Category Archives: Birds

Tuesday Noon (26 May 2015) Nature and Art at KIA

A program coming up at noon Tuesday (26 May) at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art sounds promising for people interested in art and nature. Here’s what the KIA’s website says about it:


From the Darkness: Light: What an Ecologist and a Poet See in the Art of Ladislav Hanka 

Presenters: James Armstrong, Kim Chapman and Ladislav Hanka

Ecologist Kim Chapman and poet Jim Armstrong, authors of the upcoming book Nature, Culture, and Two Friends Talking, a collection of essays addressing our complex relationships with the natural world, will present an in-depth look the work of Ladislav Hanka.
Working loosely from their book, the two will engage in a wide-ranging discussion about how Hanka’s work creates a dynamic confrontation between art and science, wildness and civilization, beauty and ugliness, darkness and light. As a special feature of this talk, Hanka will be present to join in the conversation.

All three–Kim, Jim, and Lad–have a strong local connection, to Kalamazoo and to one or both of our local institutions of higher learning. They also all have strong conservation credentials and are skilled writers with distinctive voices.

Lad–Vladislav R.–Hanka is a resident of Kalamazoo, well known as an artist, especially as a print-maker. He recently published a remarkable book In Pursuit of Birds, A foray with field glasses and sketchbook, Drawings and etchings of birds with some stories of birding in exotic places. Among his other activities, he has been a recent critic of Western Michigan University’s development plans for the Colony Farm Orchard (as he was also in 2009-10).

Kim Chapman studied the native grasslands of Michigan while at W.M.U and later did a Ph.D. in conservation biology at the University of Wisconsin. He spent several years saving land with The Nature Conservancy chapter in Minnesota.  Currently, he lives in St. Paul and directs an ecological consulting firm.

Jim Armstrong earned a Ph.D. at Boston U. in American literature. and is on the faculty of the English Department at Winona State University in Minnesota While in Kalamazoo, he wrote a series of articles for the Gazette that dealt with local land conservation. The series contributed to the  current that led to the formation of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

From the KIA description, it sounds as though Kim and Jim are going to talk about some of the themes in Lad’s new book, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Kim and Jim have collaborated before, notably on a critique of the Little House on the Prairie series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Their approach was ecological; the title was What Laura Saw: Making a Little Home on the Extreme Great Plains. I talked a little about their paper (which had been presented at an environmental conference at WMU) in a post to this website on 10 February 2011.

The Tuesday program is in the KIA’s ARTBreak series. Bring your brownbag lunch; coffee will be provided.  Free parking in the KIA lots.

Earth Day 2015 Colony Farm Orchard Protest

The Save the Colony Farm Orchard group held a second protest rally at the Orchard on this day (22 April 2015). Three speakers made brief remarks. The following is approximately what I said plus a few things that I left out for brevity or that I should have said but didn’t.

My topic was What would be the ecological effects if Western Michigan University develops the CFO as it proposes and turns it into another BTR park?

A quick answer is that everything currently there would be obliterated.

What in particular would be lost? Two things: the history of the land and the natural history of the land.

The CFO is land that was once part of a tall-grass prairie, the Genesee Prairie, surrounded by a bur oak savanna. The CFO was probably mostly in the savanna.   In the 1800s what’s now the CFO was part of private farms that included orchards.  Later it was the orchard part of the Colony Farm of the state mental hospital. The Colony Farm ceased its agricultural operations beginning in the 1950s and the CFO was all but abandoned by about 1970.

The CFO as it stands could provide information, in the plants and in the ground, of the history of the site from Paleo-Indian times to settlement, on through the 20 century. Mark Hoffman, the historian of the Colony Farm, can tell us that Neil Hindes had an orchard in the area, consisting of 100 apple trees plus others, in 1844.

Apple trees are long-lived.  Could  the apple trees there today be the same ones?

Will we find out the age of these trees when we count tree-rings on the stumps after WMU cuts them down?– Just before the bull-dozers move in?

