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Archive | Outdoors

Outdoor groups for you

Howard Christensen Nature Center on Red Pine Drive offers outdoor opportunities for both adults and children.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The New Year is bright with opportunities for being outdoors with nature organizations. Enjoy being in the natural world with others of common interests. 

There are organizations that address activity interests most important to you. Each takes a different approach and all offer enjoyable opportunities. Support some or all the organizations listed that serve your interests. It is not a complete list but hopefully adds new opportunities for you. Spend time enjoying the outdoors with groups to create connections with nature that will hopefully lead to its protection.

Select local conservation organizations that work to support fun outside in healthy and nature niche ecosystems. Some organizations providing outdoor enjoyment are:

Michigan Botanical Club White Pine Chapter (wild flower field trips and programs); Grand Rapids Audubon (birding field trips); a variety of hunting clubs with most being affiliated with National Wildlife Federation and Michigan United Conservation Clubs; River City Wild Ones (native plant group); Izaak Walton League (fishing and conservation); West Michigan Butterfly Association; Kent, Ottawa and other County Parks; township, city and village parks (Ada, Hudsonville, Grand Rapids, Wyoming and others); Sierra Club (outdoor adventure and conservation); local nature centers (Howard Christensen, Blandford, Calvin College’s Bunker Interpretive Center); Nature Preserves (Land Conservancy of West Michigan, Michigan Nature Association, Grand Rapids Audubon Maher Sanctuary, Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary); county Conservation Districts; MSU Extension agencies; and the Stewardship Network. 

Be thankful for efforts of The Stewardship Network that helps support multiple organizations by:

  • Empowering people to care for land and water by providing field based opportunities using best scientific based practices
  • Protecting biodiversity through activities, education and land management
  • Working to control invasive species that degrade ecosystem functions, our economy, health, and nature niches
  • Safeguarding water to keep nutrients on the land and out of creeks, rivers, lakes and groundwater
  • Caring for habitats that support threatened and endangered species
  • Defending local communities by promoting local ecosystem solutions to prevent flooding
  • Working to prevent human enhanced climate change
  • Supporting organizations with missions to protect land and water ecosystems to sustain our economy, social community structure, and environment.

Do an Internet search or better yet attend any or all of the organizations listed to learn more about them. Most state and national conservation organizations are not listed. This article focuses on local organizations where you can personally get together with others in the outdoors or attend entertaining educational programs.

Spend time outdoors with at least one of the listed organizations to enjoy local natural wonders. Learn from others how the natural world serves your physical and mental wellbeing.  

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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DNR conservation officers offer snowmobile safety tips

 

With Michigan’s snowmobile season in full gear, Department of Natural Resources conservation officers remind riders that safety is key to enjoying their sport.

“Snowmobiling is a great way to spend the winter months,” said Lt. Tom Wanless, DNR recreational safety programs supervisor. “But when operating a snowmobile or any type of vehicle, safety comes first. This includes riding within your own abilities, operating at safe and appropriate speeds for the terrain, always wearing a helmet and proper clothing, and never operating your machine while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

Other safety tips include:

Always keep your snowmobile in top mechanical condition.

  • Wear insulated boots and protective clothing, including a helmet, gloves and eye protection.
  • Only ride in designated areas and trails.
  • Check weather conditions before riding and be aware of changing trail conditions.
  • Pick safe places to stop off the trail and never park or stand in the trail.
  • Exercise additional caution when riding on an unfamiliar trail, or when riding at night.
  • Never ride alone; use the “buddy system.”
  • Keep headlights and taillights on at all times and keep them clear of snow, ice or other debris.
  • Be alert to avoid fences and low-strung wires.
  • Use caution when approaching a trail intersection, come to a complete stop when required, and look both ways for traffic before proceeding.
  • Stay clear of trail groomers, if possible. Never follow groomers, and give them the right of way.
  • Avoid crossing frozen bodies of water, when possible. If you must cross, never do so while riding in single file.
  • • Wear a life jacket if operating on frozen bodies of water.
  • • Don’t trespass. If you don’t know whose property you are on, you probably don’t belong there.
  • • Snowmobile safety education training and online safety courses are recommended for all snowmobile operators and are required for those who are 12 to 16 years old.
  • • Snowmobilers also should learn the rules and regulations for snowmobiling in Michigan, as well as the universal snowmobile trail signage developed by the DNR to help ensure safety on the trails.
  • A valid snowmobile registration from the Michigan Secretary of State, or another state or province, is required for all snowmobiles. Snowmobilers also must purchase a trail permit, which is valid for one year (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30), when operating on public trails.

