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Wolves in Ecosystems Part 2

The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Wolves’ presence and behavior increases wildlife populations despite their killing individual prey. Their predatory role in ecosystems has significant positive impacts on animal and plant communities. For thousands of years their presence in Michigan nature niches fluctuated in relation to plant and animal population abundance.

Canada lynx studies found plant populations control top predator populations. The Hudson Bay trapping records show snowshoe hare populations increased despite lynx, wolf, and other predators until the hares over browsed the plants causing hare starvation. When hares died the predators starved. Predation slowed hare population growth that helped maintained healthier communities.

When wolves were returned to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, they caused elk and other prey species to roam more. This saved shrubs and trees from being over browsed in valleys along rivers. Shrubs and trees regenerated habitat when protected by wolves.

Mice, rabbits, and other herbivores were able to find food where deer and elk had previously devastated wildlife communities by overgrazing. Songbirds moved into areas when vegetation recovered. Beavers found rapid growing aspens provided essential food that allowed their return to streams and rivers. They built dams creating rich floodplain habitat that had been lost and washed away in the absence of wolves. Wolves eat beavers when the opportunity arises but these rodents reproduce more rapidly than predators kill them. Large fires in the Yellowstone region also rejuvenated early succession communities but wolves caused elk and deer to move preventing overgrazing.

Beavers created wetland habitats, stabilized stream banks, and reduced soil erosion. Fish populations found healthier streambeds for egg laying. More oxygen in less silted rivers aided fish survival.

With increased landscape vegetation that resulted from wolf presence, plant-eating rodents increased and resulted in more predators like hawks, eagles, weasels, foxes, and badgers. Carrion left by wolves allowed bears, ravens, and other animals to provide more food and it improved their health and reproductive success. Increased shrubs provided more berries needed by bears, birds, and many other animals. What inferences can be applied to Michigan ecosystems? No one animal or plant is responsible for all positive or negative changes. It is a community effort but some animals like the wolf start what is called a positive “trophic cascade” in how they change animal movements and cull animal populations with selected animal predation.

The wolves even changed the course of rivers. Overgrazed landscape along rivers cut straighter channels when wolves were removed but with the wolf return stream meanders returned. Vegetation recovery along banks reduced erosion causing stream meandering. More pools developed with more fish hiding places. Waterfowl increased. Wolves transformed the landscape to healthier nature niches for plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects and a host of native wildlife that had diminished in wolf absence.

Human social and economic aspects of wolf presence have been beneficial in the Yellowstone ecosystem but not completely. Ranchers drive cattle into the national forest and leave them unattended to feed. In Michigan, farmers graze animals on their private property and care for their livestock. The national forests are public lands used for watershed flood management, timber harvest, grazing, hunting, hiking, camping, recreation, fishing, and mineral extraction. In short they are all things for all people.

This becomes a management challenge when people consider their interests more important than their neighbors and it results in Congressional gridlock. Maintaining healthy ecosystems to provide for future generations of our families requires decisions beyond one group’s personal self-centered interest.

There are times when wolf management is important for our neighbors. At present in Michigan, each case is addressed when a problem arises. Legal hunting might one day be appropriate in balance with the multiple uses of our National and State forests in the UP. Decisions should be ecosystem focused for maintaining society’s sustainable needs. Plants and animals have essential roles in ecosystem sustainability that we cannot duplicate. Future generations are as important as our own but decisions frequently place priority only on the present.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

 

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Weekly Fishing Tip

Northern Pike

Northern Pike

Where to find northern pike in Michigan

 

Most places in the state are seeing pretty cold temperatures, but despite that fishing for northern pike will continue to pick up. Pike are extremely popular during the ice fishing season but are readily available throughout much of the year.

There are many notable northern pike fisheries located throughout Michigan, including on Muskegon, Portage and Manistee lakes and also Michigamme and Houghton lakes. But this species can be found in many lakes and virtually all larger rivers in the state.

Please note there are many regulations for northern pike regarding minimum size and possession limit. Be sure to read up on this species in the 2014 Michigan Fishing Guide. Access it online at http://www.eregulations.com/michigan/fishing/general-hook-line-regulations/

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Snow blower safety starts before you power up your equipment

 

Tips from OPEI 

Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI)

According to weather forecasters, the winter of 2014–15 will see below-normal temperatures for about three-quarters of the nation. That means snow blowers could be getting a workout this winter. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) offers the following safety tips to assist homeowners, contractors and business owners as they power up their snow removal equipment.

