Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy seeks funds for matching grant, gets funds to monitor birds

“We look forward to being able to conserve this property forever, and to share it with the community,” says SWMLC President and Executive Director Pete Ter Louw.
For the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, there seems to be something new going on all the time. Two things are happening right now.

First, with $125,000 on the line, the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy needs to raise $10,000 by Aug. 31. This spring, the Carls Foundation and the J.A. Woollam Foundation awarded a $125,000 challenge grant to help Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) raise the remainder of the funds it needs to protect and create Porter Legacy Dunes nature preserve in South Haven. 

SWMLC has raised approximately $115,000 of the $125,000 goal but must raise the final $10,000 by Aug. 31 in order to receive the full grant amount.

Trillium at Porter Legacy Dunes. Photo by Amelia Hansen.Located right across the street from Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s Pilgrim Haven Natural Area, CoDunes is a 48-acre property on Lake Michigan that has been owned by the Porter Family since the 1880s. 

Porter Legacy Dunes has been unspoiled for over 150 years and as part of a chain of freshwater dunes that line Lake Michigan’s coast, it is one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet.

The Carls/Woollam Challenge Grant is intended to help SWMLC complete fundraising for this $3.3 million project. Last year, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, in a public-private partnership with the South Haven Area Recreation Authority (SHARA) received a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant to assist in acquiring this spectacular property. Combined with a significant donation from the Porter Family and many generous donations from SWMLC members and several private foundations, SWMLC and SHARA are within $10,000 of the total fundraising goal to protect and create Porter Legacy Dunes.

“We look forward to being able to conserve this property forever, and to share it with the community,” says SWMLC President and Executive Director Pete Ter Louw. 

In addition to the 120-foot dune that overlooks Lake Michigan, Porter Legacy Dunes offers a stunning beech-maple-hemlock-oak backdune forest with seemingly endless carpets of spring wildflowers and a quarter-mile of winding Dyckman Creek. It provides critical habitat for many rare and unusual plant and animal species, including resident birds and aerial migrants such as cerulean and hooded warblers, scarlet tanagers, and monarch butterflies. Porter Legacy Dunes boasts over 1,100 feet of frontage on Lake Michigan, which, when combined with that of Pilgrim Haven totals almost 2,000 feet of protected natural Lake Michigan shoreline.

If you are interested in learning more about Porter Legacy Dunes or how you can help protect this special natural area on Lake Michigan for future generations of people and wildlife, please visit SWMLC’s website and check out their Porter Legacy Dunes video here.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology awards $20,000 grant

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy earlier this year got more good news regarding financial support for the work it does. The Cornell Labs Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative awarded Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) a $20,000 grant for bird monitoring and restoration of grassland and savanna habitat.

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy actively manages over 4,000 acres of diverse natural areas for ecological health, including habitat restoration that supports some of southwest Michigan’s most rare and threatened bird species. Grassland and savanna birds like the Henslow’s sparrow, Eastern meadowlark, bobolink, and red-headed woodpecker are among those birds whose populations are in steepest decline throughout the Midwest, mostly due to habitat loss and fragmentation. 

A recent study in the journal Science has determined that North America has lost one out of every four birds since 1970 — nearly 3 billion birds —  with grassland species chief among bird groups seeing the greatest decrease.
Henslow’s Sparrow. Photo by Delmar Bachert.The Cornell grant will enable us, for the first time, to incorporate bird monitoring at important grassland and savanna sites to help us make sure our restorations are on target and we’re doing the most we can for the birds we all care about,” says SWMLC Stewardship Director Mitch Lettow.
Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy will implement bird surveys and monitoring protocols on over 700 acres of grassland and savanna habitat on its protected lands, and work to establish long-term monitoring capacity through volunteer outreach and training. SWMLC also will conduct complementary grassland and savanna habitat improvements on 236 acres using prescribed burns, invasive species removal, and canopy thinning.
Grassland and savanna habitat hosts unique bird communities, but these rare habitats need to be created or managed – thus, groups like Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy that play an active role in conserving, creating, and restoring these habitats provide the most direct way to protect these birds. For example, since its first project in 2003, SWMLC has converted nearly 300 acres of former farmland with poor soil to grassland bird habitat. 

Already, during 2020 monitoring under this grant, surveyors have detected state-endangered Henslow’s sparrows and bobolinks in these grassland restorations. Regionally, bobolinks have declined 65% over the last 50 years. The findings of the monitoring provide a clear link between SWMLC’s restoration actions and conservation of rare bird species and demonstrate that something can be done about the troubling bird declines with the right actions and support.
Grassland at Hidden Pond Preserve. Photo by Amelia Hansen“By establishing a series of bird surveys, not only do we understand more about bird habitat use at each preserve, but we create historic baselines that we can build on over time and compare with future surveys to look at population trends of species,” says Lettow.
Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy seeks to make the most positive possible long-term impact on these declining bird populations by understanding bird use of grassland and savanna restorations and guiding management strategies accordingly.

The Cornell Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative grant is a one-year grant which began in June of 2020 and will run through the end of May 2021. SWMLC plans to complete monitoring during bird breeding season, late May through early July, while habitat restoration will take place outside of that period to minimize disturbance to nesting birds.

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy serves the nine counties of southwest Michigan and has worked with regional landowners to protect over 17,000 acres since its inception as an all-volunteer organization in 1991. The Conservancy currently has nine staff and 150 active volunteers and is supported by over 1,250 household memberships.
SWMLC’s work is diverse and far-reaching. SWMLC is active in maintaining over 50 nature preserves, enforcing over 100 conservation easements, and convening regional partners to create conservation plans and engage people in the natural world.  SWMLC is a non-profit that relies on memberships and donations to do its work. To learn more about Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and its conservation work, please visit SWMLC’s website.