Environmental group acquires 10K acres in U.P. for conservation

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Visitors might not notice, but more than 10,000 acres of land in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have quietly avoided losing protection and switched hands.

The grounds known as the Slate River Timberlands were recently acquired by the Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit group, after nearly 60 years under a family's ownership.

The group plans to extend the native forest's stewardship, which they say helps preserve carbon-rich hemlocks maple and hardwood trees as well as maintain access for outdoor enthusiasts in the renowned Michigamme Highlands near Lake Superior.

Mature maples in the Michigamme Highlands.

“It has some of the biggest hemlocks trees I have ever seen outside a state park,” Rich Bowman, director of policy at the conservancy, told The Detroit News. “It has groves of native red pine. It has lots of mature northern hardwoods. It really is just a beautiful piece of forestland.”

The Nature Conservancy learned about the non-public sale in August from a national real estate firm involved with the family that managed the land for three generations, he said.

The group submitted a bid before the family decided. The price for the sale finalized last month will not be disclosed, Bowman added.

“We are thrilled that we were able to acquire the Slate River Timberlands,” said Helen Taylor, the nonprofit's state director in Michigan, in a statement last week.

“Our science has identified this area as some of the most resilient land in Michigan, meaning it can sustain natural diversity in the face of a changing climate. Opportunities to conserve such large areas of intact, mature forest lands don’t come along every day. It’s one of many important steps toward a healthy, thriving future for U.P. forests and the communities that depend on them.”

The conservancy, which has protected more than 125 million acres of land worldwide and an estimated 393,000 in Michigan, already oversees a spot in the area, the Wilderness Lakes Reserve in Baraga County.

The Slate River is part of the acquired land.

The newly acquired property protects several streams flowing to nearby Lake Superior, including nearly 4 miles of the Slate River with cascades, waterfalls and a gorge as well as 3 miles of the Ravine River, Bowman said. 

Situated amid protected lands such as Craig Lake State Park and the McCormick Wilderness, the parcel “also contributes to large stretches of habitat that wide-ranging species such as moose and deer need to thrive,” group officials said.  

“This property has been superbly managed,” said Emily Clegg, project manager, forest conservation for TNC. “The forest is beautiful, full of classic mature native species of trees, thoughtfully managed with care over generations. Our goal is to continue that management as it benefits wildlife, supports the local timber economy and helps the forest remain healthy despite the stressors of a changing climate.”

The previous owners had allowed recreational leases for about 8,000 of the acres, Bowman said. Those agreements remain, and “the rest will be for the public to enjoy,” he added.