Michigan’s Coastal Management Program continues its long-standing support of Wild Link, a project to counter the impacts of habitat fragmentation in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. The forests, clear lakes, and trout streams of the five-county Grand Traverse Bay watershed are home to black bear, bobcat, otter, deer, and other wildlife. Increasingly, they are also the setting of housing developments, including second homes for retirees and vacationers seeking to be close to nature. Cleared lands and new developments block or complicate the movements of wildlife as they search for food, mates, and shelter. Through the Wild Link project, the Conservation Resource Alliance (CRA) helps private property owners establish, manage, and protect corridors of wildlife habitat that join large expanses of forests and wetlands under public ownership. Landowners participate in Wild Link because they view the presence of wildlife as a tangible benefit to owning property “up north.” Corridors suitable for black bear and other widely-roaming species are hundreds of feet in width. Consequently, many participating landowners set aside and maintain and/or revegetate considerable amounts of acreage for wildlife.
Most of the private lands mapped and targeted by the CRA for landowner contact and ecological corridor establishment are riparian lands or wetlands. Protecting wide bands of natural vegetation along rivers, streams, and adjacent uplands helps protect water quality. Though wildlife protection is the main “hook” for drawing landowners to participate in Wild Link, CRA biologists consider water quality objectives when developing property-specific management plans. In 2005, the Michigan Coastal Management Program awarded the CRA a grant to complete habitat restoration plans for approximately 750 acres of priority ecological corridors.
Land trusts have also benefited from federal funding to support this regional conservation focus. For example: