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Elk hunting season recap – 2016

David Bowman of North Branch harvested a dream bull elk during Michigan’s December elk hunt. Photo courtesy Toby Parker.

David Bowman of North Branch harvested a dream bull elk during Michigan’s December elk hunt. Photo courtesy Toby Parker.

Michigan’s latest elk hunting season, considered the late or December hunt, is complete, and preliminary hunting results are in. A total of 100 state licenses were available—30 any-elk and 70 antlerless-only licenses.

“Fortunately, because of the nature of our elk season, we are really able to work closely with hunters,” said Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Shelby Hiestand. “The December hunt had a 92-percent success rate for our state hunters, which is great.”

During the nine-day hunt period, running Dec. 10-18, 54 cows, 29 bulls and nine calves were harvested. Weather was favorable, with some snowfall just before the season making it easier to track and see animals within the elk hunt unit. The December season allows hunters to take an elk within any elk management hunting unit, maximizing the 10-county hunting unit at the “tip of the mitt” of northern Michigan.

The earlier elk hunt period, which ran from late August to early October for 12 days, also had great hunter success, with 85 percent of state hunters able to harvest an elk.

“Regulated hunting is the most effective tool in managing wildlife numbers,” said Hiestand. “We are able to efficiently and quickly get results in a very hands-on and specific approach.”

Hunters are able to work with DNR staff members to find animals and landowners in areas where there is a desire to have fewer elk.

“Elk are large animals that travel in herds, which means they can change an area quickly, with the amount of vegetation they can eat,” Hiestand said. “Our wildlife management goals are always to balance the numbers of animals with the habitat that’s available.”

Elk population estimates are derived from aerial elk surveys, which in recent survey years showed population estimates exceeding the stated elk management plan goals of 500 to 900 elk. As a result, the 2016 elk license quotas were increased from the prior hunting season and the elk survey frequency will be increased. Aerial elk flights will begin this week if weather allows for good flight and visibility.

“Michigan’s current elk population is a historical feat in wildlife management,” said Hiestand. “The elk hunt is just one more way many people’s lives are touched by elk, which is pretty special.”

To learn more about elk, and for locations with the best chances for viewing elk in northern Michigan in the summer or fall, visit mi.gov/elk.

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Chasing Birds

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Grand Rapids Audubon Club 2016 Christmas Bird Count, Kent County Center at 2 Mile & Honey Creek Roads 

Fifty-nine species of birds were seen (Table 1) by forty-three traveling observers and 1 bird feeder watcher on 31 Dec 2016. A Rough-legged Hawk, Great Horned Owls, and Barred Owl were additional species recorded during count week. Count week is the three days before and after count day. Count week species are reported separately from count day species totals and numbers are not reported.

Total individuals sighted was 9342 and was almost 2000 less than last year’s but was similar with two years ago. Travel conditions and weather were good for field exploration. Mostly frozen still water helped concentrate waterfowl but flowing water was mostly open.

Weather conditions were 100% cloudy. Temperatures were between 33 and 39 F. Winds 0-15 mph with gusts to 30 from the west. Snow cover was 1-4 inches.

We totaled 76.75 hours in vehicles traveling 673 miles. 19.5 hours was spent on foot covering 17.25 miles and 5.5 hours at feeders. A combined total of 690.25 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 199.75 hours of daytime birding. There were 15 birding parties in the morning and 10 in the afternoon with one feeder watcher recording. To count birds at feeders one counts the most seen for each species at any one time during observation time.

Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) co-hosted and we appreciate use of the facility. We encourage everyone to visit and enjoy the WWC grounds and to support their community programs.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

OUT-Bird-Count-Table

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The lure of ice fishing strikes many anglers 

A couple of anglers enjoy their day ice fishing. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A couple of anglers enjoy their day ice fishing. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Michigan is a place where anglers can take up their rod and fish year-round with the expectation of having fantastic experiences. Winter is no exception, with thousands of lakes open to ice fishing.

Although not everyone’s first pick for recreational activity, ice fishing attracts thousands of Michigan men and women—according to some estimates, roughly a fourth of all Michigan anglers say they fish through the ice—who brave winter weather to keep on fishing.

Many say they actually prefer fishing through the ice to the open-water sport.

