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Archive | Outdoors

Firearm deer harvest down from last year

The 2014 firearm deer season wrapped up Nov. 30, and challenging conditions and lower deer numbers in some areas likely have led to fewer deer being taken this year. Each year the Department of Natural Resources generates preliminary estimates of the firearm deer harvest shortly after the season closes. Those estimates are later replaced by a rigorous assessment of harvest and participation over all deer seasons using an annual hunter mail survey.

The 2014 firearm deer season harvest appears to have decreased in all regions this year, but particularly in the Upper Peninsula. Experiences can differ widely within regions. DNR biologists estimate that, compared to 2013, the harvest was down approximately 30 to 40 percent across the Upper Peninsula, decreased perhaps as much as 10 percent in the northern Lower Peninsula, and was down about 5 percent in the southern Lower Peninsula.

Deer populations in the Upper Peninsula are down after two severe past winters. The DNR significantly reduced antlerless quotas prior to this season and has invested in habitat improvement and research assessing the role of predators, habitat and weather conditions in driving U.P. deer abundance. The 2014 deer season forecast indicated hunters should expect to see fewer deer in the region, and some locations also saw more than 40 inches of snow accumulation before the firearm season opened, making hunting access challenging and driving deer to migrate out of such areas earlier than normal.

“The number of deer brought to our check stations declined as much as 60 percent in some locations, though hunter success was somewhat better in areas with higher deer densities,” noted Upper Peninsula Regional Supervisor Terry Minzey. “Winter severity has moderated since then, but we’ll continue to monitor conditions and regional deer populations through the months to come.”

Deer harvest did not decline so dramatically in the Lower Peninsula. “The tough winter last year did not impact deer populations below the bridge as it did in the Upper Peninsula,” noted Ashley Autenrieth, Wildlife Division deer biologist for the northern regions. “But reduced antler size this season indicated deer condition was affected.”

Concentrations of standing corn that provide secure cover for deer contributed to adverse hunting conditions in some locations. Brent Rudolph, Wildlife Division research specialist, also shared that “department research in one southern Michigan study area indicates deer numbers are still only slowly rebounding following an extensive outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease several summers ago.” The research project is being conducted in collaboration with Michigan State University, with assistance from many hunter volunteers, and also has received financial support from Safari Club International.

Rudolph also stressed the importance of cooperation with Michigan’s hunter harvest survey, what he called “a vital tool for Michigan’s deer program, and another important way in which data provided by hunters contributes to our information base.”

Hunters who do not receive a survey in the mail but who wish to provide their hunting and harvest information may visit www.michigan.gov/deer and select the “Complete a Deer Harvest Survey Online” link. Hunters should only provide this information once they have completed all of their 2014 deer hunting activities.

For more information about hunting opportunities or deer management in Michigan, go online to www.michigan.gov/hunting or www.michigan.gov/deer.

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Expect the Unexpected

By Ranger Steve Mueller

The pine siskin is a North American bird in the finch family. Photo credit: “Carduelis pinus CT7” by Cephas - Own work.

The pine siskin is a North American bird in the finch family. Photo credit: “Carduelis pinus CT7” by Cephas – Own work.

 

Identification of some critters is difficult. One needs to have a proper frame of mind to expect the unexpected. On November 17 I saw my first Pine Siskins of the year, and that is the only day so far they have been present this year.

They look somewhat like female House Finches and blend into a group of birds at the feeder. The first thing one might want to look at is the bill. Siskins have a narrowed, sharp, pointed bill compared to House Finches’ thicker, heavy bill used for crushing seeds. Pine Siskins seek conifers with small cones like cedars, tamarack, hemlock and spruce that are easier for extracting seeds. Large cone conifers are not suitable, because the cones are difficult for accessing seeds. The seeds are too large and hard in their diet. Conifers with smaller seeds can be eaten and digested more easily. Some seeds are stored in their crop for digestion during the cold subfreezing nights.

