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Natural preservation

By Joseph Mooney

The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum has secured new grant monies from the Sustain Our Great Lakes program coordinated by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The grant funds ongoing habitat restoration work at Matthaei Botanical Gardens for the eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) and other species. Jeff Plakke (photo below left), natural areas manager at Matthaei-Nichols, accepted the award August 7 during an outdoor ceremony at Lake Erie Bluffs, a metropark east of Cleveland.

The massasauga (photo below) is the only venomous snake in Michigan and is listed as a species of Special Concern. The snake thrives on the Botanical Gardens property, where it often uses crayfish burrows as winter hibernation quarters and can be seen moving from one location to another during the spring and fall.

Phase II is critical for a number of reasons, says Plakke. “While Phase I allowed us to hire a full-time person to conduct the field work and bring technical expertise to the project,” he says, “Phase II grant dollars make it possible to keep that staff person—who is now fully up to speed—for another year.”

In Phase I Matthaei-Nichols staff improved nearly 65 acres of habitat by removing invasive shrubs, which encourages native species; purchased, planted, and caged 150 disease-resistant American elms; and sowed 75 gallons of native-plant seeds, among other efforts. Two major conservation goals for Phase II are ecological restoration work on 50 new acres of massasauga habitat and the removal of exotic invasives on 25 of those acres.

Phase II encompasses over 250 acres and includes the Fleming Creek floodplain and adjacent uplands at the Botanical Gardens. The diverse habitat is home to the massasauaga and to many other important conservation targets, including the northern leopard frog; the small white lady’s-slipper orchid; the dukes skipper (butterfly); and the red-sided dace (fish). Continued threats include exotic invasive plants in upland and wetland habitat and lack of fire.

The massasauga habitat restoration project “is an exercise in the stewardship and long-term care of land that requires persistence and care over the long term,” notes Plakke. The reward is a better habitat for the species being studied and all the related organisms. “That’s the value of choosing a particular species—realizing its connection to everything else,” he adds.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum has a long history of habitat restoration and watershed repair projects that are shared directly with the general public through interpretation, tours, and special programming. At the Botanical Gardens, bio-swales planted with wet prairie species mitigate runoff from roads and parking areas, sediment capture from Parker Brook (a feeder stream into Fleming Creek) has been improved by reconfiguring and dredging a section of the creek as it flows into Willow Pond, and rock veins and live stakes installed along sections of Fleming Creek help alleviate erosion.

Sustain Our Great Lakes is a public-private partnership coordinated by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and funded by ArcelorMittal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S.D.A Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The program also receives significant grant funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program designed to protect, restore and enhance the Great Lakes ecosystem.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum.

Joseph Mooney is manager of marking and public relations at The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum.

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