Of many specifically ecological effects, I’ll mention three.

(1)The first is speeding up return of the sequestered carbon of the site to the earth’s atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Included will be the carbon in the living and dead trees–many quite large–in all the rest of the living vegetation including a very dense understory, and in the thick, long-undisturbed soil–the leaf litter, the humus. The stored carbon will go into the atmosphere and contribute to global climate change. Of course, in the global scheme of things, the carbon from only 40 or 50 acres is small. Somebody should calculate how many more LEED certified buildings WMU would have to build to save enough energy to achieve a balance.

(2)The second is the loss of the plant-animal community of the CFO. The CFO is an odd, interesting site. It has gone nearly 50 years with minimal direct human influence (except for the devastated southern end where the electrical substation was put in in 2001).
The CFO is a site of surprisingly high diversity, both as to species number and also in patchiness. There are patches dominated by native plant species (such as bur oaks and other species of the primeval prairie and savanna. Other patches are dominated by non-natives, including some considered invasives. There are lots of species of plants that flower at different times making it good habitat for honey bees–and probably also native, solitary bees.

Much of the CFO land has a thick understory–head-high and taller–making it excellent cover for many smaller mammals and ground-inhabiting birds.

The thick understory also makes it slow walking for people. This is not a park; visitors have to zig-zag their way along, following the route of least resistance.

Animal species diversity here is high too, partly based on the small human presence and partly based on vegetational diversity.  A morning bird walk here in most seasons would probably produce as many or more bird species as a walk of the same length through the woods on Asylum Lake Preserve.

(3)The third effect and probably the one of greatest ecological consequence, is the effect on Asylum Lake Preserve. Loss of the CFO is another step in the ecological pauperization of the supposedly protected Asylum Lake Preserve. The CFO  is, functionally, 54 acres of complementary habitat added to the scant 274 acres of the preserve. Coyotes, red foxes, and deer slip back and forth between the Asylum Lake Preserve and CFO. Many bird species, including ground-nesters such as as American woodcock and wild turkeys can nest here, probably including ones that forage on the Asylum Lake Preserve. And there are many other connections.

It’s a well-established conservation principle that bigger is always better where preserves are concerned. One important reason is that the rate of local extinction of species is lower in bigger preserves. With a lower extinction rate, species diversity tends to be higher, and higher species diversity usually is accompanied by greater ecological stability.

Besides these connections, the CFO serves as at least a partial buffer for the noise, fumes, lights, and so forth coming from what’s in and around Stadium Drive, 131, and 12th Street. Even a little BTR Park like the CFO would  yield will, with its roads and parking lots and business operations, bring noise, lights, and chemical emissions just across the road from the Asylum Lake Preserve.

The WMU administration has reminded us repeatedly that they have
no intention to harm Asylum Lake Preserve. Where I come from, making a big deal of  the fact that you’re promising to do what you’re legally required to do would prompt sarcastic comments.

But the claim is a sign of a serious problem. WMU administrators apparently think that only direct assaults on a site can harm it. That the structure and functioning of Asylum Lake Preserve would be damaged by interfering with the Colony Farm Orchard seems to be beyond their ken.   We’ve listed a few of the connections between the plant and animal populations of the two sites, and the list goes on. Connections are what ecology is.



April 1, 2015, the Frogs are Calling


Winter had a long tail that ran all way to the end of March, but mid-afternoon today when Katy and I pulled into the driveway here in Oshtemo Township we could hear the clatter of the wood frogs calling without having to lower the car windows. We had heard nothing when we left early in the day, but temperatures had been above 60 degrees most of the time since.

We pulled a little farther down the lane and stopped at the second pond. Wood frogs were calling here too but we could also hear another voice. I ran  the window down and we listened to the piercing cheeps of the spring peepers added to the wood frogs.

