damage to Lake Michigan islands studied
LELAND, Mich. - American Indian lore says the North and
South Manitou islands in Lake Michigan symbolize two bear
cubs that died while crossing the lake with their mother.
But for environmentalists, the two islands have come
to represent how humans can disrupt the ecological balance
of America's forests.
"Man's legacy is still felt on the islands' ecosystems,"
Michigan Technological University biologist David Flaspohler
told the Traverse City Record-Eagle for a recent story.
"I can guarantee they don't look anything like they
Flaspohler and National Park Service officials say the
key problem confronting the islands now is the deer that
people brought with them to North Manitou in 1926.
The effect of the deer that were introduced to the island
for a private hunting preserve has been so pronounced
that the U.S. Forest Service has commissioned a three-year,
$197,000 study of the issue.
In short, the vegetation eaten by the deer is the same
vegetation that supports a variety of bird species such
as the black-throated blue warbler and the ground-nesting
For officials managing the Sleeping Bear Dunes National
Lakeshore to which the island belong, the changes pose
a daunting challenge.
"We are trying to maintain our natural environment
as unimpaired as possible," said Steve Yancho, the
park resource manager.
Yancho and other officials say they worry that the islands
are following diverging ecological paths.
The Canadian yew, which covers the forest floor on South
Manitou, is almost extinct on North Manitou. Similarly,
the cedars that fill the southern island are conspicuously
absent on the northern island.
The warbler and ovenbird "are the ones we think
are being most affected because they live in the area
most often eaten by the deer," said Flaspohler.
Environmental officials have been working to keep the
deer population down. While the deer population once reached
a high of 2,000, they are now fewer than 200 as a result
of controlled hunting. That has allowed the regrowth of
much of the underbrush that deer had picked clean.
But Flaspohler said he fears that may not be enough and
that the deer may have to be removed altogether.
The move is unpopular with hunters.
"I like hunting out there and a lot of guys would
really pitch a fit," said Scott Lammers, a hunter.
Another hunter, Wyman Friske, says officials should not
remove any of the islands' plants or deer.
"White-tailed deer are native to Michigan, Leelanau
County," he said. "And I'd say they are native
to North Manitou because they've been there so long."