Preserving Habitat – The Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network

Nature Change appreciates this article and accompanying video submitted by Emily Cook, Outreach Coordinator for the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network. We hope you enjoy them too.

Michigan is fortunate to have Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAS) covering every single county. From Monroe to Keweenaw there are hubs of specialists available to assist with the education and management of invasive species.  Some are small, covering only a single county, while others span entire regions of the state. The Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN) falls in the middle, managing terrestrial invasive species in the “pinky” – encompassing Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, and Manistee. The staff of ISN (myself included) are aware of how lucky we are. With mixed northern hardwood forests, a multitude of inland lakes, and the expansive golden dunes along Lake Michigan, the beauty is endless. However, with these special natural areas comes the responsibility to protect them. ISN has been doing just that for more than ten years.

Established in 2005 and reaching its current form in 2012, ISN has evolved in many ways. Our service area, staff size, partner list, and even name have changed over the years! Today, we cover the aforementioned counties, have a staff of five, and are based out of the Grand Traverse Conservation District in Traverse City, MI. ISN is almost entirely grant funded, and is guided by emerging science and the insight of our more than 60 integral conservation partners.

There have always been challenges as an organization in flux, racing against newly-established species and relying so much on funding that comes with a rapidly approaching deadline. However, 2020 and the arrival of COVID-19 truly tested the stamina of the Invasive Species Network. The organization entered the year with the amazing news that our innovative program, Go Beyond Beauty, was funded to go state-wide. A new staff person was hired, and big plans were made for the rest of the year, including partnering with engaged invasive species managers beyond the lines of our service area. Regardless, with fault resting entirely on an unexpected virus, ISN’s funding was very suddenly paused.

So began a very different season for ISN. Normally, spring and summer are the busiest with a seasonal treatment crew in place and a diverse range of outreach presentations and events. Now the organization was operating at a bare bones level with partial staff to keep operations flowing, calling on partners to help at every turn. It was challenging to say the least, as this continued for more than four months until August, when funding was restored.

We are pleased to report that in September 2020, ISN is back to a normal staff size and stronger than ever. Paused programming has begun again (albeit a little late) and invasive species management in northwest Michigan will continue. This time has truly made us aware of the collaborative nature of our Network and the importance of having a diverse group of partners. We all felt the rally around us to continue much of the work that would otherwise be left behind. These partnerships are what make protecting our region’s special places possible.

As we look ahead, things will continue to change. If nothing else, 2020 has taught us the ever-important lesson to adapt. We hope to strengthen our partnerships and community-involvement through new and expanded programming, direct management, and volunteer efforts. If you are interested in learning more about what we do or getting involved, please visit ISN’s website: www.HabitatMatters.org.

Not in northwest Michigan? Check out the statewide CISMA map to see who covers your county.

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