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Help plant trees in high-need national forests

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Forests across America are a prized natural resource, and anyone can help plant trees in these vital areas by joining the Arbor Day Foundation this month.

Through the Replanting Our National Forests campaign, the Arbor Day Foundation will honor each new member who joins in July by planting 10 trees in forests that have been devastated by wildfires, insects, and disease.

The cost for joining the Arbor Day Foundation is a $10 donation.

America’s national forests face enormous challenges, including unprecedented wildfires that have left a backlog of more than 1 million acres in need of replanting. The Foundation has worked with the United States Forest Service for more than 25 years to plant trees in high-need forests.

Our national forests provide habitat for wildlife, keep the air clean, and help ensure safe drinking water for more than 180 million Americans.

“Keeping our forests healthy is vital to the health of people and the entire planet,” said Matt Harris, chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation. “By planting trees in our national forests, we will preserve precious natural resources and the benefits they provide for generations to come.”

To join the Arbor Day Foundation and help plant trees in our national forests, send a $10 membership contribution to Replanting Our National Forests, Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, NE 68410 or visit https://www.arborday.org/programs/replanting/

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Birds and bridges: Falcons banded at two Upper Peninsula sites

 

As an angry adult falcon swoops in, from left, DNR wildlife technicians Caleb Eckloff and Brad Johnson and DNR biologist John Depue work to remove peregrine falcon chicks from a nest box on the Portage Lake Lift Bridge on June 17. (MDOT photo)

As an angry adult falcon swoops in, from left, DNR wildlife technicians Caleb Eckloff and Brad Johnson and DNR biologist John Depue work to remove peregrine falcon chicks from a nest box on the Portage Lake Lift Bridge on June 17. (MDOT photo)

It’s been a good season for Upper Peninsula bridges and their resident raptors, with peregrine falcons at the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge successfully hatching three chicks and the Portage Lake Lift Bridge between Houghton and Hancock seeing four hatchlings this spring.

At the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) installed two nest boxes in 2012, one each on the north and south bridge towers. A pair of falcons discovered the nesting site the next spring and has raised a total of 10 chicks there.

MDOT took precautions to shield the lift bridge nesting boxes from construction work—an $8.4 million upgrade and preventive maintenance project started in late 2014 and just wrapped up this spring. Screens were placed to keep the falcons from seeing workers in the bridge machinery rooms and efforts were made to minimize disturbances in the nest area. During construction, a webcam, viewable at http://pasty.com/nestbox.html, was also installed in cooperation with the Copper Country Audubon Society to allow people to watch nesting activity.

As DNR wildlife technician Caleb Eckloff looks on, DNR wildlife technician Brad Johnson holds a peregrine falcon chick during the banding process at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge on June 17. (MDOT photo)

As DNR wildlife technician Caleb Eckloff looks on, DNR wildlife technician Brad Johnson holds a peregrine falcon chick during the banding process at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge on June 17. (MDOT photo)

On the eastern end of the U.P., Karl Hansen, bridge engineer for the International Bridge Administration (IBA), reported that a pair of peregrine falcons successfully nested atop the bridge between the U.S. and Canada this spring, hatching three chicks.

The hatching is the culmination of an ongoing commitment by the IBA. Nest boxes for the peregrines have been installed since 2010 on both the U.S. and Canadian arches. Peregrines have been active at the International Bridge since 1999 but, before the nest boxes were installed, the falcons laid their eggs in gravel on the exposed pier top and there were unfortunate instances of eggs and chicks being blown off.

The same pair of adults has been returning to the U.S. side nest each year but, so far, none have taken up residence in the nest box at the Canadian arch. Hansen has counted 20 chicks hatched out of the nest boxes since they were installed.

The chicks at the Lift Bridge were banded by a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) team on June 17, while the International Bridge birds were banded by a team on June 20. According to DNR wildlife biologist Kristie Sitar, color-coded bands attached to the legs of young birds allow scientists to track the movements, reproductive behavior and population growth of the falcons. DNR biologists have yet to confirm that birds banded at either bridge have gone on to breed elsewhere, but that’s not unusual.