In the early evening, I walked down the lane to the two ponds. The night was mild and bright; full moon is only four days away.I didn’t have to get very close to the ponds to tell that a third voice had been added to the wood frogs and peepers. The chorus frog had added its distinctive call. Every description of the chorus frog ever written compares its call to the sound of a finger or thumbnail run over the teeth of a comb. It’s a good description; however, considering how loud the calls are when you’re standing next to the pond, it would have to be a big comb and a strong thumb.

I don’t keep anything like a full phenological record, but I can tell you–by looking back at my posts from past years that 2013 was even later–the first wood frogs were calling on 4 April. In 2012, spring was remarkably early; the wood frogs called first on 12 March.

Today, also, Katy heard the calls of the first Eastern Phoebe for the year.

Welcome to Spring, One and All.

Petition to Save the Colony Farm Orchard is Available to Sign

Western Michigan University has once again renewed its attempt to demolish the naturally occurring vegetation and fauna of the Colony Farm Orchard (CFO). The purpose, it is claimed, is to expand WMU’s Business, Technology, Research (BTR) Park.


Many of us will remember the battle between WMU and the pro-environment opponents that occurred in 2009-2010.  For anyone who doesn’t remember, this website has a few dozen posts from 15 July 2009 to 23 July 2010 concerning that battle.  It was too complicated to summarize quickly, though I may take a shot at it in a later post.


The object of this post is to point out for those of us who would prefer that the CFO remain as natural open space rather than be turned to some unknown BTR-type use, a petition to that effect has been started by a bunch of WMU students, a few faculty (mostly retired as far as I know), and assorted local residents.


The petition asks that WMU live by the original restriction and consider the Colony Farm Orchard a part of the Asylum Lake Preserve.  It also asks that Oshtemo Township and Kalamazoo County refrain from joining WMU’s  plans to develop the land.

But any interested parties will need to read the petition, which can be done here:

The petition was put up for reading and signing sometime Thursday night (26 March 2015).  By 3:45 PM 27 March, 109 people had signed. When I looked in on the website about noon today (30 March), the number was about 450.

The more the better, of course, so check it out soon and sign if you agree with the cause.

February 2015, California and Kalamazoo

Katy and I gave February in Kalamazoo a miss for 2015, as did a few other people we know.  The Polar Vortex of 2014 was what prompted our and others’ decisions. And away to warmer climates was the right direction to take: The vortex was operating this year too.  Here in Kalamazoo, the daily low temperature  was below the long-term average low for the date  for 23 of the 28 days of February.

Unfortunately, we came back a week too early; the first seven days of March also had low temperatures below the long-term averages, culminating in  Friday  7 March when the low was -2 degrees Fahrenheit, to be compared with the long-term average low for that date of 24 degrees.

Snowfall for February 2015 wasn’t so bad, but  at the end of January there was already plenty of snow here in Oshtemo Township from the snows of  November.  In fact, I can still see a fair amount of that same snow as I look out my window today (20 March).  For the first couple of weeks we were back, driving through the parking lots of the big box stores  was like navigating among icebergs.

We spent February in California, in the Bay area, most of the time in Silicon Valley. The temperatures were mostly 50s at night and 60s during the day.  We saw a lot of birds, especially shorebirds and water birds in the Baylands around Palo Alto.  We  also saw a version of the future for a lot of other parts of the US , if we don’t change our ways.

In the next few weeks, I’ll try to write a little about California and also, of course, about what’s going on around here.

For example, I’m supposed to lead a field trip to the Brewer Woods Nature Sanctuary in Pavilion Township on Saturday 25 April to see–among other things–the spring wildflowers.  The SW Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club  is the sponsor. I’ll say a little more about the field trip closer to the date.

That’s on the pro-environmental side.  On the anti-environmental side, the Colony Farm Orchard is once again threatened by WMU expansion.  The Kalamazoo Gazette is only a shadow of what it once was, but is still the main way most of us have for keeping up with the local atrocities.  The print version as well as the on-line version, Mlive, carried the 18 March story about the Colony Farm Orchard and Western Michigan University’s renewed attack on this  preserved land.

