Taking Stock

May-2015 hike along Big Bay Ridge Trail lead by naturalist, John Bates 

May-2015 hike along Big Bay Ridge Trail lead by naturalist, John Bates 

Everyone needs to stop and take stock every so often, and I think the same thing holds true for organizations. The MIWP started out as a simple land trust with a single goal, to buy and preserve land, but we have evolved to the point that we are involved with nearly everything on the island that has to do with the environment. I love that, I am proud of that, but I worry about our ability to sustain it. Like many families, we have more passions, hopes and plans than we have either time or money; as a board, we have just begun to acknowledge that perhaps we can’t do it all. Let me walk you through what we have been thinking about.

I think everyone agrees that the MIWP does education really well. The Wednesday lecture series at the Museum is very well attended and has engaging speakers on a wide-ranging menu of topics. Bonnie Matuseski and Ned Hancock do an excellent job setting it all up. This year the MIWP was the recipient of a generous grant from the Apostle Islands Area Community Fund that paid for speakers’ fees, so the cost has been very reasonable. Other educational pieces, the hikes (bird hike in the spring, North End trail hikes in the fall, all led by board members) and the parade, offer a different and more experiential approach to environmental education. There isn’t much I would change here.

Something else that the MIWP board has considered, a project that appeals enormously to me, is North End trail development. We have the Capser trail, highly developed, close to town and then we have the very rudimentary North End trails, designed as winter skiing trails, well marked but “primitive” (translate “primitive” as galoshes year-round, and hip boots in the spring.). I love those North End trails and walk on them often with my dogs, but there are eight miles of them and to get them into a condition where they would be easy to navigate year-round requires enormous amounts of organizing, coordination with other agencies, and money. Should we pursue that? Or should we leave them as they are, mow them once a year, and work on developing trails closer to town? Or does the island already have enough trails? For more information on the MIWP trail system, see “The Preserve and Trails”. 

And then there is our treatment of invasive species, buckthorn and barberry in particular. The MIWP has expended a huge amount of time and money over a lot of years in trying to eradicate these plants, but whether and how to continue this project is probably the subject about which the board is the most divided. We absolutely agree that island-wide spread of buckthorn and barberry would be a disaster: we have all seen it elsewhere and the result is terrible. What we don’t agree on, and can’t know, is if eradication or control is even possible at this stage of spread. The approach we have taken for the last three years, hiring two full time summer interns, has been very effective at mapping invasives and involving the community, but somewhat less effective at actual cutting. For 2016 we have decided to try something new – hire a crew led by the MIWP’s consulting forester, Charly Ray, to treat South End MIWP land, which, embarrassingly, holds some of the densest buckthorn and barberry on the island. Charly’s crew will work one day a week throughout the summer, and then in the fall the board will re- evaluate our progress and our program. My dearest hope, and this is a personal opinion, is that what we accomplish this summer is enough to justify some small bit of optimism that this is a battle that can be won. Or at least not lost!

Finally, the MIWP buys and protects land. That is why the organization was formed, that is the essence of our mission statement. We try to be responsible and we have internal criteria for land purchases: interior land that is contiguous with our other landholdings to reduce fragmentation, or land of special ecological significance. We have been very successful; we currently hold upwards of 2600 acres, or 17% of the island. But at some point the question arises: how much is enough? And the other, quieter question: if the cost of five acres of land is the cost of a summer of buckthorn treatment, which is better for Madeline Island? There is not, of course, a single easy answer to these questions, but a nuanced discussion about what matters the most to us, to all of us, needs to be at the core of any decisions that we make.

I wanted to take this opportunity to share what the MIWP board is wrestling with in part because the discussion is not over. We very much welcome any thoughts or opinions that you might have. Bend the ear of a board member, or use the “Contact” page to send us a message. A decision that we make today has the potential to have a big impact tomorrow, and I would like very much for you to be part of it. As they say, it takes a village!

May you have a peaceful and joyous 2016, Toria