What’s Going on at M52 and Waterloo Road?

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The tree cutting is part of a long-term restoration project by MDNR to promote native plant recovery and restoration. Photo credit: Mike Williamson.

By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

If you’ve passed the corner of M52 and Waterloo Road, you can hardly overlook the clear-cutting.

If it is a little unsettling, rest easy. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) reports that it has cleared the trees to restore the oak barrens that once dominated Waterloo and Island Lake recreation areas. The clear-cutting is the removal of invasive and non-native trees.

"Much of southern Lower Michigan once supported extensive areas of tallgrass prairie and oak barrens, but today less than 1 percent of the original prairie and savanna remains,” said Bob Clancy, ecological restoration specialist in the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “We hope that our efforts – even though the look of the landscape might be shocking to some visitors – set the stage for the hearty return of this incredibly valuable natural habitat.”

Seven acres of invasive species have been cleared at the corner of Waterloo Road and M52. Photo credit: Mike Williamson.

Michigan State University Extension describes
oak barrens as savannas with oaks scattered throughout having between 5% and 60% canopy coverage. Black oak and white oak dominate the overstory. The understory is composed of plant species associated with both prairies and forests.

The original oak barrens were likely created when prairie fires spread into oak forests with enough intensity to create open areas. MSU states, “Fire is the single most significant factor in preserving the oak barrens landscapes. Where remnants of oak barrens persist, the use of prescribed fire is an imperative management tool for maintaining an open canopy, promoting high levels of grass and forb diversity, deterring the encroachment of woody vegetation and invasive species, and limiting the success of dominants.”

MSU lists Michigan’s oak barrens as “critically imperiled.” Meaning, that these habitats are at a very high risk of extinction or collapse due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, very severe threats, or other factors.

Oak barren. Photo by Joshua G. Cohen, courtesy MSU Extension.

The MDNR is restoring these oak barrens to recreate the habitat that once supported a rich diversity of insects, birds, and animals. MSU state, “The now extinct passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) was likely a keystone species in oak ecosystems, roosting in oaks by the thousands.”

MDNR encourages anyone interested in volunteering for the state's restoration efforts to contact Kelsey Dietz, MDNR volunteer steward, at DietzK2@Michigan.gov.

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