Ecosystems Planning Workshop Notes

Spring 2011

Before the Peaine and St. James township boards de-commissioned the Natural Resources and Eco-tourism Commission, it had ar-ranged an Island Planning Work-shop with representatives from The Nature Conservancy and the DNR for February 15, 2011.

The Commission was in limbo by then, but the workshop pro-ceeded as planned, moderated by John Legge and Dave Ewert from TNC. Other participants included Brian Mastenbrook from the DNR, several NREC members (in person or by phone), Wildlife Club Presi-dent Jeff Powers, Planning Com-mission members, and other people interested in the topics discussed, namely: protecting against Eme-rald Ash Borer and similar threats to Beaver Island forests; identify-ing, monitoring and eradicating invasive plants; and deer popula-tion and hunting issues.

Discussion of the first of these topics focused on the state-ordered quarantine against bringing fire-wood to Beaver Island and meas-ures to keep potentially infested wood off the island, including signs prominently posted on the mainland and the island. Watch for those signs in your travels to and from Beaver Island and spread the word that importation of fire-wood is prohibited.

The following summary of dis-cussion of the other two topics is based on notes that TNC circulated after the workshop.

Invasive Plants. The first question was, how much do we know about the status of invasives on the Island? Phragmites has been well-surveyed, but there is no thorough invasive plant inventory for other species. It would be use-ful to develop a list of species most likely to invade Beaver Island, maybe with help from the Grand Traverse Conservation District project that has collected informa-tion on the most pressing threats for Charlevoix County.

Next the group considered how to minimize importation of inva-sives by homeowners, especially for landscaping. It was agreed that outreach is critical and should in-clude raising awareness of invasive plants, emphasizing the value of native ecosystems and native plants, and recruiting the local greenhouse and Marvin’s Gardens in Charlevoix as key partners in this effort. Ideally there could be a brochure with localized informa-tion about what is invasive, or like-ly to be, and what native or non-native but non-invasive plants should be prioritized for Beaver Island.

The group also discussed possi-ble introduction and spread of in-vasives through logging. It was noted that loggers on state land are required to verify that the on-site foreman has a certificate of com-pletion of Michigan Sustainable Forestry Education or equivalent Wisconsin training, which include Best Management Practices, or BMPs. It later was learned there are no established BMPs directly related to preventing invasive spread, such as best practices for cleaning logging equipment. Poss-ible DNR inclusion of specific equipment-cleaning requirements in logging contracts for Beaver Isl-and state land was discussed, as was possibly requiring loggers working on private land to have such training and observe best practices. The bottom line, how-ever, was that currently there is no monitoring of whether loggers on state land actually follow any of the BMPs on their work sites.

Finally the group considered how Beaver Island, with limited resources, can monitor invasives and respond to new infestations. It was agreed that an Early Detec-tion-Rapid Response program is necessary and possible, but there is little local capacity and expertise for surveys, monitoring and control activities. CMU may be a poten-tial partner, and increased capacity could come through a volunteer association or network, with train-ing by experts. Another alternative is to hire an expert to coordinate work by volunteers. It will be problematic to measure success in this area, either in terms of public awareness or actual prevention and/or eradication of invasives, but if an EDRR program is estab-lished, after a few years its effec-tiveness could be measured by tracking the size of newly-discovered infestations. Also, with cooperation from the local green-house and Marvin’s Gardens, it may be possible to create inventory “watch lists” to identify non-natives that may become invasives in the future and detect whether outreach and education have lo-wered BI customer demand for non-natives.

Deer population and hunting. It was noted that the DNR Wildlife Division, which has responsibility to manage state lands in the Beaver Archipelago as a “wildlife area,” is beginning a two-year planning process to cover all wildlife in the archipelago, in accordance with DNR policy of managing within carrying capacity. The problem is, carrying capacity measurement usually is left to surrogate indica-tors like car/deer crashes and crop damage. DNR biologists have said Beaver Island has some of the lowest deer densities in the state and provides lower-quality habitat due to little early-succession habi-tat and agriculture. Nevertheless, there are enough deer to impact native vegetation, as reflected in sharp browse lines on white cedar in many places and lack of Canada yew compared with outer islands lacking deer.

It was agreed that setting deer harvest levels to match true carry-ing capacity would require signifi-cant local backing, and though there may be public support for a smaller deer herd, people may be reluctant to express it. DNR could conduct a survey to help document this, and collecting objective carry-ing-capacity-related data also could be useful. It was noted that Peaine Township supports funding a wildlife biologist to help monitor deer population effects and pro-grams for effectively monitoring deer browse exist elsewhere (at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, for example). A sim-ple, inexpensive starting point for measuring deer impact on Beaver Island native vegetation could be to photograph white cedar stands annually to document browsing lines and regeneration or absence of regeneration. If a wildlife biol-ogist is hired, there could be more sophisticated methods.

The group briefly discussed the possibility of establishing deer herds on the outer islands and con-cluded it is unlikely because their carrying capacity is low and there is little public interest in it and no current plan for it. It was observed that Garden Island still has a few deer and attracts a few hunters every year.

Next the group discussed the nature of the deer hunting expe-rience on Beaver Island, reaching consensus that the island is not likely to become a hunting destina-tion generating significant local revenue, given its remoteness and limited deer carrying capacity, but mostly will continue to provide a traditional form of recreation for islanders. There also was consen-sus that it is unlikely, even with implementation of a program such as Quality Deer Management, that the island deer herd ever will have large numbers of large deer. In short, the “island experience” probably always will be more of a draw than a possible superior hunt-ing experience on the island.

Finally, the group pondered how public opinion affects Beaver Island’s deer population and what in fact overall public opinion on that subject is. To answer these questions, it was suggested that there be a formal survey, perhaps by 2014, with data collected on browsing and vegetation regenera-tion being disseminated in the meantime to help inform the public about ecosystem impacts from the existing deep population.

Editor’s note: It seems obvious that this workshop covered a lot of ground, explored important issues, and identified valuable projects for somebody to work on. But given the uncertain status of the NREC (which apparently may or may not be reconstituted in some form by one or both townships after further review), it is not clear who that somebody will be. The Beaver Island Association can and should have a role in these endeavors, but does not have sufficient organiza-tional capacity to take general lea-dership/management responsibili-ty. Although we do not contem-plate any further formal surveying of our membership on these ques-tions, we encourage all of you to think about them, make your views known both to the BIA board and in any other forum that suits you, and get involved personally in ad-vancing our shared mission of sup-porting environmental and eco-nomic sustainability for Beaver Island.