In an effort to restore oak-barren natural communities that once dominated the recreational areas of Waterloo and Island Lake — two popular destinations in Michigan’s state park system — portions of the parks have been cleared of invasive and non-native trees and plants.
Visitors to these two southeast Michigan state parks will definitely notice the changes, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources wants to be sure everyone understands the goals of this carefully planned project.
The DNR Parks and Recreation Division has worked on long-term restoration efforts for more than 20 years, but this is the first time areas of this size have been cleared of trees at any of these parks. In particular, black locust, autumn olive and various pine species have been removed.
“The removal of so many large trees will be quite a change for the average park visitor visiting this area, but will have real long-term benefits,” said Bob Clancy, ecological restoration specialist in the DNR Parks and Recreation Division help rebuild Michigan’s disappearing oak-barren communities.
Why are oak bars a priority?
A barren oak, sometimes referred to as a savannah, is characterized by native prairie grass and wildflowers interspersed with widely scattered oak trees. These areas provide important habitat for a variety of grassland birds such as the bobolink, Henslow’s sparrow and eastern meadowlark and other wildlife and are a unique part of Michigan’s natural heritage. These fire dependent communities also have global importance because they contain an assemblage of plants and animals that are unique and quite rare today.
“Much of southern Lower Michigan once supported extensive areas of tall grass prairie and oak barren land, but today less than 1 percent of the original prairie and savannah remains,” Clancy said. “We hope that our efforts – while the appearance of the landscape may come as a shock to some visitors – set the stage for the warm return of this incredibly valuable natural habitat.”
During agricultural expansion in the second half of the 18th century, fallow land was easily cleared and converted to pasture and row crops. Since that time, they have succumbed to rapid canopy closure due to non-agricultural development, lack of fires, and the spread of invasive species.
Here is a snapshot of the work that took place at each site:
Waterloo Recreation Area
At the Waterloo Recreation Area in Jackson and Washtenaw counties, 7 acres of invasive black locust and autumn olives were cleared last February. This will help develop habitat around important wetlands, also known as bogs, within the site while enhancing future outdoor recreational opportunities such as hunting, hiking and bird watching.
Island Lake recreation area
Work at the Island Lake Recreation Area in Livingston County included the removal of more than 15 acres of invasive and non-native trees, the expansion of grassland habitat and the connection of several smaller patches of quality habitat over 60 acres. The remaining work, including mowing, some more tree clearance and log removal, is expected to be completed by the end of May.
To further encourage native plant recovery and oak barrow recovery, efforts to control invasive species will be conducted throughout the year, as well as more tree felling, mandated fires, and other management measures in the years to come.
If you have any questions about either project, please contact Bob Clancy at [email protected] or 517-202-6751.
Anyone interested in participating in the restoration effort at these and other southeast Michigan state parks is encouraged to contact Kelsey Dietz, DNR Parks and Recreation Volunteer Steward, at [email protected]
The Michigan Natural Features Inventory contains more information about oak barrens in our state.