web analytics

Tag Archive | "DNR"

Fire, jack pine and aspen: understanding a historic relationship


A Michigan Department of Natural Resources firefighter conducts a controlled burn. Photos courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A Michigan Department of Natural Resources firefighter conducts a controlled burn. Photos courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The connection between healthy forests and fire may be firmly established and  understood by foresters and wildlife managers, and helpful to countless wildlife species. However, not everyone outside those occupations has the same understanding.

Recall the late 1980s, when wildfires blackened much of Yellowstone National Park. Conservation professionals argued then that long-term, the effects of the fires would be very positive for the ecosystem for a number of reasons.

The public at large wasn’t necessarily convinced. This is understandable, because  for decades government officials had actively campaigned against fires.

Remember Smokey Bear’s motto? “Only you can prevent forest fires.” That message has been edited in recent years from “forest fires” to “wildfires,” which allows that all fires are not necessarily bad.

In Michigan forests, there are several tree species that have a long history of dependence on fire, though newer forestry techniques have helped to diminish this need.

Jack pine cones are sealed with resin. Often, the cones do not release their seeds upon maturity, but rather, after an environmental trigger, including fire.

Jack pine cones are sealed with resin. Often, the cones do not release their seeds upon maturity, but rather, after an environmental trigger, including fire.

Aspen and jack pine are two Michigan species that historically relied on fire for survival and regeneration. These species are well-adapted to regeneration following any stand-replacing disturbance, such as wind throw (trees being uprooted or broken by wind) or timber harvest.

“Both species exist in Michigan because of fire prior to European settlement,” said Keith Kintigh, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources field operations biologist in the northern Lower Peninsula. “They evolved to respond to fires.”

Kintigh said aspen and jack pine require 50- to 70-year tree stand level disturbance for them to be maintained. They are short-lived species that like lots of sunlight.

“When the surveyors came through Michigan in the 1800s, they found that in certain places, major wildfires were occurring frequently, at least every 60 years,” Kintigh said. “Some ecologists believe that this frequency could not be explained by lightning strikes alone.”

Kintigh said Michigan has a bunch of wildlife species that are associated with those disturbances.

Scientists have concluded that Native Americans used fire to manage forests and grasslands. Aspen forests, and the associated flora and fauna—including white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse—would have benefited from these fires.

Native Americans would have found better blueberry crops in the years after jack pine forest burns, as many people do today.

Historically, jack pines were especially dependent on fire because of their reproductive mechanism. Jack pines sport cones sealed with resin (these are known as serotinous cones).

Often, the cones do not release their seeds upon maturity, but rather, after an environmental trigger. In the jack pines’ case, that trigger can be fire. The cones remain tightly closed until heat from fire or sunlight melts the resin and opens them, allowing the cones to release their seeds for spreading by gravity and winds.

The DNR maintains significant amounts of young jack pine forest in Michigan’s state forests, as it is the only viable breeding habitat for the federally endangered Kirtland’s warbler. However, fire is not a preferred way to regenerate jack pine today in the northern Lower Peninsula where most all of the Kirtland’s warblers nest.

“We’re using logging to maintain Kirtland’s warbler habitat in the absence of fire,” Kintigh said. “There are homes, cottages and schools mixed into, or situated next to, state forest and the trees have value. We can’t just have wildfires across the landscape.”

Prescribed burns are still being used for various purposes, but not generally for aspen or jack pine regeneration.

“We burn jack pine after it’s harvested,” said Keith Murphy, the DNR’s Forest Resources Division fire management specialist for the Upper Peninsula. “We have to be careful because jack pines are the most highly volatile fuel out there.

“In the spring of the year, it’s at its worst when there’s little moisture in the needles, usually in mid-May, but we burn it after a timber sale to get the cones to release their seeds or to remove branches and treetops to make it easier to trench (plow) the site.”

In the northern Lower Peninsula, foresters and wildlife biologists have found they can best produce the high-density stands required for Kirtland’s warbler nesting habitat by planting.

