Partners & Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding help support restoration

MICHIGANGreat Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding has been essential to restoring openland complexes, especially oak savannas, on the Huron-Manistee National Forests. Along with support from other partners, this funding has helped bolster restoration efforts for habitats that support a variety of species and provide numerous ecological benefits, including watershed health.

Ongoing work on the Baldwin/White Cloud Ranger District — located on the Manistee National Forest in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula — is restoring, maintaining and improving connectivity within openland complexes of oak savannas, barrens, upland openings and lowland scrub habitats. These habitats are less dense with trees and have grasses, wildflowers and shrubs that provide excellent food and cover, as well as habitat edge for wildlife.

However, these habitat types need disturbance to be maintained, and they have declined over the past century due to reforestation, fire control efforts, the process of natural succession and human development. In particular, oak savannas are now estimated to cover less than 1% of their historic extent. Plants and animals that depend on these habitats have decreased in numbers, including the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly

Healthy forests are also essential to a healthy watershed. The USDA Forest Service uses GLRI grants to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and accelerate progress toward long-term restoration goals.

The District’s efforts to restore openland complexes have increased by 15-fold over the last decade. The District now annually manages 2,850 acres per year of oak savannas, barrens, upland openings and lowland scrub habitats, compared to the historical average of 190 acres per year. This increase has been made possible through integrated programs, Stewardship and Good Neighbor Authority projects, adaptive management and the support of partners, volunteers and grant funding.

GLRI funding has helped attract partner contributions and increased opportunities for other grants. Between 2019 and 2021, the District leveraged every dollar of GLRI funds with at least $4 in matching funds, making it possible to complete over 6,200 acres of treatments including manual, mechanical and chemical removal of trees and shrubs; prescribed burns; mechanical site preparation; seeding and planting native forbs and grasses; manual and chemical removal of non-native invasive plants; snag and large woody debris creation; and installation of barrier posts and gates for habitat protection.

These activities build on an ongoing multiphase, largescale cooperative project with over 34 partners including agencies, nonprofit organizations, local businesses and contractors, tribes, youth crews and private landowners. Over the next 15 years, the goal is to restore and maintain over 6,500 acres of oak savanna and 6,200 acres of barrens, upland openings and lowland scrub habitats across multiple ownerships in the southwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. 

Given that land ownership within management areas is fragmented, working with partners is vital to increase the acreage, quality, distribution and connectivity of openland complexes across landscapes and ownership boundaries. Increasing landscape diversity by managing openland complexes near other habitat types (regenerating forests, woodlands, mature forests) and along rivers and other waterbodies is enhancing foraging, breeding and overwintering habitat for a wide variety of species dependent on early successional and seral habitats.

This work is paying off! Management activities are improving the status of a diversity of at-risk species.  Through natural dispersion, Karner blue butterfly now occupy over 41 of the District’s savanna creation areas. Occupied Karner blue butterfly habitat has increased from approximately 300 to 1,500 acres. Observations of other rare plant and wildlife species also are increasing, including the federally threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake, red-headed woodpecker, American bumble bee, Hill’s thistle, Ottoe skipper, eastern box turtle, prairie warbler, Persius duskywing, wood turtle, dusted skipper, prairie smoke, hill-prairie spittlebug, Blanding’s turtle, frosted elfin, prairie warbler and monarch butterfly.

Karner blue butterfly.Restored oak savannah on the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

Left: Karner blue butterfly on the Huron-Manistee National Forests; USDA Forest Service photo. Right: Restored oak savannah on the Huron-Manistee National Forests; USDA Forest Service photo