“Ice fishing is a terrific way for the entire family to enjoy Michigan’s world-class fisheries during the winter season,” said Darren Kramer, northern Lake Michigan unit manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

An angler pulls a fish out of a hole. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

An angler pulls a fish out of a hole. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Ice fishing can be as simple—or as complex—as an angler chooses to make it.

But for beginners, there’s not a lot to getting started. Anglers need just three things: something to make a hole in the ice with, something to clear that hole and keep it open, and something to fish with.

There are two basic tools for opening holes in the ice, spuds or augers. Spuds are long-handled tools with chisel-like heads used to gouge holes through the ice. A spud is all that’s needed when the ice is relatively thin.

As the ice thickens, however, an auger—a corkscrew-like device with cutting blades on the end—allows anglers to drill a hole. As the ice gets extremely thick, power augers driven by batteries or small gasoline engines are extremely helpful.

Once a hole is opened, it must be cleared. A skimmer or slush scoop—which resembles a ladle with holes in the cup—can remove slush and ice from the water surface in the open hole. Plastic skimmer or scoop models are inexpensive and available wherever fishing tackle is sold.

The vast majority of anglers fish the same way they do during open-water season—with a rod or pole. It can be as simple as a thin dowel with a line attached to the end or it can be a high-dollar rod made of modern materials with an equally expensive reel. There are countless options in between.

Many anglers begin with simple fiberglass rods with small spring-tension spools to hold line, and they never see the need to upgrade.

“I think that one of the real attractions to ice fishing is that an angler doesn’t need to buy a lot of expensive gear to get started and try it,” Kramer said.

Anglers can fish through the ice for every species that swims in Michigan, though they may not be able to keep everything they catch. (Largemouth and smallmouth bass, for instance, must be immediately released from Jan. 1 to the Friday before Memorial Day.)

And although you can catch all species on the simplest gear, all sorts of tackle exists for anglers who specialize in particular species.

The most popular fish targeted by ice fishermen are the same as those sought by most open-water anglers: panfish. Bluegills, sunfish, yellow perch and crappie are all highly sought as they are relatively easy to catch and make fine table fare.

“Panfish are terrific for introducing kids, family and friends to ice fishing for the first time,” Kramer said.

Small weighted hooks, such as tear drops or jigs, tipped with insect larva are the most popular baits, though some prefer minnows, especially for perch or crappie. But some eschew bait completely, although they use weighted flies or artificial lures, such as tiny spoons or plastic-tipped jigs.

Walleye are among the more glamorous quarry of anglers. Plenty of others prefer to fish for the various species of trout. Still others prefer pike or muskellunge, which brings us to other forms of fishing beyond rods and reels.

Tip-ups are devices that are set on the ice above the hole and are used to suspend bait in the water column below. Tip-ups feature spring-loaded flags that “tip up” when the bait is taken, alerting the angler to the strike.

Tip-ups are most commonly associated with pike fishing, though they can be used for any number of species – walleye, trout, even perch.

“Fishing with tip-ups is a great way to move around while ice fishing, especially on cold blustery days,” said Cory Kovacs, DNR acting Lake Superior unit manager. “The excitement of running for the flag is what really ‘warms’ the anglers.”

Because anglers are allowed to fish three lines, many set tip-ups while actively fishing with rods. Others—particularly  those who target pike, muskie or sturgeon—prefer spearing.

Simply put, they cut a large hole in the ice, usually with an ice saw or chainsaw, and sit beside it, waiting for a fish to swim into range.

Most spearing takes place inside shelters, as it’s easier to see into the water when the light is blocked. This has given rise to the term “dark-house” spearing, and many spear fishermen build comfortable shacks (commonly called shanties) to fish from.

Most anglers use portable shacks they can drag out with them and remove from the ice when they leave for shore.

Anglers who spear typically use decoys—either live or artificial—to lure fish into range. There are many restrictions to spear fishing, so be sure to consult the Michigan Fishing Guide for information.

Although many rod-and-reel anglers are content to sit on a bucket (which doubles as a gear carrier) on the ice while they fish, it can be miserable—even unbearable – during the depths of winter.

Portable shanties not only block the wind and elements, they allow anglers to use small heaters, making the experience less physically taxing.

Either way, it’s important to dress for the weather, even if you’re fishing from a well-appointed, insulated shanty. It can be awfully cold getting there.