Learn more about snowmobiling in Michigan at michigan.gov/snowmobiling.

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Wetlands a vital resource for Michigan’s wildlife, environment, citizenry

More than 50 percent of Michigan’s wetlands, like this one in Marquette County—now recognized for their importance to wildlife, people, the environment and the economy—have been lost over the last two centuries.

By Casey Warner, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Michigan regularly ranks in the top three states for Canada goose harvest and hunters in the nation. The sport, and other outdoor recreation pursuits, requires healthy wetland habitat.

When thinking about Michigan’s important, valuable landscapes, many of us first think of the Great Lakes, northern forests and sandy beaches. Wetlands might not immediately come to mind.

They certainly didn’t for early Michigan settlers, who were less than impressed with the state’s abundance of swamps and marshes – more than 10 million acres of wetlands before European settlement.

“The banks of the Detroit River are handsome, but nine-tenths of the land in the Territory is unfit for cultivation,” said General Duncan McArthur, stationed at Fort Detroit, in 1814.

The 1816 Tiffin Report by Edward Tiffin, surveyor general of the United States, had equally disparaging things to say about Michigan’s land and agricultural potential, including: “Michigan apparently consisted of swamps, lakes, and poor, sandy soil not worth the cost of surveying. Not more than one acre in a hundred, or perhaps a thousand, could be cultivated.”

In the two centuries that followed, about half of Michigan’s original wetlands have been drained and filled.

Every amphibian in Michigan—including the state’s largest frog, the bullfrog—uses wetlands.

“Michigan was once considered a mosquito-infested, godforsaken swamp, and wetlands were drained to establish roads and agriculture and build communities,” said Steve Shine, who coordinates wetland mitigation banking – the process of establishing new wetland areas before development or other projects impact existing wetland areas—for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “This historic conversion of wetlands has made Michigan what it is today, but now we’re focused on restoring wetlands to replace those impacted by agriculture, public works projects and development that are also important to the state.”

Today, we recognize the value of wetlands; even celebrate them with observances like American Wetlands Month in May, and the need to conserve them.

“Michigan residents, whether they know it or not, have a strong connection to our state’s wetlands and the waterfowl that rely on them,” said Barb Avers, DNR waterfowl and wetland specialist. “Some go duck hunting every year, while others sit on their back porches and watch the annual fall waterfowl migrations. And many citizens get clear drinking water from groundwater purified by Michigan’s wetlands.”

In 1979, the Michigan legislature passed the state’s wetlands protection statute, which recognizes the benefits and important functions and values provided by wetlands. Administered by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan’s wetlands protection statute requires permits for construction activities in wetlands.

Home to a wide variety of birds, including the secretive sora, Michigan’s wetlands make great wildlife viewing destinations.

What exactly is a wetland?

Michigan law defines a wetland as “land characterized by the presence of water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances does support, wetland vegetation or aquatic life, and is commonly referred to as a bog, swamp, or marsh.”

More simply put, wetlands are areas where land and water meet.

They are characterized by the presence of water that saturates the soil or covers the land for some or all of the year, which leads to the development of plant and animal communities adapted to these conditions.

The three major types of wetlands are marshes, which have standing water from less than an inch to several feet deep and might be called flooded grasslands; swamps, dominated by woody plants and best described as flooded woodlands or shrublands; and bogs, which occur where accumulations of decaying vegetation form mats that eventually cover and then fill in old ponds or lakes.

Wetlands play a critical role in managing Michigan’s water-based resources, providing flood storage, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, pollution treatment, erosion control and nutrient uptake.

Wetlands are a significant factor in the health and existence of Michigan’s other natural resources, such as inland lakes, groundwater, fisheries, wildlife and the Great Lakes.

