Big Forests & Wild Rivers

Big Forests & Wild Rivers

The Big Forests & Wild Rivers region is characterized by large blocks of forest and winding, scenic rivers. This expanse of connected habitat sustains a biodiverse collection of plants and wildlife. Its barrens and savannas host Michigan’s most significant populations of the endangered Karner blue butterfly. The threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake also makes its home here. 

The region’s rugged natural features make it a sought-after destination for outdoor recreationists. Backpackers trek through the Manistee National Forest and Muskegon State Game Area. Families enjoy paddling excursions along stretches of the winding Pere Marquette, White and Muskegon Rivers. And anglers come from far and wide to fly fish in the region’s world-class trout streams. 

But these hallmarks are at risk of degrading and disappearing. Fire suppression and careless land use have closed the region’s barrens and stifled its forests, weakening these ecosystems and making them even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The impressive rivers and streams and the fish who inhabit them are threatened by erosion and sediment pollution brought on by development and the increasing severity of rain events.

Wood frog

We must work proactively to ensure future generations can enjoy these landscapes. Our task is to maintain and improve habitat connections and respond to habitat degradation to ensure this region’s species and ecosystems are resilient as climate change progresses. 

Protecting Big Forests & Wild Rivers


Create and maintain large blocks of intact upland and riparian habitat to allow landscape-level movement of wildlife, protect water quality and hydrology along important rivers and preserve the wild character of the region. 

  • Collaborate with local, state and federal partners to protect land around the Manistee National Forest, expanding protected areas and forming connections between disjointed habitat blocks. 
  • Protect aquatic and upland habitat along critical stretches of the Pere Marquette, White and Muskegon Rivers to help maintain water quality and ecological connectivity. 
  • Grow healthy and resilient forests and barrens that filter and protect clean water, support biodiversity, sequester and store carbon and provide a sustainable source of wood products and wood-based energy. 
  • Work with landowners and other partners to implement land management practices that improve forest health, increase landscape resilience and restore habitat for imperiled species. 

Related Projects

Where We Will Focus

How did we choose our focal regions?

To identify lands in West Michigan that best support biodiversity, water quality and the long-term resilience of our native plants and wildlife, the Land Conservancy of West Michigan first needed to define what constitutes “conservation potential.” We created a story map to illustrate how we approached that.

View Story Map

Support Strategic Conservation

This plan is ambitious and will succeed only with your help. Donate now to support strategic conservation in West Michigan.


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