Revealing Connections – Two Years of Nature Change

Northern Michigan’s landscapes are changing as invasive species, urban development and climate change alter, damage or destroy familiar plant and animal communities on the land and in our waters. These are big challenges to volunteer conservationists, resource professionals and the organizations working to manage, protect and preserve our forests, uplands, wetlands, streams and lakes. Nature Change is here to help you connect with these regional experts and volunteers through direct local reporting.

Launched just two years ago with the help of eight nonprofit organizations and backed by small grants from three foundations, Nature Change has developed and published over 80 video and photo essays about the volunteers, resource professionals and researchers working in Northwest Lower Michigan. Through these publications, we are learning directly from the region’s experts that climate change is advancing quickly and re-shaping our landscapes.

The regional climate has always been a big connector of resources and resource-based industries here in northern Michigan. A stable climate supported the growth of hardwood forests and the region’s extensive cherry orchards. However, well-documented changes are already impacting the economics of forestry, farming, and fishing. Regionally, we also see invasive plants and other pests benefiting from climate change as well as significant shifts in populations of insects, birds and mammals.

Through video essays here on Nature Change, we have learned that Northern Michigan is experiencing more frequent and more severe storms. Sarah U’Ren of the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay described this challenge and the role rain gardens can play in managing the increasing amounts of stormwater runoff and protecting water quality. While the Center’s Christine Crissman helped us better understand the way mature trees and their canopy of leaves can help reduce and slow runoff from pavement and rooftops, helping to manage increasing amounts of stormwater.

Working with the Conservation Resource Alliance, Kim Balke showed us that culverts used where roads cross over streams can impede the flow of a swollen river and damage fish habitat. As storms increase in size and frequency, the quality of fish habitat becomes more precarious wherever undersized stream culverts exist.

The increasing frequency and severity of storms is also a challenge to the fruit growers in our region as we learned from orchard owners and operators, John King and Jim Bardenhagen. Additionally, the spring warm up is coming earlier, even as frost threats continue into late spring. Cherry farmer and researcher, Jim Nugent helped show us just how damaging that can be to the cherry crop and other stone fruits.

General regional warming and the expanding growing season are also having an impact on the composition of bird and animal populations in Northern Michigan. One of our region’s most respected bird experts, Dr. William Scharf has documented the movement of many different southern bird species to our region over the past 40 years or so. In a separate video essay, Dr. Philip Myers described his research that demonstrates a similar movement northward of many southern species of small rodents, including the white-footed mouse.

With early spring warm ups and the later arrival of fall frosts, some non-native plants invading Northern Michigan have an advantage over native plants. As described by Emily Cook of the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network, dangerous plants like Japanese barberry get a head start in the early spring and can out-compete native plants. Here we see the forces of development, climate change and invasive species working together to cause real harm to human populations. Where a uninformed landscaper installs Japanese barberry as a decorative shrub, birds can help it spread quickly to nearby forests where it forms dense thickets. These thickets, in turn, become a natural home to white-footed mice and black-legged ticks that carry Lyme’s disease.

Unwanted pests such as the Emerald Ash Borer and the Beech scale have also taken advantage of our changing climate and the extending growing season. The on-going loss of ash and beech trees from our forests is only one of the challenges facing forested land owners. Research efforts at the Leelanau Conservancy to better understand how to manage our forests in the face of change is described by Brian Price and Tom Nelson.

Dave Clapp of the DNR’s Charlevoix Fisheries Research Station notes that winter ice on Lake Michigan is no longer dependable or very frequent. Without the near shore ice cover, the eggs laid by whitefish in the nearshore zone each fall are at greater risk. Nature Change also learned of the pervasive impacts of invasive species on the ecology of Lake Michigan with researchers working near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park.

These stories and dozens more on Nature Change remind us that everything is connected. Climate change is part of a complex set of interactions impacting our resources. Thankfully, we have many great organizations, resource managers, researchers, and volunteers working to preserve and protect our resources during this time of great change. We hope the stories published here on Nature Change will help inform and encourage you to get engaged, volunteer and contribute.

