Obtawaing Unites People and Places in Northern Michigan

International recognition and local engagement is giving voice to people and organizations on a new landscape in the Obtawaing Biosphere Region (OBR). In late 2021, the international Man and the Biosphere Program accepted the OBR’s request for a new name (formerly University of Michigan Biological Station) and expanded boundary. The OBR now includes portions of Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and eastern Upper Peninsula at the confluence of Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior. 

Obtawaing Epoufette Isle Lake Michigan 1
Epoufette Isle, Lake Michigan, Obtawaing Biosphere Region, MI

“Obtawaing” was the name of an Anishinaabe village that was the “Middle Place” or central village within a complex of indigenous villages on the Lake Michigan coast. The new name signifies the biosphere region’s central location within the North American Laurentian Great Lakes Basin and honors Native American-First Nation tribal nations and lands identifying as Anishinaabe (also known as the People of the Three Fires, consisting of Ottawa, Chippewa, and Pottawattamie members).  

OBR partners presently include three universities, several regional land conservancies and lake/watershed councils, Great Lakes island associations, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, five sovereign Indian tribes, the US Forest Service Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, and Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, and other partners.

Graduate level internships are supporting development of young scholars who provide logistical and technical support to the biosphere region through the University of Michigan School for Environment & Sustainability (UM-SEAS) program. Three students helped the biosphere region conduct a series of one-on-one listening sessions during the summer and fall of 2021, which elicited input from interested organizations and identified key themes. 

Upper Falls, Obtawaing Biosphere Region, MI
Upper Falls, Obtawaing Biosphere Region, MI

The listening sessions informed the goals and objectives for a series of strategic planning workshops for current and potential partners, facilitated with assistance from the US National Park Service’s Midwest Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. The series culminated in a final hybrid workshop in June at the UM Biological Station where partners developed a strategic plan and discussed organizational structure for the OBR.

Another group of five U-M SEAS graduate students has developed a project entitled Sustaining freshwater services to anticipate climate and development changes within the Obtawaing Biosphere Region, which will engage several biosphere region partners. Scheduled to conclude in April 2023, the project will focus on hydrologic systems and water resources as aspects of regional and local sustainability planning, to include:

1) Gathering and summarizing perspectives on water resources and their ecosystem services, now and into the future, from interested communities and organizations.

2) Mapping the hydrologic and water resource connections for OBR core areas in this water-rich region. 

3) Assessing and tabulating risks of looming climate, population and land use changes to water-based ecosystem services.

4) Reviewing local and regional planning documents, programs and conservation easement or agreements as well as those of coastal management approaches and programs.

5) Projecting possible future population and land-use demand scenarios.

Guiding the Obtawaing Biosphere Region’s path is respectful inclusion of Indigenous cultures and ways of knowing. The OBR looks forward to open discussions and collaborations with all interested parties from the public and private sectors across the region to connect people to the beauty and benefits of nature.

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