Students battle plans to destroy Native Plant Project at Northern Michigan University

Students fight university plan to bulldoze an

environmental study project for building dorms

in Marquette, Michigan

  Students work hard to create and now protect Native Plant Project that Northern Michigan University planners want to destroy to build dorms

Northern Michigan University students are trying to save their four-year-old Native Plants project that will be a valuable seed tool for other northern Michigan environment efforts and help attract students to the campus along Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula if its not destroyed to make dorms

“Green wash” at Northern Michigan University

Plans to destroy a student environment and

research project is at university that uses

slogan “Northern Naturally”

(Marquette, Michigan) – Northern Michigan University students are battling a university plan to bulldoze a four-year-old environment study project to build new dorms.

Northern Michigan University (NMU) student Michael Joko Rotter is leading a petition drive and other student efforts to stop the university from destroying the five acre Outdoor Classroom and Native Plants Research Area – that has received $24,000 in state and federal funding.

During the past week, Rotter started a  petition drive and media campaign – collecting over 500 signatures and organizing several student organizations to battle the NMU administration plans to eliminate the Native Plants Project garden and research area.

NMU Student Michael Rotter is leading the fight to protect the Native Plants Project that has involved the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of students

NMU Student Michael Rotter is leading the fight to protect the Native Plants Project that has involved the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of students

“We have spent the last four years working hard to make the area natural and educational,” said Rotter, a 22-year-old NMU senior. “Native plants contribute to helping keep our waterways clean, building habitat for animals and other organisms, and contribute to a more sustainable lawn.”

The five-acre native plants outdoor classroom has oak/jack pine savanna, a retention pond/wetland area, upland mesic forest and shrub types representing various northern Michigan habitats
.
“If NMU is going to use the slogan “Northern Naturally” to me this project is the epitome of that whole slogan,” said project professor Dr. Ronald Sundell, director of the NMU Environmental Science Program.

NMU students put loving care into the five-acre Native Plants Project on the north side of campus

NMU students put loving care into the five-acre Native Plants Project on the north side of campus (NMU Native Plant Project Photos by Professor Dr. Ronald Sundell)

“The project has been approved by the university under their former master plan that is now being revised – now they are saying they are going to put up new dorms – brick and mortar,” said Dr. Sundell, who is active in several northern Michigan environment projects.

The students hope to convince “campus planners to preserve our native plants and make Northern green and not give it a ‘green wash’,” said Rotter, who is a member of the NMU EarthKeeper Student Team that has organized numerous environment projects including helping to recycle or properly disposed of over 370 tons of household hazardous waste on the past three Earth Days.

The project includes field sampling of vegetation, insects, birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians); ecological modeling, plant identification, native plant propagation, restoration techniques; water quality and oil analysis plus weather and climate studies.

Literally hundreds of students from the student environmental science organization and NMU classes have assisted in the development of this site,” Sundell said.

Over the past four years, hundreds of NMU students have worked hard to build the Native Plants Project that will soon become a beautiful part of campus if it's not destroyed by NMU dorm planners

Over the past four years, hundreds of NMU students have worked hard to build the Native Plants Project that will soon become a beautiful part of campus if it’s not destroyed by NMU dorm planners 

“I think there are opportunities for the university to enhance their environmental science program and attract significant numbers of new students to NMU,” Sundell said. “And it’s things like the Native Plants Project that makes this attractive to potential students interested in environmental restoration and environmental sustainability.”

Rotter has fostered support from the NMU Environmental Science Organization, Superior Geography Club, Sustainable Agriculture club, and the Students Against Sulfide Mining.

NMU students instrumental in creating and nurturing the Native Plant Project over the past four years are Mike Stefancic, a graduate who was part of the first planting; and Jason Woodhull, who trained by Stefancic and then passed the torch to Michael Rotter.

Thousands of students hours have gone into making the project a success and it includes The project includes field sampling of vegetation, insects, birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians

Thousands of students hours have gone into making the project a success and it includes The project includes field sampling of vegetation, insects, birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians 

“These students have helped out during the summers doing the planting, maintaining and developing of the site,” Sundell said.

“This was the worst drought in the recorded history of the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) and with the help of Mike Rotter and other student volunteers we were able to add an additional 11,000 plants to the campus Native Plant Project this summer,” Sundell said. “And during this dry summer the students maintained the part we had established – even under these harsh conditions it grew in size about one third of an acre.”

