Conservancy photo shows an aerial view of St. Martin Island in Lake
Michigan. The Nature Conservancy said Wednesday it has bought most of the
uninhabited island that provides crucial stopover habitat for migratory
birds, assuring it will remain permanently undeveloped and protected. The
island is part of a chain stretching between Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula and
Michigan’s Garden Peninsula in the northwestern corner of the lake. (AP
AP Environmental Writer
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - The Nature Conservancy said Wednesday it has
bought most of an uninhabited Lake Michigan island that provides crucial
stopover habitat for migratory birds, assuring it will remain permanently
undeveloped and protected.
St. Martin Island is part of a chain stretching between Wisconsin’s Door
Peninsula and Michigan’s Garden Peninsula in the northwestern corner of the
lake. More than 7 miles from the nearest mainland, it features wetlands,
cobblestone beaches, bluffs and thick vegetation. It sits northeast of
Washington Island in Michigan waters.
Millions of sparrows, warblers and other species stop briefly on St. Martin
and neighboring islands to take a break and feed before continuing their
journey south during fall migration and north in springtime. More than 100
species have been documented on St. Martin in recent years, said Dave Ewert,
senior scientist with the nonprofit conservancy’s Michigan chapter.
“Migration is very stressful for birds, and having safe stopover sites where
they can rest is critical to their success,” Ewert said.
The Nature Conservancy bought 1,244 acres - roughly 94 percent of the island
- from the Fred Luber family. Luber, of Milwaukee, is former chairman and
CEO of Super Steel Products Corp. The remainder consists of a few private
lots and a small area controlled by the U.S. Coast Guard, which has a light
tower on the island.
Eventually, the conservancy will turn over its share to the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service for addition to the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a
sanctuary for native birds and endangered plant and animal species,
including rare snails. The refuge includes Hog, Plum and Pilot islands.
The conservancy owns all or part of other Great Lakes islands, including
Susie Island in Lake Superior near Grand Portage, Minn., and a parcel on
Charity Island in Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. It once owned Calf Island in the
Detroit River near Lake Erie but turned it over to the federal government in
Conservancy officials said they’re seeking private donations and government
grants to cover the St. Martin costs. The group also plans to donate nearby
10-acre Rocky Island, which it has owned since 1986, to the Fish and
Luber, 88, bought most of the island in the mid-1980s intending to develop
it as a resort, said his daughter, Martha Luber. But the remote location and
lack of electricity, running water and other infrastructure were substantial
hurdles - and the family decided the island’s ecological value and natural
beauty were more important.
“The biologists with The Nature Conservancy took me up there to learn about
the birds, the ecosystem,” Martha Luber said. “These islands are unique
places and they need to be kept that way. They’re jewels.”
She said she’s seen dozens of bald eagles nesting there - and even pelicans.
The family sold it for $1.5 million, which the conservancy said was well
below the fair market value of $4.35 million.
Aside from its location, what makes the island particularly suitable for
traveling birds is its heavy cover of Canada yew, white cedar and other
trees that provide protection and an abundant diet of flies, caterpillars
and other insects, Ewert said.
It’s also popular with migrating bats, butterflies and dragonflies.
About two dozen commercial fishing families lived on St. Martin Island in
the 1800s but abandoned it when fish populations dropped.