Make sure your snow blower is in good working order, before the first flakes fall. Change the oil. Install a new spark plug and inspect the belts to be sure they are in good working order. If you forgot to drain the fuel last winter before storing your snow blower, drain the tank now. Check the auger (always in the “off” position) and adjust any cables. Make sure it starts.

Review your owner’s manual. Read your owner’s manual and review safe handling procedures from your manufacturer.

Before it snows, clear the pathways you intend to use. Snow can sometimes hide objects that might clog the chute of a snow blower, or cause damage to the machine or people nearby. Remove doormats, sleds, boards, wires, and other debris from the pathways you intend to clear.

Use the right fuel. It’s important to have the proper fuel on hand, as filling stations may be closed if there is a power outage after a snowstorm. Store fuel properly and buy the type of fuel recommended by your equipment’s manufacturer. It is illegal to use any fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol content in outdoor power equipment (for more information on fueling properly see www.LookBeforeYouPump.com).

Handle fuel carefully. Use non-spill containers with spouts. Fill up the fuel tank outside before you start the engine and while the engine is cold. Never add fuel to a running or hot engine. Store fuel in a clean, dry, ventilated area, and never near a pilot light, stove, or heat source. Never smoke around fuel.

Dress properly for the job. Wear adequate winter garments and footwear that can handle slippery surfaces. Put on safety glasses, and avoid loose fitting clothing that could get caught in moving parts. Tie back long hair.

Operate your snow blower in visible conditions. Never operate the snow blower without good visibility or light.

Aim carefully and avoid people and cars. Never throw snow toward people or cars. Do not allow anyone to stand in front of your snow blower. Keep children or pets away from your snow blower when it is operating.

Use extreme caution on slopes and hills. Do not clear snow across the face of slopes. Be cautious when changing directions on slopes. Do not attempt to clear steep slopes.

Turn OFF your snow blower if you need to clear a clog or repair it. If you have to repair your machine, remove debris or unclog built up snow, always turn off your snow blower. Wait for all moving parts to come to a complete stop. Disconnect the spark plug wire or power cord.

KEY SAFETY TIP: Never put your hands inside the auger or chute. Use a clean out tool (or stick) to unclog wet snow or debris from your snow blower. Your hands should never go inside the auger or chute.

 Know where your cord is. If you have an electric powered snow blower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times. Avoid tripping. Do not run over the power cord.

Fact Sheet: Safe Operation Practices for Snow Blowers:

http://opei.org/content/uploads/2014/11/Snowthrower_safety-sheet_FINAL.pdf

About OPEI

The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) is an international trade association representing more than 100 power equipment, engine and utility vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. For more information, visit www.OPEI.org

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Hunters can help fill food bank freezers 

OUT-Sportsmen-against-hungerSportsmen Against Hunger program

From the Michigan DNR

With Michigan’s deer season swinging into high gear, it won’t be long before many hunters are bringing their harvested deer into the local butcher shop to have the venison processed and prepared for the freezer. And thanks to the generosity of those same hunters, thousands of pounds of that venison will end up not in their home freezers, but at local food banks and soup kitchens to feed the state’s needy and hungry citizens.

The donated venison is made possible through the Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger program, a collaboration between the Department of Natural Resources and a number of conservation groups, designed to help hunters share their bounty with the less fortunate. Participants can donate an entire deer, a certain number of pounds of venison, or can simply make a monetary donation to support the program.

“We had around 30,000 pounds of venison donated through Sportsmen Against Hunger last year,” said Ray Rustem, who coordinates the DNR’s participation in the program. “Between the two buck tags and antlerless permits, some hunters are able to harvest multiple deer but don’t necessarily want or need that much venison in the freezer. By participating in the program, they are able to help feed the hungry while continuing to enjoy their sport.”

Since 1991, Sportsmen Against Hunger has helped connect wild game processors with hunters by providing a list of the processors that participate in the program. Hunters can simply drop off their deer at one of the facilities and the program will reimburse the processors $1 per pound for the venison that goes into the program.

“What’s an average deer produce for hunters, about 40 pounds of venison?” Rustem asked. “It costs more than $40 for most hunters to have a deer processed, so not all of the processor’s time and expense is being reimbursed with the $1 per pound they receive. They effectively end up donating that lost profit and we really appreciate their willingness to do so.”

Barb Haveman, who runs Barb’s Meat Processing in Comstock Park, said she’s already processed five deer for the program this year and predicts it will pick up with firearm deer season.

“There are so many people without food—folks who are disabled or are just trying to make ends meet. Who wouldn’t help somebody out like that? There are a lot of people who can’t afford meat. People are tickled to death to get the venison.”