I’ll have a little more to say about Colony Farm Orchard too.

As I finish this short post today, Saturday 21 March, 2015, the sun is shining.  Almost all the snow is gone–not quite, not here in at the east edge of the snow belt.  With a temperature of 49 degrees. I wouldn’t call it warm. But the sandhill cranes have been overhead, flying north, red-winged blackbirds are back, and the flowers of winter aconite and snow drops are ready to open. The future looks bright.  Except for Colony Farm Orchard.


A Little More About Beech-Maple Forest in Late Summer

Fallen beechnuts. Photographed 20 August 2012 in Pavilion Township by Richard Brewer

In my last post I talked about how bland and uneventful the mesic forest is in late summer and early fall.  I was giving my impression from a good many years of experience with such forests.  But I spent a few hours on three days recently, actually looking at what was happening.  Partly I was hoping to see Triphora trianthophora and partly I wanted to check my memory.

I didn’t find three birds orchid, and not a lot was happening.  Not a lot, but still more than I had remembered.

For one thing, I had forgotten how important the shedding of fruit is at this time of year.  On 13 August, wild black cherry fruits were numerous on the ground, and there were more of them on visits in early and mid September. I have a feeling that birds that want black cherries eat the ripe–or green–fruit on the tree, but perhaps some mammals wanting the dried flesh or the stone wait for the cherries to drop.  That 60-year-old (but still unsurpassed) manual, American Wildlife and Plants, by Alexander C. Martin and two co-authors, suggests that cherries are eaten by red foxes and gray squirrels, but doesn’t comment on when they gather them.

By 20 September, there were lots of  samaras, the small key-like fruits of sugar maple on the ground.  Sugar maples are always the most common saplings in the mesic woods in Michigan.  There may be a rare year when the seed crop is low, but I think seed supply is rarely a limiting stage in the maple’s life cycle.

It’s not noticeable when you’re walking on the soft earth of the forest, but where the maple fruits have fallen on a hard surface, like a concrete walk, they snap when you step on them, like popping bubble-wrap.  Great fun, almost like popping ripe touch-me-nots.

On the 20th of September also, there were many light tan, prickly beechnuts on the ground, and more were coming down.  Some had one or two fruits inside and some were empty, but I had no way of knowing whether the two, sometimes three, fruits had been plucked out on the ground or in the tree or whether all had aborted.

There’s no question about what animals eat beech fruits.  The answer is everything.  Well, not warblers, but wood ducks, grouse, grackles, jays, woodpeckers, bear, squirrels, fox, chipmunk, deer.

I thought there were especially large crops this year from all these trees–cherry, maple, beech.  Whether some of this could be related to the unusual warmth of the summer is impossible to say.  Tree crops do fluctuate, with one very good year rarely being followed by another.

There were other good things to be seen on my visits to the woods. Lots of herbaceous plants and shrubs were bearing ripe fruit–American poke, or pokeweed, had ripe fleshy fruits.  Such things as Polygonum virginianum and Geum canadense had smallish, dry fruit.  The fruits of red-berried elder were long gone, eaten by birds, but there on the stems, two at a node, were large flower buds ready for next spring.

As I’ve claimed before, not much was in bloom, although Geum canadense had a few flowers with two or three white rounded petals still clinging.

Aster lateriflorus. Photographed 20 September 2012 in Pavilion Township MI by Richard Brewer.

But one species was definitely blooming and near its peak.  It wasn’t  three birds, which I didn’t find.  It was a little white aster, sometimes called calico aster.  The scientific name situation in not very satisfactory, but for our purposes we can refer to it as Aster lateriflorus.

It’s not showy, but it was blooming on August 13 and sill blooming on September 20, with no end to its season in sight.

