TRAVERSE CITY — The Nature Conservancy said Wednesday it has bought most of an uninhabited Lake Michigan island that provides crucial stopover habitat for migratory birds, assuring it will remain permanently undeveloped and protected.
St. Martin Island is part of a chain stretching between Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula and Michigan’s Garden Peninsula in the northwestern corner of the lake. More than 7 miles from the nearest mainland, it features wetlands, cobblestone beaches, bluffs and thick vegetation.
Millions of sparrows, warblers and other species stop briefly on St. Martin and neighboring islands to take a break and feed before continuing their journey south during fall migration and north in springtime. More than 100 species have been documented on St. Martin in recent years, said Dave Ewert, senior scientist with the nonprofit conservancy’s Michigan chapter.
“Migration is very stressful for birds, and having safe stopover sites where they can rest is critical to their success,” Ewert said.
The Nature Conservancy bought 1,244 acres — roughly 94 percent of the island — from the Fred Luber family. Luber, of Milwaukee, is former chairman and CEO of Super Steel Products Corp. The remainder consists of a few private lots and a small area controlled by the U.S. Coast Guard, which has a light tower on the island.
Eventually, the conservancy will turn over its share to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for addition to the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for native birds and endangered plant and animal species, including rare snails. The refuge includes Hog, Plum and Pilot islands.
The conservancy owns all or part of other Great Lakes islands, including Susie Island in Lake Superior near Grand Portage, Minn., and a parcel on Charity Island in Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. It once owned Calf Island in the Detroit River near Lake Erie but turned it over to the federal government in 2002.