Wetlands are “like nature’s kidneys,” Avers said, in that they filter pollutants from surface runoff, trapping fertilizers, pesticides, sediments and other contaminants, helping to break some of them down into less harmful substances, improving water clarity and quality.

They also replenish surface and underground drinking water sources.

“Wetland soils help to filter pollutants and excess nutrients out of the water to create a cleaner water supply for all of us,” said Holly Vaughn, DNR wildlife communications coordinator. “They also provide important flood control, acting like sponges to soak up extra rain and storm water.”

Wetlands are vital to Michigan’s wildlife as well. Acre for acre, they produce more wildlife and plants than any other Michigan habitat type.

“About 25 percent of mammals, 50 percent of birds, nearly all reptiles, and every amphibian in Michigan use wetlands,” said Avers.

Avers added that, although wetlands make up only 5 percent of the area of the contiguous U.S., more than a third of threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands.

“Wetlands provide excellent benefits to wildlife, including important migratory stopover habitat for waterfowl and migratory songbirds too,” Vaughn said.

While many wildlife species find homes in Michigan’s wetlands, many people find recreation destinations there.

This includes waterfowl hunting—Michigan  regularly ranks in the top three states for Canada goose harvest and hunters in the nation, and in the top 10 for average annual sales of federal duck stamps—and a variety of other outdoor pursuits.

“Michigan has exceptional wetland recreation opportunities,” Vaughn said. “Among the best of them, our Wetland Wonders (the DNR’s managed waterfowl areas) offer great waterfowl hunting, wildlife viewing, trapping, hiking, fishing and boating.”

Those recreation opportunities lead to significant economic impact.

“Wetlands are important for the state’s economy,” said Avers. “Waterfowl hunting trips, which take place largely in wetland areas, generate $22 million each year in Michigan. Fish, wildlife and recreational activities related to Michigan’s coastal wetlands generate $52 million annually.”

Avers added that renowned waterfowl and coastal wetland areas like Saginaw Bay, St. Clair Flats and the Detroit River have built and supported local economies and communities with industries such as duck decoys, boats and hunting clubs.

“Great Lakes coastal wetlands are highly productive and rare ecosystems, and are widely recognized as vital to the overall Great Lakes ecosystem, providing habitat for migratory waterfowl, wading birds, sport and forage fish, amphibians and reptiles, and many other native wildlife,” said Anne Garwood, DEQ Great Lakes coastal wetland ecologist. “In some parts of the state, where up to 90 percent of Michigan’s coastal wetlands have been lost, the protection and restoration of coastal wetlands is especially critical.”

Although now recognized for their importance to wildlife, people, the environment and the economy – and with laws in place that have helped slow their loss – wetlands still face threats.

These threats include invasive species, climate change and declining Great Lakes water levels, and demand for development on existing wetlands.

“More than 50 percent of Michigan’s historic wetland base has been lost, and the rate of wetland loss in key waterfowl landscapes exceeds 90 percent,” said Avers. “We need to do more to conserve Michigan’s wetlands and our great waterfowl heritage.”

The DNR, along with many other organizations, has undertaken efforts to conserve and restore wetlands in Michigan.

Take, for example, Michigan’s Wetland Wonders, the seven premier managed waterfowl hunt areas in the state, scattered across the southern Lower Peninsula.

The DNR created these areas in the 1960s to generate exceptional waterfowl hunting opportunities and still manages them today to provide habitat for waterfowl and other species of wetlands wildlife.

But Michigan’s wetlands successes don’t end there.

“We’ve been very successful across Michigan in protecting and restoring wetland habitat, primarily driven by partnerships with other organizations,” said Avers. “Our best success story is the collection of North American Wetland Conservation Act grants that we’ve received.”

The North American Wetland Conservation Act program, which began in 1989, supports on-the-ground wetland conservation efforts by providing matching grants for projects in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

In Michigan, the 50 NAWCA projects either completed or under way have conserved a total of 56,762 acres of wildlife habitat. The program’s funding of more than $18 million has stimulated partner contributions of more than $62 million for Michigan wetlands conservation.

Recently the DNR has partnered with the Michigan Municipal Wetland Alliance on a new wetland mitigation banking program that will preserve and restore wetland habitat on public lands to offset unavoidable impacts to existing wetlands. Look for a future “Showcasing the DNR” story about this effort.

