Lake St. Clair Coastal Habitat
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Vegetation Removal

Vegetation removal or “beach grooming” refers to the practice of removing vegetation from sandy beaches. This practice is utilized most frequently during low water cycles in the Great Lakes when bottomlands that are normally submerged in high water cycles are left exposed. Seed banks and root systems that have been dormant when fully submerged begin to germinate in the drier, often sandy soils. However, these shoreline habitats where the vegetation re-emerges in low water cycles are actually coastal wetlands of the Great Lakes.

Potential environmental impacts from vegetation removal include:
• Higher beach erosion rates as vegetation is removed by discing or plowing.
• Limiting or eliminating coastal fish spawning and nursery habitat.
• Limiting or eliminating migratory waterfowl use of wetlands for habitat.

Low lake levels are a time of shoreline vegetation growth, strengthening the exposed coastal lands, when root systems grow deeper and stronger, helping to prevent shoreline erosion when levels again rise. During rain and snow melt, streams, rivers and the overland flow of water carry heavy loads of water through coastal wetland vegetation, which acts as a sponge, soaking up water and reducing flooding. Wetland vegetation also helps break down pollutants and protects clean water supplies .

In Michigan, vegetation removal is regulated by Michigan DEQ under Part 303, Wetlands Protection, and Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands, of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), 1994 PA 451, as amended, which describes certain “beach maintenance activities” that may be carried out between the normal high water mark of the Great Lakes and the “current” water’s edge (i.e., exposed bottomlands held in public trust by the State of Michigan) without a state permit . These include:
• Manual or mechanized leveling of sand in areas that are predominantly free of vegetation. Property owners may spread sand that has eroded onto upland portions of their property on bottomlands. Alteration of natural lakeshore contours is not authorized.
• Mowing of vegetation to a height of not less than two inches without disturbing soil or plant roots. Mowing is limited to the width of the riparian property or 100 feet, whichever is less.
• Small scale hand pulling of vegetation, except for threatened or endangered species.
• Grooming of the soil by raking the top four inches of soil to remove debris without disturbing or destroying plant roots. Debris may include dead vegetation, trash, zebra mussel shells and dead fish.
• Construction and maintenance of a temporary pathway directly to open water. Temporary pathways may cross swales with standing waters, but may not exceed six feet in bottom width. Paths must be constructed of sand and pebbles obtained from exposed unvegetated bottomlands.

For more information, see: Coastal Habitat Plan, Section V (PDF)