Michigan

A Year in Conservation

2021 Michigan Results Report

Kayakers paddle through the Two Hearted River. On the right is a sandy shore. On the left is a colorful forest of trees.
Conservation Results Kayakers paddle through the Two Hearted River. © Michael D-L Jordan/DLP

Michigan Conservation Results Report

In 2021, TNC and our partners made big strides for Michigan’s lands, waters, wildlife and people. View our 2021 report to explore these accomplishments.

Patrick Doran headshot.
Patrick Doran Associate State Director © Jason Whalen

Introduction

Big, Bold, Necessary

Nature is a part of us. It’s the water we drink, the forests that protect our atmosphere and the soil that grows our food. Our future is inseparable from nature’s future, too. Our planet faces tough challenges but, with nature’s help, we can overcome them.

In 2021, TNC made big strides for Michigan’s lands, waters, wildlife and people by collaborating with many partners—including nature itself. I’m proud to share highlights of these accomplishments with you in this report: from research that’s addressing key questions for fisheries restoration to 15,000 acres protected in the Upper Peninsula that conserve an incredible piece of Michigan’s forest legacy.

From the heart of the Great Lakes, our Michigan team is making a tangible contribution to TNC’s global 2030 goals. These are the bold, science-based goals that lay out what TNC needs to achieve this decade to help shape a greener, healthier world.

What does that mean? It means high-priority conservation projects based on proven science. It means policies and investments that support nature and its solutions for climate mitigation, clean water and more. It means brave new partnerships and system-scale innovation.

Let’s demonstrate what is truly possible for Michigan by doing the big, bold work this decade calls for—with urgency, at scale, together. Thank you for your partnership!

In conservation,

Patrick Doran
Associate State Director

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Resilience, Rebuilt

TNC centers the conservation of resilient lands and waters in our work to ensure the living legacy of Michigan’s unique and irreplaceable biodiversity. From northern forests to southern fens, this also provides numerous benefits to the well-being of people, including climate mitigation and clean water.

  • A silhouette of a river running through some trees.

    15,416

    Acres of land protected

  • Silhouette of a cluster of trees.

    51,450

    Trees planted on TNC & partner lands

  • Silhouette of an invasive plant and a chainsaw.

    715

    Acres surveyed and treated for invasive species

  • Silhouette of two paw prints.

    26.2

    Miles of trails maintained at TNC preserves

More from the Report

  • A Connected Network: Partnerships & Lands
  • Cycles of Restoration
  • Planting Where the Sun Shines

View the full report

PROJECT HIGHLIGHT | Investing in Our Preserves

TNC’s preserves across the state represent many facets of Michigan’s natural communities and offer unique opportunities for people to explore and connect with nature. When these places are accessible, well marked and thoughtfully managed, visitors can have richer and more immersive experiences.

That’s why, in 2021, we did a comprehensive review of the Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve’s trail system, looking for ways we could reopen closed trail sections and offer visitors a more varied experience of the preserve’s many natural features, without negative ecological impacts. We also completed a new parking lot at the Carl A. Gerstacker Preserve and are enhancing and expanding trails.

We’re also taking the preserve experience online, so that everyone can learn about these special places even when unable to visit in person. Digital enhancements include virtual tour events and three new audio tours for McMahon Lake Preserve, Helmut & Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy, and Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor. This is all part of a multi-year effort that TNC has launched to enhance the trail systems, infrastructure and programming at 20 of our most popular preserves and reserves in Michigan.

A handrail along a path that leads to a lake and dock.
Wilderness lakes New handrail and removable dock at Wilderness Lakes Reserve © Chris Cantway/TNC
A gravel parking lot with a single vehicle in it. The lot is surrounded by trees and has two handicap accessible parking spots.
New Parking New parking lot at Carl A. Gerstacker Preserve © Chris Cantway/TNC
A forest of tall trees with brightly colored leaves.
Slate River Late successional forest management in the Michigamme Highlands of Michigan. © TNC
Shelf fungus on the base of a mossy tree.
Slate River Shelf fungus grows on the base of a tree. © TNC
Water runs over a rocky riverbed surrounded by trees.
Slate River Four miles of the Slate River run through the area. © TNC
A waterfall flows into a river surrounded by trees.
Slate River Cascades, waterfalls and an extraordinary gorge. © Rich Tuzinsky/TNC
Four people walking through a forest of tall trees.
Slate River An important source of natural climate solutions. © TNC
Shelf fungus on the base of a mossy tree.
Slate River Shelf fungus grows on the base of a tree. © TNC