Siskins are nomadic birds and move from location to location and one habitat to another. They are encountered in fields eating weed seeds and gather seeds from a variety of deciduous shrubs, in addition to using pine forest like their name indicates. Seasonally their diet adds insects and this is especially true when feeding young.

At winter bird feeders, these small finches spend time on the ground retrieving seeds that other birds have caused to fall and they feed directly from feeders. The recent foot of snow likely brought siskins to the feeder. It is the only time I’ve seen them this year. Their winter arrival brings my annual total to 255 bird species for the year.

Pine Siskins have yellow banding on wing feathers but it might be hidden until they spread their wings. Their tails have yellow along the side but it also may not be evident until they fly. Females and immature birds do not have much yellow making use of color difficult. The birds at the feeder did not show yellow and led me to first to think House Finch. I knew immediately they were not American Goldfinches because goldfinches do not have streaking on their breast. The siskin has heavy streaking on its breast and back. They lack the characteristic red that is found in male House Finches but female House Finches also lack the red.

Generally siskins are sleeker than other finches. Once when I was leading a birding tour, we encountered a bird in late June when visiting good siskin breeding habitat but I did not have my mind set for encountering this species. I spent twenty minutes trying to identify it while others had given up and were waiting for the “all knowledgeable leader” to come through. I was getting frustrated also and the yellow would have helped. It was not actually the lack of yellow that was the problem. The problem was in my head. I was not considering the Pine Siskin as a possibility. It is always important to expect the unexpected in nature niches. The habitat was great for Pine Siskins and finally after about 20 minutes one flashed a little yellow and identification fell into place. I should have recognized it by other characteristics.

It should not have taken so long to make the identification except I had narrowed my thought process too much. One tour participant also thought it should not have taken so long because she needed a restroom break and did not tell me. Instead she began to anger. Fortunately there was a toilet about a half-mile away in a national forest campground. I hope she has forgiven me and hopefully other participants will voice their needs on tours.

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

 

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Do not move firewood between state parks 

Lethal tree infection caused by transport of firewood

OUT-Oak-wilt

Oak wilt outbreaks are increasing in Michigan and the Department of Natural Resources has conducted treatment at several state parks to halt the spread of the disease.

Oak wilt is an introduced disease that causes rapid death of infected trees. The fungus is easily transported by beetles from infected wood to nearby wounded trees. Trees cannot be cured of oak wilt, and once a tree is infected the disease can rapidly spread to neighboring trees through underground root graft connections. The loss of large numbers of oak trees in parks can be dramatic, both for the park visitor experience and the ecology of the natural habitat.

“The likely cause of the oak wilt outbreak at Michigan state parks is the movement of infected firewood into campgrounds,” said DNR natural resources steward Heidi Frei. “Campers and other park visitors can help prevent the spread of the oak wilt fungus by not moving firewood between campgrounds.”

DNR Parks and Recreation Division staff has been working the last several years to stop the spread of oak wilt at Michigan state parks throughout the state, including P.J. Hoffmaster, Otsego Lake, Interlochen, Warren Dunes and Hartwick Pines state parks; and Fort Custer, Rifle River, Waterloo, Brighton, Pinckney and Island Lake recreation areas.

Treatments in 2014 included using a vibratory plow fitted with a special blade (designed and fabricated at the DNR’s Forest Fire Experiment Station in Roscommon) that severs grafted tree roots, isolating healthy trees from infected trees. Treatment also included the application of fungistats, which inhibit the growth and reproduction of fungi, and which have been used in areas declared critical dune habitat.
“If left unchecked,” Frei said, “oak wilt will continue to spread and result in large pockets of standing dead oak trees, which may be hazardous to park visitors.” Some parks, such as P.J. Hoffmaster, have experienced considerable losses. More than 100 large red oaks, including the most picturesque grove of red oaks in the campground, have been killed by oak wilt.
For more information on oak wilt prevention and stewardship, visit www.michigan.gov/foresthealth or contact Heidi Frei at 517-202-1360 or freih@michigan.gov.