“There are no records of where fledged birds from (the IBA) site have gone but that doesn’t mean they aren’t breeding someplace,” Sitar said of the IBA birds. “Oftentimes, birds aren’t uniquely identified at new sites for a few years.”

In addition to their leg bands, the peregrine chicks received names. Names are typically assigned by DNR and bridge staff involved in the banding. At the IBA, names were chosen to honor the struggles of current and former colleagues battling cancer. The males were called Jim and Cameron, while the lone female was named Cheryn. At the Lift Bridge, DNR and bridge staff chose to name the females Lynn and Spunky, while the males were dubbed Edgar and Scottie. The new peregrines at both bridges should be ready to leave the nest in another few weeks.

The peregrine falcon has been removed from the federal endangered species list, but is listed as an endangered species in Michigan, protected by state and federal law. Peregrines have adapted to city habitats, nesting on tall buildings, smokestacks and bridges around the world. Studies have found the birds in this region tend not to nest in the same area where they were hatched, but spread out across the Midwest.

Every nesting site is special. In 2015, there were only 34 active nest sites in the entire state, with 29 of them on artificial structures. Only two of the five natural sites were accessible for banding birds this year, so having boxes on accessible structures like the Lift Bridge and International Bridge helps the DNR follow the raptor’s comeback.

High-speed hunters capable of flying at 200 mph, the peregrines may help keep populations of nuisance pigeons under control. While researchers have found pigeons make up a relatively small portion of the falcon diet, the dangerous predators may play a role in frightening them away from bridges. Keeping pigeons away is seen as potentially saving MDOT and the IBA maintenance money down the line, as pigeon droppings can damage paint on metal bridge surfaces.

 

Fast facts:

  • A pair of peregrine falcons has successfully nested on the Portage Lake Lift Bridge again this year after completion of a major bridge repair project.
  • Another pair of the endangered falcons successfully nested on the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge, where the birds have been returning for years.
  • The DNR banded four chicks at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge and three at the International Bridge.

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Lost in the fog

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

A long exhausting flight was necessary for a mystery bird that followed the national park boat, Ranger III, in a fog. I led a tour for Michigan Audubon to Isle Royale National Park. We took the boat to the island archipelago in beautiful sunny weather. The trip takes about five hours from Houghton, Mich.

We spent five days hiking and exploring the wilderness on short and long hikes. Boat trips trip were taken to special islands where we discovered wondrous natural history. Also explored were the mining, fishing, and human history including how Native Americans sustained their economy using island natural resources.

We left the park in a thick, chilling fog. Participants spent most of the time in the cabin where I presented a Wilderness slide program. (Program brochures are available by e-mail).

Occasionally, people would go on deck to gaze into the fog. A bird was flying just above and behind the boat. I was requested to identify it. We could see a silhouette with a long tail and it was about the size of a skinny robin. I was puzzled. I returned several times during a three-hour period to look for identifying details.

Finally, about an hour before we docked, the bird must have tired enough that it decided to land high on the boat. It was still in the fog’s thickness and showed only its silhouette. Finally, I recognized it. It is a bird I seldom see. The species often remains hidden in shrubby areas or in thick forest.

It is famous because it eats fuzzy tent caterpillars or spiny caterpillars like the exotic Gypsy Moth caterpillar that many bird species reject. It was a Black-billed Cuckoo. As we approached the Keweenaw Peninsula, the fog thinned making details like its long thin bill and small crescent white patches on the tip of each long tail feather evident to confirm my identification. People came out to add one more species to the tour’s bird list. The Common Loon incubating eggs might have been a favorite for many but this lost bird was a favorite for me.

I say lost because I think it might have found itself over water and could hear the boat engines. It flew to the sound and was trapped with the boat being the only option for landing. It flew for hours and finally landed.

