The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy is eyeing changes to the landscape at the 365-acre Wau-Ke-Na Preserve in Glenn.
“In the next several years,” said SWMLC stewardship director Mitch Lettow, “we will begin changes to Wau-Ke-Na’s forests and fields that are part of this forward-looking, practical and multi-faceted approach to forest management,”
The Wau-Ke-Na Preserve consists of north and south tracts, plus more than three miles of trails through grassland and forest habitats, with much of it fronting on Lake Michigan.
It was donated by the late William Erby Smith, whose intent was to keep the ecosystems on the preserve healthy for wildlife and for visitors for future generations.
Over the years, Wau-Ke-Na and the surrounding land have experienced major changes as a result of logging, farming, invasive species, introduced tree diseases and human settlement, in general.
In the 1800s, land surveyor notes says the parcel had many ash trees, along with other species like American elm, American beech and Eastern hemlock.
After European settlement, logging occurred, land was farmed and developed, orchards dotted the lakeshore, and tree diversity in the region changed as certain species were favored over others for harvest and for clearing. Ash trees, being light-loving and pioneering species, took over much of this newly-cleared landscape.
Fast-forward 150 years to today with the introduction of the invasive Emerald ash-borer, which made Wau-Ke-Na’s mature ash trees an all-you-can-eat buffet for the tiny beetles. The preserve now has lost all those trees.
Similarly, 50 years ago, a wave of tree mortality in the form of Dutch elm disease destroyed most American elms in the region.
Looking forward, another invasive forest pest, Hemlock woolly adelgid, is poised to move into the area from its current epicenter in Ottawa and Muskegon counties, threatening the hemlock forests that characterize parts of this lakeshore landscape.
For the long-term health of Wau-Ke-Na forests, SWMLC plans:
1) To avoid what occurs when an invasive species wipes out a native one through promoting as much diversity as possible during habitat restoration, so if one species is lost, many others can take its place.
2) Anticipating what invasive species and other changes will be coming, by presenting workshops such as its recent one on hemlock woolly adelgid and beech bark disease, whose effects could be exacerbated by changing weather patterns.
3) State of Michigan and SWMLC’s conservation partners believe that preventing HWA is possible, thus are taking action by conducting preventative injections into and closely monitoring Wau-Ke-Na’s hemlock trees on the north tract.
4) Knowing which tree species have been largely lost and which ones are likely to face future invasive species challenges, the conservancy is selecting a variety of species for replanting Wau-Ke-Na’s forests that will have the best chance of surviving future conditions in this region.
On the south tract, SWMLC will replant former ash forests with diverse native tree species, along with removing some of the overgrown non-native “Christmas trees” in grassland restoration areas.
On the north tract, the conservancy will plant new forests from the ground up near the parking and entrance areas to find a long-term replacement for the diseased and dying Douglas firs, which are better suited to the Pacific Northwest than the Lake Michigan shoreline.
“All of this work to preserve and restore Wau-Ke-Na’s forests is part of managing an evolving preserve under changing conditions,” Lettow said.
To learn more about how SWMLC cares for its conserved land, visit its website at swmlc.org or the conservancy’s Facebook page.