After a jack pine stand has been harvested, the stand is trenched and replanted from nursery stock grown primarily in the Upper Peninsula.

Aspen is also well-adapted to fire as it reproduces from suckers that spring up from the root stock, so any event that removes the trees will lead to regeneration.

These days, aspen managers generally use clear-cutting to stimulate regeneration. Murphy said that’s just as well because aspen does not burn as readily as jack pine. Aspen has moist leaves and thick stems, which are comparatively not as combustible as the dry needles and twigs of jack pines.

Getting forest producers to harvest aspen is not a problem.

“There’s a lot of demand for aspen,” said Tim Greco, a timber management specialist with the DNR’s Forest Resources Division in Gaylord. “It’s used in OSB (oriented strand board) chip material. The fibers are very good for holding glue and strength for OSB.”

Forest products mills that use aspen are also an important part of rural communities in Michigan and they provide a building material that’s in demand for new homes.

Aspen also has great utility for use in writing paper, cardboard, hardboard and pallet lumber. Some manufacturers even use veneer from aspen for certain products, like paint sticks.

“We very rarely have a problem selling aspen timber sales,” Greco said. “The demand is very good. Combine that with wildlife values and it’s an all-around win-win situation.”

Prescribed burning of aspen is often done to improve habitat for upland gamebirds and white-tailed deer.

“But it doesn’t have to be a fast-burning, rip-roaring fire,” he continued. “If you crack the bark you can kill it. And we will burn it to regenerate it for grouse habitat—a lot depends on what DNR Wildlife Division wants to do with it.”

According to the U.S. Forest Service, though aspen forests do not burn readily, aspen trees are extremely sensitive to fire.

A fire intense enough to kill the aspen forest overstory will stimulate abundant suckering, though some suckers arise after any fire. The Forest Service said as many as 50,000 to 100,000 suckers can sprout and grow on a single acre after a fire.

Get more information on DNR fire management in Michigan at www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Fire, jack pine and aspen: understanding a historic relationship

Bear that mauled teen in 2013 killed in Wexford County


Black bear attacks on humans are highly unusual, according to the Michigan DNR, but can occur if a sow is protecting her cubs.

Black bear attacks on humans are highly unusual, according to the Michigan DNR, but can occur if a sow is protecting her cubs.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday, May 11,  that a black bear recently shot and killed in Haring Township, north of Cadillac in Wexford County, is the same bear that mauled a teenage girl, Abby Wetherell, in that same township in 2013.

The DNR confirms a 9-year-old female black bear was killed April 30 by an individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, acting in self-defense. The individual let out a dog, which then immediately ran after what appeared to be a bear cub. The dog was stopped at the end of the tree line barking when the owner saw a bear appear and attack the dog. The individual went to assist the dog and the bear ran off. As the owner attempted to render aid to the injured dog, the bear retuned to the scene and approached the resident, who then shot the bear. The situation was reported to the DNR and investigated. It was determined to be a justifiable killing of the bear.

The bear carcass was sent to the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory in Lansing for pathology review. DNA samples were sent to Michigan State University for genetic testing. MSU’s Jeannette Kanefsky of the Molecular Ecology Laboratory did the genotyping.

“The results of the genetic testing are consistent between the sample from the 2016 shot black bear and the evidence at the 2013 black bear mauling scene,” said Kanefsky. “The genotypes obtained from the samples are a match.”

The Wetherells were informed late Tuesday of the findings.

Through a process called “cementum annuli analysis,” DNR wildlife biologists examined the bear’s teeth to assess her age and number of litters. They determined this bear had three litters throughout her lifetime, including in 2013 when the mauling took place. It remains uncertain whether cubs were in the vicinity when the attack on Abby occurred.

After the attack on Abby, the DNR put extensive effort into setting traps and responding to bear activity in the area.

