DNR High Conservation Value Areas

Trees in a forest The Michigan State forest contains many areas with exceptional conservation values, including globally, nationally, and regionally significant concentrations of endemic, rare, threatened and endangered species and natural community habitats.  These values are reflected in components of forest certification standards that address high conservation value forests.

As applicable to DNR lands, the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) defines high conservation value forests (HCVFs) as those that possess one or more of the following High Conservation Values (HCVs):

1. HCV forest areas containing globally, regionally or nationally significant concentrations of biodiversity values (e.g., endemism, endangered species, refugia), including RTE species and their habitats;
2. HCV forest areas containing globally, regionally or nationally significant large landscape level forests, contained within, or containing the management unit, where viable populations of most if not all naturally occurring species exist in natural patterns of distribution and abundance;
3. HCV forest areas that are in or contain rare, threatened or endangered ecosystems.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI) defines Forests with Exceptional Conservation Value ascritically imperiled (G1) and imperiled (G2) species and ecological communities.

Note: Rare, threatened, or endangered ecosystems/ecological communities in Michigan are G1/S1, G2/S2, G3 and some S3 species and natural communities as defined and identified by NatureServe and the Michigan Natural Heritage Program Element Occurrence (EO) database maintained by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

Certificate holders are required to identify and manage to protect known sites associated with High Conservation Value Forests and Forests with Exceptional Conservation Value.  In accordance with FSC Principle 9 "Management activities in high conservation value forests shall maintain or enhance the attributes which define such forests. Decisions regarding high conservation value forests shall always be considered in the context of a precautionary approach."

The Michigan DNR uses the term High Conservation Value Area (HCVA) to collectively address these certification requirements.  High Conservation Value Areas upon certified State Forest lands are:

Because many of these areas are identified and designated under specific and distinct statutory and administrative processes many of these areas are not mutually exclusive, and may have multiple HCVA designations.  For example, some Ecological Reference Areas are located within Critical Dune, Natural Area, and Dedicated Habitat Areas.

Ecological Reference Areas

Ecological Reference Areas (ERAs) serve as models of ecological reference within the state.  They are higher quality examples of functioning ecosystems that are primarily influenced by natural ecological processes.   ERAs are based on the Michigan Natural Heritage Database of known natural community occurrences.  Operationally, are comprised of two categories:

Common Communities A representative selection of natural communities that are considered to be ‘vulnerable’ but less sensitive to typical forest management practices, ‘apparently secure’ or ‘secure’ at either a global or state scale.  These ERAs must also be documented as an ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ example of the natural community.

Forest land
Rare Communities All natural communities that are considered to be ‘vulnerable’ but more sensitive to typical forest management practices, ‘imperiled’ or ‘critically imperiled’ at either a global or state scale. These ERAs must be documented in the Michigan Natural Heritage Database, but may have any viability rank (excellent, good, fair or poor).

ERAs are primarily located upon DNR-administered lands (State Forest, State Parks, and State Wildlife Areas), but are also located upon some Federal lands (National Forest, National Parks and Lakeshores, and Wildlife Refuges), and some local government and conservancy lands.  ERAs located on DNR-administered lands are considered to be HCVAs.

Management activities or prescriptions in ERAs managed by the DNR are limited to low impact activities compatible with the defined attributes and values of the identified natural community type.

More details regarding ERAs are available on the DNR's ERA web page

Dedicated Natural Areas

image of man walking in forest

Places that have retained the best examples of Michigan’s native landscapes, ecosystems, natural communities or scenic qualities are recognized throughout Michigan as natural areas, wilderness areas, or wild areas.  Features used to identify natural areas include: size, uniqueness, pristine nature, aesthetic or scenic qualities, and outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.

The dedication of natural areas is governed by Part 351, Wilderness and Natural Areas, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended. 

There are four dedicated Natural Areas located upon certified State Forest land:

Natural and Wild and Scenic Rivers

Dedicated natural rivers and wild and scenic rivers preserve, protect, and enhance Michigan’s finest river systems for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations.

Natural rivers are established under authority of Part 305, Natural Rivers, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended.  Wild and Scenic Rivers are established under authority of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Public Law 90-542, as amended. 

image of a natural river

There are eleven natural rivers that are partially located on certified State Forest land: the Fox and Two Hearted rivers in the Upper Peninsula; and the Au Sable, Betsie, Boardman, Jordan, Pere Marquette, Pigeon, Pine, Rifle and Upper Manistee rivers in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Wild and Scenic Rivers are primarily located upon Federal-administered lands.  There are 18 miles of federal designated wild and scenic rivers that are located on certified State Forest lands, including portions of the East Branch Tahquamenon, Indian, Manistee, Ontonagon, Paint, Pere Marquette, Pine and Presque Isle rivers. Portions of the Au Sable, Pine, and Pere Marquette wild and scenic rivers are co-designated as state natural rivers.

Critical Dunes
Critical sand dunes adjacent to shorelines of Great Lakes are established under authority of Part 353, Sand Dunes Protection and Management, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended.

image of critical sand dunes
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen

There are 15 critical dune areas on certified State Forest lands that provide a total of 9,290 acres of habitat, throughout northern Michigan. Several rare natural community types include open dunes, wooded dune and swale complexes, sand/gravel beaches, interdunal wetlands, and Great Lakes barrens.

Dedicated Habitat Areas

image of Kirtland's Warbler

Dedicated Habitat Areas are a DNR administrative designation that helps with decisions about where and how the DNR promotes conservation of habitat for:

  • Specific federal and state threatened or endangered species (currently the Kirtland’s Warbler, Piping Plover, and Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake); and
  • Species dependent upon interior core forest habitats on DNR-administered lands.

Habitat areas are dedicated for the Kirtland’s Warbler and Piping Plover which are federal- and state-endangered species; and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. There are 17 Kirtland’s Warbler Management Units on certified State Forest land, totaling 142,644 acres, 6 Piping Plover Critical Habitat Units totaling 8,217 acres, and 19 Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Managed Lands Units totaling 51,604 acres. Additionally, there are 35 Dedicated Habitat Areas (DHAs) for interior core forest habitats totaling 114,914 acres of DNR-administered lands.

DHAs may also have some other designation (such as an Ecological Reference Area, Natural Area, or Natural River) for which those portions managed following guidance provided in DNR policies, procedures and plans, in addition to the specified habitat. For all other portions of DHAs, management objectives are to provide the specified wildlife habitat. For the core interior forest areas, this means that forest management and timber harvesting activities (including prescribed fire) may be used to create and maintain the compositional and structural conditions that emulate an intact, mature forest or other successional phases that provide necessary habitat for interior core forest dependent species. In these DHAs, specific emphasis is given to minimizing fragmentation of the forest by limiting the size, spatial distribution, and number of forest openings to that characteristic of the natural disturbance regimes associated with the specific forest type.

Dedicated Management Areas

Dedicated management areas are established through the Land Use Orders of the Director for specific purposes, including biodiversity values and dispersed, nonintrusive recreation (such as hunting, trapping, wildlife viewing, hiking, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing).

There are thirteen dedicated management areas located on the certified State Forest:

  • Baraga Plains Waterfowl Management Area
  • DeWard Tract
  • Gladwin Field Trial Area
  • Green Timbers Management Unit
  • Jordan River Valley
  • Kawkawlin Creek Flooding
  • Lame Duck Foot Access Area
  • Little Presque Isle
  • Mason Tract
  • Munuscong Wildlife Area
  • Sand Lakes Quiet Area
  • Simmons Woods
  • Skegemog Lake Wildlife Area

Coastal Environmental Areas

Coastal environmental areas (CEAs) are Great Lakes coastal marshes that are important for the protection and maintenance of habitat for reptiles and amphibians, critical fisheries spawning and refuge habitat, as well as providing habitat for migratory and non-migratory bird species.

CEAs have been established under authority of Part 323, Shorelands Protection and Management, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended. 

image of coastal environmental area
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen

There are 33 dedicated CEAs upon certified State Forest that total approximately 1,280 acres, concentrated in Alpena, Mackinac, Chippewa, Delta and Baraga counties.