Moisture-wicking underwear helps keep anglers dry. You can work up a real sweat trudging across the ice, especially if you’re dragging a shanty or carrying heavy equipment, and wool clothing continues to provide warmth even when wet. Modern, insulated outerwear made for ice anglers is sure to keep you warm.

Waterproof boots are de rigueur, and moisture-wicking socks, under wool socks, are helpful too. A thermos of a hot beverage—alcohol is not recommended—will help keep anglers warm on the ice.

Those interested in ice fishing, but who are wary of the learning curve, might find it helpful to attend one of the Hard Water Schools offered this winter by the DNR at the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center at Mitchell State Park in Cadillac.

Programs are scheduled for Jan. 28 and Feb. 25. These sessions, led by seasoned anglers and DNR staffers will teach you everything you need to know to get started ice fishing, and include an afternoon on the ice with hands-on instruction.

To register for the Hard Water Schools, visit www.michigan.gov/outdoorskills.

Another opportunity to try ice fishing is during the DNR’s Free Fishing Weekend Feb. 18-19. During this weekend, anglers may fish without having to purchase a fishing license. However, all fishing regulations on daily bag limits and other provisions still apply.

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Growing Cardboard

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

As a child, I observed toilet paper rolls were not wrapped around a cardboard tube. By the time we removed the paper, a cardboard tube had grown on the inside of the roll. I remember my mother telling me a rock on a street corner near her house grew larger as she was growing up.

Our observations were faulty. Both my mom and I thought we made good observations. I looked inside the paper roll and did not see the cardboard. I was not perceptive enough. Mom did not make measurements on the rock to verify growth.

I recall taking local middle school students to Costa Rica to learn about Tropical Rain Forest. We visited schools to plant trees with students. We shared that forests are a renewable resource that were being cut faster than they could regenerate. Some rainforest soils get baked to laterite rock when cleared of trees.

Sustainable practices that support future generations of people living in the rainforest and here need to manage rainforest differently if we desire to have toilet paper or other forest products in the future. Some apply temperate forest management practices there and are unwilling to change because they desire to think it will work anywhere. As adults, we are not making accurate observations based on sound scientific investigations.

Naturally, tree harvest industries are most interested in cutting trees and shipping them. They keep moving and clearing rainforest without adequate concern regarding the impact on the local community or future generations. For some, the goal is only short-term profit for the company. Many people feel that is in their best personal interest and it is particularly true if they invest money in mutual funds that include that forestry company.

Others seek socially screened industry investments that work to provide healthy economic, social, and environmental practices for both present and future generations. It is known as the triple bottom line.

A recent national survey prioritized 12 US citizen concerns. Environment was number 11 of 12. The only one of less concern was immigration. Political policies are based on constituent desires. It is good when people develop good observation skills and behave to support the triple bottom line for the present and future.

When I was director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, it was operated by the Kent Intermediate School District serving Kent County public and private schools. One purpose was to provide hands on learning to help students develop careful observation skills and to learn how scientists constantly review the work of other scientists to find flaws and correct them. When studies involve things like how nature niches work in forests, we can improve best practice management. Science has self-correcting peer review.

Field trip learning helps children develop accurate observations in fun natural locations. They learn to draw better conclusions than I did regarding toilet paper growing cardboard while on the paper holder.

The Kent ISD superintendent, in 2005, told me they were closing the Howard Christensen Nature Center because environmental education was no longer a priority in America. He stated he was not saying it lacked importance but only it was no longer a priority in America. In the presidential election prior to 2005, Al Gore, with a sustainable environment policy, won the popular vote but lost the electoral. The recent election went the same way with the sustainable environment policy candidate winning the popular vote but losing the election. Environment was only one of twelve American priorities but indicated a sustainable environment for future generations is low on our priority list. The role of environment for sustaining a stable economy is important.

Encourage your children’s teachers to go to HCNC. It is now operated as an independent nature center. Purchase a 2017 family membership. Rent snowshoes there and have fun outdoors. Emotionally connect with the environment that supports us and our future. It will help raise a sustainable environment priority.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Fishing Tip: Try your hand at spearfishing this winter

 

Starting December 1, the spear fishing season for Northern Pike and Muskellunge began on all waters through the ice except designated trout lakes, designated trout streams and other specific waters. No muskellunge spearing is allowed on Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, the Detroit River or the St. Clair River as well. Many anglers will try their hand at this historical method of fishing until the season concludes on March 15.