While there is still much work to do on the wetlands conservation front, Michigan has come a long way from the days of treating these vital assets as godforsaken swamps.

To learn more about Michigan wetlands, visit michigan.gov/wetlands

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Plan to use an ORV on state forest roads? 

 

Check maps first

Many—but not all—state forest roads opened to off-road vehicle traffic on Jan. 1. Before riding, make sure roads are authorized for ORV use by checking online maps. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources forest roads maps are found at www.michigan.go/forestroads

“Due to frozen ground conditions, closed roads are not all marked yet,” said Deb Begalle, DNR Forest Resources Division chief. “Some roads remain closed to balance motorized recreational access with the need to protect our resources.”

Approximately 6,300 miles of roads in the state forest system in the northern Lower Peninsula will open to ORVs. About 1,200 miles of roads will remain closed.

Opening the roads to ORV use is authorized by Public Act 288, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in September 2016. Besides opening roads, the statute required the DNR to inventory and map all state forest roads. 

Examples of areas that will remain closed to ORV traffic include the Pigeon River Country State Forest, Jordan Valley, Mason Tract, Deward Tract, and Sand Lakes Quiet Area, all of which emphasize quiet recreation. Other roads will remain closed to reduce conflict with non-motorized uses and protect natural resources.

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Snowy Owls

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Forty-eight transmitters were attached to Snowy Owls from North Dakota to Maine during 2013-17. The solar powered devices track movements by recording latitude, longitude and altitude. Some owls remain within a quarter mile of where they were tagged and others move hundreds of miles. “Project SNOWstorm” research focuses on winter movements but reveals information gathered on the summer range in the far north that has previously not been accessible.

In winter, some owls spend weeks or months floating on Great Lakes ice where they hunt gulls, ducks, geese, and grebes. Recently, I have observed Snowy Owls on the center dike between massive ponds at the Muskegon Wastewater facility. Thousands of gulls and waterfowl are found in these ponds. I thought the owls depended on lemmings in the far north and ate a similar diet of voles here.

Evidence indicates gulls and waterfowl can be an important part of their diet and is a reason owls perch on floating ice. Capturing a gull provides more food per catch than a small rodent. I wonder what the success rate is for capturing a rodent compared with a bird. It might be more efficient hunting rodents when abundant. 

Massive numbers of gulls are present at the Muskegon wastewater facility. It is a birding hotspot where people scan with scopes to find rarer gulls. My friends, the two Gregs, Jim, and I have seen Greater Black-backed, Glaucous, and other infrequently seen gulls among abundant Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. 

We have only seen the owls observing or moving to new perch locations. They stand patient. It would be nice to see one pursuing a gull. They have 14 neck vertebrae that allows them to turn their head more than half way around. Other birds and mammals have seven cervical vertebrae preventing such great head swivel. Owls can look straight backwards from the direction their body is facing. It appears their head is on backwards. 

Adult males and females can be distinguished by plumage. Males are nearly all white, while female have brown or black flecked feathers. Immatures are more heavily dark marked. Snowy Owls appear larger than they are because fluffy feathers provide a robust appearance. Under the fluff is a lean 3 to 6-pound body. Visible contour feathers covering the body shed water. Underneath, non-waterproof down feathers trap air and insulate. 

Large eyes have a yellow iris with dark penetrating pupils. Like ours, their eyes are on the front of the face providing depth of field binocular vision. Close one eye and notice how the distance of two objects is difficult to discern. When hunting it is important to judge distance while flying. Notice birds at your feeder have eyes on the side of the head. To determine distance, they must move their heads to gain a three-dimensional view. Eyes on the sides of the head provide an advantage of a nearly 360º view for spotting predators.

I did not notice a black transmitter on the back of any owls. It would be just below the skull. With only 48 tagged, I would not expect to see an owl with one. Owls are captured in fine mess nets strung in flight areas. Mist nets are similar to golf course screens installed to prevent balls from entering highways and hitting cars. 

Owls living in the tundra far from human activity reveal their movements when they migrate to our region. Information stored in transmitters north of cell tower range is retrieved when they enter tower range in winter. 