We are grateful to the hundreds of people who have been part of Nature Change over the past two years. The following is a list of the 140+ people who have starred in, wrote or produced the video and photo essays on Nature Change. We offer our sincere thanks to each and every one of these participants, Nature Change subscribers and supporters everywhere!

  • Dennis Albert
  • Nick Alioto

    Hank Bailey
  • Tom Bailey
  • Hank Bailey
  • John Baker
  • Kim Balke
  • Jim Bardenhagen
  • Richard Becker
  • Katie Bockwoldt
  • Harvey Bootsma
  • William Bowerman

    Kim Balke
  • Haley Breniser
  • Kathy Bricker
  • Kyle Broadway
  • Yarrow Brown
  • Bethany Bucklew
  • Sally Bund
  • Ian Bund
  • Taryn Carew
  • Keith Charters

    Emily Cook
  • Dave Clapp
  • Emily Cook
  • Ari Cornman
  • Christine Crissman
  • James Dake
  • Charles Dawley
  • Wally Delamater
  • Lisa DelBuono
  • Michael Delp
  • David Dempsey

    Michael Delp
  • Tara DenHerder
  • Jerry Dennis
  • John Dobson
  • Emily Douglas
  • Ken Drenth
  • Anci Dy
  • Eric Ellis
  • Erwin (Duke) Elsner
  • Brett Fessell
  • Anne Fleming

    Katie Gzresiak
  • Amelia Gaines
  • Bob Garner
  • Neal Godby
  • Deborah E. Goldberg
  • Katie Grsesiak
  • Brian Gutowski
  • Rick Halbert
  • Michelle Handke
  • Stephen Handler

    Matt Heiman
  • Rich Hannan
  • Jack Hannert
  • Marrisa, Harbor Springs Middle School
  • Derek, Harbor Springs Middle School
  • Matt Heiman
  • Lynise Hensel
  • Becky Hill
  • Ken Holzman
  • Christopher Hoving

    John King
  • Mary Hurley
  • Isaac Hyatt
  • Jory Jonas
  • Melinda Jones
  • Tim Keilty
  • Matthew Kern
  • John King
  • Steven Kohler
  • Sierra Kreiner
  • Steve Largent

    Yu Man Lee
  • Yu Man Lee
  • Cacia Lesh
  • Carol Linteau
  • Leslie Littlefield
  • Jim Lively
  • Kelly Lively
  • Conor Lynch
  • Dave Mahan
  • Paula Martin
  • Lianna May

    Leslie Littlefield
  • Julie Jones Medlin
  • Jeff Mikula
  • Stephanie Mills
  • Tom Morrow
  • Lee Mueller
  • Philip Myers
  • Knute Nadelhoffer
  • John Nelson
  • Elliot Nelson
  • Tom Nelson

    Lianna May
  • Chelsea Nester
  • Jim Nugent
  • Jim Olson
  • Anne-Marie Oomen
  • Laura Otwell
  • Miriam Owsley
  • Peter Payette
  • Jane Perrino
  • Chris Pierce

    Philip Myers
  • Ed Pike
  • Brian Pitser
  • Erica Plesha
  • David Poinsett
  • Amy Polk
  • Kelli Polleys
  • Brian Price
  • Reb Ratliff
  • Fields Ratliff
  • Ty Ratliff

    Jim Nugent
  • Dan Ray
  • Gary Reid
  • Judy Reinhardt
  • Casey Ressl
  • Andrea Romeyn
  • Ryan Romeyn
  • Kama Ross
  • Paul W. Rossi
  • Nikki Rothwell

    Amy Polk
  • Arthur Sanchez
  • Donald Scavia
  • Randy Schaetzl
  • William Scharf
  • Jim Schwantes
  • Derek Shiels
  • Kevin Skerl
  • Nathan Skop
  • Charles St. Charles

    William Scharf
  • Alan Strange
  • Keith Taylor
  • Lainey Trubiroha
  • Ben Turschak
  • Emily Tyner
  • Tom Ulrich
  • Sarah U’Ren
  • Erin Ward

    Sarah U’Ren
  • Kirk Waterstripe
  • Kate Wellons
  • Tim Werner
  • Mackenzi Westrick
  • Jacob Wheeler
  • Kelly Wilson

    Nate Winkler
  • Nate Winkler

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