Michigan

Michigan Conservation Results Report

Green fern in a lush forest with burst of sunlight.
Conservation Results A fern is illuminated by the setting sun at McMahon Lake Preserve. © Fauna Creative

A Year in Michigan Conservation

Smiling man in cap, sunglasses and blue shirt.
Patrick Doran Patrick Doran is Associate State Director for TNC in Michigan. © Jason Whalen

Building Resilience

The challenges that people and nature face are a constant. Resilience enables us to respond to those challenges. In a difficult year, many of us found our own resilience by spending more time in nature. Nature has continually protected us and in turn, we must continue to protect nature.

For many of the plants and animals that travel through or make their homes in Michigan, the impacts of a changing climate and habitat fragmentation threaten their very existence. The Nature Conservancy is hard at work to address these threats—and I’m glad to say we’re far from alone.

The challenges that people and nature face are a constant. Resilience enables us to respond to those challenges. In a difficult year, many of us found our own resilience by spending more time in nature. Nature has continually protected us and in turn, we must continue to protect nature.

For many of the plants and animals that travel through or make their homes in Michigan, the impacts of a changing climate and habitat fragmentation threaten their very existence. The Nature Conservancy is hard at work to address these threats—and I’m glad to say we’re far from alone.

The challenges posed by a global pandemic affected us all, but the strength of TNC’s partnerships—from land trusts to government agencies to Indigenous communities—helped us continue to drive toward tangible, lasting conservation results. The impact of this collaboration is reflected in every success story highlighted in the pages of this 2020 report.

Because, ultimately, that is how we grow more resilient: together.

Thank you for your partnership! 

Patrick J. Doran
Associate State Director

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Michigan, USA The sky reflects on Houghton Lake in Prudenville, Michigan. © Aaron Burden
Pink and purple sunset on beach dotted w/ short grass.
Sunset on Oval Beach Saugatuck, Michigan, August 2017. © Stephen Carmickle/TNC Photo Contest 2019
Pink and purple sunset on beach dotted w/ short grass.
Sunset on Oval Beach Saugatuck, Michigan, August 2017. © Stephen Carmickle/TNC Photo Contest 2019
Pink and purple sunset on beach dotted w/ short grass.
Sunset on Oval Beach Saugatuck, Michigan, August 2017. © Stephen Carmickle/TNC Photo Contest 2019
A group of 5 kayakers in green waters next to a cliff.
Pictured Rocks Kayakers at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore © Nelson Woo/TNC Photo Contest 2019
A group of 5 kayakers in green waters next to a cliff.
Pictured Rocks Kayakers at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore © Nelson Woo/TNC Photo Contest 2019
Bright green field with many yellow and pink flowers.
Fen Restoration Grand River Fen is home to over 130 species. © Rodlfo Zuniga Villegas
Person in purple shirt sitting on wood plank boardwalk.
Nan Weston Preserve TNC staff construct new boardwalk. © Kim Steinberger/TNC
Seven people stand by containers of collected seed.
Native Seed TNC staff collected 9 31-gallon bins of native seed. © Kim Steinberger/TNC
Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe
Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe
Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe
Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe
Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe
Satchel of small green tree seedlings.
Ready for planting Red oak and white spruce seedlings © Kevin Swanson/TNC
Satchel of small green tree seedlings.
Ready for planting Red oak and white spruce seedlings © Kevin Swanson/TNC
Pink and purple sunset on beach dotted w/ short grass.
Sunset on Oval Beach Saugatuck, Michigan, August 2017. © Stephen Carmickle/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Michigan: YES to Prop 1

This past November, Michiganders made history by overwhelmingly voting YES on Proposal 1 to protect Michigan’s land, water, wildlife and parks for generations to come. Eighty-four percent of voters supported Proposal 1, which removes the previous limit on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF). This ensures that all future state mineral, oil and gas revenue in Michigan will continue to go toward protecting our state’s natural resources, providing public recreational facilities and supporting state parks—forever.

Pink and purple sunset on beach dotted w/ short grass.
Sunset on Oval Beach Saugatuck, Michigan, August 2017. © Stephen Carmickle/TNC Photo Contest 2019

The Vote YES coalition was integral to the passage of Proposal 1. It was founded by TNC, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Heart of the Lakes, mParks and Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance. Ultimately, over 30 environmental conservation groups joined together to support Prop 1, with close to 100 organizations in all (including business, community and labor organizations) endorsing it. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with all four living former governors of Michigan, signed a letter endorsing this measure.

Pink and purple sunset on beach dotted w/ short grass.
Sunset on Oval Beach Saugatuck, Michigan, August 2017. © Stephen Carmickle/TNC Photo Contest 2019

This policy victory reflects the culmination of a decade-long effort by many organizations and is an incredible example of what the conservation community can accomplish when it pulls together. Proposal 1 had broad, bipartisan support from the start, and passed by a margin that was 12 percentage points higher than previous MNRTF measures! This historic accomplishment sends a clear message that Michiganders across the state value Michigan’s public lands and waters and want to see them protected in perpetuity.