Haveman said she usually charges $75 to $80 to process a deer. At the reimbursement rate of $1 a pound, she barely meets her expenses, let alone makes a profit, when she processes a deer for Sportsmen against Hunger.
“I still do it anyway,” she said. “It helps so many people. It just gives you a good feeling to help somebody.”

Hunters who don’t have an entire deer to donate can participate in the program by donating a pound of their ground venison when their deer is processed. Some meat processors only participate in the Give-A-Pound option rather than processing entire deer, to hunters should check http://www.sportsmenagainsthunger.org for a list of participating locations and what services they offer before bringing their deer in.

Dean Hall, the president of the Michigan Bow Hunters Association, has been managing the Sportsmen against Hunger program for eight years. He’s seen the program grow on an annual basis. “Participation numbers and donations are getting to the level we’d like to see, but of course we hope it will continue to be even more effective,” he said. “We definitely understand when people want to keep their deer to feed their families, but a lot of hunters will fill one tag for themselves and then take an additional deer, especially if they have doe permits. As awareness of the program spreads we’re seeing more participation from hunters, especially those who have harvested more than one deer,” Hall said. “Sportsmen Against Hunger helped feed 150,000 families statewide last year. Hopefully we’ll exceed that this year.”

Hall said there are a handful of areas in the state where participation numbers are higher than others – the Thumb, southern central Michigan, Kent County and Macomb County all particularly stand out.
“Over in Kent County, Barb’s Deer Processing really puts a lot of deer through the program, every single year,” Hall said. “The owner and the workers at that facility put 110 percent effort into making sure that they’re there to process the deer that people want to donate.”

There is a fear, Hall said, that because of the reduction of available antlerless deer licenses available in a number of areas this year, that there may be fewer deer donated this season. To make up for the potential deficit, Hall said his group is making an extra effort to reach out to landowners who have Deer Management Assistance Permits, asking them to remember the hungry this season when they fill their permits.

“Keep in mind two things,” Hall said. “The donation of deer is very important to feed the hungry. It’s staggering how many people are working but remain below the poverty level and who have to depend on food assistance.
And the second most important thing is when you purchase a hunting or fishing or trapping license, right then and there you can donate a dollar to the Sportsmen against Hunger program. If the license vendor doesn’t ask you if you want to donate, go ahead and tell him you want to donate.”

An administrative change in the DNR’s license sales system has made donating at the point-of-sale easier this year, Rustem said.
“In the old days, the system treated the donation as a separate license and vendors had to go back into the system and order the additional license,” he explained. “This year, we reduced the number of steps it takes to make a donation to one. That makes it much easier for hunters to donate.”

Current records show that sportsmen have responded well to the change.

“We think the program will hit around $70,000 in monetary donations this year,” Rustem said. “In the past we collected about $25,000 a year. This significant increase will allow the amount of venison that goes into the program to more than double in one year’s time. Knowing that the program will provide a minimum of 60,000 pounds of venison to those who utilize Michigan’s food banks and soup kitchens this year is pretty astounding, and is something our hunters can be very proud of.”

For more information on the Sportsmen against Hunger program, visit www.sportsmenagainsthunger.org.

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Wolves in Ecosystems (Part 1)

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Wolves crossing the Straits of Mackinaw to the Lower Peninsula (LP) seems unlikely, but it was reported three crossed on ice near Mackinac Bridge. A shipping lane is open all winter but it froze long enough. It turned out the canines were dogs and not wolves.

The Northern LP is heavily populated with people so it is likely human/wolf conflicts would require DNR intervention. Coyotes sometimes take livestock and the DNR receives trapping requests for offending animal removal. This occurred near Rogers City. The farmer was issued a permit to trap the coyote. To everyone’s surprise a wolf was trapped. That is the only wolf known from the LP in almost a century. No tracks, sightings, characteristic predation, or road kills have been found since.

Four wolves were reintroduced to the Upper Peninsula (UP) in 1974 but vigilantes illegally shot two, one was trapped and killed, and a vehicle hit the fourth. Later wolves immigrated on their own from north of Lake Superior in Minnesota, expanded into Wisconsin and reestablished a population in Michigan. They arrived in the western UP about 1984. I personally saw one in the eastern UP that year.

I was conducting contract insect research for the MDNR in Schoolcraft County in a forest clear cut when a wolf stood with forelegs on a cut tree to look at me. My 85 lb. German Shepard was 300 feet to the east. The wolf was about 300 feet to the west. The wolf was larger than a coyote. Coyote’s weigh about 35 lbs. Coyotes are skittish and depart quickly. The wolf paused to look at me before dropping to the ground and disappearing in the open clear cut. That is also typical wolf behavior, while coyotes typically run. I was amazed the wolf could sneak away unseen in a relatively open area. Jim Hammill, MDNR wolf biologist, agreed it was probably a wolf based on the behavior description.

