In 2004, conservationist and publisher Doug Truax partnered with our Executive Director in establishing Nature North, a one-day free conservation-based event for children at the Grand Traverse Convention Center. More than twenty organizations participated, including international (The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited), national (U. S. National Park Service, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited), state (Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan United Conservation Clubs) and local (Saving Birds Thru Habitat, Grass River Natural Area, Inland Seas Educational Association, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Leelanau Conservancy, Grand Traverse Conservation District, Leelanau Conservation District, Grand Traverse Audubon Society, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Conservation Resource Alliance, Grand Traverse Parks & Recreation and the Botanic Garden Society of Northwest Michigan).
In 2005 our Executive Director, Kay Charter, met the supervisor of a sand mine company in Mesick, Michigan when he visited our booth at Habitat for Humanity’s Flower and Garden Show. The sand mine was part of an international company, and the man she met was working on beginning efforts at the highest levels to convert production methods to sustainable development. He was interested in some of our material, and our director asked if he would be interested in certifying their property and having us visit his plant. He said he would. That relationship resulted in an invitation for her to attend their three-day company-wide Sustainable Development Appreciative Inquiry Summit at a spa outside of Chicago. She was one of a handful of external stakeholders at the summit. She left as a member of their conservation committee, where she served for more than ten years. The primary goal for the committee was to figure out how to reduce solid waste and mitigate their industrial emissions. One of the ways they achieved the latter goal was to get hundreds of thousands of trees in the ground. We counseled them on making sure that only indigenous trees were offered. At first, the trees were given away to employees, parks, schools, other individuals and more. After a couple of years, the company found it difficult to give away the numbers of trees they had calculated to achieve it’s sequestration goals, and soon apparent that it was not possible to give away the necessary numbers of trees.
At that time, our Executive Director was on the Kirtland’s Warbler Initiative board of directors. For the following 6 years, she facilitated the gift of hundreds of thousands of native jack pine seedlings from a Michigan native tree nursery for replanting KW nesting territories. Kirtland’s Warblers only nest in jack pine stands of at least 80 acres with trees of four to twenty-five years old. Once the trees reach that age, the birds move on to new areas.
Over the course of Saving Birds’ relationship with the company, we conducted bird surveys at plants in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan Ohio and Pennsylvania. Early on, it became a competition between plants to have the highest number of birds. During the first survey the Mesick plant hosted an unbelievable 86 species, including warblers, swallows, shorebirds and others. At one site, the company left a stand of maples growing on top of half a million dollars-worth of product. The company decided that the small wooded area was too important to mother nature to remove it.
When our director went to their Ohio site (world headquarters) a field alongside the highway on the mine site was covered with autumn olive. The plants had been put in the ground the year before – instructed to do so by an international company that ostensibly advises companies on ways to improve habitat in their properties. The problem was that at that time they didn’t understand ecosystem dynamics, even though the invasiveness of autumn olive was well known by ecologists and the wider environmental community for several decades. The company did remove the autumn olive.
For two years, we partnered with one of the Michigan mining sites to fulfill the terms of a USFWS grant to improve habitat for migrating shorebirds. Sadly, the company underwent a buyout not long ago by a company that was disinterested in serious conservation.
When the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy purchased the Arcadia Dunes properties, we recommended a prairie restoration in the large fallow field. Executive Director Glen Chown said of our recommendation:
“As we were laying the groundwork for this large-scale and rather daunting project, Kay Charter was kind enough to present information to our staff on not only why we should consider a restoration using native grassland species, but also how we could be successful. This certainly fired up our team as we prepared to take on this significant challenge”.
That prairie is now more than ten years old, and has become an example to other organizations hoping to restore grassland ecosystems. The Arcadia Grassland bird list is substantial.
In 2010, Board Member Dave Barrons and our Executive Director Kay Charter founded the Leelanau Peninsula Birdfest. They organized it in order to demonstrate the economic benefit birds bring to a community. They ran it for five years with the hope that someone else would take it up as a “turnkey” project. Partners in the effort were the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Leelanau County Parks and Recreation, Inland Seas Educational Association, Leelanau Conservancy, Leelanau County Parks and Recreation and Leelanau State Park.
For the five years of its existence, the event was a great success with attendance between 100 and 120 birders, and those hoping to become birders. People joined us from both sides of the country and from Canada. One participant was from Germany.
In spite of interest around the county in the festival, no one was interested in taking it over, so it was shuttered. However, there are plans to start it in June of 2022. Watch for press releases on dates and a schedule of events.
