Lake Superior island transferred to Grand Portage Band
Sep 20, 2017 06:18AM ● Published by Editor
By John Myers of The Duluth News Tribune on Sep 19, 2017
The largest island of the Susie Islands archipelago just off Minnesota's North Shore, habitat for rare arctic-like native plants, has been officially returned to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
The Nature Conservancy announced Tuesday that it has transferred all of 142-acre Susie Island to the band after a multi-year effort.
The Nature Conservancy has acquired all of the 13 Susie Islands over recent decades, including the largest in 1993. The islands have remained protected, off-limits to development, but now are owned and managed by the band.
Grand Portage Band Chairman Norman Deschampe said the islands are a traditional fishing and gathering site for Ojibwe people.
"The Band really appreciates the role the Nature Conservancy played in restoring Susie Island to Band ownership," Deschampe said in a statement. "The Conservancy recognized that it could help our people accomplish a long-term goal and, at the same time, ensure that the islands will be protected. It was the right thing to do for many reasons."
The Nature Conservancy originally purchased the islands because they are habitat for several rare native plants, including some not found elsewhere in Minnesota. Species that disappeared from the rest of Minnesota after the glaciers receded northward at the end of the last ice age still survive there today. Many of these plants are more typically found in arctic and subarctic regions, Nature Conservancy officials noted..
While the island's sheer cliffs, rocky promontories and poor soils are inhospitable for many plants, the environment supports a rich variety of mosses and lichens, and a blanket bog of sphagnum mosses one to three feet thick has spread over much of the island.
The islands form a dramatic scene when viewed from shore, including from the scenic overlooks along State Highway 61 near Grand Portage, with Isle Royale in the distance on Lake Superior.
Only one very small island of the 13 remains to be transferred to the band, said Chris Anderson, Nature Conservancy spokesman in Minnesota, and that process is in the works.
The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs recently agreed to the Grand Portage Band's request that Susie Island be placed into trust status on its behalf.
Past owners of the large island had plans to build tourist facilities, officials noted.