“DNR staff is relieved to have this matter resolved for both the Wetherells and the community,” said Keith Kintigh, field operations manager for the DNR’s Northern Lower Region. “Over the last three years, we have been highly responsive to multiple bear issues in the hopes of catching this animal.”

Michigan has an estimated black bear population of approximately 11,000 bears, with roughly 80 percent of the population in the Upper Peninsula. There is an established bear population in the area of Wexford County. The DNR reminds the public that black bears generally are fearful of humans and usually will leave if they become aware that people are present. Bear attacks on human beings are highly unusual and in most cases occur because a sow is protecting her cubs.

Here are some important facts to remember when in an area where bears may be present:

• To avoid surprising bears, travel in small groups and make noise.

• If you encounter a bear, stand your ground and then slowly back away. Do not turn away. Do not show fear and run. Do not play dead.

• Make yourself look bigger and talk to the bear in a stern voice.

• If actually attacked, fight back with a backpack, stick or bare hands.

For additional information on living with bears, visit the DNR website atwww.michigan.gov/bear.

Posted in Featured, NewsComments Off on Bear that mauled teen in 2013 killed in Wexford County

$5,000 reward offered for info on Turkey Tracts vandalism 


Vandals destroyed this sign just three days after a celebration of the opening of the new Turkey Tracts kiosk.

Vandals destroyed this sign just three days after a celebration of the opening of the new Turkey Tracts kiosk.

The Department of Natural Resources and local law enforcement agencies are seeking information on the vandalism of the new “Turkey Tracts” kiosk located at Allegan State Game Area in Allegan County, Michigan.

The National Wild Turkey Federation is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to a conviction of the person or persons responsible for destroying the sign.

On April 15, vandals destroyed the sign located on 126th Avenue, just three days after partners, volunteers and individuals celebrated the opening of Michigan’s first Turkey Tracts site.

“Vandalism on state game areas not only destroys the hard work of volunteers and partner organizations, but can hinder the ability to make improvements on the game area,” said Maria Albright, DNR wildlife technician. “Hunter license dollars may end up being spent making repairs from the destruction of public property instead of making improvements for all users to enjoy.”

Lt. Gerald Thayer of the DNR felt confident the vandals would be found. “Our officers are trained for these types of situations and rely on assistance from the public to catch the culprits,” he said. “We are interested in any information regarding this illegal act.”

Anyone with information regarding these incidents is asked to call the 24-hour DNR Report All Poaching (RAP) line at 800-292-7800. Information may be left anonymously.

Turkey Tracts are unique turkey hunting areas across the Lower Peninsula that provide great hunting opportunities for a variety of hunters, including youth, adults new to the sport, veterans with disabilities and seniors.

“I’m very disappointed with the blatant disregard for this significant public-use facility,” said Jonathan W. Edgerly, with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and a member of the Michigan Accessibility Advisory Council. “Sites like this are important to our veterans with disabilities. I’m thankful that law enforcement agencies and the National Wild Turkey Federation are taking these crimes seriously and for their determination to bring the offenders to justice.”

The kiosk included helpful information for hunters visiting the Turkey Tract, such as maps of the area, project sponsors and information on wild turkey habitat management.

Learn more about turkeys and hunting turkey in Michigan at mi.gov/turkey.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on $5,000 reward offered for info on Turkey Tracts vandalism 

Survey: Michigan’s wolf population stable


A wolf is shown in the Upper Peninsula woodlands. The DNR’s latest survey has shown no significant change in Michigan’s wolf population.

A wolf is shown in the Upper Peninsula woodlands. The DNR’s latest survey has shown no significant change in Michigan’s wolf population.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife division officials said this week that the size of the state’s wolf population has not changed significantly since the last survey was conducted in 2014.

DNR wildlife researchers estimate there was a minimum of 618 wolves in the Upper Peninsula this winter. The 2014 minimum population estimate was 636 wolves.

“The confidence intervals of the 2014 and 2016 estimates overlap, thus we can’t say with statistical confidence that the population decreased,” said Kevin Swanson, wildlife management specialist with the DNR’s Bear and Wolf Program in Marquette.

