Protecting Our Lakeshore

by Amelia August 21, 2020


"Where Are They Now" is a series of stories highlighting our grantee partners and where their work has taken them, written by our summer intern, Amelia Burke. Amelia is from Traverse City and studies International Relations and Spanish at James Madison College within Michigan State University. She has taken the internship role to promote the marvelous organizations Rotary Charities supports, especially in this difficult time during COVID-19. Amelia hopes to use her experience with Rotary Youth Exchange and Rotary Charities to support stronger communities and intercultural conversation both here and abroad.

On a summer walk on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a hiker expects perhaps to see a beautiful view of the water, some thriving plants, and an abundant natural environment. Protecting our land and our sought-after, captivating community is always important, especially in times when COVID-19 inhibits our ability to gather indoors as we normally would. But our natural areas are threatened by invasive plants that your average hiker might not recognize. Luckily, the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network is on the case.

Baby’s-breath, a white flowering plant most famous for appearing in floral arrangements, has invaded the particularly sandy soil in the Northwestern regions of Michigan’s lower peninsula, as detailed in this article from Detroit Free Press. The invasive plant, which grows at an astonishing rate during the warm summer months, has taken over many of our dunes, disrupting the sands and crowding out local plants.

Baby’s-breath is a cause for great concern for nature-lovers in our area and a priority species for the local Invasive Species Network, a collaborative of sixty environmental organizations working to protect Northern Michigan’s native plants with fiduciary support from Grand Traverse Conservation District. The network has been working with the public to uproot baby’s-breath for years.

Rotary Charities supported the effort in 2013 with a grant to global organization The Nature Conservancy, who, along with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, partnered with the Invasive Species Network. The Lansing-based Michigan Field Office of the Nature Conservancy worked with the local team to inventory baby’s-breath plants and strategize to keep it at bay in the future.

The Invasive Species Network continues to coordinate the fight against baby’s-breath and other invasives through the MISIN app, which allows anyone who spots a potentially invasive species to document it. A hiker can snap a photo and a GPS point and the plant will be immediately added to the invasives database to be evaluated in the future. The Invasive Species Network also participates  in the Play Clean Go national advocacy effort to keep our natural areas “clean” from invaders and created the Go Beyond Beauty program to advise against planting problem species. ISN continues to enrich the community's knowledge of invasive species through education, and encourages volunteers to help remove plants through their “workbee” volunteer days.

Through dedicated partnership and hard work since the early 2000's, over 75% of the baby's breath across the entire Lake Michigan shoreline has been eradicated. This is a testament to the partnerships environmental organizations have invested in deeply. Much more can be done with funding and volunteer assistance.

Critical government funding to address invasive species that was cut during the COVID-19 crisis will soon be restored, but fundraising for the environment during our economic downturn is a steep challenge. Our environmental organizations need us now more than ever. It takes a village to combat invasive species and keep our dunes safe from invasion. Support the resiliency of our local lakeshore by engaging with or donating to the partnerships and organizations that have carried this work: Invasive Species Network, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy.

As told by Katie Grzesiak, Coordinator of the Invasive Species Network; Shaun Howard, Project Manager, Protected Lands, at the global Nature Conservancy, Paul Beczkiewicz, the Associate Director of Development at the Nature Conservancy in Michigan; and Jon Throop the Volunteer and Events Program Manager of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.


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