Nature Conservancy: Protects island in Lake Michigan

Contact: Chris Anderson, 612-331-0747 (work), 612-845-2744 (mobile), [email protected]

Great Lakes Island Will Be Conserved as Refuge for Wildlife

MADISON – The Nature Conservancy announced today that it has protected St. Martin Island in Lake Michigan, which is located about five miles from Washington and Rock islands at the tip of the Door Peninsula.

One of the larger islands in a chain that stretches from Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula to Michigan’s Garden Peninsula, St. Martin Island provides critical stopover habitat for birds that migrate through the Great Lakes each spring and fall, as well as habitat for fish and other wildlife.

The Conservancy acquired nearly 1,244 acres, or 94 percent, of the island from the Fred Luber family of Milwaukee. Mr. Luber is the former Chairman and CEO of Super Steel Products Corporation. The Lubers have owned and cared for their land on St. Martin Island since the 1980s. They sold it to the Conservancy for $1.5 million, a price substantially below fair market value, making a gift of more than 60 percent of the land’s value, or $2.85 million, in order to see it protected.

“During this time when we give thanks as a nation, we are grateful to the Luber family for their generous gift as part of the sale of their land to The Nature Conservancy, which has made it possible for us to bring lasting protection to St. Martin Island,” said Mary Jean Huston, who directs the Conservancy’s work in Wisconsin.”

“When I bought the land, my initial idea was to develop it,” said Fred Luber. “But my family wanted to maintain its natural beauty. We really enjoyed the 30-some years we owned St. Martin Island. And we are delighted that The Nature Conservancy will protect and preserve it.”

“My family and I considered the future of St. Martin for many years,” said Martha Luber Pelrine. “The more we learned about the island, the more we felt it deserved long-term conservation. We are excited to be a part of making this happen.”

St. Martin Island is in Michigan but the Conservancy’s Wisconsin and Michigan programs teamed up to protect the island.

“Nature doesn’t concern itself with boundaries,” said Jeff Knoop, land protection specialist for the Conservancy’s Michigan program. “This is especially true in the Great Lakes basin where we all need to work together to conserve the lands and waters that support our economy and provide clean drinking water, recreation opportunities and fish and wildlife habitat.”

The Conservancy plans to eventually transfer its land on St. Martin Island to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to add to the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge, which includes Hog, Plum and Pilot islands, is a sanctuary for native birds and endangered plants and animals.

“St. Martin Island will be a valuable addition to our Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge,” said Steve Lenz, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Refuge Project Leader. “Through this acquisition and subsequent transfer to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, critically important migratory bird habitat will be permanently protected in the open waters of Lake Michigan.”

St. Martin Island is part of the Grand Traverse chain of islands in Lake Michigan between Wisconsin and Michigan. These relatively undeveloped, forested islands provide refuges for birds as they travel through the Great Lakes in migration. They are safe places to land, feed and rest, which is critical to the birds’ survival. More than 100 species of birds have been documented using the island in recent years.

“Migration is very stressful for birds, and having safe stopover sites where they can rest and refuel is critical to their success,” said Dr. Dave Ewert, Nature Conservancy senior scientist. “It has been estimated that 100 million birds use stopover sites in the Great Lakes region, so the protection of Great Lakes islands like St. Martin Island is absolutely essential.”

Migrating butterflies, dragonflies and bats also use the islands. In fact, nearby Door Peninsula is one of the hottest spots for bat migration in the Great Lakes.

The broad shallow “flats” off the shore of St. Martin are likely to be a prime area for fish to spawn because those areas warm up faster and the eggs are protected from predators as they fall amongst the rocks.

St. Martin Island is part of the Niagara Escarpment and has significant bluffs, which have rare snails and plants associated with them. In addition to the bluffs, the island also supports a diversity of other types of habitat including forest, wetlands and an extensive cobblestone beach.

St. Martin Island has an interesting human history. In the mid-1800s, up to 27 families lived on the island year round, making their living fishing for whitefish, lake trout, sturgeon and lake herring, which they salted and shipped to Chicago, Milwaukee and other cities. Fish populations eventually declined and people left the island. In 1889, the island was officially declared vacated.

The Conservancy will raise $2 million in public and private funds to purchase St. Martin Island and continue its conservation work on the Door Peninsula and in the Green Bay watershed and the Great Lakes. In addition to private donations, the organization has applied for a grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has applied for a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant to help fund this project.

The Conservancy will also donate Rocky Island, a 10-acre island in the Grand Traverse island chain, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife when it transfers St. Martin Island. Rocky Island is located approximately two miles off Michigan’s Garden Peninsula and is in close proximity to Little Summer Island. The island, which also provides important stopover habitat for migratory birds and nesting habitat for waterbirds, was donated to the Conservancy in 1986.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect the land and water on which all life depends. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have helped protect 130 million acres worldwide. In Wisconsin, the Conservancy has protected more than 229,500 acres of land and water since 1960. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at