Confidence intervals are a range of values that describe the uncertainty surrounding an estimate.

Swanson said, based on the 2016 minimum population estimate, it is clear that wolf numbers in Michigan are viable, stable and have experienced no significant change since 2014.

“Currently, deer numbers in the U.P. are at lows not seen in decades and we wondered if there would be a decline in wolf numbers as a result of this reduction in their primary source of prey,” Swanson said. “We also did not observe a significant difference in the number and average size of wolf packs as compared to 2014.”

This latest minimum wolf population estimate was compiled recently after surveys were conducted over the past few months, beginning in December. The wolf survey is completed by DNR wildlife division and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services staff who search specific units for wolf tracks and other signs of wolf activity.

“While the survey is primarily a track survey, when available, we also use aerial counts of packs that contain radio-collared animals. In addition, the movement information we collect from the radio-collared wolves helps us interpret the track count results,” said Dean Beyer, a DNR wildlife researcher in Marquette. “Taken together, these methods allow us to estimate the minimum size of the wolf population. In 2016, approximately 63 percent of the Upper Peninsula was surveyed.”

After wolves returned naturally to the U.P. in the 1980s, through migration from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario, the population rebounded remarkably until recent years when growth began to level off.

Over the past few years, Michigan’s minimum population estimate has hovered between 600 and 700 wolves.

Since the winter of 1993-94, combined wolf numbers in Michigan and Wisconsin have surpassed 100, meeting federally established goals for population recovery. The Michigan recovery goal of a minimum sustainable population of 200 wolves for five consecutive years was achieved in 2004.

“Clearly, the Michigan wolf population has maintained levels surpassing these state and federal recovery goals for more than a decade,” said Russ Mason, DNR wildlife division chief.

In January 2012, citing wolf recovery in the region, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took gray wolves off the federal endangered species list in Michigan and Wisconsin and the threatened species list in Minnesota.

The ruling allowed Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to manage wolves according to their wolf management plans. Michigan’s plan was crafted with the help of a panel representing a wide span of interests ranging from Native American tribes to trappers, hunters and environmentalists.

The 2008 plan, which the Department updated in 2015, allowed for lethal means to control a limited number of wolves each year where conflicts had occurred. Michigan law allowed citizens to kill wolves that were actively preying on their hunting dogs or livestock.

However, Michigan’s laws on wolf depredation and the ability of wildlife managers to use lethal means, including hunting, to control wolves was suspended in December 2014, after a ruling from the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

In a lawsuit challenging the federal delisting, the court ruling found in favor of the Humane Society of the United States, ordering wolves returned to federal protection. Wolves have since remained classified as an endangered species in Michigan and Wisconsin and threatened in Minnesota.

Because of the federal endangered species status, Michigan citizens may only legally kill a wolf in defense of human life.

After the court’s finding, Michigan, Wisconsin, some private groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appealed the decision, filing their initial legal briefs in the case late last year. The court has not yet released a timeline of its deliberations.

Legislative efforts in the U.S. Congress have also been underway to try to again delist wolves in the Great Lakes Region.

“We have limited management options available to us at this time,” Mason said. “We sincerely hope that our ongoing appeal or current Congressional efforts will be successful in removing wolves from federal protection.”

Swanson said, “If federal protections are removed, Michigan and other involved states would have the ability to manage wolves in a sustainable manner, by utilizing sound scientific principles as we currently employ with other valuable game species, such as bear and bobcat.”

For more information about wolf management in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/wolves.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on Survey: Michigan’s wolf population stable

DNR seeks info on Turkey Tract vandalism


 

Last week, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the National Wild Turkey Federation gathered with other partners, volunteers and individuals to celebrate the opening of the first Turkey Tracts hunting area, located at Allegan State Game Area in Allegan County.

Sadly, the new Turkey Tracts kiosk, which is a large information station built by volunteers, thoughtlessly was vandalized and destroyed Friday night. It stood for only a few days.

