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June 24, 2024

Wildlife Corridor

Photograph by Jim Higgins


For more than ten years the CALC has been working to protect a very special and unique feature of the landscape in the five counties served by our land protection efforts. That feature is the wild and natural land specifically used by wildlife in our area as typified by the movement corridors of the Black Bear (Ursus americanus). It has long been recognized that individual wildlife species have overlapping habitat needs and that some species may be used as indicator species for larger groups of wildlife. The Black Bear is such a specie. By protecting land needed by the Black Bear for their forging, breeding and movement, many other species which  use this same habitat also benefit.

The Cadillac area, including the counties surrounding Wexford County contain high quality Black Bear habitat. This was scientifically demonstrated during a ten year radio collar study conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and the US forest Service (USFS) during the 1990’s. During this study 126 bears were radio-collared and tracked to observe their behavior and to determine their population dynamics. Some of the more important observations included:

+ Sows in the study area tend to breed earlier and have above average cub numbers.
+ Surface water drainages and their associated wetland serve as important travel corridors.
+ Both male and female bears have very large home ranges in the study area due in part to a
more fragmented landscape.
+ Auto collisions, illegal killings and nuisance killings together accounted for 41% of the mortality
in the study area.
+ Natural land features likely contribute to bear distribution and demographics.
+ The bear population in the study are is expanding in numbers and area.

Many of these observations have a direct linkage to land preservation and human activities. For example, land fragmentation which relates to large home ranges leads to more negative human contacts and a greater number of road crossings and auto collisions. The protection of open space and wild places will continue to play an ever increasing role in maintaining the Black Bear population in northern Michigan. While this in itself is reason to conserve wild places, when the Black Bear as seen as an indicator of many other wild species, the importance of protecting open space and wild lands can truly be described as protecting the priceless. The uniqueness of this special resource, while not recognized by many, will in the future be considered a treasure lost, if not protected today while it is still healthy and strong.

CALC, with the help of the MDNR, the USFS and the data generated during the radio-collar study, has developed a set of maps highlighting the important travel corridors for bear in the area served by CALC’s land protection efforts. Hundreds of acres in these areas have already been protected via conservation easements donated to the CALC. We continue to focus on these areas in our protection efforts by contacting land owners offering our assistance with protecting private land and by educating the general public on this important issue. Our acceptance criteria focuses on these corridors and placing importance on linking lands already under protection will help insure the protection of this unique treasure for future generations.