Notes On A High CO2 Spring, March 2012

North Pond. Photo 12 March 2012 Oshtemo Township by Richard Brewer

With temperatures in the 50s and 60s the last few days–and predicted as mid-70s today–spring is advancing fast.  Wood frogs were calling in the larger pond Monday, March 12.  By yesterday, they were in full chorus in both ponds and by last night, a few spring peepers had joined in.

Among the bird arrivals I’ve noticed (since we’ve been back), Red-winged Blackbirds were numerous Monday morning, and I saw two American Robins along our road, where none had been all winter.

Black-capped Chickadees were giving their spring, “fee-bee” song Tuesday morning.

But there has been little in the way of wild flower action, at least in the oak woods.  Honey bees were visiting the non-native winter aconite, which is in full bloom.

Turkey Vultures: A Panama Addendum

Katy and I just returned from Panama.  I’ll write more about the trip later.  This note is a short Panama addendum to the Turkey Vulture post of a few weeks ago.

In reading about Panama before we went down, I came across some of Frank M. Chapman’s observations on Turkey Vultures in his 1938 book Life in an Air Castle.  The observations were made at Barro Colorado Island in the Canal Zone where Chapman, Curator of Birds at the American Museum, spent a good many dry seasons beginning in 1925. He was one of the ornithologists who performed some field experiments that established that Turkey Vultures could readily find carrion without reliance on vision.  One of his trials was “The Empty-House Test.” In it, he and E. Thomas Gilliard placed the body of a coati on a shelf hidden from the outside in a vacant house. This was done the afternoon of 24 December 1935.  No Turkey Vultures had been seen in the vicinity for at least a month.

Chapman wrote that he did not expect the presence of the dead coati would be detected by the vultures within a day, “while my associate in this experiment freely expressed his belief that they would never discover it. With unconcealed surprise, therefore, he announced at 9:45 on Christmas morning that a buzzard had just flown from a tree growing next to the house containing the coati.”

Within the next three hours, five more Turkey Vultures and one Black Vulture (presumably attracted by the sight of the Turkey Vultures descending) made appearances.

A similar “Box on the Hill Test” plus many trials where carcasses securely wrapped in three layers of gunny sacking–burlap–were laid on the ground under forest cover gave similar results.  The wrapped carcasses were monitored with flash cameras triggered by a wire attached to the bait.  The resulting photos showed that the hidden carrion was quickly found, and always by Turkey Vultures.

The unanimity of these trials pretty much eliminates the idea that the Turkey Vultures must see the dead animal to find their food. The trials do not by themselves show that the sense of smell is involved, and in fact, two naturalists within a couple of years of one another suggested that vultures might be finding dead animals by noticing carrion-feeding insects (or even small mammals) attracted to corpses.

William B. Taber, Jr. was the first, writing in the Wilson Bulletin for 1928.  He pointed out that Turkey Vultures can be attracted to carrion by seeing a cluster of crows on the ground (around a dead animal) and suggested that they might very well be similarly attracted to a bunch of brightly colored carrion beetles.

While collecting insects in tropical America, P. J. Darlington, Jr., twice had bait put out to attract carrion-feeding beetles stolen by Turkey Vultures.  The first case was dead fish hidden under fairly large stones, the second dead iguanas put out in scrubby woods.  In an article in The Auk for 1930 Darlington (later on a well-known biogeographer at Harvard) admitted that the birds could have smelled the dead animals, but thought that the possibility that the birds had been attracted by seeing a congregation of insects or hearing their buzzing ought to be considered.  He concluded that Turkey and Black Vultures “are highly organized animals which presumably react to a complex environment in a very complex manner, and which must be experimented with accordingly.”

Chapman saw nothing in his trials to make him think that the sight or sound of insects was attracting the vultures but made a similar point, one that he had made in connection with his earlier studies: The Turkey Vulture “is not a mere stupid gorger of carrion but a bird dependent for its existence on its power of flight and discriminating use of its senses of sight and smell.”

Maybe even hearing. Perhaps it’s time for someone to do a well-designed test of whether the buzzing of blowflies or the clicking or squeaking sounds made by a gathering of carrion-eating beetles would pull vultures down from the sky.