“Vandalism on state game areas not only destroys the hard work of volunteers and partner organizations, but can hinder the ability to make improvements on the game area,” said Maria Albright, DNR wildlife technician. “Hunter license dollars may end up being spent making repairs from the destruction of public property instead of making improvements for all users to enjoy.”

The kiosk included helpful information for hunters visiting the Turkey Tract, such as maps of the area, project sponsors and information on turkey habitat management.

The destruction of the Turkey Tract kiosk is not the first case of vandalism to the Allegan State Game Area. Gates, protecting important wildlife habitat improvements from being damaged, have been torn out of the ground and sometimes even stolen completely.

“These gates are very costly to repair and replace,” added Albright. “Not to mention the cost of damage to wildlife habitat.”

Anyone with information regarding these incidents is asked to call the 24-hour DNR Report All Poaching (RAP) line at 800-292-7800. Information may be left anonymously.

Turkey Tracts are unique turkey hunting areas across the Lower Peninsula that provide great hunting opportunities for a variety of hunters, including youth, adults new to the sport, and seniors. Learn more about hunting turkey in Michigan at mi.gov/turkey.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on DNR seeks info on Turkey Tract vandalism

Leave wildlife in the wild 


 

A white-tailed deer fawn waiting for its mother to return. Although fawns may appear to have been abandoned, that’s rarely the case, and leaving them alone will help them survive.

A white-tailed deer fawn waiting for its mother to return. Although fawns may appear to have been abandoned, that’s rarely the case, and leaving them alone will help them survive.

Do not take baby animals from the wild this spring

Spring is nearly here, bringing warmer temperatures and the next generation of wildlife.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds those who are outside enjoying the experience of seeing wildlife raise its young to view animals from a distance, so they are not disturbed.

It is important to remember that many species of wildlife “cache” (hide) their young for safety. These babies are not abandoned; they simply have been hidden by their mother until she returns for them.

“Please resist the urge to help seemingly abandoned baby animals,” said Hannah Schauer, wildlife technician for the DNR. “Many baby animals will die if removed from their natural environment, and some have diseases or parasites that can be passed on to humans or pets.”

Schauer added that some rescued animals that do survive may become habituated to people and are unable to revert back to life in the wild.

“Habituated animals pose additional problems as they mature and develop adult animal behavior. For example, habituated deer, especially bucks, can become aggressive as they get older and reach breeding age.”

White-tailed deer fawns are one of the animals most commonly rescued by well-intentioned citizens. It is not uncommon for deer to leave their fawns unattended for up to eight hours at a time. This behavior minimizes the scent of the mother left around the fawn, which allows the fawn to go undetected by nearby predators. While fawns seem abandoned, they rarely are. All wild white-tailed deer begin life this way. The best chance for their survival is to leave them in the wild. If you find a fawn alone, do not touch it, as this might leave your scent and could attract predators. Give it plenty of space and leave the area quickly. The mother deer will return for her fawns when she feels it is safe, but may not return if people or dogs are present.

Only licensed wildlife rehabilitators may possess abandoned or injured wildlife. Unless you are licensed, it is illegal to possess a live wild animal, including deer, in Michigan.

The only time a baby animal may be removed from the wild is when you know the parent is dead or the animal is injured. Please remember, a licensed rehabilitator must be contacted before removing an animal from the wild. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators must adhere to the law and have gone through training on proper handling of injured or abandoned wild animals. Licensed rehabilitators will work to return the animal to the wild, where it will have the best chance for survival.

A list of licensed rehabilitators can be found by visiting mi.gov/wildlife or by calling your local DNR office.

Posted in News, OutdoorsComments Off on Leave wildlife in the wild 

New Michigan Fishing Guide available 


OUT-Fishing-guide

The Department of Natural Resources has announced release of the 2016-2017 Michigan Fishing Guide, which includes rules and regulations effective April 1, 2016, through March 31, 2018. Copies of the two-year guide can be obtained at any location where fishing licenses are sold.