Periodically large numbers move south when arctic food is scarce or populations are high forcing hunting dispersal. This year is an excellent year for learning more about the daily lives of owls for which we know little. Many have already arrived southward. 

Spend time exploring farm country and areas with large fields to search for white bumps. Look with binoculars and you might find a Snowy Owl. Enjoy exploring on your own or participate on Audubon field trips.

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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Add adventure to your New Year’s resolutions 

There are countless benefits to using Michigan’s state parks, trails and waterways as your gym, such as burning calories while snowshoeing the many hundreds of miles of trails across the state.

with Shoe Year’s hikes and other outdoor fun

Reinvigorate yourself in 2018! Make an “adventure resolution” and commit to exploring Michigan’s great outdoors this year with a “Shoe Year’s” hike, cross-country skiing, fat-tire biking or the many other ways to relish winter. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources encourages residents to shift their plans for the coming year into high gear with a few ideas for inspired outdoor fun.

“For many, winter in Michigan is an undiscovered gem,” said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “State parks and trails offer visitors a completely different experience in the winter, everything from peaceful hikes through snow-dusted campgrounds and candlelight cross-country skiing to black diamond downhill skiing with views of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula. A Michigan winter adventure should be on everyone’s list this season.”

Find an online calendar listing of Shoe Year’s hikes and First Day Hikes at michigan.gov/winterfun. Or explore Michigan’s parks, trails and waterways on your own at www.michigan.gov/stateparks.

The following Shoe Year’s guided hikes take place through the first week of January:

  • Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (Ontonagon County) – Friday, Dec. 29 from 6 to 9 p.m.
  • Bay City Recreation Area (Bay County) – Sunday, Dec. 31 from 1 to 5 p.m.
  • Maybury State Park (Wayne County) – Sunday, Dec. 31 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
  • Island Lake Recreation Area (Livingston County) – Monday, Jan. 1 from 1 *Yankee Springs Recreation Area (Barry County) – Monday, Jan. 1 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (First Day Hike)
  • Straits State Park (Cheboygan County) – Saturday, Jan. 6 from 2 to 7 p.m.
  • Besser Natural Area (Alpena County) – Saturday, Jan. 6 from noon to 3 p.m.
  • Ludington State Park (Mason County) – Saturday, Jan. 6 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Michigan is part of the nationwide First Day Hikes program, coordinated by the National Association of State Park Directors and 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 62,000 people participated on guided hikes that covered more than 114,000 miles on 1,300 hikes across the country.

If guided hikes don’t work into your schedule, but you are looking for an adventure checklist, here are a few winter adventures suggested by Maia Turek, resource development specialist for the DNR:

  • Muskegon Winter Sports Complex – Even a novice adventurer will love the variety of adventure options at this state park destination. A luge, ice skating through the woods, sledding, skiing and even yurt yoga classes are all part of the experience. Visit msports.org.
  • Experience the lantern-lit or candlelight ski and snowshoe events—even if just once. They happen throughout the winter and around the state, so finding one that works for your schedule should be easy. Visit michigan.gov/dnrcalendar.
  • Fat tire biking on the Cadillac Pathway – This 11.3-mile groomed ski, hike and bike trail with six loops is marked and groomed for novice and intermediate cross-country skiers. Rent a fat-tire bike from area bike shops or use your own. Visit michigan.gov/dnrtrails.
  • Grab a fishing rod and take advantage of the first of two Free Fishing Weekends Feb. 17-18. Twice a year, residents and non-residents can enjoy two back-to-back days of fishing without a license. Visit michigan.gov/freefishing.
  • Visit Palms Book State Park in the Upper Peninsula and be amazed by Kitch-iti-kipi’s geothermal energy. Because the water is 45 degrees year-round, this stunning spring is a four-season destination. It’s also a great snowmobile stop. Visit michigan.gov/palmsbook.
  • Jump on the Iron Belle Trail, the longest designated state trail in the nation, and hike (or bicycle) your way between Belle Isle Park in Detroit and Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula. Experience exciting cities, explore pristine forests and visit charming towns all across the state. Visit michigan.gov/ironbelle.
  • Porcupine Mountains Ski Area – Downhill skiers and snowboarders will enjoy 15 groomed trails, four glade trails, the second-highest vertical drop in Michigan (or Wisconsin) and breathtaking views of Lake Superior. The ski area also offers a launching point for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Visit porkiesfun.com.

