Asylum Lake Ecological Overview
The Asylum Lake Preserve at Western Michigan University supports multiple habitat types: oak savanna, prairie, forest, wet meadow, emergent marsh, shrub carr and two lakes. As one of the last remaining open spaces in Kalamazoo, Michigan, it is important to improve the ecological health of this preserve. Since it was once occupied by the Kalamazoo State Hospital, the habitats which exist today have been highly influenced by human disturbance. Because of this level of disturbance and the relatively small size of the preserve, management is necessary to preserve and restore health to the natural habitats.
A management plan for each of the habitats was prepared by the Management Committee (a subcommittee of the Asylum Lake Policy and Management Council). This plan was approved in October 2008 by the Asylum Lake Policy and Management Council. It outlines the general principles upon which management should be based. Some of the goals for the property include:
- Improving native biodiversity.
- Improving the educational experience for visitors.
- Enhancing access and safety to and within the property.
- Increasing collaboration between academic research and management.
The plan adopts adaptive management as the principle that guides all natural habitat management. This practice requires a scientific approach to test management assumptions and techniques, then adapting management strategies based on the results. Monitoring and documentation is very important in this process. The management plan will be updated based on the findings every five years.
The Asylum Lake Preserve Management Plan is divided into nine management areas based on physical characteristic similarities. Now that the management council has approved a management plan and ecological inventories, and assessments of the property have been completed, we have begun to actively manage to improve the ecological health of the preserve.
Beginning the Restoration Process
Wildtype Design, Native Plants and Seed was recently hired to perform restoration work along the north and south edges of Asylum Lake. This will be a long-term project, as ecological restoration usually takes several years of management. The first phase includes removal of woody invasive species and the second phase involves restoring the cleared area. The goals of the project are to increase native plant diversity, augment and protect habitat for sensitive plant and animal species including birds, insects and pollinators, and to prevent the spread of invasive species into currently unoccupied areas.
The target community for restoration is classified as “oak woodland,” defined as a forested area with approximately 50 to 80 percent canopy cover where oak species (Quercus spp., especially Q. alba) dominate the canopy, but other species are important as well. Currently, Wildtype is working on removing all invasive vegetation within the targeted management areas. Target invasive species include:
- Bush honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii, L. tatarica, L. X bella, L. xylosteum, L. maackii).
- Common and glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica and R. frangula [syn=Frangula alnus].
- Asiatic (Oriental) bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata).
Additional invasive woody species may be treated as encountered, but not at the expense of control of primary species, including:
- Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii).
- Winged euonymus (Euonymus alata), White mulberry (Morus alba).
- Norway maple (Acer platanoides).
Following the removal and treatment of all invasive vegetation, Wildtype will begin to develop a plan for restoration which will include supplementing management areas with native plants to increase biodiversity and provide food and cover for wildlife.
Invasive woody vegetation which has been treated has been placed in brush piles along the edges of the lake for the time being. Wildtype planned to burn the brush piles this spring, however, due to unfavorable weather conditions for burning, the burn will be postponed until winter for safety and ecological reasons.
Michigan Church of God
For the past three years, the Michigan Church of God has provided us with hundreds of volunteers for a day of garlic mustard removal.
Youth Opportunities Unlimited
In summer 2009, WMU participated in the Youth Opportunities Unlimited Program. A state and federally-funded program offering jobs to economically disadvantaged youths from ages 18 to 24. They formed an eco-crew and worked at Kleinstuck and Asylum Lake Preserves to improve the ecology and infrastructure. At Asylum Lake, this work included clearing brush from trails, clearing overgrowth from fences, widening trails, removing trash and cleaning entrances.
In summer 2011, WMU's Natural Areas program hosted an AmeriCorps crew who was responsible for ecological restoration work at all WMU natural areas. The crew spent many days at Asylum Lake Preserve pulling garlic mustard and dame's rocket, repairing trails and controlling erosion.