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Categorized | Outdoors

Designing land use for people and nature

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve

Nature Niches are vital for human survival. Designing land use for people and nature protects current and future generations. Individual humans and future generations are important. Personal wants and needs make it easy to dismiss the wellbeing of grandchildren and great-grandchildren and those that follow. The President and Congress wrestle with this balance daily.

On February 12, new National Monuments were designated by Presidential proclamation using the Antiquities Act of 1906. Congress takes decades to establish protection for proposed areas of national importance while they discuss the pros and cons. They often defer action to future legislators. By the time action is taken, the areas needing protection for future generations could be degraded or lose the value they were proposed to protect. The President is only allowed to protect land that is already owned by the American people. Private property is excluded. The proposed Arctic Wilderness in Alaska and Red Rock Wilderness in Southern Utah are two of the largest Wilderness areas awaiting designation. Wilderness designation has been debated and deferred for well over 50 years by Congress with no resolution. The Antiquities Act was created to mitigate while Congress takes slow or no action. It allows some protection, while Congress debates and considers long term land use. Some areas are approved as National Parks, other federal designations, or can be sold to private interests with Congressional approval.

Most of our national parks began by presidential proclamation. When you see a designation called National Monument it means a president protected it and Congress has not acted yet to make it a national park or eliminate it from monument or federal protection. If it is designated as a National Park, Congress has acted to support the designation. Yosemite is an example of a Congressionally approved National Park in California. It is likely Congress will not complete action on the newly designated California monuments during the lifetime of children born when the monuments were established. Some national parks and federal lands determined as non-vital for society have been closed and sold. National Forests began in a similar manner. Bureau of Land Management lands were established for management to meet different society and private interests. Designation of parks, national forest, and BLM lands have different regulations designated with varied use emphases.

National Monuments limit consumptive use more than national forest and BLM lands. At the Howard Christensen Nature Center, I worked to establish varied protections on a small local scale by acting locally but thinking globally. When driving in the entrance to the Welcome Center, one will find dispersed parking for cars scattered along the drive instead of one large parking area. That entrance area was designed to provide visitors with a natural experience before walking to the Interpretive building. Parking is located far enough away from the Red Pine Interpretative Center to hide view of the building in the woods. It is comparable to parking in a Meijer parking lot farthest from the store. Of course, at the store the building is still visible. The two parking areas have different purposes. At Meijer the purpose is to help visitors gain fast close access for target products. At HCNC the target product is the natural area instead of a building where people become separated from an outdoor experience. It provides people a chance to slow down and enjoy the ambiance of the natural world on their way to the building.

The HCNC buildings (Red Pine Center and Lily’s Retreat Center) have primary parking out of sight of the building but are also accessible by driveways that allow people close access when needed. Nature center areas were designated with high, passive, and limited activity areas. High activity areas reduce the value for survival of native species nature niches and are comparable to your house, driveway and lawn areas. Passive use areas are designated trails through intact nature niche habitats. Limited use areas hopefully prevent impairment of natural areas and include game trails, unnamed trails, and natural areas between trails that serve primarily wildlife species. Use by people should not be obvious or impair wildlife use value in limited use areas.

The new Mojave Trails, Sands to Snow, and Castle Mountains National Monuments in California include sand dunes, Native American petroglyphs, one of the continent’s youngest volcanoes, and critical habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife. They connect Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and 15 wilderness areas.

HCNC has 135 acres connected to the 5000 acres of the Rogue River State Game Area. The game area provides wildlife habitat for hunting, Grand River Watershed flood control, forest management and other uses. HCNC is outstanding for education, recreation, and it models land use designations on a small local scale. HCNC use protection designations have changed since my retirement but that is to be expected, just like Congress land use decisions change with each new Congress. My best advice is to act locally on private property under your management control with long term care designed to include future generations. Think global and act local. Support HCNC by visiting and purchasing a membership.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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