How the Turkey Vulture Found the Raccoon

Coming up the driveway in the car a little before noon today (8 October 2011), I was surprised to see a very  large bird flap out of the

Turkey Vulture in flight. Photo Kalamazoo MI by Tim Tesar. Used by permission.

trees, followed by a Blue Jay.  I had just seen crows along the road, so it was evident that this bird was much larger than a crow and larger than any buteo.  It was, in fact, a Turkey Vulture, the first I had seen actually within the woods in the 15-plus years since I arrived.

What, I wondered, was it doing here?  Then the answer struck me.

The folk wisdom in southern Illinois, where I grew up, was that vultures, or buzzards, find carrion by the smell of rotting meat.  But birds in general have a poor sense of smell, and the olfactory lobe of the brain, which is associated with smell, is large in mammals like us, but small in most birds.  Then too, John James Audubon, an excellent naturalist as well as painter of birds, did a few trials in the early part of the 19th century, trying to assess how vultures found food.  His observations of vultures failing to find hidden carrion led him to the conclusion that dead carcasses were located by sight. “The power of smelling in these birds had been greatly exaggerated,” he wrote.

Other observations didn’t always agree with Audubon’s conclusion. By 1964, an article by Kenneth E. Stager of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum summarized his and other studies that pretty well established the main features of how vultures find their meals.  In broad outline, Aububon wasn’t wrong, but he had worked mainly with Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus), which do locate food visually, either by spotting it themselves or watching Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura).  Turkey Vultures, it turns out, have a well-developed sense of smell which they can use to find even small animals that are not visible from the sky. They also have large olfactory lobes.  Of course, they are not above gliding down to a dead animal they see lying out in plain sight.

There are some other details that may or may not have been decided in the last few years, such as whether either or both vultures can use the sight (or the sound) of carrion-feeding insects going to a dead animal as a clue to the corpse’s presence.

Earlier this morning before 9 AM, when I was walking down the driveway to get the newspapers, I had caught a strong smell of carrion. I left the driveway and only a few steps into the woods found a dead raccoon. I didn’t examine it carefully and have no idea how it met its death.  When I had walked past the same spot several times yesterday, I had not smelled a dead raccoon. It was not there, or it was too fresh.

Finding a Turkey Vulture near a dead raccoon that it could not have seen from the sky doesn’t qualify as an important piece of evidence on the topic, Nevertheless, I was pleased that an observation of my own, right here in Oshtemo Township, is so nicely congruent with modern thinking on how the Turkey Vulture finds its food.

When I pulled up at the front door, I looked back and the Turkey Vulture had already returned to the trees above the dead raccoon. I ducked into the house, not wanting to interrupt the bird’s meal any longer.

Dead raccoon. Photo 8 October 2011 Oshtemo Township by Richard Brewer

A few hours later, I checked the carcass.  The skull, vertebral column, and limbs had been stripped clean, and the skin was clean and much of it was inside out.

What will happen to the sand dunes at Saugatuck?

Dunelands near Saugatuck, Michigan. Photo 6 August 2007 by Richard Brewer

At a time in southwest Michigan when protecting all our remaining natural lands and waters would make sense for human health and economic viability, threats continue.

This morning I received the message copied in boldface below from the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance.  It is their updated look at the controversy involving the Lake Michigan sand dunes and beaches north of the mouth of the Kalamazoo River at Saugatuck, Allegan County, Michigan.  Background information is available at the Alliance’s website .  A December 2010 Wall Street Journal article, A Billionaire’s Dune Duel, is also informative. Some history, including the hope to have protected public lands from the Oval Beach north through Saugatuck State Park, is given at the website of the Concerned Citizens for Saugatuck State Park.

We want to take a moment to alert you to what is currently happening to defend local zoning in the Saugatuck area.

