The Wau-Ke-Na (“forest-by-the-water”) preserve, bequeathed by William Erby Smith to the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC), is the largest of the land trust’s preserves. It includes numerous ecosystems, ranging from forests and fields to streams, ponds, bluffs, and beaches. The preserve’s name harkens to the rich forest along the shores of Lake Michigan that makes up the northern tract of the property. These woods are home to magnificent specimens of red oak, tulip tree, yellow birch, American beech, sugar maple, hemlock, sassafras, and more.
On the Wau-Ke-Na Preserve, fields of prairie grasses and wildflowers provide foraging and nesting areas for rare birds like sedge wrens, bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks. The 365 acre preserve includes 1,300 feet of pristine beach frontage along Lake Michigan, and encompasses forests, fields, bluffs, streams, and ponds. These ecosystems are particularly critical to rare bird species including the sedge wren, bobolinks, and eastern meadowlarks.
Conservation concerns within the Wau-Ke-Na project area highlight the land trust’s goals to preserve and restore habitat that support species diversity and resilient ecosystems. The Conservation Master Plan identified 30 distinct management units, based on eco-types, and specific management techniques for each unit have been recommended as part of the Action Plan.
The land trust’s nature preserve and habitat restoration goals, reflected in their 2008 Management Plan Update, highlight the importance of maintaining the resiliency of these ecosystems. The primary management goal of the nature preserve is to manage the land to “restore and create habitats that support a rich diversity of native species.” The land trust’s habitat restoration goals for the property are:
SWMLC worked with local landowners, neighboring land trusts, and nearby homeowner associations and local government officials in a “charette” to identify conservation priorities for the Wau-Ke-Na Preserve. This planning process built critical community awareness and support of the land trust’s goals to maintain and improve ecological health of the natural lands in their stewardship. The SWMLC holds informational workshops and works with a volunteer stewardship team to raise community awareness about their stewardship objectives as well as implement the conservation management plan on the Wau-Ke-Na property.
Implementation of the plan is ongoing. Thirty management units have been identified on the 365 acre Preserve, and the management plan recommends management techniques for each unit. The Wau-Ke-Na short-term restoration goals and management measures include:
These program goals will help SWMLC achieve the long-term objective of preserving resilient ecological communities on the Wau-Ke-Na preserve.
The core belief in managing natural lands for ecological health was part of the organizational culture of SWMLC from the beginning, and it was encouraged and developed by staff working with volunteers while networking with other resource professionals. The nine-county community the land trust works with reflects some division regarding views on climate change. Nate Fuller, SWMLC’s Conservation and Stewardship Director, reflects that “discussions on developing ecological health that is resilient in the face of change cuts through the political obstacles that can be distracting.” You can “begin with the premise that change is constant – everyone agrees with that” and then “the issue of what is responsible for the change and exactly how fast it is happening becomes a sidebar issue and we can move forward with identifying productive solutions to managing our natural areas.” To identify and address changing ecological conditions in the Wau-Ke-Na conservation management plan, SWMLC used GPS and aerial image interpretation to develop GIS shapefiles to map baseline conditions of surface water movement and habitat extent, which informed management plan recommendations for the Preserve.
The Conservation Master Plan was funded by a Coastal Zone Management Act grant from NOAA and endowment funds from the Preserve. Consultants were used to conduct natural features and hydrologic assessments of the site, as well as to conduct a public use design charrette and assemble and analyze information obtained from public meetings to produce a conservation master plan.
Michigan – 9 counties, encompassing about 3.5 million acres
71 Conservation Easements covering 8,010.4 acres
43 Preserves (Fee Land) covering 2,420.0 acres
3 "Assists" covering 558.5 acres
6.5 FTE with seasonal field positions as grants allow
About 1,200 active members
About 365 acres, with 1,300 feet of pristine beach frontage along Lake Michigan.
• Beach frontage and bluffs
• Streams and ponds
• Rare bird species including the sedge wren, bobolinks, and eastern meadowlarks
Open to the public