The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy preserves the homes of two federal endangered species in the LaGrange Valley Wetlands
Formerly Lake LaGrange, the LaGrange Valley Wetlands is home to the endangered Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake--one of only two rattlesnake species in the Great Lakes region.
According to Michigan State University, the Massasauga Rattlesnake often prefers to move to hidden locations when encountered in its habitat.
It's a timid snake.
That's why most have never seen it.
The Massasauga Rattlesnake returns to the same hibernation site each year.
They often can't survive the winter if they're moved from their home because they can't find suitable hibernation sites, placing importance on the LaGrange Valley Wetlands project's endeavors.
The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) has three main goals: recover, restore and rewild.
Recover comes first, as SWMLC must purchase the property to look after it.
Phragmites, a tall invasive reed growing aggressively in freshwater wetlands, threatens the native plants, animals and neighboring property.
They must be cleared to promote a healthier landscape.
Last, SWMLC will need to "rewild" the property by returning the landscape to its natural wild state, including maintaining plants and animals which have historically lived there.
This includes the endangered plant species living at the wetlands, which can't be disclosed because of its rarity.
C. Miko Dargitz, the Development Director from the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy says the plant species is special.
"Protecting this habitat is essential for its long-term survival in our region," she said.
The LaGrange Valley Wetlands is SWMLC's largest nature preserve to date and is likely to become their limited access "refuge" preserve in order to protect and sustains its sensitive species.
SWMLC's Stewardship Director Mitch Lettow says the preservation of this land directly impacts the water quality and water fisheries of Dowagiac Creek.
"Conserving the ecologically important LaGrange Valley Wetlands not only preserves native landscape and the special plants and animals that live there," he said. "It is also a significant step toward ensuring the continued water quality of Dowagiac Creek and its ability to support cold water fisheries upstream and down."
The Carls Foundation has generously donated $125,000, reaching towards the goal of $250,000 to protect and steward the 457-acre LaGrange Valley Wetlands.
Every dollar donated this summer was promised to be matched 1:1 by the Carls Foundation to take care of the property long-term.
As of September 2023, SWMLC has met their fundraising goal, from over 200 donors, and are now on their way to restoring the property.
Other contributions and community partners include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Edward Lowe Foundation, the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi, the Department of Natural Resources, the Cass County Conservation District, Cass County Parks and Recreation, and several individual community members.