BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Over the years, species such as the snail darter have been the focus of controversies over major construction projects. Michigan has its own case of an endangered species that halted a large infrastructure project.
The US-31 freeway was almost complete -- designed to connect the I-94/I-196 interchange with the 80/90 Toll Road in South Bend Ind. -- when it was found that the habitat of the Mitchell’s satyr butterfly was in the project’s path, and the project was stopped.
“This particular butterfly needs what we call prairie fens,” notes Matt Douglas, Ph.D., professor of entomology at Grand Rapids Community College. “Fens are areas kind of like boggy areas, but the water is constantly running through them ... And those are really rare in Michigan and Indiana where this butterfly is found.”
There are only 12 of these fens left in Michigan, Douglas notes. The reduction of the habitat Mitchell’s satyr butterfly is a familiar story: “Farming, draining of wetlands, we drained a ton of wetlands in Michigan.”
While an entire freeway project was halted and moved, what’s the prognosis for this little butterfly? “Terrible,” says Douglas, “if we don’t take care of the fens. If we don’t take care of the fens and stop pollution going into those fens, and if we build roads through the fens, obviously they’re going to disappear.”
And the fens are home to more than the Mitchell’s satyr butterfly. “There’s a lot of other flowers and things like that in those fens that are native just to those fens,” Douglas adds.
Today, the land encompassing the Blue Creek fen is owned by the Nature Conservancy and Benton Charter Township, according to online property records.
The highway project was stopped in 2002 and only now is resuming. Another factor in the delay was an order in 2003 from then-Governor Granholm to halt new highway construction due to a recession.
To avoid the Blue Creek fen where the Mitchell’s satyr butterfly lives, the new section of freeway will curve to the northwest from where it ends at Napier Avenue in Berrien County and meet I-94 at E. Main Street.