A decade ago our director was asked by a DNR wildlife biologist she had worked with to set up a meeting place for a conference about invasive Phragmites australis. The DNR biologist also asked our director to arrange for lunches and issue invitations to local stakeholders (especially local elected officials, real estate companies and others) to explore how this nasty plant should be attacked. She was also to be a speaker, along a couple of DNR specialists and a fifth generation Beaver Islander, Pamela Grassmick. Five years earlier, Mrs. Grassmick had found this invasive, destructive plant on her beloved island. She took immediate action by raising funds, securing the necessary permits and finding the right companies to treat the plant. Over those five years, invasive Phragmites had been virtually eliminated from the entire archipelago. Mrs. Grassmick explained in detail how the process was done. The meeting was then broken into small groups to decide how to proceed. After the groups broke up, the first group then took the stage and recommended that a committee be formed to study the issue for a year. Our director immediately interjected that no study was necessary; Mrs. Grassmick had demonstrated what the process was, and that was what should be done – the next year. The following year Phragmites was treated from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore north along the Leelanau Peninsula, around the entire Grand Traverse Bay shoreline and up to the straights.
In 2010, our director was an invited speaker at the Beaver Island Forestry Management Symposium – in which locals were to decide how the state forests on the island would be managed. The handful of hunters on the island had historically dictated state land forest management for more deer. (Note: Small islands, like Beaver, cannot support deer herds.) There was a large boreal forest on the southwest corner of the island which the hunters wanted cut down to increase deer habitat for expansion of the already significant herd. That forest is essential for migrating songbirds. Our director spent a number of years after the symposium with Islander Pam Grassmick to find a way to prevent the destruction of that forest. The two came up with an idea to raise awareness among islanders of the importance of birding to their economy. The result (inspired by the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail – put together by Saving Birds’ Board Member Dave Barrons and member Mick Seymour) was an island birding trail and two annual birding festivals. As islanders watched the hordes of birders descend from the ferry for the first festival, minds were changed among the general population about how to manage every area on the island that supported birds (virtually all of it). For that Memorial weekend (a time when most businesses, including restaurants and lodgings were not even open yet), rooms were filled and restaurants did gangbusters business. It is very unlikely now that islanders will stand for cutting down any bird habitat – particularly that boreal forest. The birding festival continues to this day.
In 2014, our Ronald Brown Academy (a Detroit public school) project was born with Dave Watkins as project manager. Dave has done a terrific job with these kids; working with them for several months in late spring/early summer. The project has included at least three field trips (travel to Magee Marsh included in them in the first years, but that site was permanently cancelled with the threat of severe weather). The project is now on hold due to COVID considerations, but will pick up again in 2022.
Also in 2014, members Dennis and Kathy Turner donated 6 acres of undeveloped land on Cove Road to Saving Birds Thru Habitat to hold as migratory and nesting bird habitat in perpetuity.
On March 7, 2017, our Executive Director presented Pima County, Arizona Board of Directors with an Award of Exceptional Merit for maintaining habitat that supports a thriving bird population in the metro Tucson area. During her presentation she cited the County’s ongoing effort to preserve large swaths of native vegetation under the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP), the County’s formal road map for balancing the conservation and protection of cultural and natural resource heritage with efforts to maintain an economically vigorous and fiscally responsible community. She called the SDCP “nothing short of remarkable”. When she presented the award, she informed the Board and those in attendance that the Plan’s emphasis on rescuing native plants and fighting the spread of invasive plant species, such as buffelgrass, were major criteria for the honor.
In 2001, the year we were established, Saving Birds established a birding festival in the small, west Texas town of Balmorhea. Our Executive Director, Kay Charter, continued overseeing it for three years.
This small, beautiful old western town had suffered economic decline and our director was well aware of the rich bird life in the area. She saw a birding festival as a way to attract birders and raise awareness of the great year-round birding available in the region. Today the area is on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. Years after the festival, we counseled a large landowner in Balmorhea on wetland habitat improvement for birds.
In the spring of 2019, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice-President of Policy, Steve Holmer, invited our Executive Director to join him in lobbying several members of Congress on legislation affecting birds. In October, she met with aides of Michigan Senators Stabenow and Peters, Congressman Jack Bergman and Illinois Congressman Jack Quigley. She discussed three of the thirteen legislative issues American Bird Conservancy was working on: Damage by neonicotinoids (systemic insecticides that stay in plants for years, killing birds, butterflies and bees) and Congressman Quigley’s Botany Bill (providing for research on the conservation and management of native plants). Her third subject was “longlining”. Longlining is a commercial fishing technique that uses lines as long as 60 miles with thousands of baited hooks dragged behind fishing trawlers. Seabirds see the bait from the air, dive down to snag it, get hooked and drown. Some seabirds, especially albatross, are now at risk of extinction because of longlining.
Along with many invites in Michigan libraries, Audubon groups and schools, our Executive Director has also been invited by Audubon Clubs, libraries, communities, colleges and Arboreta around the country. The most notable invites were from: St Louis, MO Botanical Gardens, the Cox Arboretum in Dayton, Morton Arboretum near Chicago, the 2006 Rivers and Wildlife Festival in Kearney, Nebraska, and the World Birding Center in Mission, Texas. She presented to a standing room only crowd of scientists and bird keepers at the Diego Zoo’s Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species.