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Archive | Outdoors

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

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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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Christmas tree experiences

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

It was an exciting and major event when our family selected a Christmas tree when I was child. We had a favorite seller we visited each year and searched a large selection of pre-cut trees. It had to be the right height, breadth, fullness, and not too large a trunk base so it would fit in our tree stand.

Our family event allowed everyone to have a say in the choice. My mother wanted to make sure it was not too full so the ornaments would have room to hang. Dad didn’t want it so broad that it crowded us out of the room. I wanted lots of room underneath for gifts. My wife recently asked if we fought over the final selection. I do not recall unpleasant conversation. We negotiated and found one accepted by all.

After I grew and started a family with Karen at Ody Brook, we began a different tradition. We planted several Scotch Pine trees in an open sunny area to care and nurse with good husbandry. It was about 7 years before any were ready for harvest. During the intervening years, we bought trees from a neighborhood tree seller.

While the trees were growing, the tree cluster served as part of a nature niche for itself and other creatures. Mice and rabbit tracks showed evidence the trees provided shelter. Feeding damaged by sawflies killed some branches and created gaps among the branches suitable for larger ornaments.

Sawflies are not flies but as adults look fly-like. They are actually in the Hymenoptera Wasp Order instead of the Diptera Fly Order. As a larva, they resemble Lepidoptera Order butterfly and moth caterpillars. The adult lays eggs in mass so when hatched, they feed and devour all the needles on a branch. Rather than use pesticides to prevent damage, I picked the larvae off the tree by hand before significant damage occurred and placed them on a large ant hill as a free lunch for ants.

That growing season work became my youngest daughter’s when she was about 5 years old. During the years when the girls and trees were growing and cultivated, the girls learned good natural resource stewardship. Most of Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary remains wild for native plants and animals but portions serve personal use.

Wild species besides rabbits, mice, and sawflies made use of the growing trees. Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, and Northern Cardinals chose to construct hidden nests among the thick branches. Deciduous tree embryonic leaves do not expand from buds by the time birds weave spring rearing chambers for young.

For 7 to 10 years the trees are important for wildlife shelter and food. To insure we have a sustainable harvest, it was required we plant two seedlings annually so we could harvest one each Thanksgiving weekend. If all survived, we could harvest two for different locations in the house or give one away.

The fresh cut tree would be decorated and last indoors to the new year. The tree still offers years of service after the holiday season. We place it near a bird feeder to provide winter cover and protection for birds. I do not know if birds appreciate our efforts but they use the tree for the remainder of winter.

When springs arrives, we cut the limbs from the tree and place them on one of the brush piles as a slowly decaying roof that helps stop rain infiltration. Rabbits use the ground level maze among brush pile logs and birds use upper openings. The Christmas tree trunk is cut to sections and used for family backyard campfires where some-mores are made.

Each annual tree ritual serves wildlife for about 20 years and provides us pleasure with family bonding. It helped our girls learn about sustainable harvest. In my opinion, Scotch pines become unsightly when allowed to become large. They are a non-native species that competes with native trees. The large Scotch Pine stands are relatively sterile habitat when compared with native tree stands. I recommend harvesting them while they are still small trees. Enjoy nature related holiday traditions.

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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Duck poachers sentenced in Ottawa County

Nearly 60 mallards and wood ducks were shot illegally Oct. 9 in Ottawa County. Four men from that area were sentenced in the case last week. Photo from Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Nearly 60 mallards and wood ducks were shot illegally Oct. 9 in Ottawa County. Four men from that area were sentenced in the case last week. Photo from Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Four Ottawa County men ticketed recently for poaching nearly 60 wild ducks from a private agricultural pond near the Grand River watershed were sentenced last week in district court.

Tyler John Meerman, 24, of Conklin, Colson Thomas Modderman, 22, of Wyoming, Justin Allen Beckman, 20, of Coopersville, and Michael Duane Sorenson III, 20, of Marne pleaded guilty Tuesday, December 13, and were sentenced the same day in Ottawa County District Court.

The convictions resulted from an October 9 incident, near a popular waterfowl hunting area in Chester Township, which is situated in the northern part of the county. A total of 58 ducks were killed.

“These four individuals used over 200 pounds of corn to illegally entice these ducks in for the kill,” said DNR conservation officer Dave Rodgers. “The men were not using decoys or duck calls and therefore were not hunting, but rather, they were poaching.”

The use of bait for duck hunting is not allowed. The ducks poached included 35 wood ducks and 23 mallards, including 13 mallard hens.

Of the six ducks allowed in a daily bag limit, hunters can shoot four mallards, only two of which may be hens. Only three wood ducks may be harvested per hunter.

The four men were each ordered to pay $5,000 reimbursement, plus a $10 judgment fee. This total of $20,040 will go into the State of Michigan’s Fish and Game Fund, which is used to support healthy populations of fish and game through various activities, ranging from fish stocking to improving wildlife habitat.