A group of 5 kayakers in green waters next to a cliff.
Pictured Rocks Kayakers at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore © Nelson Woo/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Permanent Funding

On July 22, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 310-107 (Michigan’s delegation voted 11-3) to approve the Great American Outdoors Act, which fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million per year and makes critical investments in our national parks system and other public lands that support jobs, recreational opportunities and habitat protection.

A group of 5 kayakers in green waters next to a cliff.
Pictured Rocks Kayakers at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore © Nelson Woo/TNC Photo Contest 2019

The bill, which became law on August 4, is a major bipartisan success that includes years of hard work from TNC staff at the state and federal levels. Many protected places in Michigan have benefited from LWCF funding, including TNC’s Big U.P. Deal, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and more. Now, Michigan lands, water and people are guaranteed to continue benefiting for many more years to come.

Bright green field with many yellow and pink flowers.
Fen Restoration Grand River Fen is home to over 130 species. © Rodlfo Zuniga Villegas

Restoration

We expanded our restoration impact at Grand River Fen to include 120 neighboring acres, as part of a collaboration with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Person in purple shirt sitting on wood plank boardwalk.
Nan Weston Preserve TNC staff construct new boardwalk. © Kim Steinberger/TNC

Staff and trustees volunteered to help build nearly 100 feet of new boardwalk at the Nan Weston Preserve at Sharon Hollow.

Seven people stand by containers of collected seed.
Native Seed TNC staff collected 9 31-gallon bins of native seed. © Kim Steinberger/TNC

Fourteen staff and trustee volunteers helped fill nine 31-gallon bins with native prairie plant seeds this fall, which were later used for prairie plantings.

Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe

Saginaw River Headwaters

Some places have many stories. The Saginaw River Headwaters Recreation Area is one of them. Long before they were part of the city of Saginaw, these 334 acres of open grassland, trees and wetlands were part of Ojibwe tribal lands, in a region where the Anishinaabe peoples often came together in council. Over the centuries, this location along the Saginaw River saw the logging industry boom and bust, followed by the rise of manufacturing.

Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe

And on this very spot, the General Motors Malleable Iron plant operated for many years, until the company’s bankruptcy. The GM plant was an integral part of the Saginaw community for decades, and many local residents worked there making machine parts during World War II. In 2011, the RACER Trust was formed to oversee the restoration of this and many other former industrial properties around the state.

Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe

Thanks to a collaboration of many partners, including the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) , Saginaw Parks, and RACER Trust, TNC was able to help write a new story for this property. This September, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the Saginaw River Headwaters Recreation Area, livestreamed on Facebook (@MichiganDNR) and emceed by TNC’s state director, Helen Taylor.

Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe

Speakers shared how this former industrial site is being restored to public green space along Saginaw River, bringing walking, biking, kayaking and other recreation opportunities to the city, while also providing habitat protection for this important freshwater system.

Steep rocky bank with trees next to river.
Greater Recreation New Saginaw River Headwaters Rec. Area © Doug Coombe

TNC played a key role in facilitating the property’s purchase by the state of Michigan as well as in its restoration. We also helped set up the endowment and plans for its long-term maintenance, which will be overseen by Saginaw County Parks. Look for updates on this restoration in 2021! The recreation area is an exciting natural legacy for the community, and we’re proud to be part of its story.

Satchel of small green tree seedlings.
Ready for planting Red oak and white spruce seedlings © Kevin Swanson/TNC

Michigamme Highlands

A forest isn’t just its tallest trees—what grows in their shade is just as important! That’s the basis for the restoration strategy of underplanting: creating a healthier forest canopy by restoring underrepresented species to forests that have lost diversity.

Satchel of small green tree seedlings.
Ready for planting Red oak and white spruce seedlings © Kevin Swanson/TNC

For example, in a restoration area known as “Fish Camp” within the 23,318-acre Two Hearted River Forest Reserve, we planted approximately 16,000 seedlings of native white spruce and northern red oak in a stand that was mostly sugar and red maple. By rebuilding the numbers of these species, and increasing forest diversity, we can help make the forests more resilient to pests and pathogens, while also benefiting wildlife and improving carbon storage.

Rolling green hills against cloudy blue sky.
Mt Baldy, Michigan Helmut and Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

In It For the Long Haul

Many of our highest priority land acquisition projects are connected to already protected lands. Sometimes these opportunities are quite small in terms of acreage but have outsized benefits for nature—like the newly protected piece of  Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie. Filling in gaps in preserves like this is a key part of our long-term pro...

