May 27 12:07 PM

Sanctuary a gift to conservancy

Bioregional Land Conservancy ensures legacy of area's untamed nature

Neil Reiche, volunteer, walks through towering pine forest at Sutherland Nature Sanctuary. The former farmland was planted into white, red, Scotch and jack pine trees by original owner Doris Sutherland, who sought to create a sanctuary for birds. photo by Maria Brown.

September 24, 2008
The Sutherland Nature Sanctuary has become a study in untamed nature.

Since Doris Sutherland purchased the working farm in Hadley Twp. more than 40 years ago and donated it to the Great Lakes Bioregional Land Conservancy in 1999, very little has been done to the land and that's a point of pride.

"Nature doesn't do anything without a reason," said caretaker Ed Dunsmore, while sitting under the santuary's pavilion in August.

Behind him in the tangle of mature trees, small brush and everything green in between, lies 75 acres of mostly untouched country. It's a place where people can enjoy nature and observe good land stewardship practices, a tenant in the Great Lakes Bioregional Land Conservancy (GLBLC) mission.

Dunsmore admits that, at first, previous owner Doris "helped things along."

Initially, her brother tried to plow up the land and continue farming it but once that became difficult he said to his sister, 'it would be a good place to plant some trees and watch the birds.'

Doris didn't have to be told twice, Dunsmore said.

She began putting white, red, Scotch and jack pine trees in the ground. Doris was especially hopeful the jack pines would attract Kirtland's Warblers, one of the state's rarest birds that relies on jack pine saplings for food and shelter, which also happened to be her favorite species.

Dunsmore said it's been amazing to see a variety of ecosystems develop on their own.

There are two ponds and a natural stream, a wide swath of meadow and natural forest development including a hardwood forest and varied mature trees that no doubt lined the former crop fields.

The giants, noted on the maps created by volunteer Neil Reiche, are ideal place markers too. There's the basswood, hawthorne, butternut hickory, black oak, choke cherry, witchhazel and burr oak.

Other than cutting trails, Dunsmore said the rest is undisturbed.

That policy makes for some unique displays along the trails. Trees taken down by an August 2007 tornado remain where they fell, marked by a sign. One of the largest had 94 rings. Smaller saplings in the area are still bent to the east from the strong winds that ravaged the area.

There's the giant tree slashed by a lightning strike back in 2003 that's another testament to the power of the weather.

Also fascinating is the sanctuary's vernal pond. The temporary pool of water is fed by melting snow and spring rains, hence the 'vernal' title. This year, Reiche points out along the tour, the pond hasn't disappeared over the summer thanks to the wet weather. Its black water is home to creatures such as salamanders and frogs.

Thanks to help from local Boy Scouts, people traveling the trails can take a respite at rustic benches they constructed. There's also a viewing platform in the sanctuary's meadow where it's possible to catch a glimpse of deer, rabbits, woodchucks, fox or coyotes.

"We encourage people to meander," Dunsmore said.

Plans are underway to create an outdoor classroom where students on fieldtrips can stop for special instruction.

Guided bird walks, frog walks, summer strolls, bonfires and group tours for schools, churches, homeschoolers or Scouts are offered by volunteers.

Sutherland Nature Sanctuary is located on Diehl Rd., just south of Pratt Rd.

For more information about the sanctuary or to schedule a tour, call (810) 797-4643.

The GLBLC serves Lapeer and neighboring counties.

In addition to Sutherland, other GLBLC conservation sites include the Riseman Refuge in Dryden Twp., the Klam Road Wetlands near Columbiaville, the Tibbits Land Stewardship Center and the Dorr Wildlife Habitat.

The Riseman Refuge is a ten acre parcel adjacent to the Polly Ann Trail and bordered by the Belle River. It features wooded wetlands and an array of birds, frogs, insects and other wildlife. Friends of the Polly Ann Trail and the GLBLC are working on creating an educational plan for the refuge. To learn more about the Riseman Refuge, call Leo Dorr at (810) 664-5647.

The GLBLC also works to educate landowners about conservation and tax incentives for easement donations.

Easements allow donors to keep their land but give the right to develop the land to a conservancy. Donors then get to take a charitable deduction on federal taxes equal to the difference between its unrestricted values and its value with development potential eliminated.

According to a recent press release, there are expanded incentives for the 2008 tax year which: Raises the deduction an owner can take from 30 percent of their income of any year up to 50 percent; allows qualifying farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100 percent of their income and extends the carry forward period of five to 15 years to take tax deductions.

To learn more about possible easement donations contact Leo Dorr at (810) 664-5647.

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