Monthly Archives

December 2021

Collaborative, Bi-national Fish Habitat Study Reaffirms the Importance of Wetlands, and Natural Shorelines in Promoting Abundant Bass and Bluegill populations

The recently released summary of the findings of a bi-national fish study conducted on Lake St. Clair serves to emphasize the critical role that wetlands and other natural shoreline features play in promoting and sustaining healthy freshwater fish populations. Focusing on relatively small fish such as minnows, bluegill, and sunfish as well as the young of species such as largemouth and smallmouth bass that ultimately mature into much larger fish, the Collaborative Lake St. Clair Fishery Assessment was conducted by fisheries biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The primary goal of the study was to help fisheries biologists understand how many of the small fish exist within the lake, and to also identify exactly what type of shoreline habitat serves to promote their abundance. The most important finding of the study is indicated by the fact that the keystone fish were found to be ten times more abundant in areas of the lake featuring nearshore and shoreline habitat consisting of wetlands, and other natural features in comparison to more urbanized areas on the Michigan side of the lake where shorelines now consist primarily of steel seawalls, piles of rock and concrete, and other forms of artificial shoreline armoring.

Even though Lake St. Clair possesses a surface area of only 430 square miles it is considered to be an important bi-national resource due to the fact that it is connected to Lake Huron by the St. Clair River, and to Lake Erie by the Detroit River, and is therefore considered one of the busiest waterways in the world due to the fact that 5,000 ships transit the lake each year on their way to and from commercial ports located within the expansive Great Lakes, and to locations far beyond the region via the St. Lawrence Seaway.

It is also important to note that Lake St. Clair’s remaining coastal wetlands, located primarily on the Ontario side of the lake, also provide critical habitat to a diverse array of fish, reptiles, migratory birds, and amphibians. The large inland lake also provides an array of highly valuable ecological, recreational, and commercial benefits, including drinking water, to millions of people who live on or near the lake in southeast Michigan and southern Ontario.

Conducted on both the Michigan and Ontario sides of Lake St. Clair, fisheries biologists deployed fyke nets at 110 locations around the lake in areas defined by both hardened and natural shorelines, and recorded both the quantity and type of fish that swam into the nets. Reporting the findings of their study within the context of a written summary recently submitted to The Detroit News, the fisheries biologists wrote that “the overall fish catch rate was 10 times higher on the Canadian side of the lake, likely related to better nearshore habitat.” In sharp contrast to hardened shorelines comprised of seawalls or piles of concrete, natural shorelines and nearshore habitat comprised of emergent, floating, and submerged aquatic plants such as cattails, bulrush, water lilies, and pondweeds provide small fish such as bluegill and young bass with an ideal habitat within which to forage for abundant aquatic insects, protection from predation, and an ideal habitat for spawning and supporting young fish.

To learn more about the multi-faceted benefits of preserving, and/or restoring natural shorelines, visit the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership at https://www.mishorelinepartnership.org/ .

Legislation Introduced to Limit the Authority of Local Governments to Regulate Aggregate Mining and Short Term Vacation Rentals Pending Further Action in Lansing

Introduced by Rep. Sarah Lightner, R-Springport Township, and passed by the Michigan House of Representatives by a margin of 55-48 this past spring, House Bill 4722 would act to severely limit the authority of local units of government to regulate short term rentals. The primary language of the bill indicates that “a local unit of government shall not adopt or enforce zoning ordinance provisions that have the effect of prohibiting short-term rentals.” Compromise language in the bill would allow local units of government limited authority to oversee short term rentals in instances where local noise and traffic ordinances are violated due to significantly increased numbers of summer vacation season short term renters. Local units of government would also maintain the authority to set limits on the number of available short-term rentals, as long the established limit is not less than 30 percent of existing residential units in the municipality.

Supported by the Michigan Realtors and the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy, if passed by the Senate, and signed by Governor Whitmer, the legislation would allow a large number of local home owners to rent their property on a short term basis via services like Airbnb to summer vacationers. Arguing that local units of governments lead by duly elected officials are in the best overall position to determine a particular community’s suitability to allow short term rentals, the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Association of Planning are adamantly opposed to the legislation. House Bill 4722 has been referred to the Michigan Senate Committee on Regulator Reform, and is pending further action by the Michigan Senate.

Legislation passed by the Michigan Senate this past June which would deprive local units of government of the capacity to issue permits, and to otherwise regulate gravel and sand mining operations is pending action by the Michigan House of Representatives. SB 431 would make the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) responsible for issuing permits for gravel and sand mining operations, and would also require EGLE to assess fees on sand and gravel products for the purpose of funding the need for the agency to monitor, administer, and enforce mining operation regulations. If passed, the legislation would also make EGLE ultimately responsible for taking action if a particular mining operation presented an imminent danger to public health and safety, or pose a threat to the local environment.

The controversial legislation is supported by the Michigan Aggregate Association who indicates that the legislation is necessary to help ensure ample supplies of sand and gravel that are used extensively in highway construction projects. The legislation is opposed by the Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Association of Planning, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, Michigan Environmental Council, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters who argue that the legislation unnecessarily deprives local officials of the ability to issue permits, and to pass and enforce common sense local ordinances intended to help ensure the aggregate mines are operated in a manner that protects the environment, and the health and safety of local citizens.