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Non-profit buys an island in Lake Michigan – ‘a wild, beautiful spot’ for migrating birds

St. Martin Island is part of a chain of islands that connects Michigan's Garden Peninsula to Wisconsin's Dorr Peninsula.
Mark Godfrey
The Nature Conservancy
St. Martin Island is part of a chain of islands that connects Michigan's Garden Peninsula to Wisconsin's Dorr Peninsula.

The Nature Conservancy has purchased an uninhabited island in northern Lake Michigan that provides a crucial stopover spot for migratory birds.

St. Martin Island is part of a chain that runs between Wisconsin's Door Peninsula and Michigan's Garden Peninsula.

Millions of sparrows, warblers and other birds stop on the chain to take a break and feed before continuing their migration. According to a release issued by the group today:

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.

Martha Luber Pelrine’s dad bought the island in 1986.

“He thought maybe we could develop it – sell lots along the shore. We have a small resort here in Dorr County – thought that maybe it could be a northern outpost. We had lots of grand ideas but the more we went out there the more we realized what a special place it is. And its uniqueness is that it’s not developed,” Luber Pelrine said.

Plus the island was so remote; it has no water, electricity or sewer.

The Luber family sold it to the nonprofit conservancy for $1.5 million dollars. The Nature Conservancy says the price was well below market value.

Eventually the island will be included in the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Dave Ewert is a senior scientist with the Nature Conservancy in Michigan. He says the chain of islands is really important for migrating land birds in the spring and fall.

“If they’re caught out away from mainland then they’re going to look for islands to come down, land, feed, rest, seek refuge from predators. So these islands really are a godsend to these migratory birds,” Ewert said.

He says more than 100 species have been documented in the chain of islands. St. Martin is one of the larger islands at more than 1,200 acres. The U.S. Coast Guard has a light tower on the island.

Eventually the island will go to the federal government for inclusion in the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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