Nature Conservancy Acquires Much Of St. Martin Island

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Nature Conservancy Acquires Much Of St. Martin Island

Premiere Date: 
December 6, 2013

Nature Conservancy's Elizabeth Koehler on the purchase of the island just outside Door Co.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Next, a rare look at a place not many people get to visit. It's an island in Lake Michigan and it's the latest acquisition by the Nature Conservancy. St. Martin Island is located on the tip of Door County, about five miles north of Washington and Rock Islands. The Nature Conservancy will pay $1.5 million for nearly 1,250 acres, or 94% of the uninhabited island. The goal is to preserve this pristine land. Joining us from the Nature Conservancy to tell us what this purchase means is Elizabeth Koehler. Thanks for being here.

Elizabeth Koehler:

You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

Why did the Nature Conservancy want to buy this island?

Elizabeth Koehler:

Well, St. Martin Island is really special. It's undeveloped, except for a lighthouse on the northern part of the island and a couple of very old Coast Guard buildings, and there are three rustic one-room log cabins on the south end. It's a very interesting habitat mix. There's forest, wetlands, somewhat rare rocky bluffs, cobblestone beaches. And it's extremely important habitat for migratory birds.

Frederica Freyberg:

The Nature Conservancy, as we mentioned, bought it for $1.5 million primarily, we understand, because the Luber family out of Milwaukee sold it for less than a third of its fair market value?

Elizabeth Koehler:

That's right, that's right.

Frederica Freyberg:

Tell us about the Luber family.

Elizabeth Koehler:

Well, the Luber family, they're making a gift of more than 60% of the land, of the property. And at a value of $2.85 million, that's the largest gift of conservation land that we, the Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, has received in our 53-year history. The Luber family, they're-- they're-- the patriarch, Fred Luber, owns Super Steel, a metal manufacturing company, but they also have spent many, many years boating around the Great Lakes.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, I understand that Fred Luber was originally going to develop this island, but then didn't. What changed his mind?

Elizabeth Koehler:

Well, that's a good question. We think we played a part. His daughter, Martha Luber, was the family's appointed caretaker for the island. And as she came to know the Nature Conservancy and visited the island with our biologists, she says that she started realizing the conservation value of the island was even greater than their love for it.

Frederica Freyberg:

It's actually in Michigan, though. Why is the Wisconsin Nature Conservancy in on this?

Elizabeth Koehler:

Good question, yes. The island is in Michigan. The Luber family is a Wisconsin family, you know, a Milwaukee/Door County family. They met us through mutual friends in Milwaukee just through our regular outreach on behalf of the Nature Conservancy. So the Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin and Michigan partnered just to accomplish the deal.

Frederica Freyberg:

And what use will this island be to the Nature Conservancy or citizens of the state of Wisconsin?

Elizabeth Koehler:

The island will benefit citizens of the state because the migratory birds that visit the islands, and hundreds come in. This past spring a small group of us observed more than 90 species in less than two days. That's many, many species. The birds fly in. They stayed for maybe 15 minutes just to rest and eat. But then they move on. And many of them end up in our backyard bird feeders and in natural areas and vacation destinations that we all love to visit. And Wisconsin businesses also benefit from keeping a wild place wild, because birding and wildlife viewing is a really important part of Wisconsin's tourism industry.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet this island will not be open to the public.

Elizabeth Koehler:

That's correct. Right now we have a lot of work to do on the island. There's a very large deer population. We need to address that. We also need to address some invasive species. So the Nature Conservancy will be keeping it closed to the public, as it has been for the 30 plus years that the Luber family has owned it.

Frederica Freyberg:

Will there be opportunities for academic research or that kind of thing in the future?

Elizabeth Koehler:

We are definitely pulling together a plan. We've had a wide range of experts out there over the years that we've worked with the Luber family, and we're excited to have the opportunity to do more of that. So we're pulling together a plan to do that now.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Elizabeth Koehler, thanks very much.

Elizabeth Koehler:

You're welcome. Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

At the reduced price, the Nature Conservancy paid for St. Martin Island, the gift from the Luber family is estimated to be just shy of $3 million.


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