Many of our highest priority land acquisition projects are connected to already protected lands. Sometimes these opportunities are quite small in terms of acreage but have outsized benefits for nature—like the newly protected piece of  Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie. Filling in gaps in preserves like this is a key part of our long-term protection plans.

Often, our protection priorities connect to lands protected by partners, as well. This September, we also added 200 key acres at our Helmut and Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy in Keweenaw County (photo, left). Not only will the property expand the preserve’s area, bringing it to over 1,700 acres, it will also create a connection between the preserve and the Lake Bailey Wildlife Sanctuary, for even greater conservation impact.

When it comes to land protection, tenacity is essential. Sometimes our preserve visions take many years of hard work to realize. But once protected, these special places are safeguarded forever.

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Map of migration patterns in Great Lakes region.
Migrations in Motion Great Lakes A map shows migration routes around the Great Lakes. © Dan Majka/TNC

Stronger Together

TNC is one of 44 land trusts in Michigan that, together, manage hundreds of thousands of acres of protected lands. When we collaborate, it means even greater benefits to Michigan’s lands and waters. This year, we have continued to strengthen  these vital partnerships, sharing the tools and findings of TNC’s resilient and connected network scien...

TNC is one of 44 land trusts in Michigan that, together, manage hundreds of thousands of acres of protected lands. When we collaborate, it means even greater benefits to Michigan’s lands and waters. This year, we have continued to strengthen  these vital partnerships, sharing the tools and findings of TNC’s resilient and connected network science with key partners like the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and Land Conservancy of West Michigan, which have both adopted this information into their planning, and the MDNR Land Strategy “Sprint Team,” which is in the process of updating Michigan’s Managed Public Land Strategy.

We have also partnered with Huron Pines, a regional nonprofit, to secure a conservation easement for the North Point property that it will manage—a first for this organization. While the property will be owned by the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a conservation easement allows Huron Pines to bring their land management and restoration expertise to this special place, creating a dynamic collaboration where each partner—including TNC—can best contribute its unique strengths.

Working with other organizations and agencies across Michigan toward shared goals allows TNC to facilitate collective progress toward what science tells us is the most sustainable path for Michigan’s lands and waters.

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Small lake behind lush forest.
McMahon Lake Forests and wetlands at McMahon Lake Preserve © Fauna Creative
Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Forest in autumn with bright orange and yellow leaves.
Two-Hearted River Hardwood forest in autumn © Drew Kelly
Forest in autumn with bright orange and yellow leaves.
Two-hearted River Hardwood forest in autumn © © Fauna Creative
Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Leading on Climate

Nature is a vital climate solution, hiding in plain sight. In October 2017, TNC published groundbreaking science that shows that by sustainably managing, restoring and protecting forests and other lands around the world, we can capture up to 11 gigatons of carbon emissions per year by 2030. That’s a third of the carbon storage needed to put us on a sustainable path—equivalent to eliminating all the cars on the planet, twice over. Here in the Midwest, TNC is hard at work to advance these natural climate solutions with decision-makers.

Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

The first Michigan Mass Timber Summit, which took place virtually over three days in the fall, was a great success that drew over 200 participants interested in learning more about mass timber technology. This durable, lightweight, engineered wood offers a way to increase the “carbon sink” potential of new development, with even greater benefits possible when linked with sustainable forestry practices. TNC sponsored this event to help promote mass timber’s potential to address these complementary goals.

Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Mass timber is also part of Michigan’s strategy to reach a net-zero carbon footprint by 2050. The event included virtual tours of Michigan State University’s new $100 million STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, the first building in Michigan to use mass timber.

Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

For example, TNC helped to spotlight the role nature and policy can play in addressing the impacts of a changing climate at the Climate Leadership Conference in Detroit in March 2020. This summit brought business leaders together with government, academic and nonprofit professionals to discuss critical climate solutions. TNC was a lead sponsor and active participant, with a featured speech by Joe Fargione, TNC’s director of science for North America, and a round table discussion led by TNC on the potential of carbon capture, use and storage.

Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

The conference is just one way TNC has engaged in tackling climate change at the state, regional and national levels.

Small stream winds through grassland and forest.
Grass Bay Coastal wetlands © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Mitigating and adapting to climate change is a deeply collaborative process, in which TNC is taking a central role—from our participation in the Industrial Innovation Initiative, a coalition that brings together key industrial and power companies, environmental organizations and state officials from Midwestern and Gulf Coast states to support a low-carbon future; to our work in the Carbon Capture Coalition, a national, nonpartisan coalition working to facilitate greater deployment of carbon-capture technology.

