Michigan's Great Lakes shoreline contains some of the most significant and unique natural features in the state and region. The largest freshwater dune complexes in the world are found in this coastal zone. A rich assortment of natural communities including boreal forests, cedar swamps, Great Lakes marshes, limestone cliffs, and a globally rare bedrock grassland community known as alvar, comprise much of the remainder of these lakeshores.
Michigan's coastal zone also is home to numerous rare plants and animals, some of which only occur along the Great Lakes shoreline. These include state and federal threatened or endangered plants such as Pitcher's thistle, Houghton's goldenrod, dwarf lake iris (Michigan's state wildflower), and Michigan monkey-flower. The federal and state endangered piping plover is known to nest only in the Great Lakes Region along the northern Michigan shoreline. The state threatened Lake Huron locust is known only from high quality, coastal sand dunes of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ontario. One of the most endangered dragonflies in the country, the Hine's emerald dragonfly, was recently discovered along Lake Michigan in the eastern Upper Peninsula, and a number of globally rare land snails also were recently found along the Upper Peninsula shoreline. Great Lakes shores also serve as important migration corridors for large concentrations of landbirds and provide critical stopover habitat for neotropical migratory birds.
Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) conducted a project in 2000 to survey and document shoreline occurrences of rare plants and animals and high quality natural communities in the northern Lake Michigan coastal zone in Schoolcraft County in the Upper Peninsula. Thirty-nine occurrences of rare plants and nine populations of the state threatened Lake Huron locust were documented during the study. A total of 116 bird species were observed during migratory and breeding bird surveys. Five species of state-listed and globally rare land snails and four high quality natural communities were documented in the area. Additionally, the near-shore aquatic communities sampled contained a diversity of predominantly native species, which is increasingly rare in the Great Lakes.
The coastal zone in Schoolcraft County is in large part privately owned and has experienced significant residential, recreational, and commercial development in recent years. The results from this study indicate that many of the rare shoreline species can withstand some level of human disturbance. However, the long-term sustainability of shoreline communities and species will require appropriate stewardship by landowners and land use planning that balances the needs of economic growth with those of natural features.
Recommendations for efforts that could help achieve long-term sustainability include:
- landowner education on appropriate stewardship of coastal zone features,
- continued surveys and monitoring to obtain current and accurate
information on the distribution and status of natural features and long-term
impacts of management,
- development of an effective framework for planners and others involved
with critical land-use decisions at local, state, and federal levels to
adequately address natural features concerns, and
- development of a landscape-level approach to land-use and conservation planning.
Michigan Natural Features Inventory is a program with Michigan State University Extension. The MNFI is responsible for inventorying and tracking Michigan's endangered, threatened, or special concern plants and animals, natural communities, and other significant natural features. The MNFI will be continuing surveys along the northern Lake Michigan shoreline in Mackinac County in 2001. This project is funded through a grant provided by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality through the Coastal Zone Management Program. For more information, contact Phyllis Higman at Michigan Natural Features Inventory, P.O. Box 30444, Lansing, MI 48909-7944.