forms of funding,” Myers said. “This is important because there may be time constraints from sellers or competition from developers to purchase the property.”

She said the process to obtain a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, which can cover 75% of the purchase price, can take up to two years, jeopardizing purchase agreements and affecting selling prices.

Once a municipality secures the funding it needs, Myers said, it purchases the property back at the original price and covers any fees, interest or facilitation costs.

“More municipalities are hearing about our assist program and have contacted us for help. We are currently active in three assist projects, with three more pending, most in Macomb and St. Clair counties,” she said. “In addition, if residents call us, we also discuss conservation options, and if they contact their local representatives, it can help open the dialogue with their community for acquisition.”

She advised concerned residents to get involved in their local recreation master plan, community master plan or zoning plan process to let leaders know land conservation is important and to ask that their strategic plans include it.

Besides protecting land, Myers said, the Six Rivers Land Conservancy also maintains it. Residents can get involved locally by volunteering at stewardship workdays, which involve pulling invasive species like garlic mustard, dame’s rocket, autumn olive and buckthorn.

“It is a way to educate the public about land management and what they can do at a smaller level to make a difference,” she said. “We also have other outreach activities that stress the importance of conservation for wildlife, such as bat monitoring hikes, native plant hikes and invasive species workshops.”

For nearly 40 years, The Nature Conservancy has worked in Michigan to protect more than 386,000 acres of land, hundreds of lakes and miles of rivers. It assists in more than 40 local land trusts throughout the state.

Melissa Molenda, associate marketing director for The Nature Conservancy, highlighted the Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow, near Chelsea, Michigan.

The nature preserve features more than 260 species of wildflowers and other native plants. During the spring months, visitors can enjoy the songs of toads and frogs and see vernal pools, which are temporary pools that are home to insects, snakes and amphibians.

“It has a boardwalk running through it, and we provide a guided audio tour,” Molenda said. “Spring is the best time to visit Sharon Hollow. Soon the flowers will start blooming, and there will be a carpet of trillium on the forest floor in late April, early May.”

Globally, The Nature Conservancy is working to help cities adapt to changing climate and other environmental issues that impact people and nature by promoting natural infrastructure solutions. It works in all 50 states and more than 70 countries worldwide.

The group has been working closely with the city of Detroit to establish green stormwater infrastructure, or the installation of plants, trees and permeable surfaces to help capture and slow stormwater runoff.

The Nature Conservancy recently completed work on a new parking lot at the historic Sacred Heart Church in Detroit to improve stormwater and drain management. It also partnered with Eastern Market Corp. to help it become a thriving natural environment.

Molenda said The Nature Conservancy acquires and protects land of ecological importance to protect biodiversity for people and nature.

“Our staff of scientists develop ecoregional maps that prioritize places for protection based on critical habitats, declining species, climate change resilience and other ecological factors,” she said in an email. “We partner often with public and private agencies to protect and restore places together, from the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula to Saugatuck shoreline to Great Lakes coastal wetlands.”

One of The Nature Conservancy’s notable efforts includes assisting the state of Michigan to acquire 100 acres of sand dunes formerly owned by a sand mining company to be added to Ludington State Park by providing $1 million toward the $17 million cost.

It also works with 140 farms in the Saginaw Bay watershed to increase soil health in farming communities, applied wetland-safe herbicides to manage invasive species across 262 acres, planted 35 acres of retired farm fields with 75 types of native species, and completed 190 acres of prescribed burns on fire-adapted habitats this field season.

For more information about the Six Rivers Land Conservancy and its upcoming events, visit www.sixriversrlc.org. For more information about The Nature Conservancy and its upcoming events, visit www.nature.org/michigan.