  • On July 22nd the Saugatuck Township Board appeared to ignore four hours of testimony by many well-informed township residents asking them to consider all other possible solutions to the proposed settlement between Aubrey McClendon and Saugatuck Township to the on-going federal lawsuit. The Township Board unanimously passed the settlement.
  • On July 29th three local groups – Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, Laketown Alliance for Neighborly Development and the Kalamazoo River Protection Association – file  a request for Judge Maloney to hold a fairness hearing. A fairness hearing, which is common in many different types of cases that affect communities or large numbers of third-parties, is used to ensure consent decrees are fair, reasonable and legal, and in the public interest.  Our belief is that the proposed consent decree does not meet these standards and should, therefore, be rejected by the court.
  • On July 29th the National Trust for Historic Preservation also file a request for a fairness hearing. The National Trust is represented by Kalamazoo-based law firm Miller Canfield.
  • On August 1st several Township residents who live close to the McClendon property also file papers requesting a fairness hearing. The neighbors are represented by Grand Rapids-based law firm Varnum.
  • On Monday, August 8th additional neighbors, one of whom is completely surrounded by McClendon’s land, sign onto the request for a fairness hearing filed by Varnum.

We have taken this step (filing for a fairness hearing on July 29th) as we believe that this proposed consent decree is illegal because it circumvents local zoning laws, violates the State-mandated rezoning process, and blocks the Saugatuck Township Board’s oversight of the development.

To put it simply, the fundamental problem with the proposed settlement is that it includes provisions that neither Mr. McClendon nor the Township Board has the legal authority to do on their own. That is, they have overridden local zoning regulations without a proper process and they have approved a commercial development that is not permitted under current zoning and would also have not been permitted under the property’s previous zoning.

Under Michigan law, zoning ordinances should be based on the applicable master plan. The proposed consent decree, however, permits commercial-type uses that are clearly prohibited by the Township’s zoning ordinance and the Tri-Community Comprehensive Master Plan. It does this without any proper process or prior consultation with the Cities of Saugatuck and  Douglas, the two other jurisdictions that participated in the development of this Master Plan. Additionally, under this settlement, the Township has contracted away its legislative powers now and in the future in violation of Michigan law.

Furthermore, the Township Board reached the decision to accept the settlement under duress. This proposed settlement is not a “compromise” as touted by the McClendon team. It is, in fact, a “take it or leave it” offer, made after the Township was forced to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal expenses, and then threatened with never ending legal expenses in the future. Only then did the Township capitulate to Mr. McClendon’s demands.

We appreciate the pressure the Township Board has been under and the difficult decision they were faced with. But this settlement sets a dangerous precedent because it suggests that there is one set of rules for investors with deep pockets who are willing to threaten the Township with bankruptcy and another set of rules for everyone else.

With the various requests for a fairness hearing, the community is stating publicly and before the Court that this proposed consent decree is unfair and illegal and should be set aside by the court.

We understand that many in the community are concerned about the costs of further litigation and the unfortunate divisions that this development proposal has caused in our community. As a practical matter, we agree that a fair settlement should be negotiated. That is why we are also calling on the township to propose to Mr. McClendon a mediation process, such as proposed by former Senator Birkholz, in order to reach a fair and legal settlement. We understand that Mr. McClendon owns the property and has a right to develop it. We only ask that it be developed in a manner that is consistent local zoning laws.

Many of you are asking how you can help. Thank you!  One important thing everyone can easily do is send this update out widely, post on facebook, and remind people that this issue is far from over.

Also, please keep repeating these three points:

1. The Coastal Allliance supports all property owners’ rights to develop their land legally and appropriately.

2. The Coastal Alliance supports locally determined zoning.

3. Aubrey McClendon sued Saugatuck Township to rewrite zoning laws. It’s worth noting that the Master Plan, from which these zoning laws originated, was unanimously approved by Saugatuck Township, Saugatuck City, and Douglas.

Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance   P.O. Box 1013 , Saugatuck, MI 49453, (269) 857-1842,