Forest in autumn with bright orange and yellow leaves.
Two-Hearted River Hardwood forest in autumn © Drew Kelly

Working Woodlands

Through our Working Woodlands program, TNC is connecting with private landowners across northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota to help them improve the health of forests with sustainable management practices and enrollment in carbon offset markets. By enrolling in carbon markets that set a high standard for forest management, TNC can help conservation-minded landowners conserve vital forests while also activating nature’s ability to mitigate climate change impacts.

Forest in autumn with bright orange and yellow leaves.
Two-hearted River Hardwood forest in autumn © © Fauna Creative

The engagement and commitment of many different types of landowners is vital to TNC’s goal of achieving a network of resilient and connected lands across Michigan’s forests, and increasing the climate mitigation capacity of these landscapes. To date, we have commitments from or have enrolled properties totaling over 80,000 acres in the Working Woodlands program.

Green algae on sandy shore.
Lake Huron algae Cladophora algae on Lake Huron beach in the Saginaw Bay Watershed © Fauna Creative

Workshop Highlights Great Lakes Resilience Tools 

In November 2020, TNC led a workshop called, “Improving Coastal Water Quality in the Great Lakes: Decision Support Tools to Help Address Run-Off.” The event was part of a nationwide series led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and TNC, as part of the NOAA Water Initiative.

As its title suggests, the workshop focused on a suite of decision support tools designed to help community planners and land managers identify challenges and potential solutions for addressing run-off and coastal water quality issues throughout the region (the Open NSPECT tool, the Tipping Point Planner, and the National Weather Service Runoff Risk Forecast). TNC assisted with planning and outreach for the workshop, as part of our work to help Great Lakes communities build resilience to a changing climate.

Sunset over an agricultural field.
Saginaw Valley sunrise The sun rises over a sugar beet field in the Saginaw Valley. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
A combine in an agricultural field.
Combine at sunset Combine at sunset. © Randall L. Schieber
A combine in an agricultural field.
Combine at sunset Combine at sunset. © Randall L. Schieber
A combine in an agricultural field.
Combine at sunset Combine at sunset. © Randall L. Schieber
A combine in an agricultural field.
Combine at sunset Combine at sunset. © Randall L. Schieber
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DOUG DARLING Darling’s farm is certified by Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. © David Ike
Three people standing in middle of agricultural field.
SKS Farm Sugar beet farm in Saginaw Bay watershed © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
Three people standing in middle of agricultural field.
SKS Farm Sugar beet farm in Saginaw Bay watershed © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
Tall plants with brown spikes next to dark blue lake.
Cattails Cattails on the shore of Clough Island © Richard Hamilton Smith
Tall plants with brown spikes next to dark blue lake.
Cattails Cattails on the shore of Clough Island © Richard Hamilton Smith
Tall plants with brown spikes next to dark blue lake.
Cattails Cattails on the shore of Clough Island © Richard Hamilton Smith
Tall plants with brown spikes next to dark blue lake.
Cattails Cattails on the shore of Clough Island © Richard Hamilton Smith
Hot air balloon in light sky over blue water.
Hot air balloon Traverse Bay TNC China's visit to the Grand Traverse Bay reef restoration site. © Fauna Creative
Hot air balloon in light sky over blue water.
Hot air balloon Traverse Bay TNC China's visit to the Grand Traverse Bay reef restoration site. © Fauna Creative
Young boy spraying garden hose.
Boy with garden hose Young boy with garden hose. © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Young boy spraying garden hose.
Boy with garden hose Young boy with garden hose. © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
A combine in an agricultural field.
Combine at sunset Combine at sunset. © Randall L. Schieber

Investing in Soil Outcomes

In 2020, TNC concluded our five-year Saginaw Bay Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) initiative, a high-profile effort that connected farmers with 2014 Farm Bill funding for on-farm conservation practices that protect soil health and water quality. Originally, we set out to bring 25,550 acres under new conservation practices—we surpassed that goal within three years, ultimately reaching well over 67,000 acres where conservation practices had been implemented (as of October 2020).

A combine in an agricultural field.
Combine at sunset Combine at sunset. © Randall L. Schieber

This kept 26,600 pounds of phosphorus and 6,800 tons of sediment out of Michigan waters! The project represents a landmark success, not just in terms of its water quality impact, but also regarding the resulting partnerships and replicable methods.

A combine in an agricultural field.
Combine at sunset Combine at sunset. © Randall L. Schieber

In the months to come, we will build on this strong foundation to engage new farmers in the region through ongoing programs such as our soil health lecture series. We are also advancing a Michigan-based extension of the national Soil Health Partnership, working with corn farmers to be able to provide localized proof of the impact of soil health practices like cover crops.

A combine in an agricultural field.
Combine at sunset Combine at sunset. © Randall L. Schieber

These practices support rich, healthy soil and improve water storage—helping to reduce harmful nutrient runoff in waterways while insulating farm yield from some of the impacts of climate change. The Saginaw Bay watershed includes 2.5 million acres of some of the most productive farmland in Michigan. It’s a place worth protecting: for nature and for people.