Once the fog cleared, the bird could determine where it was based on sun position, polarized light, and magnetic receptors in its head that are used to orient to the Earth’s poles. I suspect it fed heavily and headed back to its summer nesting territory. A long flight over Lake Superior is exhausting and could be deadly.

Maybe its nesting season was complete and it was beginning its migration south in early July. Some birds, like shorebirds, begin southerly migration in July from the high arctic. It does not seem likely for the cuckoo for three reasons. I see cuckoos later in the season at Ody Brook. I know they typically migrate at night like many forest, shrubland, and field birds. I also question it using a migration route over Lake Superior.

We know so little about bird movements. I wonder if most fly the much shorter distance north to Minnesota and then follow the shoreline to Duluth before working their way south to wintering areas in South America.

It is wonderful to be a broad spectrum naturalist who knows a considerable amount about nature but I am aware of how little I know about any specialty group. I have friends that would have quickly recognized the cuckoo flying in thick fog. I should have recognized it sooner. One friend said he dares not study butterflies, my specialty, because the learning curve would be difficult to become proficient and he would not be able to maintain bird study adequately. I depend on experts to help me with plants, Fungi, invertebrates, vertebrates, astronomy, geology and anything about nature niches. For most of us, help from scientists is great and provides knowledge so we can learn to live with nature most effectively. Being generalists prevents us from becoming true experts in one subject. Request an e-mail program brochure and invite me to present for your organization.

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 urges travelers to leave firewood at home

Perfectly round exit holes, just smaller than a dime, in tree limbs and trunks can be a sign of Asian longhorned beetle infestation. Photo courtesy of Joe Boggs, Ohio State University, Bugwood.org.

Perfectly round exit holes, just smaller than a dime, in tree limbs and trunks can be a sign of Asian longhorned beetle infestation. Photo courtesy of Joe Boggs, Ohio State University, Bugwood.org.

As the summer travel season begins, the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development and Natural Resources remind vacationers to leave firewood at home to prevent the spread of invasive tree insects and diseases.

Hauling firewood from one part of the state to another is a common way for these destructive pests to move to new locations, which could be devastating to Michigan’s native trees. The emerald ash borer already has wiped out millions of ash trees across the state. High-impact diseases, including oak wilt and beech bark disease, now are making their way through Michigan – often helped by travelers with trunkloads of wood harboring unseen fungi that can spread to healthy trees in new areas.

The fungus that causes oak wilt is visible under the bark of this split log.

The fungus that causes oak wilt is visible under the bark of this split log.

“Visual inspection does not always reveal disease or insect damage in wood,” said Gina Alessandri, MDARD’s Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division director. “Disease may be in an early stage, and insect larvae can be hidden under bark. The safest choice is to burn firewood at or near the location it was harvested.”

Travelers are encouraged to buy firewood at their destination, burn it all on-site and not take it home or to their next destination. In most public and private campgrounds, firewood is available on the premises or from nearby firewood vendors.

It is a good idea to purchase firewood within a short distance of where it will be used. For ease in finding a local vendor, use www.firewoodscout.org. For day trips that include a cookout, bring charcoal or a cook-stove instead of firewood.

In- and out-of-state quarantines limit movement of regulated wood items to prevent the spread of invasive species and tree diseases. In Michigan, it is illegal to transport hardwood firewood in violation of the MDARD EAB Quarantine.

“It’s recommended that travelers do a little firewood homework before their trip,” said Jason Fleming, chief of the Resource Management Section in the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “Many out-of-state visitors live in areas under quarantine for pests such as thousand cankers disease or Asian longhorned beetle, and it is illegal to move any regulated items (including items such as firewood and wood chips) from quarantined zones out of those states and into Michigan.”

Quarantines for Asian longhorned beetle include areas of New York, Massachusetts and Ohio. The Asian longhorned beetle is not known to be in Michigan, but the public is asked to look for signs of this invasive beetle, including round, 3/8-inch-diameter exit holes in tree trunks or limbs. Asian longhorned beetle larvae feed on a wide variety of tree species including maple, birch, elm, willow, buckeye, horse chestnut and other hardwoods. The damage caused by Asian longhorned beetles ultimately will destroy an infested tree.

