Wilderness & Natural Areas
Michigan's unique landscape was shaped by glaciers and its climate is defined by the presence and magnitude of the Great Lakes. A myriad of natural communities and interconnected ecosystems, including open dunes, coastal marshes, prairies, savannas, and primeval forests, resulted from modifications over the last 10,000 years by fire, wind, water, and aboriginal resource management. As a result of logging, drainage, agriculture, residential development and urbanization, only a very small portion of Michigan's land cover remains as it was 150 years ago.
Areas that have retained the best examples of Michigan's native landscapes, ecosystems, natural communities or scenic qualities are recognized throughout Michigan as natural areas. Features used to identify natural areas include: size, uniqueness, pristine nature, aesthetic or scenic qualities, and outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation. To be legally dedicated, natural areas must also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, scenic, or natural history value. Many areas also have populations of endangered and threatened species.
Natural areas occur on public and private lands. They may be legally dedicated by State or Federal statute, administratively recognized by public agencies, or recognized by conservation organizations, private corporations and individuals. Together these areas comprise a larger statewide "system" of natural areas which helps to protect, preserve, and restore representative, viable examples of Michigan's and the Great Lakes Region's natural heritage.