Michigan's Critical Dunes

This web page provides the most current up to date information on critical dunes, including their ecological value, geographical extent and location. Building in Michigan’s Critical Dunes is regulated by the Sand Dune Protection Management Act and this page provides current information related to the permitting process, best management practices to protect critical dunes, educational resources, and links to the state permitting agency. Please bookmark this page and check back for updates.

The State of Michigan is defined by its natural resources that are some of the most scenic and rare on the planet. One glimpse at a map establishes that Michigan is like no other state in our nation. With over 3,200 miles of shoreline along the Great Lakes, it is this thin strip of land that truly magnifies the depth of Michigan’s unrivaled outdoor attributes. Within this zone a rare combination of glacial history, wind, water, and vegetation came together to create the largest accumulation of freshwater coastal dunes in the world. These extraordinary dune features set the stage for a distinctive mix of ecological communities that support rare and endangered species, irreplaceable habitats and dynamic biological interactions.

With over 70,000 acres of critical dunes along the lakeshore, the idea that an individual action could determine the future and quality of the landscape is almost unimaginable. Yet it is the individual lot and single management activity that will truly determine protection of these rare and fragile ecological systems.

Learn more about the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act, where critical dune areas are located, and what activities are regulated. Click here to download the “Michigan’s Critical Dune Areas” brochure.

Living in Michigan’s Dunes
Find out about Michigan’s dunes, how they were formed, what plants and wildlife they support, how they can be impacted from development, and what property owners should consider before building in critical dunes. Click here to download a copy.

A Practical Guide for Development and Management in Critical Dunes
Read about best management practices to use while site planning, and during construction to minimize impacts to critical dunes from development activities. Click here to download “How to Protect Critical Dunes: Practical Guidelines for Site Development and Management in Michigan's Critical Dune Areas”.

Michigan’s Critical Dune Areas
Critical Dune Areas include barrier dunes, dunes exhibiting specific geomorphologic features, dunes areas supporting exemplary dune association plant communities (as designated by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory), and all areas designated with Michigan’s Critical Dune Atlas.

Choose your county to download Critical Dune maps and view contact information for your local Conservation District:

Critical Dunes Permit Process

In order to support local communities and individual landowners in creating sustainable development, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality utilizes a permit process to regulate activities in critical dune areas and assure the protection of these irreplaceable natural resources for present and future generations. As part of this permit process, the Department identified three measures to increase observance of the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act. These measures may require associated fees, and include:

  1. A soil and erosion control permit (when applicable).

  2. A proposed on-site sewage treatment permit from your local County Health Department (when applicable).

  3. A written assurance that the cutting and removal of trees and other vegetation will be according to the instructions of the local Conservation District.

MACD Materials

Vegetation Removal Assurance Application


Minor projects that meet DEQ desktop review categories can be submitted with a credit card payment directly to the DEQ District office. Pre-application meetings are available to obtain information about a proposed project. Contact the nearest DEQ office to determine an individual project category or to file a pre-application form. Contact information for DEQ offices, pre-application forms and fees can be found at Michigan's DEQ website.

Download important critical dunes documents here:

Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

Informational Documents

Critical Dune Act Brochure  


To learn more about Michigan's Critical Dune Areas and the Critical Dune Act click below to review a brief Powerpoint (Depending on the speed of your server it may take up to a minute to appear on your screen - 18MB)

Critical Dunes Overview (PowerPoint Presentation)

Living in Michigan's Critical Dunes 

A booklet that provides landowners with an understanding of dune ecology and the state's regulation of critical dunes.

How to Protect Critical Dunes: Practical Guidelines for Site Development and Management in Michigan's Critical Dunes.

A comprehensive guide for developers and landowners.

DEQ Permit Materials

The state regulates development in Michigan's critical dunes. Visit Michigan's DEQ website. Or click links below to download information related to permits in critical dunes.

Joint Permit Application


Pre-Application Meeting Request Form


DEQ Application Instructions


Appendix Drawing Appendix


Credit Card Authorization


Other Resources:
For construction projects that break new ground and/or disturb natural vegetation a preliminary evaluations of the parcel for threatened or endangered species is required as part of the Vegetation Removal Assurance provided by your local Conservation District. More details here