“It takes a lot of care for these plants to become well establish – but once they are established they will need minimal maintenance,” Sundell said.

If it’s not destroyed, the project will help other environmental efforts in northern Michigan.

“You can’t go a lot of places and find native seed – we are becoming a major seed source,” Sundell said “We are planning to give the seeds to organizations across the central U.P. for restoration projects.”

The Native Plants Project is coming of age and soon will add beauty to the campus.

Beautiful flowers are part of the project that is coming of age and will soon have many flowering plants in brilliant colors

Beautiful flowers are part of the project that is coming of age and will soon have many flowering plants in brilliant colors 

“It may not look aesthetically pretty at the present because it takes time to be establish – but once established it will become an area of great beauty with all sorts of flowering plants and grasses in shades of white, yellow,  pink and purple  – it will be an amazing hill site that the campus can be proud of,” Sundell said.

The project is located on a small hill between the new science building and the NMU Learning Resource Center on the north side of campus.

“There is other space on campus that Northern could use for housing and dorms,” Sundell said.

This map shows the five acre project at NMU that is growing each year but now faces destruction to make way for dorms and other student housing

This map shows the five acre project at NMU that is growing each year but now faces destruction to make way for dorms and other student housing 

The National Weather Service automated weather tower for Marquette sits in the middle of the native plants area and would have to be moved if the site if developed for dorms. NWS weather instruments hang from the 30-foot tower.

“It’s a perfect site for collecting the weather data because its sits in middle of an open area, surrounded by natural vegetation and is not close to buildings or sidewalks which can skew the weather data,” Sundell said.

“It’s hard to find an appropriate location in the city of Marquette to collect this weather data so our native plants site was one of the few locations available and a perfect site for this automated weather tower,” Sundell said.

In a similar project, Rotter recently helped turn the NMU Lutheran Campus Ministry lawn into a Native Plant Garden that includes rocks from three of the Great lakes, dozens of Michigan plants, and a solar fountain.

On Friday, Oct. 5, 2007, just hours before getting the bad news from NMU, Rotter arranged to have a Lutheran pastor and a Zen Buddhist head priest conduct a blessing of the garden that encircles the Lutheran Campus Ministry house.

Two pastors conducted a blessing on the Lutheran Campus Ministry new Native Plants Garden on Friday Oct. 5,2007 that was attended by LMC board members and LC students. (Garden Blessing Photos by Greg Peterson)

Two pastors conducted a blessing on the Lutheran Campus Ministry new Native Plants Garden on Friday Oct. 5, 2007 that was attended by LMC board members and LCM students. (Garden Blessing Photos by Greg Peterson) 

Prayers, incense, bells, and chants were part of the ceremony arranged by Rotter, who is a member of Lake Superior Zendo, a Marquette Zen Buddhist temple.

Stones from three of the Great Lakes azre part of the Lutheran Campus Ministry Native Plants Garden that encircles the house and replaces the lawn.

Stones from three of the Great Lakes are part of the Lutheran Campus Ministry Native Plants Garden that encircles the house and replaces the lawn.

Rotter held two student meetings this week to discuss ways to stop NMU from destroying the project.

“We had a really good turn out at the meeting with a majority of the audience in support of the project,” Rotter said.

Pleas to university officials to reconsider the plan has fallen on deaf ears, Rotter said.

“We felt that the planning commission and the few administrators there did not take us seriously – they choose to argue against the project instead of hearing our concerns,” Rotter said.

Students are learning a great deal about the environment as the work inside and out on the Native Plants Project at NMU

Students are learning a great deal about the environment as the work inside and out on the Native Plants Project at NMU 

“Our next step will be to keep collecting signatures so by December when the proposal comes to the NMU Board of Trustees we can hand them copies of all the signatures and a letter from student leaders with our concerns,” Rotter said.

Rotter is asking the public and students to inundate NMU administration officials with emails requesting that the Native Plant Project be spared.

People can email NMU President Les Wong at:
lwong@nmu.edu

The email of NMU Provost Susan Koch is:
skoch@nmu.edu.

“Their job is to help us obtain a good education and we think that it is essential that they keep educational opportunities like the native plant study area in tack,” Rotter said. “The students want the study area, what we have to do now is make sure the administration hears our voices.”

Rotter said the Native Plant Project has a wide range of long-term study and future “research value.”

There are 45 two-meter research plots available to students and faculty for either undergraduate or graduate level research studies, Rotter said.