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DOUG DARLING Darling’s farm is certified by Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. © David Ike

Farmer Network Grows

This year, we have continued to help Michigan State University’s Institute of Water Research (MSU-IWR) expand farmer-led watershed groups in the Saginaw Bay watershed, similar to the first one we helped launch in 2019.

Three people standing in middle of agricultural field.
SKS Farm Sugar beet farm in Saginaw Bay watershed © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

These community groups of farmers foster peer-to-peer mentorship and help grow interest in soil health practices. Drawing on lessons learned from the first group in Huron County that TNC helped establish, and engaging some of our past “Soil Health Hero” award winners, we are providing support and expertise to MSU-IWR as they establish three new groups.

Three people standing in middle of agricultural field.
SKS Farm Sugar beet farm in Saginaw Bay watershed © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

From helping to promote and recruit the groups, to assisting with a seven-part video series of farmer stories, to helping develop “farmer advocate” training materials, we’re playing to our strengths as conveners and subject-matter experts.

Tall plants with brown spikes next to dark blue lake.
Cattails Cattails on the shore of Clough Island © Richard Hamilton Smith

Getting Creative with Cattails

Since 2016, TNC has been collaborating on an innovative research and monitoring project to test the feasibility of recycling nutrients within a watershed by removing non-native, invasive cattails from wetlands and using them as a soil supplement on farms. This process moves the cattails from a place where they’re harmful to a place where they can benefit soil health, improving water quality in the process.

Tall plants with brown spikes next to dark blue lake.
Cattails Cattails on the shore of Clough Island © Richard Hamilton Smith

Over three years, we’ve harvested these invasive cattails in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, from wetlands that have clearly benefited from their removal—providing healthier habitat for wetland birds and improved diversity of native plants.

Tall plants with brown spikes next to dark blue lake.
Cattails Cattails on the shore of Clough Island © Richard Hamilton Smith

The impacts of the cattails on the test farm were less clear, but overall it appears that they increase measures of soil health such as total organic carbon and ammonium nitrogen, a form of nitrogen that is less likely to be transported in runoff (where it can cause harmful algal blooms).

Tall plants with brown spikes next to dark blue lake.
Cattails Cattails on the shore of Clough Island © Richard Hamilton Smith

The Cook Family Foundation supported our initial work in 2016, followed by major funding through a Michigan Conservation Innovation Grant from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Additional funds came through awards to our research partners Loyola University of Chicago and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge.

Hot air balloon in light sky over blue water.
Hot air balloon Traverse Bay TNC China's visit to the Grand Traverse Bay reef restoration site. © Fauna Creative

Water & Policy

In December, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Water Use Advisory Council (which includes TNC representation) submitted recommendations to the state legislature that include a Michigan Hydrological Framework.

Hot air balloon in light sky over blue water.
Hot air balloon Traverse Bay TNC China's visit to the Grand Traverse Bay reef restoration site. © Fauna Creative

The framework will function as a statewide “smart map” of our water resources, layering data to provide a comprehensive look at the entire freshwater system and help resource managers make more informed, systems-focused decisions. The report, and the work of this council, have important implications for TNC’s work to support science-based freshwater conservation in Michigan.

Young boy spraying garden hose.
Boy with garden hose Young boy with garden hose. © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

In February 2020, TNC released a report entitled, “Safe and Affordable Water for All,” that provides a suite of policy recommendations designed to increase the ability of all Michigan residents to access safe and affordable water services.

Young boy spraying garden hose.
Boy with garden hose Young boy with garden hose. © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

The recommendations were informed by the TNC/Michigan State University Water Fellows Program in 2019. The report lays a strong foundation for future work by TNC and others to improve freshwater outcomes for both people and nature, which we will continue to build on in the years to come, with initial support from the C.S. Mott Foundation. Read the full report at bit.ly/waterfellowsreport.

Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Blue Accounting

The Great Lakes are like nowhere else on Earth. This vast freshwater system—which holds 20% of the world’s available water supply—is incredibly important to both people and nature, which puts it at the nexus of work to solve some of our greatest global conservation challenges. One of those challenges: How can we collaborate effectively across a system that spans eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces?

Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Blue Accounting was established to fill this gap—to bring federal, state, provincial and local agencies together with nonprofit organizations to work together, share data and make meaningful progress toward shared goals. As a region, we’ve invested billions of dollars to ensure that the Great Lakes can continue to support diverse and thriving ecosystems as well as a broad range of human uses and economic activities. But how do we know those investments are working?

Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

In 2020, the phased transfer of the Blue Accounting initiative—from a program run jointly by the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and TNC, to one fully run by GLC—was officially completed, concluding the five-year foundational phase that sets the stage for long term success.

Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Since its inception, the value of this initiative has come to be widely acknowledged by leaders and partners in the Great Lakes basin. We developed a robust new online platform to manage and deliver innovative information tools and services, available to all at www. blueaccounting.org. This website has continued to add new tools and resources for partners across the basin.

Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

The Blue Accounting approach has also been piloted through five projects that work toward goals that all partners agree are vital—demonstrating how smart science, shared metrics and collaboration can address key Great Lakes issues. One pilot project that TNC has been closely involved in addresses aquatic invasive species (AIS).

Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

The AIS team has now developed a surveillance framework that will allow the many agencies and organizations working on this issue across the region to better coordinate our efforts and more rapidly respond to new threats. The other four pilots are drinking water sources, phosphorus runoff, maritime transportation and coastal wetlands.

Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

An unprecedented data-sharing agreement has been established with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, allowing project data from the HabITS database to be incorporated into the Blue Accounting coastal wetlands database.

Blue creek winds through field and forest.
Grass Bay Preserve Grass Bay Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

This represents the first time a government agency has shared this data on coastal wetland projects and investments with a nonprofit, highlighting the strong partnerships TNC has built with agencies active around the Great Lakes. As a result, our coastal wetlands database is the most comprehensive in the region, enabling a better understanding of investments in coastal wetlands and more accurate count of conserved acres. This data will be managed going forward by GLC as part of Blue Accounting.

Man in white shirt waters plants in front of church.
Sacred Heart Church John Thorne waters GSI installation © Fauna Creative

Sacred Heart Church

Last November, TNC completed the Sacred Heart Church demonstration project, a tangible example of the benefits of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) in Detroit. Here, a garden has flourished where there was once only pavement! Through nature-based and engineered features, form meets function to enable this installation to manage almost 100% ...

Last November, TNC completed the Sacred Heart Church demonstration project, a tangible example of the benefits of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) in Detroit. Here, a garden has flourished where there was once only pavement! Through nature-based and engineered features, form meets function to enable this installation to manage almost 100% of runoff across nearly two acres, while cutting the church’s costly drainage charge in half.

GSI projects such as this help to reduce the risk of surface flooding and an overwhelmed sewer system, as a changing climate leads to increasing rainfall, and as development continues across the city. This year, we added signage that explains how the garden functions, and released a video celebrating the project in collaboration with the church community. Watch the inspiring video

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Church with green plantings by parking lot.
Sacred Heart Church in Detroit Green Stormwater Infrastructure © Fauna Creative

Detroit Digs Into Natural Stormwater Solutions 

Five years after launching TNC’s Detroit Program, we’re seeing GSI take hold as an important stormwater solution for the city. The Detroit Stormwater Hub, an online tool that TNC helped create in 2019, now provides a clear picture of how stormwater management projects are changing the landscape of Detroit—from green roofs, to residential rain gardens, to water harvesting projects. Combined, these projects are managing nearly 380 million gallons of runoff across 645 acres annually. TNC’s project at Sacred Heart Church has helped lead the way, and now we’re building on a groundswell of interest and support to scale up GSI in Detroit. 

The use of the Stormwater Hub, now owned and managed by the City of Detroit, reflects this momentum. For example, the Great Lakes Water Authority has incorporated its data into a new regional monitoring effort, and the Detroit Greenways Coalition has integrated it into their bike route map to better connect people with access to nature. TNC is also using the Stormwater Hub data to inform our next phase of work, which includes analyzing the economic incentives for and benefits of GSI. 

In this next phase, we will also continue working with Eastern Market Corporation (EMC) and City departments to drive impactful, cost-effective GSI applications in Detroit’s Eastern Market district and beyond. TNC will support new businesses in Eastern Market as they implement GSI projects that follow TNC’s Stormwater Management Network Plan. This will result in the first 2.5 acres of a GSI greenway system in Eastern Market, which will provide people who live, work and visit here with greenspace and recreational opportunities, as well as manage all the stormwater within the greenway’s proposed 12.5-acre footprint.

Fisherman in bright orange outfit docking a boat.
Kiyi fisherman Lake Superior Lake Superior fisherman docking a boat in Marquette, Michigan © Fauna Creative

Visualizing the Future of Fisheries

In the spring of 2020, TNC completed a project to map the lake-floor substrate (such as rock or sand) across the entire Great Lakes, drawing on navigation maps produced by 19th century ship crews. These crews used sounding leads—heavy weights with sticky tallow on the bottom—to manually collect samples and measure lake depth. Thanks to these hi...

In the spring of 2020, TNC completed a project to map the lake-floor substrate (such as rock or sand) across the entire Great Lakes, drawing on navigation maps produced by 19th century ship crews. These crews used sounding leads—heavy weights with sticky tallow on the bottom—to manually collect samples and measure lake depth. Thanks to these historical resources, our new substrate map provides the most extensive and accurate information available to date. 

