Vegetation removal or “beach
grooming” refers to the practice of removing vegetation from sandy
beaches. This practice is utilized most frequently during low water cycles
in the Great Lakes when bottomlands that are normally submerged in high
water cycles are left exposed. Seed banks and root systems that have been
dormant when fully submerged begin to germinate in the drier, often sandy
soils. However, these shoreline habitats where the vegetation re-emerges
in low water cycles are actually coastal wetlands of the Great Lakes.
Potential environmental impacts from vegetation removal include:
• Higher beach erosion rates as vegetation is removed by discing
• Limiting or eliminating coastal fish spawning and nursery habitat.
• Limiting or eliminating migratory waterfowl use of wetlands for
Low lake levels are a time of shoreline vegetation growth, strengthening
the exposed coastal lands, when root systems grow deeper and stronger,
helping to prevent shoreline erosion when levels again rise. During rain
and snow melt, streams, rivers and the overland flow of water carry heavy
loads of water through coastal wetland vegetation, which acts as a sponge,
soaking up water and reducing flooding. Wetland vegetation also helps
break down pollutants and protects clean water supplies .
In Michigan, vegetation removal is regulated by Michigan DEQ under Part
303, Wetlands Protection, and Part 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands, of
the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA),
1994 PA 451, as amended, which describes certain “beach maintenance
activities” that may be carried out between the normal high water
mark of the Great Lakes and the “current” water’s edge
(i.e., exposed bottomlands held in public trust by the State of Michigan)
without a state permit . These include:
• Manual or mechanized leveling of sand in areas that are predominantly
free of vegetation. Property owners may spread sand that has eroded onto
upland portions of their property on bottomlands. Alteration of natural
lakeshore contours is not authorized.
• Mowing of vegetation to a height of not less than two inches without
disturbing soil or plant roots. Mowing is limited to the width of the
riparian property or 100 feet, whichever is less.
• Small scale hand pulling of vegetation, except for threatened
or endangered species.
• Grooming of the soil by raking the top four inches of soil to
remove debris without disturbing or destroying plant roots. Debris may
include dead vegetation, trash, zebra mussel shells and dead fish.
• Construction and maintenance of a temporary pathway directly to
open water. Temporary pathways may cross swales with standing waters,
but may not exceed six feet in bottom width. Paths must be constructed
of sand and pebbles obtained from exposed unvegetated bottomlands.
For more information, see: Coastal
Habitat Plan, Section V (PDF)