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Sustainability . . . Of What, And How?

Beaver Island Association members who live on the Island year-round, as well as those who follow BI happenings in the monthly papers and BI web-postings, know that the last several months have been anything but quiet on the governmental, environmental and economic fronts.

There has been disquiet within and between the two Township Boards on issues related to the municipal airport and the management and financing of the Townships’ other joint ventures. Most recent reports suggest that the back-and-forthing on those issues has calmed down a bit since the first joint meeting of the two Boards last November, which as Ron Wojan commented in its closing moments was both a troubling and inspiring example of participatory democracy. But fundamental questions still need to be answered. In this observer’s view, the most important of them–putting aside the merits of any of the specific topics being debated –is this: Since it is obvious that almost every big thing that affects (or is affected by) the governance of Beaver Island requires collaboration and cooperation between the two Townships, how sustainable is our bifurcated form of government, and isn’t it time to consolidate the two Townships into one?

More on that later, but for now, let’s concentrate on another question about the future of Beaver Island that is attracting lots of attention. In its narrowest form, as advocated by a new affinity group organization called the Beaver Island Conservation Club, the question is whether or not the Island should adopt a program called QDM, which stands for Quality Deer Management. At the risk of over-simplification, this is a program of primary concern to hunters, aimed at improving the quality (in terms of numbers and gender, age and antler-size distribution) of the deer herd in order to make the BI deer hunting scene as robust as it can be. But the kind of “management” it would entail extends well beyond decisions about how many deer of which gender and age should be “harvested” in any given season to fundamental choices about the care, preservation and management of the totality of the Island’s natural resources, especially its forests.

At the heart of the debate regarding forest management is the issue of clear-cutting, which to some degree apparently is one of the habitat aspects of QDM. On the negative side of that debate, at least with respect to the beech-maple portions of Beaver Island forests, is forester Eric Myers, whose views on the subject appear in this issue of Currents. A middle view expressed by Eric Ellis, biologist and manager of Conservation Resource Alliance’s Wild Link Program, with concurrence from CMU Bio-Station Director Don Uzarski, is that carefully planned and properly performed rotational clear-cuts of a variety of species, possibly including some hardwood stands, can be an effective way to “maintain early successional habitat” that will support diverse and healthy wildlife.

The Beaver Island Association has taken no formal position on QDM specifically or forestry management practices generally. But in early March we urged the Peaine Township Board to analyze these issues “through a perspective much broader than deer herd management” and to “wait for and carefully consider” recommendations from the Natural Resources and Eco-Tourism Commission “before adopting any specific forest management strategy as official Township policy.”

We are heartened that the Peaine Trustees chose such a course, and the Association will provide financial support for a day-long NRETC Symposium on “Managing our Forest and Wildlife for Sustainability” to be held at the BI Community Center on June 28. Eric Myers is an NRETC member and will be the keynote speaker and facilitator for this Symposium, which is to be the first in a planned series devoted to “understanding and managing Beaver Island’s ecosystems for sustainability and economic growth.” We encourage all BIA members who will be on the Island that day to attend, both to learn more about these important issues and to express your views.

Two members of that Commission (established by the Townships last year) also are members of the BIA Board of Directors: Jim Jones (as our official representative) and Jacque LaFreniere. Former BIA Board member and President Pam Grassmick spearheaded formation of the Commission (and another devoted to social services) and also is a member. We are grateful for and proud of their participation. In keeping with our commitment to supporting both environmental and economic sustainability, Jim has suggested that analysis of and decisions about wildlife and forest management should be integrated in a comprehensive view of Beaver Island as a sociological eco-system, including the effects of all varieties of human presence and activity on the Island, not just deer-hunting.

He also suggests that Beaver Island is a near-perfect environment for scientific study of Complex Adaptive Sociological Ecosystem dynamics –because of its diverse plant populations, pristine forest areas, limited predator-prey relationships, deforestation by humans and beavers, small but intrusive human community and activities (including not only logging but building construction, hunting, fishing, limited farming and tourism), topographical variety (including wetlands, forests, beaches and inland lakes), and isolation in the middle of an inland sea –and proposes that the CMU Biological Station would be an ideal place for a laboratory and related course work for such studies. As a disturbing reflection of the increasing urgency of these issues, a recently completed comprehensive study ranks Beaver Island as the tenth most threatened Great Lakes island in terms of biodiversity and conservation.

We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible and discussing these and other important matters at the Association’s Annual Membership Meeting this summer. Please mark your calendars now for Monday, July 12 at 7 p.m. at Peaine Township Hall. Plans also are in the works for a BIA-sponsored presentation on Green Building Practices and LEED Certification later in the summer; we’ll announce details on that as soon as they’re available. Until then, enjoy what’s left of Spring wherever you may be and feel free to share your thoughts and concerns with any of us on the BIA Board (by e-mail, letter or phone) until we meet again on our beloved Beaver Island.
Paul Glendon, President
Beaver Island Association

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