Wolves are predators and were eradicated from Michigan. Following forest logging in the 1800’s, the deer population grew. Few hunters venture into the depths of regenerating forest and many prefer bucks with large antlers instead of does. The deer herds grew until the 1950’s, when a series of hard winters decimated the population. Since then deer herds grew with some reduction years.

The MDNR is responsible for managing wildlife population sizes where political and social motivations often have priority over ecological science. One MDNR wildlife biologist told me he knows hunting licenses pay his salary so it makes it right to base his decisions on license fee promotion rather than sound ecological science. He tries to balance both when possible.

Devastation of plant and animal populations caused by deer feeding habitats has concerned people. Most people, however, do not read supporting ecological studies. Some State Parks and nature centers began politically challenging deer hunts to reduce the devastation. Hoffmaster State Park hosted a Trillium Festival where deer eliminated most trilliums and reduced other plant and animal populations. Objections to these hunts are often based on emotional responses and personal desires rather than nature niche ecology.

Four conservation groups visited Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary during September and were pleased with the abundance of native species compared to exotics species. The back 40 acres have been leased for hunting for decades and it helps keep the deer herd in ecological balance. Several years ago, the hunters told me poachers shot several deer and left them to rot in the woods. If the deer meat was processed, it would have been reported and hunters prosecuted. The sanctuary is surrounded by agricultural land so I suspect a local farmer did the poaching. The MDNR will issue harvest permits for deer causing damage to farmers, so poaching is not necessary. The same is true for wolves where they live. If wolves were present here, the deer population would probably not be as large and fewer would be killed annually on the road at Ody Brook. Unfortunately there would be social/political wolf problems in Kent County because of our large human and domestic animal populations. Wolves will kill pet dogs and domestic animals.

Wolves in the UP now exceed the target population of 200. Some conflicts exist between farmers and wolves. The MDNR inspects problems and specific wolves are removed. This helps prevent wolf packs from learning to take domestic animals. I waited to share this until after the recent wolf ballot election to avoid the ire of people voting based on emotion and personal interest and those preferring scientific research study decisions. Details of the role of wolves in ecosystems will be described in Part 2 of this article next week. Suffice it to say for now, I am pleased both issues were defeated. The first ballot issue was to create a hunting season on wolves managed by the MDNR. It was the better of the two but political pressure similar to deer hunting pressure would be significant. The 2nd ballot issue would have placed decision control with a small politically appointed group that could accept or reject scientific findings. I expect there will be a time when managed hunts might be appropriate.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net. Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. Phone 616-696-1753.

 

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DNR adds to list of unwanted aquatic invasive species

The red swamp crayfish, found in the southeastern U.S. is one of the seven species recently added to Michigan DNR’s list of unwanted aquatic invasive species.

The red swamp crayfish, found in the southeastern U.S. is one of the seven species recently added to Michigan DNR’s list of unwanted aquatic invasive species.

The Department of Natural Resources announced the addition of seven species to Michigan’s prohibited species list of aquatic invasive species. An additional species already on the list was also modified from a prohibited species to a restricted species.

Any species considered for listing as prohibited or restricted must be not native to Michigan. Prohibited species generally are not present or are in very limited areas, whereas restricted species are generally widespread and naturalized within the state.

The decision came during the Nov. 6 meeting of the Natural Resources Commission, where DNR Director Keith Creagh signed Invasive Species Order Amendment No. 1 of 2014. Prior to this order there were 33 aquatic species listed as prohibited or restricted. The following species were added to the prohibited species list:

*Stone moroko—part of the minnow family, this species is a known carrier of a parasite that can negatively impact other fishes.

the zander, a relative of the walleye and found in Europe is one of the seven species recently added to Michigan DNR’s list of unwanted aquatic invasive species.

the zander, a relative of the walleye and found in Europe is one of the seven species recently added to Michigan DNR’s list of unwanted aquatic invasive species.

*Zander—a close relative of the walleye, this species could compete with the native fish or reproduce with it and create a hybrid.

*Wels catfish—this fish is considered a serious danger to native fish populations.

*Killer shrimp—this species is an aggressive predator and could severely threaten the trophic levels of the Great Lakes by preying on a range of invertebrates.

*Yabby—this large crayfish would negatively impact other crayfish species.


