Bringing the Latest Science to the Management of Michigan’s Coastal Dunes

MEC's report on the importance of science for effective dune management.

Summary of Primary Research

Conducted 2014-2015

May 2015

Motivated by an increased interest in Michigan coastal dunes following legislative changes to the state critical dune law in 2012, Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) began discussions with many of the state’s leading academic researchers in late 2013, with the idea of developing a funding proposal to the Michigan Coastal Management Program. The result of those conversations is the project, “Bringing the Latest Science to Management of Michigan’s Coastal Dunes.”

Project Documents

Bringing the Latest Science to the Management of Michigan's Coast Dunes

Bringing the Latest Science to the Management of Michigan’s Coastal Dunes

Download The Project Summary Report

Michigan Dune Inventory GIS application

"Understanding Michigan Dunes” Journal Map Theme 

The Emerging Science of Coastal Sand Dune Age and Dynamics: Implications for Regulation and Risk Management in Michigan

Project Support

Financial assistance for this project was provided, in part, by the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program, Office of the Great Lakes, Department of Environmental Quality, under the National Coastal Zone Management Program, through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Environmental Quality and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Project Overview

Michigan’s world-class coastal dunes provide ecologic, geologic and economic value to our state’s coastal communities. They attract new residents and millions of visitors to our shorelines. In the process, they challenge us to weigh our enjoyment of the dunes against the need to protect them and live in greater harmony with their dynamic, evolving character.

DunesWhile not explicitly calling for new dune research, Public Act 297 of 2012 recognized the importance of science for effective dune management, specifically calling for the application of “the most comprehensive, accurate, and reliable information and scientific data available” in fulfilling the Act’s purpose.

This initiative is a direct response to that call, intended to make science a fuller partner in the management of our dunes. In the decades since that passage of Michigan’s first law dealing with the coastal dunes was adopted, scholars have certainly advanced the state of scientific knowledge about Michigan’s world-class coastal dunes, including sharpening our understanding of when and how dunes formed, their role in supporting native species and natural features, and some of the factors influencing their highly dynamic nature.

Our efforts here are intended to better equip Michigan with this information, summarizing the best and most up-to-date picture of the dunes themselves, pushing the science forward, and finding the best, most useful, and most interesting innovations among the various management programs and systems in place to support dunes in Michigan and elsewhere, allowing the state and its coastal communities to engage in true, science-based management of this unique and vital coastal resource.

Goals and Outcomes

The team sought to advance that cause and improve our understanding of our dune resource by:

  • Creating a systematic digital inventory of Michigan’s dunes using Geospatial Information Systems approaches;
  • Developing ecological models to help assess likely impacts of various potential dune development approaches, including exploration of the potential for mathematical modeling to assist in estimating likely future impacts;
  • Conducting a historical, legal and comparative review of management approaches, including a comparison of other state programs and a survey of local officials; and
  • Scanning emerging research on dune age and dynamics and their implications for risk and resilience related to development in the dune context.

Additional Documents and Related Links

Key Studies and Reports in the History of Michigan Dunes Management

(Documents larger than 5 MB are noted)

Sampling of Historic and Current Court Cases Related to Michigan Dune Law

Additional Links and Resources

Michigan Association of Conservation Districts has assembled a host of useful materials to assist with responsible management and development within the designated critical dune areas of the state, including:

Project Oversight

MEC would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of the following experts, each of whom provided project guidance, review and comments on methodologies, and review of project deliverables. Again, much of this work was done pro bono, or with minimal financial support.

The Advisory Committee for this project included: Alan F. Arbogast (Michigan State University), Steve DeBrabander (Michigan Department of Natural Resources), Elizabeth Brockwell-Tillman (P.J. Hoffmaster State Park), Brad Garmon (Michigan Environmental Council), Alisa Gonzales-Pennington (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality), Christopher Graham (Michigan Natural Areas Council), Edward C. Hansen (Hope College), Richard K. Norton (University of Michigan), John J. Paskus (Michigan Natural Features Inventory), and Robert B. Richardson (Michigan State University)


The impressive cast of academic experts and practitioners contributing to this project leveraged their scientific/technical expertise with minimal financial support, many making substantial in-kind contributions to the project through discounted hourly rates or significant pro bono work to the project. We are grateful and extend our sincere thanks to the following researchers, collaborators, and contributors:

Coastal Dune Inventory/MDI GIS

Deanna van Dijk (Workgroup lead)
Dept. of Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies
Calvin College

Jason VanHorn
Dept. of Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies
Calvin College

Dune Management History

Tanya Cabala (lead) Great Lakes Consulting

Ecological Impact Modeling

Suzanne DeVries-Zimmerman (Workgroup lead)
Geological and Environ. Sciences Dept.
Hope College

Charles F. Davis, III
Davis Assoc. Architects & Consultants, Inc.
Chicago, IL

Brian Yurk
Department of Mathematics
Hope College

Bradford S. Slaughter
Conservation Scientist, Botany Lead
Michigan Natural Features Inventory