“The plots are currently being used for native plant propagation and seed source,” Rotter said.

The students have received support and/or technical assistance (including memorandums of agreement) from numerous agencies including the Hiawatha National Forest (U.S. Forest Service) and the National Weather Service (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the Superior Watershed Partnership, Upper Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council, The Nature Conservancy, the Seaborg Center’s Upward Bound Math and Science Program and many members of the public and NMU students, faculty and staff.

Funding has been provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes National Program Office ($18,000), Northern Michigan University (approx. $6,000 for water line/cedar edging) and recently the NMU Development Fund.

The five-acre Native Plants Project is located on the northside of the Northern Michigan University campus. (NMU Native Plant Project Photos by Professor Dr. Ronald Sundell)

The five-acre Native Plants Project is located on the northside of the Northern Michigan University campus. (NMU Native Plant Project Photos by Professor Dr. Ronald Sundell)

 Future projects being considered include small wind turbine and solar panel demonstration sites, areas set aside depicting uses of native plants by Native Americans, a greenhouse dedicated to native plants propagation and research; and established viewing areas, trails, and signs.

Rotter can be reached by calling 231-250-3061 or email: mrotter@nmu.edu

The NMU EK Student team can be reached by calling 906-475-5068 or email: earthkeeper@charter.net

The project professor Dr. Ronald Sundell can be reached by calling 906-227-1359 or email: rsundell@nmu.edu