Spear fishing is much different from general ice fishing. Anglers will cut larger holes in the ice and fish from tents or small shanties. The shanty blocks the light, allowing anglers to see down into the water in order to spear the fish.

Anglers who spear fish generally dangle decoys or large live baits (such as suckers) in the water to attract their target fish. They utilize spears that typically have a substantial weight to them and have seven to nine tines on the end of a seven-foot handle.

Other species besides Northern Pike and Muskellunge are also allowed to be speared throughout the state. See the Michigan Fishing Guide for a list of opportunities. Go to www.michigan.gov/dnr and type “Michigan Fishing Guide” in the search bar.

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Trust Fund finances important projects, big and small

 

From land acquisitions to local outdoor recreation projects

Bond Falls in Ontonagon County is one site of a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund project to construct all access walkways and other features.

Bond Falls in Ontonagon County is one site of a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund project to construct all access walkways and other features.

As 2016 winds down, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources concludes its year-long celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Since its inception in 1976, the Trust Fund has bankrolled more than 2,000 projects, providing funding to local units of government and the DNR to purchase land and land rights or developing outdoor recreation projects. The fund is administered by the DNR.

The program was initially funded with state proceeds from royalties derived the sale of oil, gas and minerals and from leases. Today, recreation projects and land acquisitions are financed from investment income generated from the fund.

So far, more than $1 billion has been granted to local units of government and the DNR for land purchases or recreation projects—big and small—in all 83 Michigan counties.

DNR officials say they are just as proud of the numerous small and local grants they’ve awarded as the bigger, headline-generating, multi-million-dollar land acquisitions.

The DNR Pocket Park in Escanaba in Delta County was funded with Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars, providing outreach and education to the public.

The DNR Pocket Park in Escanaba in Delta County was funded with Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars, providing outreach and education to the public.

“All grant applications are scored on the same criteria,” said Steve DeBrabander, manager of the DNR’s grants management section. “The need for the project, the quality of the project, the recreational opportunity the project provides—there’s a long list of criteria and it doesn’t matter if it’s large or small.”

In fact, the Trust Fund Board several years ago created two initiatives—the small acquisition grant initiative and the small development grant initiative for small projects—$100,000 or less for acquisition and $50,000 or less for development.

“For several years in a row, the Trust Fund Board chose to fund all applications under those initiatives,” DeBrabander said.

Local projects make up a significant portion of Trust Fund grants annually.

DeBrabander said even a small project, like new restroom facilities in a local park, can make a big difference.

A 2014 grant to the city of Wakefield in Gogebic County, for work at Eddy Park on Sunday Lake, is a prime example. The grant funded rebuilding and remodeling the park restroom as well making the pier at the lake and the restrooms accessible to all.

“We’re very happy to have the improvements to the park,” said Wakefield city manager Richard Brackney. “It was necessary to do these things and it’s really made a difference. We have had a great increase in visitors into the park.”

In Republic in Marquette County, Republic Township supervisor John Ulrich said the money from the Trust Fund enabled the township to develop a new campground on land the township bought in 2004, but had been sitting vacant for a decade.

The township purchased pit toilets for the site, installed an RV dump station, and helped build the water system with its grant.

The township, which has been economically challenged since the Republic Mine closed in the 1990s, hopes the campground will help reinvigorate the community.

“I think it’s very important to the township and will over time be a driver for drawing people from M-95 into the park,” Ulrich said. “There’s a campground 20 miles south of us and one on Lake Michigamme, but those are the two closest modern campgrounds.”

Ulrich said the campground will attract vacationers and tourists; people who want to hike the Iron Ore Heritage Trail or view the old mining site as well as those who come to fish in the Michigamme River Basin or even visit the beach.

“It’s not quite complete yet,” Ulrich said. “We haven’t had any campers yet, but we do have some reservations for next year. We expect campers in May.”

Of course, not all local Trust Fund grants are small. Clark Lambros Park in Marquette – the dream of a late, successful businessman – would not have become a reality without the grant, said Michele Butler.

Butler, Lambros’ significant other, said he had a piece of land on Lake Superior valued at $1.1 million that he wanted to donate to the city for a park, but the city couldn’t afford to develop it.