In addition, the men were each ordered to pay $880 in fines and costs to the court. They were sentenced to serve 18-month probation terms, in lieu of 90 days in jail. If the men violate any condition of their probation, they will serve jail time at the discretion of the judge.

The convicted poachers have lost their hunting privileges for the rest of this year and the next 3 years. The firearms they used in the incident were condemned by the court and will go to state auction this spring, with proceeds going to the Fish and Game Fund.

“The citizens of Michigan play a vital role in protecting Michigan’s natural resources,” said Lt. Gerald Thayer, DNR District 7 law enforcement supervisor. “We very much appreciate the call that came in on October 9 to report these poachers.”

Operators of the DNR’s Report All Poaching (RAP) line received the call at 7:38 a.m. that day, reporting an immense amount of shooting during the opening of the South Zone waterfowl hunting season.

Minutes later Rodgers and conservation officer Chris Simpson responded, headed for Chester Township. Rodgers said he found the four men on private property along an agricultural pond. He saw them shooting at crippled ducks on the water and gathering them.

One of the men left the area, but was located by Simpson during a traffic stop. Officers said he had a loaded firearm in the vehicle.

The ducks confiscated will be used at the DNR Law Enforcement Division’s Waterfowl Training School for training new officers on duck identification and necropsy studies.

Any ducks not used for this purpose will be donated to the Braveheart Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Twin lakes to help feed injured birds of prey, including bald eagles.

The DNR’s toll-free Report All Poaching (RAP) line number is 800-292-7800. Tips may be left anonymously.

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Forest Legacy Program looks to the future

About 3.5 miles of the Pilgrim River, a cold-water trout stream, flow through the Pilgrim River Forest property. A conservation easement is in the process of being acquired here. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

About 3.5 miles of the Pilgrim River, a cold-water trout stream, flow through the Pilgrim River Forest property. A conservation easement is in the process of being acquired here. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

We all want to leave some sort of lasting legacy—some kind of mark on the world—something that’s there for the next generation to take, use and carry on with.

That idea lies at the core of the Forest Legacy Program, which ensures that private forest land remains forested and open to the public forever.

Under the program, private forest landholders can transfer ownership or development rights through conservation easements to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to protect healthy forests.

Doing this leaves a rich legacy of working forest managed sustainably, wildlife habitat protected, landowners still able to harvest timber, and the public permitted to access the land for recreation into perpetuity.

Hovels Main Block walking path fall: Walking paths through the forests of the Pilgrim River property will allow for abundant opportunities for public recreation. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Hovels Main Block walking path fall: Walking paths through the forests of the Pilgrim River property will allow for abundant opportunities for public recreation. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

As part of the 1990 federal Farm Bill, the U.S. Forest Service was authorized to begin the Forest Legacy Program to help private forest landowners across the country develop and maintain sustainable forests.

As a result, Michiganders and visitors to the Great Lakes State today have access to more than 150,000 acres of unique, well-managed, private forest lands.

Kerry Wieber, forest land administrator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Resources Division, has managed the Forest Legacy Program in Michigan since 2006.

Wieber says it is one of the most rewarding parts of her job.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to protect some of our most environmentally important forests and ensure that they are managed sustainably,” she said. “It allows private forest landowners to manage their forests for timber and also ensure public access.”

The program provides federal funding to state agencies on a three-to-one matching basis.

States may request funding for up to three projects annually, totaling $10 million, but no more than $7 million for any one project.

Competition for the program’s grants is nationwide, so projects from Michigan are vying for funding with other states and U.S. properties.

“There’s no guarantee that any state will receive funding if projects from other states are deemed more worthy,” Wieber said.

A number of Michigan projects have been awarded Forest Legacy grant funding, and Michigan has used conservation easements and land acquisitions to protect unique forests.

An aerial view of the Elk Forest at Black River project shows Walled Lake and a smaller pond located on the forested property. An application for grant funding was submitted in November for this project. The land is currently in private ownership. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

An aerial view of the Elk Forest at Black River project shows Walled Lake and a smaller pond located on the forested property. An application for grant funding was submitted in November for this project. The land is currently in private ownership. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Michigan has protected over 150,000 acres of forest lands through conservation easements and has acquired 4,170 acres that were added to the existing state forest system.

One example is the Gitcha-ninj Nebish (aka Thumb Lake) Forest, located just east of Boyne Falls in Charlevoix County.

Here, the DNR partnered with the Little Traverse Conservancy to seek funding for a conservation easement on 750 acres on the west side of Thumb Lake, which is owned by a church camp.

Ty Ratliff, director of donor relations with Little Traverse Conservancy, said his crew helped write the grant application and took on getting the land appraised as well as working with the landowner to make sure the process was understood.

“It’s a very complex and difficult process to go through,” Ratliff said. “This is a large working forest, already in the commercial forest program, 95 percent wooded, including nearly a mile of lake shoreline – so we protected this forest, as well as the shoreline.”