“Often, the term resolution for the new year seems daunting, but don’t let it overwhelm you,” said Turek. “From participating in a guided hike along the more than 12,500 miles of state-designated trails, cross-country skiing on groomed trails and snowshoeing along lantern-lit trails to experiencing the ice skating trail at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, these destinations are home to unique and calorie-burning options for experiencing the outdoors in the coming year.”

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Lighthouse keeper program offers vacation and service opportunity

The Tawas Point Lighthouse Keeper Program offers the opportunity for a free two-week stay in historic lighthouse keepers’ quarters while helping to promote the history and preservation of the site.

When the calendar reaches December, it’s not uncommon for people to start thinking about their travel plans for the approaching year. For those seeking uncommon travel experiences, the Tawas Point Lighthouse Keeper Program offers the opportunity for a free two-week stay in historic lighthouse keepers’ quarters while helping to promote the history and preservation of the site. The application period to participate in the program in 2018 is now open.

Lighthouse Lens: Volunteer keepers learn about the history of the 1876 Tawas Point Lighthouse in preparation for duties that include giving tours and providing information about the lighthouse.

In 2018, the Tawas Point Lighthouse Keeper Program offers combined vacation and service opportunities for adults from May 16 to Oct. 16. Those selected to be volunteer lighthouse keepers receive lodging in the restored keepers’ quarters next to the 1876 Tawas Point Lighthouse in Tawas Point State Park. In exchange, participants provide roughly 35 hours of services each week in and around the historic lighthouse that attracts visitors from all over the world.

“The Tawas area is known as Michigan’s Cape Cod,” said Hillary Pine, Tawas Point Lighthouse historian. “It’s a lovely area favored by bird-watchers, anglers, history enthusiasts and others. We make sure our volunteer lighthouse keepers have plenty of time to enjoy Lake Huron, Tawas Bay and other recreational opportunities.”

Keeper duties include greeting visitors, giving tours, providing information about the lighthouse, and routine cleaning and maintenance. Keepers stay in the second story of the keepers’ quarters attached to the lighthouse. Accommodations include two bedrooms sleeping up to four adults and modern kitchen, bath and laundry facilities. Keepers must commit to a two-week stay at the lighthouse. 

Pine said the lighthouse keeper program looks for teams of two, three or four adults—especially those with knowledge of lighthouse lore or Great Lakes maritime history—but that there is no requirement for such a background.

The museum portion of the Tawas Point Lighthouse shows artifacts from different time periods of its use.

“We give our volunteer lighthouse keepers historical information and on-site orientation to help prepare them for their experience,” Pine said. “They take great pride in helping to promote and preserve the lighthouse—and who wouldn’t love waking up to the beautiful view of the bay that they enjoy every day?”

The application and additional information about the Tawas Point Lighthouse Keeper Program is available at www.michigan.gov/tawaslighthouse. For more information about program, send e-mail to DNR-tawaskeepers@michigan.gov. The application period is open through Feb. 2, 2018.

Tawas Point Lighthouse is a nationally accredited museum located 2.5 miles southeast of East Tawas, in Tawas Point State Park; a Recreation Passport is required for park entry. For more information, call 989-348-2537 or visit  www.michigan.gov/tawaslighthouse.

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Somber Reality

 

 

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

My life’s mission of wilderness protection has gone awry. All hope is not lost to protect the resources and life forms that make it possible for humans to thrive today and for generations to live well a century from now. 

Theodore Roosevelt advised a century ago: “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders. Do not let selfish men and greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches, or its romance.”

We are in a “Star Wars” type struggle to prevent planetary destruction by a leader that does not value scientific evidence or understand its importance for guiding behavior to ensure a healthy future. I hope to inspire others to cherish nature wonders by encouraging them to spend time outside exploring and having fun.

I made a decision early in life to follow supported physical evidence to protect my family and their offspring. I have an extended family that includes you, butterflies, cedar waxwings, brook trout, white pine, and cinnamon ferns in addition to my immediate family and grandchildren. Our actions should help all family members.

The Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah has known and unknown life forms in a fragile ecosystem. The monument is owned by you like the local Manistee National Forest, Shiawassee Nat’l Wildlife Refuge, and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Each has unique species and nature niches that support our lives and economy. 

When Roosevelt encouraged us to “cherish these natural wonders” much of USA land acquisition was complete. Here at home water supplies your well, trees cool homes and provide oxygen on private and public land. Many people feel they should be allowed to do whatever they desire on private and public lands without regard to impacts on neighbors. If they desire to dump PFAS, fill or plow wetlands that increased flooding to downstream homes, or dump improperly treated sewage in rivers, they should not be restricted. 

I realized as a teen that many people were solely focused on “Me, Myself, I.” Many do not agree that personal actions should protect themselves, neighbors’ water supply, soil fertility, stream quality, sustainable timber, and fellow beings on Earth. To protect resources of wonder, enjoyment and essential need for sustaining society, my mission advocates for wilderness protection. Protection of biological and geological features in designated wilderness, national monuments, and parks maintain healthy ecosystems supporting our needs and livelihoods.

Mistakes like dumping PFAS, overusing fertilizers on yards that get into streams or groundwater, delaying the switch from fossil fuels that alter climate, not treating life on Earth as we want to be treated, and reducing national monument sizes is perilous. It lacks a sense of community and does not leave these lands unimpaired. 

Ask yourself whether dumping PFAS or dumping carbon into the atmosphere will result in greater loss of life. Which will create worse economic and health hardships? For many it only matters what is happening personally in the moment. They are the half that put President Trump in office. Pulling out of the World Climate Accord is similar to dumping PFAS. The negative long-term impacts are imposed on future generations for short-term economic gains. Impacts diminish sustainable economic, social, and environment health. 

Impacts of the tax cut will likely result in unfunded protection of water, soil, air, endangered species, and wilderness as well many non-nature concerns. Trump campaigned to deregulate Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species Act protections. Such actions will allow deregulating things like dumping PFAS. He has opened protected public lands like the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and monuments for mineral extraction. He supports fossil fuel mining and dumping of pollutants like carbon into the atmosphere. His supporters want this.

I have failed in the effort to help build a critical mass essential to protect Grand Staircase NM and other national treasures. Public comments were 98 percent in favor of protecting parks but Trump is ignoring public desires. He’s eliminating sustainable resource programs that protect generations to come. My mission is floundering. 

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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‘Tis the season for Christmas bird counting

 

Michigan DNR and Audubon Great Lakes working together for conservation

Pine grosbeaks, like this female photographed in Marquette County, are among the species found on Christmas Bird Counts in the northern part of the state.

By Holly Vaughn, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

This holiday season tens of thousands of Americans will fan out across the country with one goal in mind: finding and counting as many species of birds as they can find.

These observations will add to a large data set going back 117 years to Dec. 25, 1900, when the Christmas Bird Count, known then as the Christmas Bird Census, was first established.

The Christmas count remains one of the most important citizen science datasets today, helping scientists understand population declines and range shifts in North American birds.

“From beginning birdwatchers to experts, participants in Christmas counts gather to identify and census birds within 15-mile diameter count circles,” said John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer. “The Christmas counts are a great opportunity to learn more about the winter birdlife of a particular area, and for beginners to gain experience birding alongside experts. Some participants count for an hour or so, some birdwatch for the whole day, some count at their bird feeders at home.”

There are now more than 2,500 Christmas Bird Counts in the U.S., Canada, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Michigan alone has 75 count circles, stretching from the Keweenaw Peninsula in the north, to Monroe and Berrien counties in the south.

To find the nearest count circle, the National Audubon Society maintains an informative map at https://audubon.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=fadfb421e95f4949bde20c29a38228bd. Clicking on a count circle on the map shows where and when the bird counting team meets, and who the count compiler is.

Christmas Bird Counts are open to the public, family-friendly and a great way to meet local birders.

“Year after year, my wife and I participate in Christmas Bird Counts. We’ve counted birds in Grand Traverse County, Macomb County and Oakland County over the years.” said Jeremy Joswick, a Macomb Audubon Society member. “We feel it is important to contribute to this citizen science project and are glad we can help.”