So after Lambros died, Butler approached the Trust Fund with a proposal – to sell the land to the city for $812,000, which the Trust Fund provided, with the difference in the value to serve as the local match.

Butler then donated the proceeds from the sale for development of the park.

“Clark was an immigrant from Greece – he loved Marquette and wanted to give back to the community,” Butler said. “If we just donated the land without the Trust Fund money, the city wouldn’t have been able to get it done. The Trust Fund Board was so surprised that we were going to donate the funds back to build the park they wanted to hear it a couple of times.”

Butler, who is active in the Lambros family business – Vango’s Pizza and Lounge, the oldest restaurant in Marquette – said she’s delighted in how things turned out.

“The most rewarding part is the universal access,” she said. “It’s the only place around where people who have kids with wheelchairs can get to the beach. We feel like we did the right thing here.”

Gov. Rick Snyder visited the park this past summer and commemorated the Trust Fund 40th anniversary there, touring the site with Butler and members of her family.

Mindy Milos-Dale, director of the Oakland Township Parks and Recreation Department in Oakland County, said much of the 15-park system, begun in the 1970s, is “funded in good part with Trust Fund money.”

“Many of those acres are the result of Trust Fund grants and some of the development was funded by the Trust Fund,” she said. “We’ve had four acquisition grants and three development grants.

“We’re big, big fans of the Trust Fund. It’s just the most wonderful thing to see them putting up the money to preserve these lands. I’m just so proud to be a resident of Michigan.”

Local projects can have an impact on people statewide.

Josh Zuiderveen, who was a consultant for Algoma Township, just north of Grand Rapids, said the West Michigan Archery Center, an archery education and practice facility, is bringing in visitors from all over the state.

The center, which is a Junior Olympics development facility, attracts “a lot of out-of-town visitors to our tournaments and coach certification classes,” Zuiderveen said. “And with a national tournament now on the schedule of events, it’ll bring people in from out-of-state as well.”

Zuiderveen said the project was a collaborative effort on the part of “a bunch of people.”

“It was the better part of a million dollars and the Trust Fund did most of the heavy lifting,” he said.

Although some local projects spur economic growth, many simply improve the local quality of life.

Ralph Reznick, the village president at Dimondale in Eaton County, said a Trust Fund grant turned a vacant piece of land on the Grand River where folks walked their dogs into Danford Island Park, which is a center of activity.

The village used grant money to build a bridge to the island across the river, create better access to the area, and install a universally accessible canoe/kayak ramp.

“The use that area is getting just jumped exponentially,” Reznick said. “Dog walking has increased so much that we’re trying to develop a dog park. People from the state office building go there to eat their lunch. It’s not uncommon to see people taking graduation pictures there, wedding pictures there – it is getting tremendous use.

“Now it’s a destination on the Grand River for kayakers and canoers, where people are putting in and taking out.”

Reznick said the community had been trying to raise money to develop the park, but, because of the Trust Fund, all they needed to raise was the 25-percent match.

“This thing,” Reznick concluded, “is huge.”

Get more information on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, including project and acquisition lists, upcoming deadlines and more at www.michigan.gov/mnrtf.

 

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Breathing Skies

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Warm south winds brought a record high temperature to the region in late December followed by cold air being sucked in from the northwest. By early in the new year warm air was again sweeping the area. The landscape breathes in and out creating varied weather daily.

Each breath is a temporary sigh creating different air mass movements depending on where the air is drawn from. Imagine a giant head looking in a new direction when it inhales its great breath of air. When looking north, it draws air from the north. When looking west, draws air across Lake Michigan picking up more moisture. When looking south, it brings an upwelling of warmer air from the balmy south.

Weather forecasters provide a better and more accurate account for how air masses move. They illustrate the locations of high and low pressure centers with explanations for how they interact to create changing weather.

A couple centuries ago when communication was not instantaneous, predicting weather for the next week was nearly impossible. People kept records of annual occurrences and predicted climatic expectations. It was obvious that winter would provide cold conditions compared with summer warmth.

Astronomers studied sun, Earth, moon, and star movement relationships. They determined the Earth traveled around the sun instead of the sun going around the Earth. Accumulated data gradually was pieced together to provide improved understanding for how air masses move on Earth.

Air movement has significant life and death impact on our lives. To our benefit, weather forecasters caution us about what to expect so we can plan safe travel. We are warned about hazardous driving conditions so we will adjust commute time or make decisions about cancelling school and community events.