Anyone observing an actual beetle or a tree that appears to be damaged is asked to report it. If possible, capture the beetle in a jar, take photos, record the location, and report it as soon as possible through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Asian longhorned beetle website, www.asianlonghornedbeetle.com or contact MDARD at 800-292-3939 or MDA-info@michigan.gov.

More information on the Asian longhorned beetle and other invasive forest insects and tree diseases can be found at www.michigan.gov/invasivespecies. Select the “take action” tab to learn more ways to avoid transporting invasive species during the recreation and travel season.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: New pollinator guide

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A new Michigan State University pollinator publication PDF is available for free download titled “Protecting and Enhancing Pollinators in Urban Landscapes for the US North Central Region.” This 2016 publication (MSU Extension Bulletin E3314) is the complete guide to protecting pollinators while gardening, growing flowers, or managing trees, shrubs, or turf grass in urban areas.

The extension service encourages people to plant native species and also suggests use of non-native species. Non-native species plants spring up in the lawn. Like the extension service, I encourage allowing them to live among the grass. They attract nectar seeking butterflies and insects. The Extension Service provides a list of non-natives for the garden; also I suggest New pollinator guide use of non-natives. They point out that cultivars and non-natives often do not attract insects well.

Though I strive to encourage native plants, I am not a purist and tolerate some exotics. Part of the reason is because it would be necessary to use herbicides and fertilizers to eliminate broadleaf plants in the carpet of monocot grasses. A pure grass yard has nice appeal but supports little diversity of life. I encourage the greatest diversity of insect life and that in turn allows more birds to thrive.

Regularly I see an Eastern Phoebe fly from a tree perch into the yard to eat insects. Ground feeding birds walk or hop in the lawn searching for insects. That is not as common in manicured pure grass lawns. Karen commented that our yard looks like something out of a Disney movie. When we look out the window, we see two or three rabbits nibbling on clovers, deer, birds and squirrels. Many birds and mammals are present in our yard because it is not excessively manicured.

When the Wild Ones Native Plant Group comes for field trips, I share that I am not a purist and allow some non-native plants to live. I try to restrict most planting to native species. I realize most people do not have the books that identify species as native or non-native. I encourage landscape nurseries to sell native genotypes but they sell what people buy. Request nurseries to sell native species genotypes. That might affect healthy change that encourage maintenance of native biodiversity in your yard.

In sections of the yard that I mow, I leave areas unmowed until July to allow wildflowers to brighten the landscape. Two species that provide dense beauty, color, and food are Maiden Pink and Cat’s-ear. The pinks form a wonderful layer of pink flowers with Cat’s-ear making a towering layer of bright yellow above them. They are present because of delayed mowing. Both have flowers that open in sun and close in shade or night. Butterflies and other insects visit for nectar. When the pinks go to seed, I mow them but summer garden flowers have begun blooming and provide continued nectar.

I greatly appreciated the volunteer work from the River City Wild Ones that prepared the butterfly garden for the past two springs. They are Meribeth Bolt, Tammy Lundeen, Mindy Miner, Deanna Morse, and Gretchen Zuiderveen. My oncologist has stated my gardening days are through because I am not fungus protected. The cancer and three chemo chemicals limit my body’s immune system. The limitation does not prevent me from exploring, enjoying, and discovering something new every day in nature niches. Use the new pollinator guide will help liven your yard with flowers, insects, and birds.

Download the Pollinator Guide PDF:

<http://msue.anr.msu.edu/uploads/resources/pdfs/ProtectPollinatorsInLandscape_Final-LowRes.pdf>

I met with with Extension Agent Erwin (Duke) Elsner at his request this spring to provide sources for pollinator data. He had most sources for our region identified but I was able to assist with a few more.

