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Ecosystem Representation & Networks
One the most widely accepted goals of conservation is ecosystem representation (i.e., the conservation of a representative set of high quality natural communities or ecosystems within a network of protected areas; Christensen et al. 1996). Ecosystem representation seeks to protect a broad diversity of habitats and ecological processes on which species depend; protecting this ecosystem diversity may be the most effective way to preserve biological diversity, including both rare and common species (Margules et al. 1988, Noss and Scott 1997, Groves and Valutis 1999). A hierarchical structure of representation should be considered for identification of protected areas or 'reserves,' from large functional landscapes at a coarse scale (to capture ecological processes and deflect larger-scale threats), through genetic variation in wildlife at the finest scale (Noss 1987, Noss 1990a, Groves and Valutis 1999, Margules and Pressey 2000, Poiani et al. 2000).
A reserve does not infer the absence of management or the maintenance of an unchanging system. In fact, to maintain representation of wildlife and vegetation diversity, management is imperative (Noss and Scott 1997) and change is inevitable, given that the ecological processes that are the subject of protection will ultimately cause change (Botkin 1990). Representing the full spectrum of species assemblages created by these processes and changes should be an ultimate goal of a reserve network.
Many agencies and organizations in Michigan have programs with goals of identifying and protecting areas that include important landscapes, features or species.
The Natural Rivers Program was developed to preserve, protect and enhance Michigan's finest river systems. Currently 2,091 miles of rivers and streams are protected. This program protects river corridors by using setbacks and restrictions for construction and management within a specified distance of the river.
The Biodiversity Conservation Planning Process has been proposed as a process to identify planning objectives and to develop plans to meet those objectives. Initially, the process will be used to identify areas on public and private lands with high quality natural communities, but will be expanded to also address various other high conservation value areas, considering both ecological and social values.
Two of the three major National Parks in Michigan (Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks) contain roughly 130,000 acres of land. The third park, Isle Royale, located in Lake Superior, consists of approximately 85 square miles. Although some portions of these parks have been developed for visitor interpretation and recreational use, the majority of each park is left undisturbed by human activities. Park Service land-management strategies include protection and restoration of natural features and wildlife species.
Federal Wilderness Areas are areas of undeveloped Federal land that have retained their primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation and are protected and managed to preserve their natural conditions. The 13 Federal Wilderness Areas in Michigan encompass approximately 92,000 acres, which include Nordhouse Dunes, Horseshoe Bay, Sturgeon River Gorge and Seney National Wildlife Refuge.
Wild and Scenic Rivers are selected rivers that, with their immediate environments, possess outstanding remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic or cultural. They are preserved in a free-flowing condition to maintain those values. Sixteen stretches of water extending nearly 625 miles, including sections of the Pere Marquette, Au Sable, Tahquamenon and Presque Isle rivers, have been designated under this program in Michigan.
Beyond the Reserve
Donovan et al. (2004) found that only 3% of 214 bird species had at least 10% of their predicted distribution within identified reserves in Michigan. However, when other, primarily public, lands currently managed for natural resource values were included, the percentage of birds with at least 10% of their predicted distribution within the defined areas increased to 81% of species. These differences were similar for mammals (0% to 84%), amphibians (0 to 73%) and reptiles (0 to 60%). If even a small portion of the remaining, primarily private, lands were managed for similar values, the result would be a significant step toward full ecosystem representation in Michigan. Cooperative efforts with private landowners will be a critical and effective means of protecting wildlife and ecological processes (Western and Wright 1994, Miller and Hobbs 2002).
The Nature Conservancy has made a step in this direction with its Ecoregional Conservation Planning efforts throughout North America (Groves et al. 2000). Large landscapes that possess and maintain important ecological communities or functions (e.g., a river watershed, a forest complex) are identified as priority areas. These areas generally reflect a variety of land ownership, leading TNC to develop partnerships with local communities in many areas. In Michigan, the identification of priority areas by TNC has been completed (TNC 2000, TNC and Nature Conservancy of Canada 2002, TNC 2003), and the formation of partnerships continues.
Conservation Needs to Address Ecosystem Representation and Network Issues:
Land & Water Protection
Land, Water & Species Management
Education & Awareness
Research, Surveys & Monitoring
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