Animals are in the dark ages when it comes to knowing what weather is headed toward their nature niche three days hence. They are locked into their own built in “Farmer’s Almanac” for climatic conditions. Climate is the long-term average of weather that occurs for any day, week, month, or year. Evolutionary adjustments in behavior and genetics allow species to survive. Some migrate, some hibernate, some stay active in winter.

Rabbits remain active all winter, warblers migrate to warm climates, and woodchucks hibernate using adaptations developed in response to long-term climate conditions. Survival is not assured because weather conditions bring extreme variations compared with averages that determine climate. A recent cold winter caused the Great Lakes to have 90 percent ice cover and many ducks were forced to small areas of open water where food was depleted. Massive duck die off occurred that year in response to weather.

When weather shifts the average conditions to colder or warmer, it is an indication that climate is changing. Climate change has occurred throughout the 5-billion-year history of Earth. Most often the average change has been slow and allowed organisms to adjust through life and death changes in behavior and genetics selection.

Some animal perceptions are keener than those possessed by humans. Changes in barometric pressure are noticed by animals and they respond before we recognize weather is about to change dramatically. Animals are attributed with responding to severe storms before they arrive while people have not taken notice. People have taken warnings from pets or wild animal behavior that resulted in saved lives.

Changing weather conditions are more easily observed than climate change. We are likely to adjust behavior for things like icy road weather. When it comes changing behavior for long-term averages of weather that create climate change, there is a tendency to deny recognition. When evidence supports human activity is changing global climate, many choose to ignore it. In that regard, we continue to live in the dark ages with animals unable to perceive long-term change. We have the ability to adjust our behavior based on the evidence or ignore it.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Meaningful New Year’s resolution

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

When making a New Year’s Resolution, make it fun and emotionally meaningful for you and family members.

I have been reading research studies on how informal learning spaces like your yard provide the opportunity to make life experience connections. They have long-term impact for family understanding about the environment that support a healthy and sustainable future. Create a pesticide free butterfly garden with native plants to entice insects, birds, neighbors, and friends. Let’s get everyone outside.

Creating a pesticide-free butterfly garden helps children learn about nature, while helping the insects and birds in your own backyard.

Creating a pesticide-free butterfly garden helps children learn about nature, while helping the insects and birds in your own backyard.

To develop an interest in nature and natural history research suggests a need for frequent and recurring experiences over many years. Last week’s nature niche was about our family’s Christmas tree experiences that continued throughout the kids’ entire growing up adventure.

Involvement with local fauna and flora instill emotional feelings that create responsibility for the local natural and human community. It is an experiential place-based education. When local plants and animals like insects are discovered and valued, conservation and re-wilding our neighborhoods becomes feasible. One research paper focused on the ecological importance of insects for our own healthy living.

When considering a New Year’s Resolution, select activities where the family explores outdoors on trails at county parks, nature centers, or has excursions in the yard. I recall one family experience when Jenny Jo saw dots high in the sky when she was about three. She asked what birds were flying. I looked and said I missed them. She asked again and I looked more intently. I was looking too close. The birds were very high in the sky.

We went outside and saw about 250 Broad-wing Hawks soaring in a heat thermal as they migrated south one October. It was an amazing experience that took about five minutes. It provided an emotional connection with the natural world. Reading and showing pictures of hawks riding thermals in books or on the Internet does not create an emotional connection that effectively builds appreciation for the natural world.

Perhaps your childhood experiences did not include similar events but it is I time to create new meaningful family traditions with emotional nature connections. Walking in natural areas, exploring wild things in your yard, or growing a butterfly garden will persist in the mind and heart of child for a lifetime.

Outdoor experiences help organize knowledge in the brain by what I call “hook” placement. It provides a hook in the mind to place experience knowledge in your own mental file cabinet. Once sorted and stored in a meaningful manner, book knowledge has a good place to be combined for rapid recall. It prevents searching unsuccessfully for things that get misplaced somewhere deep in memory recesses. Classroom book knowledge becomes more effective when connected with real world experiences like field trips to nature centers.

We learn best when we connect emotional outdoor experiences with new knowledge gained from what we hear, read, or see when surfing the Internet. We can compare a multitude of misinformation we are bombarded with from other people or see on the Internet. Nature exposure helps us make better sense of our surroundings.