Anglers should note this year’s publication is a two-year guide, covering regulations for both 2016 and 2017.

As in the recent past, this year’s guide is intended to be useful to anglers in the field by being printed on higher-quality paper to better withstand the wear and tear of fishing in Michigan, produced in a smaller physical size to better fit in tackle boxes, and printed in an easier to read font size.

This is the second year the DNR solicited photos from the public for possible use on the cover of the guide. This year’s selected photo is of Grand Haven’s north pier and was submitted by Eric Zattlin. The DNR will be collecting potential cover photos for the 2018-2019 guide as well. The DNR is looking for photos that focus on places to fish, not so much on people or fish species themselves. Interested individuals can send their submissions to DNR-Fisheries@michigan.gov.

The 2016-2017 Michigan Fishing Guide also is available in a user-friendly, electronic format online at michigan.gov/fishingguide.

Again this year, excerpts of the new Michigan Fishing Guide are available in Spanish, Arabic and Chinese to better accommodate non-English speaking anglers. These documents—each five pages in length—are available online at michigan.gov/fishing under the “Rules & Regs” button.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on New Michigan Fishing Guide available 

Free fishing weekend Feb. 13-14


This weekend affords anglers of all ages opportunities to get outdoors and fish for free as part of the DNR's 2016 Winter Free Fishing Weekend.

This weekend affords anglers of all ages opportunities to get outdoors and fish for free as part of the DNR’s 2016 Winter Free Fishing Weekend.

Everyone in Michigan – including residents and non-residents – can fish without a license Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 13 and 14, though all other fishing regulations still apply.

Michigan has celebrated the Winter Free Fishing Weekend every year since 1994 as a way to promote awareness of the state’s vast aquatic resources. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a perfect match.

“Michigan offers many enjoyable winter outdoor activities, and fishing is among the most popular options,” said Bill Moritz, DNR director. “We encourage everyone to get outside this February and explore the angling opportunities available throughout the state – on your own, with your family or with some good friends.”

Organized Winter Free Fishing Weekend activities are being scheduled in communities across the state to assist with public participation. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations including constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others.

A full listing of activities can be found online at michigan.gov/freefishing.

Also, during the 2016 Winter Free Fishing Weekend no DNR Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry to any state park or recreation area.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Free fishing weekend Feb. 13-14

DNR reminds public of ice-safety measures


With warm and rainy weather patterns seen in recent weeks in many parts of the state, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources urges ice anglers and snowmobilers to remember that no ice is safe ice.

“When temperatures reach into the 40s, as they have recently in many areas, thawing will occur and that will definitely weaken ice,” said Sgt. Steve Orange, DNR Law Enforcement Division’s recreational safety, education and enforcement supervisor. “It’s very important to know and follow guidelines to determine how ice looks and feels so that your day of ice fishing or snowmobiling is enjoyable and safe. Ignoring warning signs of weakened ice can result in a life-threatening incident.”

The DNR does not recommend the standard “inch-thickness” guide used by many anglers and snowmobilers to determine ice safety, because ice seldom forms at a uniform rate.

Orange said a warm spell may take several days to weaken the ice; however, when temperatures vary widely, causing the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night, the result is a weak, “spongy” or honeycombed ice that is unsafe.

Ice strength can’t be determined by its look, thickness, the temperature or whether or not it’s covered with snow, Orange said.

When venturing onto ice, remember:

  • Clear ice that has a bluish tint is the strongest. Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky, and is very porous and weak.
  • Ice covered by snow always should be presumed unsafe. Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process. Ice under the snow will be thinner and weaker. A snowfall also can warm up and melt existing ice.
  • If there is slush on the ice, stay off. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is no longer freezing from the bottom.

Although it’s a personal decision, the DNR does not recommend ice anglers take a car or truck onto the ice,” Orange said.