*Golden mussel—similar to zebra and quagga mussels, this species has destructive qualities that would threaten native biodiversity.

*Red swamp crayfish—this species can quickly dominate water bodies and is virtually impossible to eradicate. 

 Additionally, rusty crayfish were moved from prohibited to restricted classification to allow for their limited possession for the purpose of destroying them for consumption, fertilizer or trash. This species already is widespread throughout the state, yet regulations previously didn’t allow for the collection of them for consumptive purposes.

“Crayfish trapping is a growing activity in Michigan and allowing our anglers to enjoy some tablefare while assisting to remove an invasive species is a win/win,” said Nick Popoff, Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs manager for the DNR.

This order comes following a meeting of the governors of each of the Great Lakes states committing to blocking the spread of 16 “least wanted” aquatic invasive species through prohibitions and restrictions. Nine of the 16 already were prohibited in Michigan under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act; six more were designated as prohibited with the signing of this order. Please note, the remaining “least wanted” aquatic invasive species is a plant. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has authority over plants and is expected to add water soldier as a prohibited species through the Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development in January.

For more information on Michigan’s fight against aquatic invasive species, visit www.michigan.gov/invasivespecies.

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Bring deer by DNR deer check station

The Department of Natural Resources encourages hunters to stop by a DNR deer check station after their successful harvest, for DNR staff to collect important data from their deer and to receive their 2014 cooperator patch. Photo from DNR.

The Department of Natural Resources encourages hunters to stop by a DNR deer check station after their successful harvest, for DNR staff to collect important data from their deer and to receive their 2014 cooperator patch. Photo from DNR.

Receive deer cooperator patch

 

The Department of Natural Resources encourages hunters to stop by a DNR deer check station after their successful harvest, for DNR staff to collect important data from their deer and to receive their 2014 cooperator patch. A deer head (antlers must still be attached on bucks) or entire carcass must be presented to receive a patch. Data the DNR collects at check stations contributes key information to aid in management decisions made throughout the state. As part of continued efforts to be mobile-friendly, the DNR now has made it easier to find locations to check deer. Smartphone users now can text “Deer Check” to 468311 and they will receive a text back with a link to the DNR’s interactive deer check station locator map. Hunters can utilize their smartphone’s GPS function to find the deer-check location closest to them and then get turn-by-turn directions to that location to have their deer checked. For questions on hunting and firearm rules and regulations, please contact the DNR Wildlife Division at 517-284-9453.

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Weekly Fishing Tip

Tips for targeting steelhead this fall If you decide to target steelhead on Michigan’s rivers while in a boat, there are two reel options you can turn to. Consider offering bait underneath a centerpin style reel, which are becoming popular with steelhead anglers. The line will come off smoothly allowing for float-suspended baits to work long distances downstream, plus it offers drag-free drifts. 

If you’re not confident on a centerpin style or you’re a novice angler, try a level-wind reel. It allows you to just drop the float behind the boat and wait for the strike. It will take care of the hard work while reeling in your catch by guiding the line on properly. Now is the perfect time to target steelhead! For more information, visit the steelhead page on the Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them website at Michigan.gov/dnr.

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DNR confirms cougars in eastern Upper Peninsula

This trail camera photo of a cougar was taken on public land in western Mackinac County in early November. Another photo was confirmed in Chippewa County in late October. 

Cougar evidence confirmed in U.P. 26 times since 2008

 

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has confirmed two recent photos of a cougar in the eastern Upper Peninsula, marking the 25th and 26th times cougar evidence has been verified in the U.P.

One of the photos was taken with a camera phone in late October on private property near Chippewa County’s Raber Township. The other was taken in early November by a trail camera on public land in Mackinac County near Garfield Township (see above). The DNR has not received permission to release the Chippewa County photo.

With the verification of these two photos, the DNR has now confirmed the presence of cougars in 11 Upper Peninsula counties 26 times since 2008. The animals are believed to be young individuals dispersing from established populations in the Dakotas in search of new territory; there is no evidence of a breeding population of cougars in the state.

The DNR’s Wildlife Division welcomes citizen reports of possible cougar evidence or sightings. Cougar photos and other evidence, such as tracks, scat or cached kills, should be reported to a local DNR office or through the DNR’s online reporting form at www.michigan.gov/cougars.

 

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Man gets 16-point buck

OUT-Deer-Steinmeyer-web

Charles Steinmeyer shot this 16-point buck with a crossbow, in Oakfield Township, on Saturday, November 9. It weighed 165 pounds field dressed, and had a 22-inch spread on its antlers. That’s a lot of buck!

Congratulations, Charles!

 

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