This information helped us extrapolate, with more granularity, where cisco and whitefish are most likely to thrive around the Great Lakes. This will be critical to identifying where populations of these key species currently live and where restoration efforts could be most successful. Our data is already being employed by partners around the basin, providing a strong scientific basis that other projects can build upon—such as our recently completed project to map Great Lakes wetlands that this effort inspired.  

Filling in scientific gaps like this is one of TNC’s strengths, and an important way we can contribute to Great Lakes conservation. In our work to support sustainable fisheries, we’re also testing approaches to control rusty crayfish, an invasive predator that eats fish eggs on spawning reefs, and publishing our findings. And, five years ago, we completed a landmark spawning reef restoration that continues to show benefits for fish egg survival—an approach that is now being replicated in other parts of the lakes.

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Puponga, Tasman
New Zealand Puponga, Tasman © DoraDalton/iStock
Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Preserve sign for The Nature Conservancy next to woods.
Nan Weston Preserve Branding Sign Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Preserve sign for The Nature Conservancy next to woods.
Nan Weston Preserve Branding Sign Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Preserve sign for The Nature Conservancy next to woods.
Nan Weston Preserve Branding Sign Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Preserve sign for The Nature Conservancy next to woods.
Nan Weston Preserve Branding Sign Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp
Bright red orange flowers on slender plants.
Indian paintbrush Woollam Indian paintbrush at John Arthur Woollam Preserve © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
Bright red orange flowers on slender plants.
Indian paintbrush Woollam Indian paintbrush at John Arthur Woollam Preserve © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
Bright red orange flowers on slender plants.
Indian paintbrush Woollam Indian paintbrush at John Arthur Woollam Preserve © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
Bright red orange flowers on slender plants.
Indian paintbrush Woollam Indian paintbrush at John Arthur Woollam Preserve © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative
African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell
African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell
African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell
African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell
African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell
African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell
Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

Engaging people with nature lies at the heart of TNC’s mission—a mission that is more important now than ever. One of the many things that 2020 has taught us is how vital nature is to our wellbeing. While socially distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have looked to nature for rejuvenation.

Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

We’ve seen a dramatic increase in TNC visitors at our preserves, reflecting a nationwide increase in outdoor pursuits. Protected lands like TNC’s preserves represent one of the most visible and meaningful ways Michiganders can experience and benefit from nature.

Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

At some of our most popular nature preserves, TNC is enhancing and updating infrastructure—from parking lots to trail signage—to help people have fun and accessible experiences in Michigan’s beautiful outdoors.

Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

For example, this year we rolled out three new audio tours for visitors of some of our most popular preserves, including the Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve, Echo Lake Nature Preserve and Carl A. Gerstacker Preserve at Dudley Bay, with more to come in 2021. These tours can be accessed at home or on location at nature.org/miexplore!

Boy plays in water on lakeshore.
Lake Superior Fun on the shores of Lake Superior © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

Given the increasing numbers of visitors, our preserve upgrades are especially important. They help prevent negative impacts to the habitats and wildlife that the preserves were established to protect, while still providing great experiences for people. Often, it’s this personal connection to nature that drives further support for conservation—and a sustainable future for Michigan’s lands and waters.

Preserve sign for The Nature Conservancy next to woods.
Nan Weston Preserve Branding Sign Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

In 2020, TNC shifted gears to adapt to pandemic safety restrictions and took our planned calendar of events online—ultimately holding 16 public events over the course of the year that allowed us to connect with members and supporters virtually.

Preserve sign for The Nature Conservancy next to woods.
Nan Weston Preserve Branding Sign Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

In fact, we were able to connect with even more folks than usual with large audiences—some of which totaled more than 100 people!—joining us live for events like our Gerstacker Preserve Tour, our “Mules in the Michigamme” event and our regular Conservation Café series with Helen Taylor as the featured speaker. Recordings of these events drew thousands of additional views on Facebook.

Preserve sign for The Nature Conservancy next to woods.
Nan Weston Preserve Branding Sign Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

We were glad to hear from attendees that they found these programs engaging, informative and highly successful—we did too! The virtual setting allowed us to accommodate more people, from a greater geographic area, than would otherwise be able to attend, while providing people with an insider’s view of places they may not have the opportunity to visit otherwise.

Preserve sign for The Nature Conservancy next to woods.
Nan Weston Preserve Branding Sign Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

We were also glad to be able to add increased accessibility through the video and audio features of these events. Based on these successes, we plan to continue offering virtual events in the years to come.

