The Michigan Nature Association was established in 1952 as a nonprofit to save the state’s natural areas. The Association currently has 162 nature sanctuaries throughout Michigan, and has never allowed hunting, angling or trapping on any of them.
Jeremy Emmi, executive director since 2001, says the association’s original members belonged to other preservation groups, but also opposed pesticides and nuclear power. Virtually all of the group’s founders were women, explains Emmi, in a time when men and hunters dominated the conservation community.
“One of our founders, Bertha Daubendiek, was our director from 1952 until 2001,” recalls Emmi. “The policies remained in place during her tenure, and she gave up funding and political connections because of that.”
Hunting is said to be a part of the culture in Michigan. With 754,000 hunters, the state ranks third among all states for the most hunters. And so it was from a 330-acre confined hunting operation in Concord, Michigan that The New York Times recently announced television networks’ plans for new reality shows based on the prospect of urbanites and suburbanites coming face-to-face with hunters. The compound, stocked with boar, buffalo, deer and rams, belongs to Michigan native Ted Nugent, the star of a new cable show, “Wanted: Ted or Alive.”
“Hunters, fishermen and trappers were the first and remain the ultimate environmentally responsible stewards and managers of life, quality, air, soil and water,” Nugent says. “Biodiversity is mine, environmentalism is mine.”
According to the Times, the rock star, fresh from butchering a deer, then goes on to endorse nuclear warfare.
“I’ll show you some security and I’ll show you some peace: Nagasaki and Hiroshima,” he said. “You [expletive] with us and we’ll [expletive] melt you.”
Conservation, Through Peaceful Eyes
Nugent’s bellicose views stand in stark contrast to the policies set in place by the pacifist founders of the Michigan Nature Association, which its current director calls “one of the few organizations started by people who didn’t want to save land because we wanted to go kill things.” Instead of protecting habitat as a giant feed-lot for hunted animals, Emmi carries on the moral and scientific perspective that animals can live perfectly well without our management.
As for the control paradigm, says Emmi, “The problem with that logic is that billions are poured into creating ‘wildlife habitat,’ which usually means habitat for game species.”
Thus the word “management” is often used as an excuse to hunt and to kill other animals, and the term “wildlife habitat,” especially with regard to deer and elk, usually refers to an unnatural setting “with plenty of planted foraging crops and cutting of older trees or even clear-cutting.” Human beings, Emmi muses, “try to manage everything; they seem to have this mindset that without humans nature wouldn’t know what to do. Obviously it knew what to do for the last few 100 million years or so before us.”
In 1971, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources established the Deer Range Improvement Program, which allocates $1.50 from each deer hunting permit “for the purpose of improving and maintaining habitat for deer, for the acquisition of land required for an effective program of deer habitat management, and for payment of ad valorem taxes on lands acquired under this section.” Between 1972 and 1987 about $20 million dollars was spent on making habitat more amenable to deer hunting. The department evaluated and planned forest alterations for more than 550,000 acres during this time, and logged more than 137,292 acres to create artificial deer habitat.
When conservation is discussed by hunters or management agencies, it often means saving nature as a resource for human use. To the Michigan Nature Association, however, conservation means saving nature from human despoliation.
Thus, the association might remove exotic plant species that have been introduced in the last 10 to 30 years, but it won’t pave trails, and it won’t fence open sanctuaries. Nor will it allow logging, in contrast to conservation agencies claiming “wise use” means cutting down trees every 20 or 30 years. When an association member asks, from time to time, why the association won’t log some of its sanctuaries to “create better wildlife habitat,” Emmi says the point of logging is normally to create areas attractive to hunted animals — turkeys and deer. “Well,” says Emmi, “That’s not what we do.”
Not Following the Money
Some of the pressure to allow hunting on the association’s sanctuaries is connected to funding. “Our current board and staff continue to support our policies, but it is difficult especially with the ‘carrot’ of funding for wildlife habitat dangling in front of them,” says Emmi, who adds that hunters will pay a few thousand dollars to lease a 20-acre piece of land. Some organizations offer grants to cut down some of the trees to create habitat. Once the trees are logged, the timber can be sold, producing additional funding. Some organizations even lease their land for grazing by big agribusiness.
The Michigan Nature Association has also faced pressure from the federal Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, formerly Animal Damage Control, to allow killing and egg-oiling of double-crested cormorants on one of the three of the association’s island sanctuaries acquired specifically to benefit the cormorants when the birds were struggling for survival. Wildlife Services is dedicated to reducing cormorants to benefit fish farmers and local fishing industries; and although the cormorant is a federally protected bird under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Wildlife Services has devised an order to allow 24 states to kill the birds. In 2004, the first fully effective year of the order, over 23,000 cormorants were killed.
Several ornithologists reported to the association that no scientific reason exists to kill the cormorants, but anglers, annoyed by the sight of birds eating fish, helped to rally the government to arms. Indeed, Emmi explains, vigilantes will come onto islands and kill cormorants themselves.
In one case, 500 birds where found illegally killed on one of the islands not owned by the association. Likewise, 1,000 cormorants were found dead in 1998 on an island in eastern Lake Ontario. Nine anglers pleaded guilty to what was referred to as the largest mass killing ever of a protected species. The killers were given a nominal fine and three months of home confinement; yet those who supported the illegal shootings felt vindicated when the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation planned to go ahead and kill nesting pairs to reduce the existing colony to a fourth of its remaining size.
Emmi and the association continue to bar Wildlife Services from killing the birds or oiling their eggs, despite a concerted letter-writing campaign from public officials on the state and federal levels as well as an area chamber of commerce. At some point, however, the group might be legally forced to allow agents on to the island.
Says Emmi, “At that point we don’t have any alternative except a lawsuit.”
The Michigan Nature Associations derives most of its funding from individuals. Through the support of people who care about protecting natural areas for nature’s sake, the organization can continue to stay true to its philosophy, and create viable alternatives to hunting.
Michigan Nature Association
326 E. Grand River Ave.
Williamston, MI 48895