Heading toward the dark curtain of conifers in the distance, we shuffled through fallen leaves the autumn winds had shaken off the aspen trees around us. Today though, it was still and sunny, and the receding understory made for easy walking. A path carved out by deer led us along spongy, soft ground hinting at the community we were about to encounter. Tilting trees and moss-covered stumps marked the entrance to a grove of stunning white cedars, black spruce, and balsam. Perched twisted roots stood over still puddles of water that challenged you to watch your step. We knelt down to admire the diversity in the ground cover—creeping snowberry, canadian bunchberry, sphagnum mosses, wintergreen, on-and-on. A small land bridge treaded down by roaming wildlife brought us across a crick that winded through the largest cedars in the stand. We paused for a moment to listen to the flowing water while trying to identify the mushrooms along the bank.
As we walked past the crick and onward, an abrupt change stopped us. The cedars suddenly reduced to cut stumps, the size of which left you to imagine what they once were. Dense tag alder had taken root, and the water in the ground was now spread across an open area of heavily disturbed soils. Stalks of invasive swamp thistle had now dominated the understory, intermixed with what was left of snowberry. A few skinny cedar trees dotted the large opening, with browned leaves and drooping branches. The disruption of the original natural community was significant, and we realized we were lucky to have encountered a patch of what the forest once was in the cedar grove by the crick.
Fortunately, the land is on a path of restoration. The 200-acre property was purchased by a donor interested in the protection of forestland for its carbon sequestration potential, and managing the forest with a focus on restoration and climate-resiliency. The land is now protected in perpetuity thanks to their generous donation of a conservation easement that the UPLC now holds. Because northern white-cedar are a preferred food source for herbivores like white-tailed deer, young cedar regeneration can be difficult to establish with heavy browsing pressure. We will be working with the landowner, conservation foresters, and other partners to actively learn about the characteristics of the land, and the best approach for re-introducing diversity and maintaining the natural hydrology.
It takes time, observation, and research to understand the natural systems and resources on the lands UPLC protects. Annual visits to the properties combined with satellite imagery analysis and partnership research allows us to learn about and monitor these characteristics. This year, we realized that the 10-acre black-spruce stand on this property had an understory made up almost entirely of bog-associated plants including leather leaf, sweet gale, cotton-grasses, sphagnum mosses and labrador tea. Using satellite imagery, we could see the stand’s close proximity to a small lake surrounded by open peatlands. This suggests the forest is a black-spruce bog or sometimes referred to as a forested bog. It grows on top of impermeable layers of peat that have filled in over a long period of time, turning an open-water lake into a forested wetland.
We are still learning about the ecological identity of this land and how its natural hydrology functions. Looking beyond the boundaries of a property puts our work into a landscape context, allowing us to understand the connections to the greater ecosystem and adjacent lands.
The sunlit cedar grove, expansive black-spruce bog, and the surrounding peatlands are just part of the story of this land. Your support helps us both permanently protect land across all 15 counties of the UP, and understand how we can be good stewards to the land, the water, and the greater ecosystem. This Giving Tuesday, please consider making a donation to UP Land Conservancy as we need your support to save and protect these healthy natural habitats for generations to come. You can give at secure.givelively.org/donate/upper-peninsula-land-conservancy.
Thank you for helping us protect Land Today, for Life Tomorrow.
-Clare Fastiggi, UPLC Lands Program Manager