Grass River Natural Area – Facing the Challenge of Climate Change

This video is about people who are entrusted with the protection and preservation of one of northern Michigan’s most important and revered natural areas. Showing real leadership, the board of directors, staff and volunteers of the Grass River Natural Area (GRNA) are working to document, understand and manage the impacts of climate change that threaten these critical wetlands.

Just a few miles up the road from the Village of Alden in Antrim County, you can find the entrance to Grass River. Follow that winding two track about a mile through the woods and wetlands and you’ll reach a large, beautiful interpretive center and the starting point for several winding trails. These trails lead you over miles of boardwalk through dense wetland forests, over small streams and past some of Michigan’s most diverse habitat.

Formally established about 50 years ago, the GRNA is our region’s premiere nature center. Its primary mission is to protect and preserve almost 1,500 acres of high quality wetlands and uplands, while encouraging general stewardship of natural resources and providing nature-based education.

James Dake

Recognizing that climate change is altering conditions and habitats for all life, this nonprofit organization is not debating the topic or hesitating at the edge of action. GRNA has launched an effort to confront these challenges head on. They are reaching out to field biologists and other scientists, gathering information about what changes are underway and what lies ahead. They know that the management choices ahead are both complex and critical.

There’s a lot at stake. As Education Director, James Dake points out,  Grass River’s wetland habitats host some of the region’s most endangered species, including Blandings turtles. “It’s a question of whether those species can adapt in time to survive,” he said.

Rich Hannan

Board member and Vice Chair, Rich Hannan says that they have a responsibility to recognize the science of climate change and make contributions to it. He points that climate change is happening everywhere.

“Not just at Grass River, it’s just that Grass River’s an ideal place to look at it.”

Of course, without the field research and scientific assessment it’s difficult to know what course of action is best. Executive Director Haley Beniser  says, scientific assessments are crucial. “It helps us make best management decisions for this property.”

Haley Breniser

Without a doubt, these are challenging times for natural resource managers and anyone who wants to preserve the flora and fauna of Northern Michigan. But it’s comforting to know that regional leaders like those of the Grass River Natural Area are accepting these challenges and moving forward with solid science.

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