Joswick said one of the most memorable Christmas Bird Count experiences he and his wife had was in Grand Traverse County, very early in the morning, before the sun rose.

“We were standing on the side of Hoosier Valley Road, listening for owls, when a great horned owl began to hoot,” Joswick said. “It echoed in the quiet morning air—a really cool experience.”

The Christmas Bird Count is spearheaded by Audubon, a nonprofit organization with over 700 employees in the U.S.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources shares an employee with Audubon out of its Great Lakes office in Chicago.

Michigan bird conservation coordinator Caleb Putnam oversees a communications program called MI Birds, which is focused on bridging gaps between the hunting and birding communities and increasing understanding of the value of public lands and the need for strong funding of conservation in Michigan.

MI Birds began about one year ago, with the formation of a steering committee consisting of a dozen partner organizations from game and non-game conservation organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, Ruffed Grouse Society, Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Michigan Audubon, Detroit Audubon, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Michigan State University Extension and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Together, the members of this group help to develop messaging communicated by MI Birds and determine audiences to send the messages to.

“In the beginning, we were just excited to assemble such a diverse and unique group,” Putnam said. “We made important conversations happen just by getting all of these conservation groups to the same table, and it’s something I haven’t seen before.”

Others agreed.

“Creating an environment of collaboration between birding and hunting groups is something we’ve been pushing for years, and this program has really made it happen,” said Audubon Great Lakes’ Director of Conservation Nat Miller.

Russ Mason, DNR Wildlife Division chief, said it’s been a long-term challenge of the agency to engage new user groups and begin to plan for declining hunter revenues for public-lands conservation.

“MI Birds is our first big attempt at leading discussions between all of these conservation-minded groups,” Mason said.

MI Birds’ biggest presence is online, on a Facebook page with over 4,000 followers. The page features real-time information about Michigan’s birds and their migrations, presented in a fun and engaging way for the public.

Putnam posts videos and hosts Facebook live feeds from a variety of public-lands areas. For example, one video produced earlier this year from the Murphy Lake State Game Area in Tuscola County showed Putnam investigating the nesting habitat of the Louisiana waterthrush, a state special concern songbird that lives there. See it at https://www.facebook.com/MIBirdspage/videos/283336678809254/.

Putnam is also working to publicize the DNR’s important habitat work statewide. He is leading tours to key state game areas and other lands, engaging the public in a conversation with DNR biologists about the work being done, which species it benefits and how it is funded.

“Once non-consumptive users understand how nongame species benefit from primarily game-funded work, the light bulbs immediately go off,” Putnam said. “We have people asking how they can donate to the work before the tours even begin.”

By elevating these discussions statewide, MI Birds stands to engage new user groups and create a broader constituency for public-lands conservation in Michigan.

Christmas Bird Counts are one of many places members of the MI Birds groups could find common interest, fun and camaraderie, paving the way for greater understanding and cooperation in the future.

The gatherings are also places new participants might find future best friends, while pursuing their personal interest in birds, nature and conservation.

For more information on MI Birds, visit the MI Birds Facebook page.

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How to target popular fish species through the ice

 

Professional angler Mark Martin recommends tip-ups for walleye fishermen.

Are you getting anxious for thick enough ice to head out fishing? Consider using the following tips when targeting four species popular with anglers in the winter.

Walleye

Early-ice walleyes are known to be active and aggressive. Use tip-ups at varying depths around the lake (anywhere from 15 to 35 feet deep) to appeal to this species. Regardless of the depth, always set the live minnow under the tip-up to swim 12 to 15 inches off the bottom.

Crappie

Consider using plastic bait, rather than live bait, when fishing for crappie. Focus on weed lines to find them. A lot of times crappie will hang out in the middle of the water column, half-way between the ice and bottom.

Northern Pike

You’ll find these aggressive fish near off-shore structures and weed lines, so try these types of spots on your favorite pike lakes first. 

Yellow Perch

Attract bigger perch by using tip-ups with minnows, that’s what they’re primarily eating this time of year. Sticking a minnow on an ice fishing rod is also very productive.

For more information on fishing during Michigan’s winter, visit Michigan.gov/fishing

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