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Men face charges in duck poaching case

Two Kawkawlin, Michigan men have been ordered to pay $4,000 each in restitution payments to the Game and Fish Protection Fund and $625 each in fines and court costs, and were sentenced to five days in jail for being over the bag limit for redhead ducks, according to conservation officers with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Travis Vennix, 22, and Timothy Diehl, 22, both of Kawkawlin, in Bay County, admitted to shooting 20 redhead ducks while hunting Oct. 13. The bag limit for redheads is two per hunter. In addition to their fines, restitution and jail time, both had their hunting privileges for the remainder of 2014 revoked, along with the next three calendar years. They were sentenced last week by Judge Allen Yenior of the 81st District Court in Arenac County.

Vennix and Diehl were waterfowl hunting Oct. 13 when they encountered DNR conservation officer Nick Atkin, who was checking waterfowl hunters, at the Pine River boating access site in Arenac County. Officer Atkin noted they were acting nervous when he spoke to them, but because of the darkness and fog he couldn’t see that the pair hid a stringer of 18 redhead ducks under the boat dock at the site. When Vennix and Diehl arrived on shore with their boat, Officer Atkin noted they had two redhead ducks in the boat with them.

On Oct. 14, the DNR received a Report All Poaching (RAP) Line complaint from a hunter who found a stringer of 18 redhead ducks shoved underneath the boat dock at the access site. Officer Atkin and conservation officer Phil Hudson tracked down the hunters Officer Atkin had encountered the previous night and obtained a confession from them that they shot 20 redhead ducks while hunting that day.

Any fish, game or natural resources violation can be anonymously reported to the DNR’s RAP Line at 800-292-7800. Information also can be given through an online reporting form on the DNR website. Information leading to an arrest and conviction is eligible for a cash reward funded by the Game and Fish Protection Fund.

For more information on conservation officers and the work they do, go to www.michigan.gov/conservationofficers.

 

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Waterford man charged with elk poaching 

 

A 51-year-old man from Waterford, Michigan, has confessed to killing an elk on the opening day of firearm deer season, according to Department of Natural Resources conservation officers who investigated the incident.

A deer hunter hunting in Montmorency County, north of Atlanta, on Nov. 15, contacted the DNR’s Report All Poaching (RAP) Line to report he had found a dead elk. Conservation officers from the DNR’s Gaylord Customer Service Center responded and located the 4×4 bull elk and determined it had been killed by a single gunshot.

After a lengthy investigation by the officers, a suspect was identified and a confession was obtained. Charges currently are under review by the Montmorency County Prosecutor.

“Good old-fashioned police work by our officers brought this case to a successful end,” Lt. Jim Gorno said. “We continue to encourage the public to be diligent in watching out for our natural resources. Without the hunter calling the RAP Line to report this case, it could have gone unsolved.”

Conservation officers continue to investigate a number of poaching-related incidents involving elk in northern Michigan. Anyone with information regarding any incidents is asked to call the DNR Law Division at the Gaylord Customer Service Center at 989-732-3541 or the 24-hour RAP Line at 800-292-7800.

Any fish, game or natural resources violation can be reported to the DNR’s RAP Line or with the online reporting form, available at the DNR website www.michigan.gov/conservationofficers.

Information leading to an arrest and conviction is eligible for a cash reward funded by the Game and Fish Protection Fund. Information also may be left anonymously.

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Wolves in Ecosystems Part 2

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

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

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Weekly Fishing Tip

Northern Pike

Northern Pike

Where to find northern pike in Michigan

 

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

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

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

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Snow blower safety starts before you power up your equipment

 

Tips from OPEI 

Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fact Sheet: Safe Operation Practices for Snow Blowers:

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

About OPEI

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

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Hunters can help fill food bank freezers 

OUT-Sportsmen-against-hungerSportsmen Against Hunger program

From the Michigan DNR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wolves in Ecosystems (Part 1)

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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