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: Fall in love with fishing: hook, line and sinker

Have you ever wanted to learn how to fish? Partake in the DNR’s Hook, Line and Sinker program and you’ll be equipped with the skills to become an excellent angler!

This program is available weekly at more than 30 state parks and fish hatcheries from mid-June until the end of summer. The program teaches participants casting and fishing basics and equipment and bait are provided.

Participants under the age of 17 do not need a fishing license. Programs are free, but a Recreation Passport is required for entry.

For more information, visit Michigan.gov/hooklineandsinker.

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Arctic grayling initiative could bring historical species back to Michigan’s waters

Arctic grayling, shown here, once were available for Michigan anglers to pursue. The DNR recently announced a proposed initiative to reintroduce them to Michigan’s waters.

Arctic grayling, shown here, once were available for Michigan anglers to pursue. The DNR recently announced a proposed initiative to reintroduce them to Michigan’s waters.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, has announced a proposed initiative that aims to bring back an extirpated species to the state—Arctic grayling.

The proposed initiative, announced at today’s Natural Resources Commission meeting in Gaylord, will seek to establish self-sustaining populations of Arctic grayling throughout its historical range. The initiative is a proposed objective in the DNR’s 2017 Inland Trout Management Plan, which currently is being drafted.

The Arctic grayling is a native and iconic fish species in Michigan. Slate blue in color, they have a sail-like dorsal fin and were virtually the only native stream salmonid in the Lower Peninsula. In the lower 48 states they are native only to Michigan and Montana, further cementing their legendary status.

Michigan’s native grayling population died off nearly a century ago due to statewide logging efforts of the 1800s, over-fishing and general habitat destruction.

Although gone for an extensive period of time, reintroduction efforts have occurred with the most recent one coming 30 years ago. While unsuccessful at that time, lessons were learned and significant strides have been made to establish a better strategy to move this initiative forward.

“For this Arctic grayling initiative to work, we will seek to rely heavily on partnerships and collaboration from across the state,” said DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter. “Over the next several years we will be taking methodical steps to move toward reintroduction of this historically and culturally significant species.”

These steps will include identifying interest and abilities of the partners, collecting baseline data, initiating the building of broodstock, and stocking efforts. The Manistee River watershed, once known as a premier grayling river, will be the first targeted location for reintroduction.

The DNR will work closely with partners as the proposed Arctic grayling initiative moves forward. The Little River Band, located in Manistee County, has for several years been engaged in extensive research for potential grayling reintroduction.

“This is going to be ‘Michigan’s Arctic Grayling Initiative,’” said Dexter. “Collaboration and partnerships will be crucial to its success.”

This effort also will lean heavily on recent scientific research in Michigan, as well as the successes Montana has achieved in re-establishing stable Arctic grayling populations.

For more information on the history of Arctic grayling in Michigan, visit Michigan.gov/fishid.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Bowl and doily in your yard

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Look for dozens or hundreds of cups and saucers, as I like to refer to them, tied to vegetation in tall grassy areas of your yard in the morning. They are only visible on special days.

The name one uses is not important unless you try to look up information in books or on the Internet. Scientists use the standardized English name Bowl and Doily Weaver (spider) and Frontinella pyramitela for its scientific name to communicate clearly with Arachnologists around the world. I have not confirmed which species lives at Ody Brook. Two Bowl and Doily Weaver species live in Michigan.

Several bowl and doily spider’s webs wet with dew, on a trail in the Adirondacks, between Long Pond and Bessie Pond, St. Regis Canoe Area. By Marc Wanner

Several bowl and doily spider’s webs wet with dew, on a trail in the Adirondacks, between Long Pond and Bessie Pond, St. Regis Canoe Area. By Marc Wanner

Webs are invisible to us and to prey during most of the day and night. If you take an early morning walk, you are likely to get wet shoes and see massive numbers of two parted webs covered with dew. When the dew evaporates, the webs disappear from view but are still present to capture prey.

