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Wildlife At Risk : Stone Ridge Site Rich in Wildlife

Development Threatens Habitat

July 29, 2000 |
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

What makes our county beautiful is its open spaces and diverse wild settings. On August 10, the Weldon Township Board has an opportunity to safeguard that landscape. It should accept the decision made in June by the township's Zoning Board to deny a developer's application to build a 610-unit development on 522 acres of farm and forested land near Thompsonville.

One of the environmental issues with this development is the need to sustain a diverse plant and animal population. At the only public hearing held for the development I raised a question concerning the wildlife inhabiting the proposed site. The developer responded by indicating that there was nothing that needed to be protected. The only animals that depend on the land, he said, are White Tailed deer and wild turkeys. He also said the golf course being planned would benefit wildlife.

I am a high school student, a resident of Benzonia, and an intern at the Michigan Land Use Institute. Beginning in April I have been studying wildlife at the proposed development site in order to better understand how 522 acres of ecologically-rich land in our county could only support a few deer and turkeys.

The answer is it doesn't. It supports much more. I know this because I established a formal plan of study that included field surveys, interviewing citizens around the area, receiving help from local wildlife specialists, conducting research on the Internet, and reading plant and wildlife field guides. Right from the start of my survey I found the land to be home to a wide variety of animals and plants. I was fascinated, for example, to discover that the American Badger, Black Bear, a Great Horned owl, Upland Sandpipers and many other wildlife species depend on the proposed development site as their habitat.

Indeed, I learned just how distinctive this site really is. For example, while they are not an endangered species, Upland Sandpipers have declined in numbers over much of their range, almost disappearing from several states. This bird's characteristic long neck , short bill, large dark eyes and longer tail help to identify it from other shoreline birds. This amazing bird comes all the way from Argentina, Uruguay, and southernmost parts of Brazil to nest and raise its young right here in Benzie County where developers want to build a golf course, a hotel, condos, hundreds of homes, and an assisted care facility.

Consider the black bear, which also includes the proposed development site in its wide habitat. In order to sustain a healthy diet of plants, insects, and small mammals, a bear needs range wide to supply its needs, which is why having large open spaces like the proposed development is so important.

Badgers makes use of the sandy soils in the northern end of the proposed site.

Development is inevitable in Benzie County. The important thing to consider is how to develop the land to make sure wildlife thrives. This development, as proposed, is too dense, takes too much land and will hurt the area's wildlife.

There are better ways to develop land and the Stone Ridge Farm development is not one of them. Open space zoning ordinances are available to protect wildlife habitat from high impact modern developments, and keep the land as natural as possible.

If there are enough citizens who strongly care about the quality of life in our county and the importance of wildlife, this development plan should be improved. The Weldon Township Board has the power to do that. I certainly
hope it will.

A version of this article was published in the Benzie County Record Patriot on July 5, 2000.

Becky Mullins, a former intern at the Institute, now works for the National Park Service in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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