MICHIGAN—- An old farmstead in Oscoda County, Michigan, is well on its way to becoming a bee and butterfly hot spot. Zissler Farm, a 100-acre grassland on the Huron-Manistee National Forests, provides habitat for variety of rare wildlife species, including the Monarch butterfly. However, the area has become dominated by non-native invasive plants, which choke out the native wildflowers that Monarchs and other pollinator species depend on.
Utilizing an experimental and herbicide-free habitat restoration technique called solarization, large plastic sheets were staked down in ten ¼-acre plots throughout the grassland. The plastic sheets were left in place during the hottest weeks of the summer, and as the soil heated up, it killed the weeds, as well as any weed seeds deep in the soil. In November 2017, the plots were seeded with a mix of native wildflowers designed to provide butterfly and bumble bee habitat throughout the growing season. It will be another year or two before there are regular flowering in the plots; however, Forest employees will be out there in field season for monitoring and weed control.
Once the wildflowers are established, a prescribed fire rotation will be used in future years to control invasive species and promote native plant diversity.
Though once common, the monarch butterfly population is in the midst of a significant decline. Efforts that restore native grassland habitats are of critical importance if we hope to stop the decline of the Monarch. In addition to providing pollinator habitat, native grasslands also provide habitat for birds such as boblink and northern harrier, and game species such as white-tailed deer and wild turkey.
The USDA Forest Service implemented this project as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal partnership to protect and restore native ecosystems. The Forests have requested GLRI funding to implement Phase 2 of the Zissler project where they would create similar wildflower plots, but prepare the sites using herbicide rather than solarization. This will allow for a side-by-side comparison of the two methods.