Lake St. Clair Coastal Habitat
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Conservation Planning

There are clear benefits from having a significant proportion of a region's lands in natural cover but only a small percentage of the lands surrounding Lake St. Clair remain in such a state. Integrated conservation and restoration planning for the region necessitates a three-pronged approach:

  • protection of existing high quality natural areas;
  • enhancement of degraded natural lands; and
  • restoration of sufficient additional lands to create a matrix of interconnected self-sustaining natural communities with intact ecological functioning.

While very few natural communities or ecological systems that that are considered self-sustaining remain within the Lake St. Clair coastal area, there still many areas with potential for harboring high quality natural areas and unique natural features that are worth conserving.

A Potential Conservation Area (PCA) analysis was undertaken by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) to identify and rank undeveloped areas within in the 10 mile coastal area around Lake St. Clair area for their conservation potential. The PCA map is a composite representation of individual sites within the 10-mile coastal area around Lake St. Clair dominated by natural vegetation that have potential value for conservation. The PCAs were identified through a modeling process that evaluated each site based on: size and shape of a particular parcel, presence/absence of a water body, connectivity to other natural areas, restorability of surrounding lands, vegetation quality and biodiversity value (probability, rarity, and condition or viability of rare species or community types). The process established by MNFI to initially identify the Lake St. Clair PCAs can also be used to update and track the status of these remaining sites, The Integrated Coastal Management Tool (See Habitat Assessment Section VII. B.) allows planners to replicate this process easily as conditions change.

Conservation planners should use the PCA map and apply the ICM tool in the context of conservation guidelines which provide a framework to address many related questions and issues.  What should be done with the remaining small, scattered fragments of natural vegetation? How do we improve the current condition of those sites that still have some ecological integrity and provide habitat for rare plants and animals? Finally, how do we strategically target additional land for restoration? How much land? Where? Which natural communities?

Conservation targets - a limited number of species, natural communities, or ecological systems chosen to represent the biodiversity of a given area - are useful when a definitive knowledge of the number, distribution and quality of each native species and ecosystem is not available, which is usually the case. It is recommended to initially select ecological communities or systems as targets, as they act as coarse filters, capturing most species whether or not they have been identified specifically. If ecological communities are to work as coarse filters for all associated plants and animals they must:

  • be conserved as often as possible at a size and scale at which they naturally occurred prior to major human impacts
  • be conserved as part of dynamic, intact, landscape mosaics
  • maintain some level of connectivity between communities and
  • contain a full complement of their associated flora and fauna in so far as it is known.

In addition, smaller and rarer natural community types such as lakeplain prairie, lakeplain oak opening or great lakes marsh within the project area should be represented at a higher number in the landscape than larger and more common community types such as mesic southern forest. This coarse filter approach should then be followed by the selection of species with unique ecological requirements that cannot be met through the conservation of natural communities or ecological systems.

In some areas, targets can be met by preserving existing habitat, but within highly developed landscapes like the Lake St. Clair coastal zone, additional habitat will need to be restored to achieve these targets. The Habitat Assessment provides additional information on the specifics of setting appropriate targets, maintaining and restoring adequate representation of the area's native biodiversity and landscape integrity, managing widespread threats and stressors, and assessing the current status of the landscape.

For more detailed conservation planning guidelines, see: Coastal Habitat Assessment, Section VIII (PDF)