Slate River

Comprising 10,550 acres of forestland in Baraga County, the Slate River Forest Reserve had been managed as healthy, mature working forest for decades by the same family. When they decided to sell it, we knew this incredible protection opportunity was too important for TNC to pass up: Michigan forests like this are rare.

Water runs over a rocky riverbed surrounded by trees.
Slate River Four miles of the Slate River run through the area. © TNC

The seller accepted our bid, and we closed on the property in November. TNC is establishing it as our newest working forest reserve, which allows us to continue to demonstrate good stewardship practices that sequester carbon and sustain the vitality and diversity of the forest. It also ensures that this forest will never be subject to unsustainable timber harvesting and forest conversion.

A waterfall flows into a river surrounded by trees.
Slate River Cascades, waterfalls and an extraordinary gorge. © Rich Tuzinsky/TNC

These 10,000+ acres provide a compelling story of what a thriving future could look like for Upper Peninsula forests, with the right management practices protecting the forest and sustainable harvest supporting livelihoods in the forest-products economy. It’s a place where hemlock, red pine, aspen and a diversity of hardwoods grow in abundance, and large trees grow larger. It adds to a conservation corridor of protected habitat for wide-ranging species such as moose and deer, and includes four miles of the Slate River.

Four people walking through a forest of tall trees.
Slate River An important source of natural climate solutions. © TNC

Explore more conservation opportunities in the report—including a breakdown of TNC's contributions to help elevate climate solutions in Michigan.

More from the Report

  • A Way Forward for Fisheries
  • Aligning Great Lakes Habitat Restoration
  • Mapping on the Edge
  • Hidden Benefits of Restoration
  • OpTIS: Mapping Success in the Saginaw Bay Watershed

View the full report

A Foundation in Science

TNC's work is grounded in science. We answer fundamental conservation questions to inform tangible, lasting results across all of our strategies—for Great Lakes fisheries, coastal resilience, clean water and much more.

 

PROJECT HIGHLIGHT | Grand Traverse Reef Restoration, 5 Years Later 

In 2015, TNC, MDNR and Central Michigan University researchers used 450 tons of cobble rock to rebuild a degraded reef at the Elk Rapids reef complex in Grand Traverse Bay. At that time, we committed to at least five years of monitoring fish egg and larval fish survival to ensure this restoration effort had the intended impact on local fish populations.

Five years later, here’s what we’ve observed: 

  • Cisco (lake herring) generally use the entire reef complex, with a preference for depositing eggs at depths of 15 to 20 feet.
  • Whitefish prefer shallower reefs for their eggs, around 10 feet below the surface.
  • Our restoration substantially improved reef habitat by making the rock layer larger and deeper, thus increasing the amount of space for eggs to settle and be protected.
  • Egg retention is higher on the restored reef than on control reefs, meaning fewer eggs are getting lost during storms or eaten by invasive predators.

Our observations are corroborated by the experience of local anglers, who have noted improvements in their catches that they attribute to the project. While this single study is not enough to draw broad conclusions about reef restoration, its success provides important insights and has already inspired similar efforts elsewhere in the Great Lakes.

