Trading in Sandals for Rain Boots

October 5, 2012

Fall is upon us, and with the season’s change come changes in our projects and priorities too.  Contrary to popular belief — and perhaps evidence I may have presented in previous publications — working on a stewardship crew does not always mean hanging out in the woods (or on the lakeshore) collecting invasive species data, photographing birds and butterflies, and relishing the fresh air.  Sometimes we have to sit in an office chair and stare at a computer too.  Actually, the last month or so has been spent indoors, contemplating our next moves; in other words — planning, planning, planning!  Our days have been filled with an assortment of GIS mapping, data analysis, report writing, and meetings — which, let’s be honest, isn’t nearly as exciting to read about as our field adventures.  In short, the time spent in the office was productive, and the following is a brief synopsis of our future intentions.

Developing and implementing a plan to, quite literally, “sustain our Great Lakes,” has become a bit overwhelming, as you could imagine.  To be given a task as great as this has proved to be exhilarating, humbling, and baffling all at the same time.  We want to be sure we are handling this project in the most efficient, effective, and beneficial way to generate the greatest possible success.  Tossing ideas back and forth, we have begun to formulate an overall strategic plan for tackling the invasive plants threatening the shoreline.  One of our biggest obstacles remains that almost all of the invasive plants documented thus far are residing on private property.  The logistics involved with controlling these plant populations are too cumbersome to bother explaining, but as a result, we have decided to focus on the highest quality public lands first. 

The Sustain Our Great Lakes grant requests not only that we survey the eastern Lake Michigan shoreline, but that we also survey up to 2 miles inland where possible.  This means moving away from the water’s edge and treading into the interior of many of our state, county, and township parks, as well as SWLMC’s lakeshore preserves, to complete thorough surveys and documentation of the targeted invasives.  I have been tasked with identifying our highest priority areas.  While more data is needed to confidently assign priority to coastal lands, some of the determining factors include land type and accessibility (public/private), geographic location, invasives documented (including species and size of infestation), and quality of existing habitat.  We will be teaming up with Michigan’s DNR to provide their stewardship team with survey data and to discuss treatment options.  The state park system already has a strong stewardship program so we don’t anticipate finding many invasive plant populations in high-quality areas of the parks’ interiors.

Treatment will begin this fall in areas that require no special permission or legal permits.  In fact, we have already begun removing Japanese honeysuckle vine from Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, one of the two SWMLC preserves located on Lake Michigan.  We have decided it makes the most sense to push the invasive plant populations eastward, away from the lakeshore, keeping the bluff as pristine as possible.  In areas where control and treatment are feasible, we will begin treating the invasives nearest to the lake and work our way inland as time and resources allow.  We have also decided to take a research-based approach to treatment, known as adaptive management.  Using this method, we will have the opportunity to learn as much as possible from this ecosystem and alter our management activities accordingly.  Our goal is to refrain from using herbicides with the exception of special cases and to experiment with natural integrated pest management techniques, including hand pulling, cutting, and fire.  This is merely the beginning of a very extensive management plan that will hopefully leave the southern Lake Michigan shoreline better than when it was first surveyed.

With that said, I should be honest, we didn’t spend every day in the office this past month . . .  We had to keep our heads balanced to keep the good ideas flowing, so we did do a little surveying at some beautiful coastal lands including Warren Dunes Natural Area, Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve, and Pilgrim Haven.  And the good news — we haven’t yet found anything alarming in any of these places.  So as we trade in our t-shirts and sandals for fleeces and rain boots, I have to say I am looking forward to stepping “off the beaten path” and into a new chapter of coastal discoveries.

— Kristin Schinske

[photos of Warren Dunes and honeysuckle at Pilgrim Haven by Kristin Schinske]