BIA = Great Lakes Sustainability

We changed the name of this organization to the Beaver Island Association to better represent the breadth of an organizational mission that extends well beyond what might be considered narrow property ownership concerns. With the new name we adopted a motto or tagline to succinctly summarize the broader mission: Supporting Environmental & Economic Sustainability. The last word in that tagline captures both the essence of the Beaver Island Association and the challenges that face our beautiful Island and the magnificent Great Lakes of which it is our favorite part.

To enhance the sustainability of the organization itself, the Board of Directors has been expanded and has become an even more active and committed body than in years past. After last summer’s Annual Membership Meeting we welcomed two new Directors, Sue Avery and Jacque LaFreniere, and they have hit the ground running. Sue now is editor of this newsletter and keeper of the BIA website. Jacque has taken responsibility for the Association’s natural resource concerns and activities, which at this writing primarily involves coordinating the activities of twenty-five “Beach Rangers” she recruited to walk the Island shoreline looking for, identifying, collecting and disposing of the carcasses of migratory birds afflicted with avian botulism.

In late September we again sponsored and (through Vice President Ken McDonald’s efforts) coordinated a major beach cleanup project. The first weekend in November BIA will be convener for a meeting of interested groups and individuals attempting to identify and define the most important natural, historical and recreational features of State-held acreage on Beaver Island, so that we can positively influence DNR planning for the use and management of those lands. Next summer, we will present lectures on matters of environmental interest and continue to work cooperatively with the Townships on the continuing phragmites eradication program. Director Bruce Jacobson is leading a cooperative effort with the Beaver Island Fire Department to improve fire danger signage and promote Island-wide preparation for forest fire prevention and response. And planning is under way for a major new event that we hope will bring people from all around the Great Lakes to Beaver Island the last weekend in August 2009: a Great Lakes Islands Symposium, with in-depth focus on environmental and economic issues of common concern to all islands (and islanders) in the Great Lakes. Directors Craig Schrotenboer and Pam Grassmick are coordinating this activity.

That’s a quick summary of Association efforts for the growth and sustainability of the organization itself and important aspects of Island life and environment. Now for some thoughts about larger, more troubling issues. Economically, these are perilous times for the country as a whole, and like everything else about Island living (gas prices, travel complications, you name it) hard economic times tend to hit the Island harder than other places. Traveling around the Island all summer and early autumn, the only thing more plentiful than turkeys seemed to be realtors’ for sale signs, not an encouraging sight for folks concerned about the value and potential saleability of their property. Thankfully, the water level was higher and the amount of new algae sloshing up against our beaches seemed to be smaller than the past couple of years. But neither short- nor long-term climate trends and projections give much cause for optimism as they relate to Beaver Island’s environmental or economic future – unless effective, concerted action is taken to change those trends.

A recent report by the National Conference of State Legislatures (in collaboration with the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research) focused on climate change and the economy. It showed that Michigan’s average temperature rose and the amount of ice cover on the northern Great Lakes declined appreciably over the last century. Models used in that study indicate that Michigan could become hotter and drier throughout the 21st Century, with summers resembling those of present-day Ohio by 2030. More precipitation is predicted, but continuing increases in summer and winter temperatures are expected to more than counter-balance increases in rainfall, causing a continuing long-term decline in Great Lakes water levels – as much as 1.5 to 8 feet by 2100. Such developments could have devastating effects on commercial Great Lakes shipping, recreational boating and fishing, and hydroelectric power production. They also could require annual dredging along the entire Great Lakes-St. Lawrence route at yearly costs exceeding $100 million to keep commercial shipping going. Perversely, while lake levels drop, increased (and more extreme) precipitation events are likely to cause increased flooding and runoff pollution, threatening the safety of the citizenry and the water they drink and enjoy recreationally.

Continually rising temperatures also have affected—and will continue to affect—the flora and fauna that make Michigan in general and Beaver Island in particular such a beautiful place to live and a unique magnet for nature-focused tourism. One study found that 80% of species studied are changing their behavior, migratory patterns and habitats because of rising temperatures. If these trends continue, the natural beauty and quality of life that have drawn us all to Beaver Island obviously will be threatened. But so will the Island’s economic viability, because the NCSL report foresees nature-related tourism losses in Michigan running into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

In summary, environmental and economic sustainability is what we’re all about as a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting all that is good and special about Beaver Island. That’s the good news. But all the news obviously is not so good, and each of us needs to do everything in our power to meet the challenges and help solve the problems of climate change – in our personal lives, through organizations such as BIA, and by strong and persistent advocacy with our elected representatives.

– Paul Glendon, President
Beaver Island Association