The upper portion is largest and looks like a bowl that has many threads stretched to plants above the bowl. The threads create a sloppy appearance but those guy wires cause small insects to collide and fall into the bowl. Beneath the bowl is a flat doily where the spider sits belly up waiting. When an insect falls into the bowl, the tiny spider reaches up, bites the insect and pulls it through the bowl for a meal.

The spiders are about as long as a dog tick. Males are only two tenths of an inch and females are about three tenths of an inch long. Most insects and spiders are tiny but we notice the big ones like honeybees, June beetles, butterflies or big moths that hit our screens at night. Most of the insect world remains hidden to us unless we look for minute organism nature niches. The little Bowl and Doily Weaver is not easily seen on its doily beneath the bowl shaped web. They often stand toward the web’s edge.

My brother and his wife live in a rural area outside of town where a plane flies over and sprays for mosquitoes. Mosquitos are food for many organisms we like to have in our yards. Very few insects are bothersome to people and most are beneficial in a variety of ways. About three of every five bites of food we eat are present because of insect or other pollinators.

More insect pollinators means larger bird, mammal, and wildflower populations.

Some people prefer to live in a sterilized environment. They do not recognize the negative impact pesticides have by reducing necessary insects that pollinate and maintain ecosystem health. I see a commercial on TV showing a man spraying a family’s yard with mosquito pesticide. He is wearing a mask and protective clothing. This is meant to look good for eliminating mosquitoes but many pesticides also eliminate pollinators and organisms like the Bowl and Doily Weavers that eat mosquitoes. Many pesticides are not healthy for people.

If you maintain a portion of your yard as field with grasses and wildflowers growing one to three feet tall, you have ideal conditions for weaver webs. They occur in shrublands and forests but my experience indicates fewer numbers. I’m amazed with the abundance of webs scattered throughout the field on wet mornings and then suddenly there are none seen. They have not gone anywhere but without dew droplets they become invisible.

Their abundance increases all summer but dewy mornings are less frequent in July and August. September and October provide the best opportunity for seeing the webs and finding the spiders. My colleague, Diantha, has focused attention on spiders and she tells me we are never more than three feet from a spider even in the house. Most are so small we never notice. I pick up spiders in the house and carry them outside because I think they will find more food so they can “live and be happy.” Let spiders do the killing instead of poisons. If you do, you should get to see more butterflies and interesting insects.

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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Baby Ducklings

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Just look at these cute baby ducklings—they don’t seem to have a care in the world! Reader Tanya Giaimo saw these ducklings on Monday at the Rockford Dam, and took this photo. Thanks so much for sending it our way!

If you have wildlife photos you’d like to send, email them to news@cedarspringspost.com, along with some information.

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A boost for Michigan bees and butterflies

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Mary Kuhlman, Michigan News Connection

Federal dollars are flowing into Michigan to help bee and butterfly species struggling to thrive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded Michigan and Wisconsin $500,000 from the service’s competitive State Wildlife Grants program to restore 850 acres of habitat.

Jim Hodgson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional chief of the Midwest Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs, says the hope is to prevent troubled pollinators from becoming endangered.

“These species are very dependent on grassland habitats, and we’re seeing a decline in those types of habitats and because of that these types of species of butterflies and bees are losing their homes,” he explains.

Targeted species include two bumblebee species, the petitioned monarch butterfly and the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

Hodgson says prescribed fires, invasive plant control and seeding are among the strategies that will be used to increase the number of host plants.

Michigan expects to restore 600 acres of habitat, and Wisconsin more than 250 acres.

Hodgson notes the Wildlife Service will monitor the outcomes to determine the most effective methods for pollinator conservation.

“Once the habitat is restored, the plan is to start seeing at least localized improvement in the species in those particular areas, and hopefully it will start expanding into other parts and areas of the Midwest as other projects are undertaken,” he explains.

The competitive State Wildlife Grants program awarded a total of $2.2 million to five Midwest states for conservation efforts.

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