Gitcha-ninj Nebish is the Ottawa word for “Big Finger Water,” and considering the cultural and environmental importance of the area, the conservation easement was a “win-win,” Ratliff said.

“The landowner didn’t want to sell it,” he said. “They still own it and maintain control, they still get to timber it, and the conservancy got to see it protected. It allows for public access, so you and I and our grandkids are allowed to go on it to hunt and hike and it’s protected for perpetuity.”

The 750-acre site is adjacent to state-managed lands on three sides and the shoreline of Thumb Lake making up the fourth.

“In this case, the landowner sold the development rights below the appraised value, so the landowner essentially donated the match,” Ratliff said. “Once people understand what a working forest is – from a land perspective and a wildlife perspective, and how important it is to the local economy – this program is compelling. This is what Michigan is about: woods and water and recreation.”

Crisp Point, located in the northeastern part of the Upper Peninsula, is an example of where the DNR acquired land as part of the Forest Legacy Program.

Here, the DNR acquired 3,810 acres in Luce and Chippewa counties, including an inland lake and more than 2.5 miles of Lake Superior shoreline.

The grant provided nearly $6 million, 75 percent of the purchase price. A private individual donated the remaining 25 percent.

“It’s a highly visible site because the Crisp Point Lighthouse, which is county-owned, is adjacent to the property and draws a lot of visitors,” Wieber said, “So it draws a lot of visitors to the state land. It’s open to any use any other state forest land is open to. There’s snowmobile trails and numerous two-tracks used by ORVs.”

The way the program works is the DNR requests project nominations from the public, which are usually submitted by landowners or conservancies.

The Forest Legacy Subcommittee of the Michigan Forest Stewardship Advisory Committee reviews the nominations and makes a recommendation to the committee, which decides which projects to seek funding for and the amount requested.

Following state forester approval, proposals are submitted to the U.S. Forest Service. Grant applications are reviewed by a national panel, where they are prioritized and included in the president’s budget.

“No project is a slam-dunk,” Wieber said. “With these nationwide proposals, you’re competing with between 70 and 80 projects per year. The typical funding line for the last few years has been in the $50 million to $60 million range – so depending on the amount requested for each project, it funds 15 to 20 projects. It’s a highly competitive program.”

Deb Huff, executive director of the Michigan Forest Association, sits on the Forest Legacy Subcommittee. The association is a nonprofit organization of about 500 members, which represents private forest owners.

Huff said it’s really important that private landowners have the opportunity to choose to participate in this program.
“There are a lot of variations on how this could be handled,” Huff said. “I think Legacy is critical to conserving those areas that are most unique and at the same time in danger of being lost. Most people who love forests are supportive of this program.”

Wieber said Michigan’s Forest Legacy Program currently has funding for the acquisition of a conservation easement on about 1,200 acres in Houghton County on the Pilgrim River, just south of Houghton, and has submitted a grant request for an additional acquisition—Elk Forest at Black River. It’s currently privately owned, is directly adjacent to the Pigeon River Country State Forest, and includes a mile of river frontage.

If it’s funded, it will be the eighth Forest Legacy Program project in Michigan.

For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/privateforestland. Applications for the Forest Legacy Program are typically solicited in March and submitted by a June deadline.

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DNR seeking volunteer campground hosts 

Lori and Leo Constine spent time as volunteer campground hosts in Hartwick Pines State Park this past fall helping campers, answering questions and taking part in the annual fall Harvest Festival.

Lori and Leo Constine spent time as volunteer campground hosts in Hartwick Pines State Park this past fall helping campers, answering questions and taking part in the annual fall Harvest Festival.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is seeking volunteer campground hosts for the 2017 camping season in Michigan state parks, recreation areas and rustic state forest campgrounds.

Spend time in Michigan’s great outdoors, while engaging with park visitors. Volunteer campground hosts are responsible for 30 hours of service per week, including duties such as helping campers find their campsites, answering questions about the park, planning campground activities and performing light park maintenance duties. Camping fees will be waived for campground hosts.

Both individuals and couples may apply for volunteer positions that begin as early as April and last through
October. Volunteer hosts must provide their own camping equipment, food and other personal items.

Interested volunteers can click on “campground host” at www.michigan.gov/dnrvolunteers to learn more about the volunteer host campground program, download an application and waiver and view a vacancy host campground report, which is updated regularly and indicates when and where hosts are needed in specific parks.

Hosts are screened and interviewed by park managers and selected based on familiarity with the state park system, camping experience, special skills, availability and knowledge of the area. Hosts must participate in a two-day host training session within the first two years of being selected as a host. The 2017 training will take place June 7-8 at the Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center in Roscommon.

For information about the campground host program and how to apply, go to www.michigan.gov/dnrvolunteers or contact Miguel Rodriguez at 517-284-6127.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on DNR seeking volunteer campground hosts