Bright red orange flowers on slender plants.
Indian paintbrush Woollam Indian paintbrush at John Arthur Woollam Preserve © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

The Nature Conservancy’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is embedded in our Code of Conduct and is one of our Core Values. We recognize that conservation is best advanced by the leadership and contributions of people of widely diverse backgrounds, experiences and identities. What’s more, equity in conservation is critical to success—we cannot achieve the necessary outcomes for people and nature without transparent and collaborative dialogue and partnership with the communities our work impacts.

Bright red orange flowers on slender plants.
Indian paintbrush Woollam Indian paintbrush at John Arthur Woollam Preserve © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

Globally, TNC’s efforts to support DEI are led by a global team headed up by James E. Page Jr., which is scaling up its work in light of the urgency and importance of these issues. Just a few examples include creating a new global position—director of equitable conservation—and the release of TNC’s new Human Rights Guide in 2020.

Bright red orange flowers on slender plants.
Indian paintbrush Woollam Indian paintbrush at John Arthur Woollam Preserve © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

In 2020, we have also continued efforts to inform and improve our work here on the ground in Michigan. These include hiring a Midwest Human Resources & Diversity Liaison for TNC’s Midwest Division, which includes Michigan, launching a Michigan People Team to support DEI efforts internally, following best practices for recruitment and hiring that are inclusive and equitable and offering many trainings and professional opportunities to our staff in areas of DEI.

Bright red orange flowers on slender plants.
Indian paintbrush Woollam Indian paintbrush at John Arthur Woollam Preserve © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

We love what we do here at TNC, and we want to do it well. By engaging explicitly in issues of diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels of the organization, TNC can develop conservation solutions that are impactful and truly durable, while also supporting a thriving TNC community.

African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell

In 2020, TNC expanded our capacity with positions that give emerging conservation leaders an opportunity to do a deep dive into conservation issues, while bringing a diversity of valuable skill sets to TNC’s conservation work.

African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell

Alex Verdeja is our inaugural Conservation Fellow. This fellowship is supported through a generous grant from the DTE Energy Foundation. Since October 2020, Alex has been supporting numerous conservation projects through deep dives into data and out in the field, including helping to survey for whitefish in the Muskegon River!

African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell

Matt Jurjonas is the newest Bailey Conservation Fellow (a unique program sponsored by Menakka and Essel Bailey), supporting our coastal climate adaption work by studying how investments in Great Lakes projects benefit the wellbeing of the communities along the Great Lakes.

African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell

Seth Meyers completed a one-year position as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in Marquette, supporting TNC’s natural climate solutions and forestry projects as we work toward a sustainable, climate-resilient forestry economy for the U.P. This position is generously supported by donors Jeff and Cynthia Littmann.

African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell

Two students at Michigan State University’s College of Law completed internships at TNC in 2020, through the Conservation Law Internship program supported by Jeff and Cynthia Littmann. Emily Michienzi provided research support for our water policy and fisheries work, and Steffen Mammen helped us with climate and urban water research, while gaining experience in the field of conservation.

African-American woman in glasses smiling.
Candace Calloway Candace Calloway © Matthew Mitchell

Candace Calloway, TNC’s Healthy Cities Program Associate, was selected for a fellowship with TNC’s Racial Equity Leadership Lab program, a learning space for urban conservation leaders around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, within TNC’s North American Cities Network. This fellowship unpacks racial equity issues in conservation, and how TNC staff can support strategies that address these inequities, to improve long-term conservation outcomes and prevent inadvertent harm to the communities we work with.

Woman with eyeglasses and black fleece smiling.
Helen Taylor MI Staff Photo Michigan Chapter Director © Matthew Mitchell

Thank You!

In 2020, TNC completed an enormously successful campaign for conservation: Michigan—It’s in Our Nature. In just six years, we raised over $100 million  and invested it in the conservation strategies that have led to the achievements highlighted on these pages and much, much more. To read more about our accomplishments during the campaign and th...

Thank You!

In 2020, TNC completed an enormously successful campaign for conservation: Michigan—It’s in Our Nature. In just six years, we raised over $100 million  and invested it in the conservation strategies that have led to the achievements highlighted on these pages and much, much more. To read more about our accomplishments during the campaign and the people who made it possible, please read our 2020 Giving to Michigan publication at nature.org/ourmichigan.

We couldn’t have accomplished this without our many generous, dedicated supporters. We also couldn’t do it without the partners who work with us to achieve so much for conservation. In a challenging year, I’ve seen just how much our connection to nature, and to each other, can inspire us all—and I’m inspired in turn by just how much we can accomplish together for people and nature as a result. 

It’s the strength of this conservation community that gives TNC our strength as an organization. As we look forward to the decade ahead, this incredible foundation will allow us to act more boldly for even greater results. Because of you, The Nature Conservancy will continue to achieve tangible, lasting impact for Michigan’s precious lands, waters and wildlife.

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