Michigan is moving forward with plans to protect even more land.Activists want to stop ‘PR stunt’

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The low-lying meadows at Heritage Park in Farmington Hills were wreaking havoc on city mowers, getting stuck in the wet soil and digging deep ruts in the lawn.

No more. Habitat restoration efforts led by the Farmington Hills Nature Center have slowly transformed the prairie from a muddy field to a showcase for nature. The center replaced the dead lawn with butterflyweed, marsh marigolds, fragrant sumac, and many other native flowers, grasses, and shrubs.

“What you’re looking at is a dynamic environment,” says Nature Center Supervisor Ashley Smith. “The environment is varied and interesting, with a variety of plants, colors and wildlife, and is always active, even in winter.”

The small patch of Heritage Park embodies the goals of international commitments aimed at protecting nature and slowing the alarming and accelerating rate of extinction identified in a 2019 United Nations report. The initiative was signed at the United Nations Biodiversity Summit in Montreal in 2022. This initiative is called “30 by 30.”

President Joe Biden signed it, launching the America the Beautiful Challenge, which seeks locally-led, voluntary conservation efforts to meet its goals. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, environmental groups and the state senator from Ann Arbor are promoting a similar initiative in Michigan, which they have dubbed “Beautiful Michigan.”

This effort sets out some thorny questions. One is, what does it mean for land to be considered conserved and count towards the 30% threshold?

Scott Whitcomb, director of the DNR’s Office of Public Lands, said there is no strict definition of conservation land. By his conservative calculations, about 24% of the state’s land is already under some form of protection. This includes northern Michigan’s vast state and federally protected forests, state and national parks, and private lands protected from development by conservation easements.

Add in land logged by private industry or enrolled in agricultural conservation programs, and that percentage would approach 30%, Whitcomb said.

“I think preservation actually means different things to different sites,” Whitcomb said. “Generally, that means there is no room for development or land use changes that are negative for the environment, climate or wildlife.”

“That can’t be a PR stunt.”

Christy McGillivray, legislative and political director for the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, would like to see strict rules set for what counts as conservation and counts towards that 30% goal. He predicted the definition would be a source of controversy as states pursue benchmarks.

McGillivray said an area should not be considered conserved unless it supports a functioning ecosystem, including habitat for native plants and animals. She doesn’t think it should include mowed lawns or forests planted with a single species of tree.

“It’s really important that we have integrity in how we do this,” McGillivray said. “Planting monoculture trees isn’t going to reduce it. Planting exotic plants isn’t going to reduce it either. We’re not going to actually achieve the kind of carbon sequestration that we need. We need to actually insist on fostering true biodiversity. We can’t do that.” It’s not a PR stunt. ”

Much of the state’s protected undeveloped land is located in the northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas. DNR officials want to acquire more land in southern Michigan to give Down residents more access to undeveloped open space.

“Michigan has a plan to purchase land in southern Michigan near where people live for hunting and other outdoor recreational activities for purposes of equitable access,” Whitcomb said.

Buying land in southern Michigan can be difficult, he said. He said it could take about 18 months for the DNR to secure funding to purchase the land. Developers can create offers faster.

“If it’s a prime development parcel, it can’t withstand market exposure,” Whitcomb said. “It can’t sit around. Someone wants to come along and buy it and develop it.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration will conserve 30% of Michigan’s land and water by 2030 as part of the MI Healthy Climate Plan, which aims to chart a path for the state to build a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. Incorporated the goal of The land will naturally acquire a greenhouse effect. The report says it could improve recreational opportunities and protect biodiversity, as well as remove gases.

Approach to the neighborhood?

State Sen. Sue Sink (D-Ann Arbor) is drafting a bill that would require Michigan to conserve 30% of its land and water by 2030 and plans to introduce the bill before summer. Protecting land from development means protecting communities from flooding during major storms, keeping neighborhoods cool during hot months, giving people access to natural spaces and keeping plants and animals alive, she said. said.

“I think there is very broad support for this initiative,” Sink said. “The problem can be in the details: Where is the funding? Where are the priorities?”

Sink wants to do a lot of community engagement so people can get involved in conservation projects in their neighborhoods.

“While state-led conservation of urban areas is certainly a new approach, I have to say that 30×30 is not just about what the state does, but that dialogue around conservation is important,” Sink said. Told. “It doesn’t matter who is conserving the land. It doesn’t matter who owns the land.”

Even small patches of wild nature, like the wildflowers planted outside the Farmington Hills Nature Center, mean something. They provide food for pollinating bees and shelter for birds. When the flowers are in bloom, they put on a spectacular seasonal show, and during the winter doldrums, they remind visitors that flower gardens don’t have to be well-maintained to benefit nature.

“I love modeling that for people,” said the nature center’s Smith. “Nature knows best. Nature recycles, nature cleans our air and water. The more we can let nature do the job it’s supposed to do, the better. , I think we’ll be better.”

ckthompson@detroitnews.com

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