Aerial of Grand Traverse Bay. The reef is poking out of the water.
Aerial An aerial image shows the Grand Traverse Bay reef. © Big Foot Media
Equipment is used to dump large rocks into the reef as part of a restoration.
Reef Restoration The Grand Traverse reef restoration project benefited from multiple years of data that allowed for a thorough site analysis prior to restoration. © Big Foot Media
A person jogs through a park full of tall grass.
Detroit, Michigan A person jogs through a Detroit park. © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
A drain installed in a green infrastructure project.
Sacred Heart Drain Construction completed at Sacred Heart Church in Detroit, MI. TNC worked with Sacred Heart Church to retrofit their parking lot. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
The Michigan capitol building dome framed by trees
Michigan State Capitol Dome Michigan State Capitol Dome © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
A bench along the river.
Skyline The Detroit skyline on a sunny day. © Michael D-L Jordan
A drain installed in a green infrastructure project.
Sacred Heart Drain Construction completed at Sacred Heart Church in Detroit, MI. TNC worked with Sacred Heart Church to retrofit their parking lot. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

Making Waves for Water Infrastructure

TNC is participating in the Coalition for a Strong and Prosperous Michigan, organized by the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Association of Counties, to make recommendations for the use of state American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds—nearly $6 billion—and general fund dollars, for targeted investments in water infrastructure, assistance programs and other needs.

The Michigan capitol building dome framed by trees
Michigan State Capitol Dome Michigan State Capitol Dome © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

Going forward, we are tracking the status of state water infrastructure legislation closely and providing legislative input and committee testimony as appropriate, so that investment in Michigan’s water infrastructure remains a priority. For example, we provided our expertise to help inform Senate Bill 565, which proposes $3.3 billion in funds for improving Michigan’s water infrastructure, including dam repairs, replacement of lead pipes, drinking-water and wastewater facility upgrades and community assistance programs.

A bench along the river.
Skyline The Detroit skyline on a sunny day. © Michael D-L Jordan

Explore more conservation opportunities in the report—including an update on Michigan's septic systems and new partnerships to improve soil health.

More from the Report

  • Conservation Achievement Award
  • Green Stormwater Infrastructure
  • Opening Doors to Forest Health

View the full report

Partnerships for Impact

TNC knows that tackling big global issues like climate change and biodiversity loss will require collaboration like never before. We cultivate partnerships across sectors and geographies for outcomes that meet bold, shared goals for people and nature.

A tree begins to grow from a forest floor.
New Growth TNC staff underplanting in the Ottawa National Forest. © Kim Steinberger/TNC

PROJECT HIGHLIGHT

Partnering at the Source

Many Great Lakes rivers begin as springs, wetlands, creeks and streams within forests. For a decade, TNC has worked with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in the Hiawatha National Forest and Ottawa National Forest to restore and steward public forestlands, with a focus on areas that are especially important to healthy rivers and streams. TNC’s contributions include:

  • 1,106 acres planted with 280,200 trees over three years, along rivers and streams that flow into Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.
  • More than 400 wetland and riparian area surveys completed.
  • Seven natural areas recommended by the USFS as representative sample areas due to their high and/or unique ecological values.
  • 600 road-stream crossings surveyed and evaluated for repair needs, which helps improve stream connectivity for fish.
  • Funding and technical support to Michigan Tech University to complete research that informs protection and management of coastal wetlands in the Hiawatha National Forest.

Building on this long collaboration, we are now expanding this restoration program to new areas of the Northwoods, including the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, in true cross-boundary cooperation.

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Flowers bloom in front of the Sacred Heart steeple.
In Bloom During a June storm that brought more than 7 inches of rain to some parts of Detroit, Sacred Heart Church’s GSI installation managed all the runoff. © Patrick Doran/TNC

PROJECT HIGHLIGHT

Growing Green

In 2019, TNC completed a signature project with Sacred Heart Church (SHC) to unite form and function in this historic Detroit church’s parking lot, with a green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) installation. This installation uses native plants and nature-based engineering to manage nearly all the stormwater runoff from a two-acre area (an estimated 3.5 million gallons per year) and helps the church cut its drainage charge in half. In addition to slowing and filtering stormwater runoff, it also provides wonderful habitat for pollinators.

Now heading into the third growing season, the native plant gardens are thriving. They will continue to thrive thanks to contributions by dedicated SHC volunteers, who are completing a GSI Maintenance Training Program that TNC launched in 2021. After the 2022 growing season, SHC will take over the project, leading the city with the first large-scale GSI project at a faith-based institution.

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Past Conservation Reports

Access our archive of past conservation reports.