Make the best New Year’s resolution ever. Explore outdoors with the family to build connections with each other and with the nature world during the coming year. It is more fun than resolving to lose weight.

The research paper concluded that intellectual messages detached from direct real world experiences in the outdoors are often impotent.

My friend Bob Pyle, a nature writer and butterfly field guide author, states that the butterfly net is perhaps the cheapest, simplest and most effective environmental tool ever invented.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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State parks help kick off 2017 resolutions with Shoe Year’s Day hikes

out-shoe-years-hikes2-syhinfographic

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Outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to kick their New Year’s resolutions into high gear at a number of “Shoe Year’s Day” hikes taking place in Michigan state parks and recreation areas Dec. 31-Jan. 8.

Outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to kick their New Year’s resolutions into high gear at a number of “Shoe Year’s Day” hikes taking place in Michigan state parks and recreation areas Dec. 31-Jan. 8.

For many people, a new year is the time for making resolutions. Frequently, those resolutions involve making a pledge to become healthier. With that sentiment in mind, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources encourages residents to kick off 2017 by bringing Michigan’s great outdoors into the mix.

The DNR, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Michigan Recreation and Park Association are joining together to encourage residents to shift their New Year’s resolutions into high gear at “Shoe Year’s Day” hikes taking place Dec. 31-Jan. 8 at several Michigan state parks and recreation areas.

“There are countless benefits to using Michigan’s great outdoors as your gym,” said Ron Olson, DNR Parks and Recreation Division chief. “People tend to work out longer, enjoy their workout more, and burn more calories by exercising outside, while enjoying the beauty of our state.”

All “Shoe Year’s Day” hikes are free; however, a Recreation Passport is required for any vehicle entering a Michigan state park or recreation areas. Snowshoes will be available to rent at most locations.

According to Olson, the Recreation Passport is a great value and may be the most affordable gym membership available. The annual pass costs residents $11 for vehicle access to 103 state parks and 138 state forest campgrounds, as well as parking for hundreds of trails and staffed boat launches.

The following Shoe Year’s guided hikes are scheduled:

Maybury State Park (Wayne County) Dec. 31 at 10 a.m.

Island Lake Recreation Area (Livingston County) Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.

Waterloo Recreation Area (Jackson County) Jan. 1 at 11 a.m.

Yankee Springs Recreation Area (Barry County) Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.

Ludington State Park (Mason County) Jan. 7 at 6 p.m.

Rockport Recreation Area (Alpena County) Jan. 7 at noon

Sleeper State Park (Huron County) Jan. 7 at 6 p.m.

Straits State Park (Cheboygan County) Jan. 7  at 5 p.m.

Mitchell State Park (Wexford County) Jan. 8 at 1 p.m.

If you can’t make it to one of the fun events going on across the state, you can still take advantage of Michigan’s parks, trails and waterways on your own time by visiting a Michigan state park or recreation area, the Iron Belle Trail or the more than 12,500 miles of state-designated trails.

Michigan is part of the nationwide First Day Hikes program coordinated by the National Association of State Park Directors. They were inspired by the First Day Hikes that originated more than 25 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. Last year, more than 55,000 people participated on guided hikes that covered over 133,000 miles on 1,100 hikes across the country.

Visit www.michigan.gov/shoeyearhikes to view the calendar of events.

Share your resolution on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by using #MiShoeYear.

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Fishing tip: Targeting northern pike at first ice

First ice of the season is a good time to catch northern pike. Photo from the Michigan DNR.

First ice of the season is a good time to catch northern pike. Photo from the Michigan DNR.

From the Michigan DNR

Many anglers will agree the first ice of the winter season often produces some of the best northern pike fishing you can find.

There could be a couple of reasons why this is so. Perhaps it’s because there is plenty of baitfish for them to target thanks to a decrease in weed cover, or perhaps it’s because first ice is often clear and allows the sight-feeding fish to target their prey more easily because of the penetration of sunlight. Regardless, the coming weeks (weather permitting) are a great time to target this species.

You’ll want to use a tip-up for this type of fishing, with a minnow or small panfish on the end of your line. Keep in mind you can catch small panfish in the lake you’re fishing and legally use them as bait in the same water body.

Target similar areas that you may have fished for northern pike when there was still open water and you might see some success!

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