Anyone venturing onto the ice is urged to wear a life jacket, wear bright colors, bring a cell phone and bring along a set of ice picks or ice claws, which can be found in most sporting goods stores.

If ice does break, Orange offered the following tips:

  • Try to remain calm.
  • Don’t remove winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.
  • Turn in the water toward the direction you came from; that is probably the strongest ice.
  • If you have them, dig the points of the picks into the ice and, while vigorously kicking your feet, pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.
  • Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
  • Get to shelter, heat, warm dry clothing and warm, nonalcoholic and noncaffeinated drinks.
  • Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia (the life-threatening drop in the body’s core temperature).

Learn more about ice safety on the DNR website www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Posted in OutdoorsComments Off on DNR reminds public of ice-safety measures

Cold weather a hot time for minnow harvesters


 

Cut netting: A seine pulled tight to shore that contains minnows for sorting and harvesting. The net had been positioned in a cut off Saginaw Bay.

Cut netting: A seine pulled tight to shore that contains minnows for sorting and harvesting. The net had been positioned in a cut off Saginaw Bay.

From the Michigan DNR

Falling water temperatures can mean a lot of things to those who enjoy the outdoors.

Cold water increases interest in steelhead fishing, for instance, and decreases the focus on bass fishing. However, to Jeff Slancik of Bay County, cold water means just one thing: It’s time to catch minnows.

Slancik, 49, of Pinconning is a bait dealer whose business heats up when the weather cools down.

In cold weather, the baitfish head inshore from the Great Lakes and that’s when Slancik can catch them in large volume and keep them alive in ponds for the winter.“You have to wait until the water temperature comes down,” Slancik said. “I’d say in a typical year we start around Nov. 1 and you’re lucky to see past Dec. 1. We lost the first week of November this year because it was too warm. Once that water gets down to 40 degrees, you can catch minnows. The colder it is, the longer we can keep the minnows.”

Slancik has operated Jeff’s Bait Co. in Pinconning for 25 years. He’s one of a number of Michigan commercial bait wholesalers who catch minnows and sell them to distributors, who then get them to the bait shops anglers depend upon.

Picking: A worker inspects the contents of a dip net, picking out nontarget minnow species as the crew works a cut off Lake Huron in Michigan’s thumb area.

Picking: A worker inspects the contents of a dip net, picking out nontarget minnow species as the crew works a cut off Lake Huron in Michigan’s thumb area.

Minnow harvesters are licensed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Tom Goniea, the DNR fisheries biologist who oversees the program from Lansing, said there are about 80 licensed minnow catchers in Michigan, but only a handful of large operators like Slancik.

“Most of the catchers’ licenses belong to guys who own retail shops and may catch minnows every now and then to sell to their customers,” Goniea said. “Ninety percent of the state’s bait harvest is coming out of Saginaw Bay, the St. Clair River, the Detroit River and Lake Erie. It’s mostly emerald and spottail shiners. Your fatheads, golden shiners and suckers are largely imported.”

Minnows: A perch is removed from a dip net full of minnows taken from a cut off Saginaw Bay.

Minnows: A perch is removed from a dip net full of minnows taken from a cut off Saginaw Bay.

Minnow harvesters are restricted to the types and size of gear they can use.

“On the Great Lakes, they can use a 125-foot seine,” Goniea said. “Inland waters have different regulations that vary by water type. In Michigan, most waters are open to minnow harvest unless they are specifically closed.”

For Slancik, a recent day began on a cut (a nonflowing man-made channel connected to a larger body of water which aids in getting boats access to open water) along Saginaw Bay not far from home.

Two of Slancik’s employees manned the ends of a seine stretched across the cut, one on the bank, the other in a float tube along the edge of the deeper side of the cut.

Slowly, they pulled the seine toward the inside end of the cut, where Slancik directed them.

When they reached a point a couple yards off the back end of the cut, Slancik sprang into action, bringing dip nets and a larger floating pen net with him.

