Environment as a word has had three lives. The first time it meant things like "your home environment". Then, all at once, it meant "nature". But lately, environment has narrowed to refer to human concerns for clean air, quality of life and so on. If we face what that implies, we will have to do something quickly to re-include wildlife!
Semantics are important in that they govern policy. If no one ever mentioned your name, you would not get to run for the Presidency. Is wildlife being mentioned in public policy? No. Excluded from consideration in "environment", it faces three other problems.
First, most of us know so little about what wildlife needs. A lake surrounded by houses meet needs of less than 30% of our birds, for example. Knowing little, we don't even think there might be a problem.
Second: Sleeping Bear Park would seem like plenty of habitat, but don't forget it is also managed for logging, for people and for game.
Third: Land use real estate policy makers have no way of knowing what value to attribute to wildlife. If the wild goes, what would it cost?
The Wildlife Resources Committee started a year and a half ago as an advisory group for Leelanau County Planning Commission. Its mission: to obtain as clear a picture as possible of what wildlife we have and what habitat the county offers. Many creatures live or die over narrow preference of habitat.
Because the information is intended for land use concerns, those wanting it will not all be biology experts. Thus the information will be in terms used by average people. Six most accessible categories of species were chosen for observation: birds, mammals, flowers, trees, reptiles and amphibians.
Of course, Leelanau nature watchers are not all highly trained, but many train themselves. The state sought hundreds of amateur observers to help in assembling their huge volume on breeding birds in Michigan. So not to worry about science degrees.
The committee has identified fifteen kinds of habitat--a minimalist list for practical purposes. It has researched what wildlife has been found in the county in the past. That took many, many sources as no one source covered everything for just this area.
And now we are up to what we hear the naturalists call ground-truthing. At least 250 nature observers are needed to jot down what they see--at their bird feeder, in the yard, while driving, jogging, on group hikes, or off on their own just-to-see walks.
The committee has simple forms in which to enter observations. No one has to do it at certain times or even take extra time. We all know that a great many Leelanau folk do spend time outdoors for the fun of it.
The hunt--casual or serious--will continue through 1996. The information will go to the county planning department's Geographic Information Systems computer. Anyone wanting to tap it for information will be welcome. It will be used by land use agencies, public and private, that early expressed serious interest. It will be used by local boards, by developers by private land holders, all with questions about how land use considerations would affect wildlife habitat.
The committee has already been told that it is providing a model for other counties, other states. What we all do here is the beginning!
One of the side effects will be that "wildlife habitat" will start to enter the language of public policy making.
Another? That we will all know a great deal more about our wild neighbors.
Another? We will be able to act toward saving any diminishing populations of plants and animals.
And another? We'll have a Nature Observers' Jamboree on May 19 where we can come to share notes, have fun and have experts answering questions.
Anyone who identifies plants or animals or both is ready to go. Pick up a form at your nearest library or call a number below for one, call in your name and you're on. For more information, call: 334-4122 or 386-7703 or 326-5168
Empire, MI 49630
Return to the Index of Synapse 35, Spring Equinox 1996