Brief History & Timeline

The story of Michigan's natural areas began with concern over the fate of the Porcupine Mountains. In 1925, P. J. Hoffmaster, then chief of State Parks, recommended the acquisition of the Porcupine Mountains to prevent further tree cutting. Twenty years later, the State acquired the area and the State Park was established in 1946. However, the Porcupine Mountains continued to be threatened: copper mining in 1958, a proposed scenic road to the heart of the park in 1965, and later a proposal for fish ladders that would require dynamiting the falls in the Presque Isle River. These plans were dropped, but it was clear that "State Park" designation alone could not protect the area's virgin forests, waterfalls, scenic shorelines, geological, and ecological resources.

As the above events unfolded, the Michigan Botanical Club formed a committee, leading to the 1950 incorporation of the Michigan Natural Areas Council. During the next twenty years, the Council evaluated and made recommendations about natural areas to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC). In 1971, the Natural Areas Advisory Board was created by Executive Order and in 1972, the legislature created the State's Natural Areas Program with the passage of the Wilderness and Natural Areas Act. A flurry of activity in the 1970s resulted in several legislative re-dedications of Natural Areas previously dedicated by the NRC, including Haven Hill Natural Area and the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Area.

In 1979, the Michigan Natural Features Inventory was created through a partnership between the MDNR and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). In response to a decrease in Natural Area dedication activity in the 1980s, TNC provided an interim and then MDNR a permanent coordinator to assume natural areas responsibilities. For 20 years, natural area efforts in Michigan were focused on dedications, with the Natural Areas coordinator serving primarily as a liaison between the MDNR and the Wilderness and Natural Areas Board (WNAB). The most recent legal Natural Area dedication occurred in 1988.

In the early 1990s the WNAB was dissolved and the Natural Areas Legislation recodified. Then, in 1994, the Natural Areas Coordinator's position was rewritten to focus not only on dedications, but also stewardship and management of natural areas in Michigan. As a new century begins, the Natural Areas Program is planning for the future, while building on our past.

Timeline of the
Natural Areas Effort in Michigan


P. J. Hoffmaster and others recommend acquisition of the Porcupine Mountains.

1947 Wilderness Tracts and Trails Committee of the Southeast Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club (MBC) formed.

Porcupine Mountain State Park established.

P. J. Hoffmaster requests the Michigan Botanical Club make scientific surveys on state parks to assist in the Department's park planning effort.

1949 Haven Hill Ecology Trail and Nature Preserve Sub-committee of the Wilderness Tracts and Trails Committee, MBC formed to provide recommendations to the Department.
1950 Michigan Natural Areas Council (MNAC) established from the Wilderness Tracts and Trails Committee.
Following the recommendations of the MNAC, 76,175 acres on State land dedicated as Natural Areas via Natural Resource Commission resolutions.
1971 Advisory Council for Natural Areas established via State of Michigan Executive Order, 1971-5 by Governor Milliken.

Wilderness and Natural Areas Act 241, PA of 1972 passes.

1972 Wilderness and Natural Areas Board (WNAB) appointed by Governor Milliken.
1973 Wilderness and Natural Areas Program responsibilities transferred to Office of Land Use, Division of Land Resource Programs.
1979 Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) established in Office of Land Use, Division of Land Resource Programs, via a MDNR contract with The Nature Conservancy.

MNFI was established to complete a state wide inventory of endangered, threatened, and special concern species and high quality natural communities and to establish a database of their occurrences in order to determine priorities for protection, including Natural Area dedication of State and private lands.

1984 Michigan Natural Heritage Recommendations prepared by Ron Kapp, Chair of WNAB, lead to positive changes in the Wilderness and Natural Areas Program.
1985 Natural Heritage Program Evaluation Task Force created within the MDNR.
1987 Michigan Natural Heritage Program formed within the Wildlife Division, MDNR, to consolidate under one umbrella program: the Endangered Species Program, Nongame Wildlife Fund, Natural Areas Program, National Natural Landmarks, Natural Beauty Roads, Living Resources Program, and Michigan Natural Features Inventory.
1991 WNAB dissolved under Executive Order 1991-31.

Wilderness and Natural Areas Act, Public Act 241 of 1972 re-codified as Section 35102 of Part 351, 1994 PA 451 (Appendix A) and all previous functions of the WNAB shifted to the Director of the MDNR.

Section 35102 of Part 351, 1994 PA 451 amended to allow management with motorized equipment and utility easements on legally dedicated Natural Areas, under certain circumstances.