The trio began scooping up minnows, weeding through them to toss out the non-minnow captives, mostly perch, and transferring the minnows into the net pen.

The fish were then filtered through a grader— a floating device with a slotted bottom that allowed the smaller fish to slip through to the pen, but contained the larger fish.

From there, they again dipped the minnows up with hand nets and sorted, tossing out perch or other non-target species, transferring the minnows into 5-gallon buckets.

Slancik took a bucket to his truck, which is equipped with numerous, oxygenated tanks. There, he sorted one more time, removing any non-minnow fish before he transferred the minnows to the truck tank.

Slancik said sorting takes a lot of time. Had they found many more perch or other unwanted specimens in the seine, he said he would have dumped the whole load back into the cut and gone elsewhere.

Slancik has been catching minnows his whole life. He started working for his great-uncle Frank, of Frank’s Great Outdoors in Linwood fame, who Slancik called “the Fred Bear of minnow-catching.”

Slancik works a territory from Pinconning north and east along the thumb of the state to Port Austin in Huron County. More than half the minnows he takes are used in the local Saginaw Bay area. In a cold winter, with good ice, 75 percent of his minnows are sold locally.

“From November first to December, it’s go, go, go, sometimes 24 hours a day for five days straight,” Slancik said. “On a good day, we’ll get 300 gallons of minnows, about 700 per gallon.” Minnows are sold by the gallon commercially in Michigan. In some others states, they’re sold by the pound.

Like most fishing pursuits, Slancik’s minnow catching luck runs hot and cold.

“I’ve had catches of 1,000 gallons, no problem. One time we caught 10,000 gallons and I only needed 1,000 gallons. I let the other 9,000 gallons go,” Slancik said. “But I’ve had times when I’ve worked all day and only caught 20 gallons.”

Slancik said he puts between 7 million and 10 million minnows in ponds, which he keeps aerated, for the winter season.

“I can keep up to 2,000 gallons in a pond, but I want to back off a little this year because we might have a warmer winter,” he said. “Bigger minnows survive better in the ponds. The smaller minnows don’t have the strength to be caught in warmer temperatures and held until spring.”

State law prohibits minnows caught in Michigan to be exported out of state.

“Any minnow that is harvested in Michigan is meant to meet the local demand of Michigan anglers, without disturbing the food chain for our predator fishes such as trout, walleye and smallmouth bass,” Goniea said.

Goniea said minnow harvesters are not doing any damage to the fisheries resource.

“In almost all cases, human harvest has little to no effect on available resources,” he said. “On a place like Saginaw Bay, a million emerald shiners is a minute part of the population. Walleyes, bass and the other predator fish control the bait population. Human harvest is a drop in the bucket, and minnows are capable of explosive growth and reproduction.”

This fall, Slancik has mostly caught emerald shiners, the minnows anglers call “blues.” Spottail shiners, known as “grays,” were down a little.

“Spottails tend to run larger than emeralds. Lake trout fishermen like spottails, just because of their size. But big emeralds will work just as well,” Slancik said. “We noticed that last year because nobody caught spottails. But people get it stuck in their heads that they want spottails. These days, there are more emeralds than spottails. It used to be the other way around.”

Slancik said there are more baitfish in Lake Huron now than ever.

“Lake Huron is like a big fish tank — you can only put so many fish in an aquarium,” Slancik said. “When one is up, the other is down, but spottails are slowly coming back.”

Slancik said he’s seeing more gizzard shad and alewives lately, too.

The DNR monitors the minnow harvest to make sure invasive species and those that can carry diseases — such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) — aren’t spread.

In the summer months, when minnows can’t be kept in ponds, a lot of minnows are imported.

But in winter, if you’re seeking a Pure Michigan experience—say walleye fishing through the ice–you’re likely using minnows caught right here in Michigan, by commercial bait harvesters like Slancik.

For more information on Michigan minnows, visit the DNR’s webpage at www.michigan.gov/fishing.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments Off on Cold weather a hot time for minnow harvesters