Nature group expands preserves

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Capital News Service
LANSING – A lot has changed since the Michigan Nature Association (MNA) started creating nature preserves in 1960, says Steve Kelley, the organization president.
Just more than 50 years since MNA bought its first property, the Louis Senghas Memorial Nature Sanctuary in St. Clair County, its holdings have increased to more than 10,000 acres across the state.
Kelley said that most of the Williamston-based group’s early acquisitions were purchased, often in secrecy.
Now, however, some wealthy donors have given environmentally valuable properties to MNA, such as the Roach Point Nature Sanctuary in Chippewa County.
Monetary contributors make other acquisitions possible.
The J.A. Woollam Foundation in Lincoln, Neb., has donated “millions and millions of dollars” to conservation groups, including the MNA, Kelley said.
Other donors include the Consumers Energy Foundation and REI, a major outdoor gear retailer.
Kelley also said his association occasionally receives grants from the state for stewardship operations at its 170 preserves.
The 10,000th acre was added when MNA acquired 580 acres in Oscoda County in February that resulted through a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the J.A. Woollam Foundation.
One result is that other nonprofit organizations have gotten involved in purchasing and protecting wildlife habitats, he said. “There has been a large number of other groups that do complementary work. The ultimate goal is to have these places protected.
“It’s not critical to us to own everything ourselves,” he said.
One concern is the amount of maintenance required due to invasive species and human interference, Kelley said.
“In the old days, we’d buy places and just put them aside,” he said. “Now we realize we have to do monitoring and stewardship. We spend a lot of money on protecting existing property.”
Kelley said the ratio of money spent on maintenance compared to acquisitions has dramatically changed. While the association once spent $19 on purchases for every $1 used for stewardship operations, now it spends $2 to maintain properties for every $1 for adding new habitats.
Maintenance problems chiefly come from dealing with invasive species and human abuses.
Since its preserves are generally open to the public, Kelley said visitors could damage habitats. To visit environmentally sensitive habitats, MNA requires a tour arranged in advance, though trespassing still occasionally occurs on such properties.
Recently MNA has focused on adding land around existing preserves to better keep out invasive species.
Kelley said that his group might seek out property for conservation purposes, but doesn’t pressure landowners.
He cited an example where MNA wanted to obtain land to protect a local species of snake, but the owner wasn’t willing to sell.
Kelley said the group’s approach is to educate owners about its goals, but not go beyond that.
“They may not appreciate what they have, but they can always change their mind later,” Kelley said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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