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About yoopernewsman

I am a news reporter, writer and investigative journalist and began my career about 40 years ago as a young teenager in Augusta, GA after moving south during the middle of high school. I'm a news reporter, writer & investigative journalist specializing in street news, plus Indigenous, civil rights & environment reporting. Currently volunteer media advisor for numerous American Indian & environment related nonprofits that include the Navajo Lutheran Mission in Rock Point, AZ & its executive director Rev. Dr. Lynn Hubbard, the nonprofit Cedar Tree Institute (CTI) in Marquette, MI & its many projects founded by Rev. Jon Magnuson, Author Joy Ibsen of Trout Creek, MI, Celtic Christianity Today (CCT) founded by Rev. Dr. George Cairns, the Turtle Island Project founded by pastors Hubbard & Cairns. In its third summer, the CTI Zaagkii Wings & Seeds Project & its volunteers built a16-foot geodesic dome solar-powered greenhouse that was built in this summer at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) in an effort to restore native species plants to northern Michigan. It's located at the tribe's Natural Resources Department north of L'Anse along Lake Superior. During the summer of 2010, Zaagkii Project teens built & painted 25 beautiful reliquaries that are boxes made from pine & cedar that are used to store seeds for planting & included samples of Native American medicine including sweetgrass, cedar, sage & tobacco. From April-June 2009, I promoted the EarthKeeper Tree Project that planted 12,000 trees across northern Michigan. Co-edited "Unafraid," the second book by Author Joy Ibsen of Trout Creek, MI that was printed in May 2009 based on her father's handwritten sermons she found in shoebox. I edited numerous videos for nonprofit CCT. Began career 35 years ago as teenager in Augusta, GA after moving south during middle of high school. I was co-coordinator of the 1986 original James Brown Appreciation Day in Augusta, GA, where the Godfather of Soul was always trashed by local media who didn't report anything positive about the music icon. Mr. Terence Dicks was the other co-coordinator & most recently served as chair of the Augusta Human Relations Commission and serves on the Georgia Clients Council. Mr. Brown taught us to "fight the good fight" by battling all forms of racism & evil while not uttering a bad word about those who try to block justice, respect, fairness & kindness to all. As a child, I lived in the Harbert, Michigan home built by late poet Carl Sandburg, where the legendary author penned some of his greatest works including his Chicago works & Lincoln papers. The four-story home had a sundeck on the top & a cool walk-in safe in the basement. The neighborhood (Birchwood) has numerous cottages used for other purposes by Sandburg like the milk house where they milked goats. My parents remodeled fourth floor of the home that stands atop the Lake Michigan sand dunes/bluffs. They found items that belonged to Mr. Sandburg concealed in the walls including prescription bottles with his name, reading glasses, & a small, thin metal stamp with his name. I've worked for dozens of newspapers & radio & TV stations in GA & MI. I'm volunteer media advisor for several interfaith environmental projects involving Native Americans across Upper Peninsula of MI including the Turtle Island Project, The Zaagkii Project, the Interfaith Earth Healing Initiative, EarthKeeper Initiative & the Manoomin (Wild Rice) Project. The Zaagkii Wings & Seeds Project restores bee & butterfly habitat to help pollination of plants following death of billions of bees. Keweenaw Bay Indian Community youth & Marquette teens built butterfly houses, planted/distributed 26,000 native plants to help pollinators. The Earth Healing Initiative assisted EPA Great Lakes 2008 Earth Day Challenge. EHI helped organize interfaith participation across eight states for the 100 plus recycling projects (April 2008) involving recycling millions of pounds of electronic waste & proper disposal of millions of pills/pharmaceuticals. EPA goals were exceeded by 500%. Under an EPA grant, EHI provided free media services for the cities/groups/tribes including videos & press releases. The EarthKeeper environment projects include an annual Earth Day Clean Sweep (2005-2007) at 24 free drop-off sites across a 400 mile area of northern Michigan that collected over 370 tons of household hazardous waste. The 2007 EarthKeeper Pharmaceutical Clean Sweep collected over one ton of drugs plus $500,000 in narcotics in only three hours. Some 2,000 residents participated & many brought in pharmaceuticals for their family, friends & neighbors. In 2006, 10,000 people dropped off over 320 tons of old/broken computers, cell phones & other electronic waste, all of which was recycled. In 2005, residents turned in 45 tons of household poisons & vehicle batteries. The Manoomin (Wild Rice) Project teaches teens to respect nature & themselves by having American Indian guides escort them to remote lakes & streams in northern Michigan to plant/care for wild rice. The teens test water quality to determine the best conditions for the once native grain to survive. The Turtle Island Project was co-founded in July 2007 by Rev. Lynn Hubbard of Rock Point, AR (Ex. Dir. of the Navajo Lutheran Mission) & Rev. Dr. George Cairns of Chesterton, IN, United Church of Christ minister & research professor for the Chicago Theological Seminary. TIP promotes respect for culture & heritage of indigenous peoples like American Indians. TIP is a platform for American Indians to be heard unedited by whites. Rev. Hubbard says whites don't have the knowledge or right to speak on behalf of Native Americans. I specialize in civil rights, outdoor, environmental, cops & courts reporting thanks to my late mentor Jay Mann (Jan Tillman Hutchens), an investigative reporter in Augusta, who lived by the books "Illusions" & "Jonathon Livingston Seagull." Love to fish, hunt, camp & skydive. Belong to Delta Chi national fraternity. I was active in Junior Achievement, band played cornet. With my dear friend, the Rev. Terence A. Dicks, we were the co-coordinators of the 1986 original James Brown Appreciation Day in Augusta, GA, where the Godfather of Soul was always trashed by the local media who found no reasons to print or report anything positive about the music icon. I am honored to help the human rights activist Terence Dicks - with some of his projects including the nonprofit Georgia Center for Children and Education - and the economic initiative he founded titled "Claiming A Street Named King." I am the volunteer media advisor for several environmental projects across Michigan's Upper Peninsula including EarthKeeper II - an Initiative of the nonprofit Cedar Tree Institute in Marquette, MI. EarthKeepers II is an Interfaith Energy Conservation and Community Garden Initiative across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Goals: Restore Native Plants and Protect the Great Lakes from Toxins like Airborne Mercury in cooperation with the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, U.S. Forest Service, 10 faith traditions and Native American tribes like the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Previously known as the Earth Keeper Initiative - that project included many environmental projects including an annual Earth Day Clean sweep at two dozen free drop off sites across a 400 mile area of northern Michigan. The target of the 2007 Earth Keeper Pharmaceutical Clean Sweep are all kinds of medicines. In 2006, some 10,000 people dropped off over 320 tons of old/broken computers, cell phones and other electronic waste, all of which was recycled. In 2005, residents turned in 45 tons of household poisons and vehicle batteries. The Manoomin (Wild Rice) Project taught at-risk teens (just sentenced in juvenile court) to respect nature and themselves by having American Indian guides escort them to very remote lakes and streams in northern Michigan to plant and care for wild rice. The teens conducted water quality and other tests to determine the best conditions for the once native grain to survive. I have always specialized in civil rights, outdoor, environmental, cops and courts reporting thanks to my late mentor Jay Mann (Jan Tillman Hutchens), an investigative reporter in Augusta, who lived by the book "Illusions."
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