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Tag Archive | "DNR"

DNR sees success in fall walleye stocking


A healthy fall walleye fingerling, reared in DNR ponds near Belmont in Kent County, is ready to be released into Crystal Lake in Montcalm County. Photo courtesty Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A healthy fall walleye fingerling, reared in DNR ponds near Belmont in Kent County, is ready to be released into Crystal Lake in Montcalm County. Photo courtesty Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Fall is harvest time in Michigan, and while most may be thinking of picking apples or plucking pumpkins, Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries crews are thinking about walleye.

Specifically, they’re collecting the last of the walleye fingerlings that are raised in rearing ponds for stocking and getting the fish to where they want them to be.

For the most part, walleye are reared for a short period of time in ponds and stocked as spring fingerlings—most at less than 2 inches in length—in high densities. But fisheries biologists know that fall fingerlings can be stocked at much lower densities and produce better results than spring fingerlings.

Volunteer members of the West Michigan Walleye Club lift a fyke net (a bag net for catching fish) of fingerlings out of a DNR walleye pond near Belmont in Kent County. Photo courtesy Michigan DNR.

Volunteer members of the West Michigan Walleye Club lift a fyke net (a bag net for catching fish) of fingerlings out of a DNR walleye pond near Belmont in Kent County. Photo courtesy Michigan DNR.

Recently, DNR technician supervisor Ed Pearce brought his crew (technicians Mike Wilson and Matt Smith) to the state’s walleye ponds near Belmont in Kent County to get the walleye out of the ponds and into a couple of southern Michigan lakes.

A dozen or so members of the West Michigan Walleye Club, who spent the summer babysitting the ponds, assisted the crew in the operation.

“We have found that if we put in fall fingerlings, their survival is very, very good,” said Jay Wesley, the DNR’s Lake Michigan Basin coordinator. “It’s really the key to stocking walleye in southern Michigan. We’ve done it with fry, but it’s really hit or miss.”

Although walleye are much in demand—anglers love them—most southern Michigan waters are not ideal for the fish, which prefer cooler water than most southern Michigan lakes maintain in the summer.

In addition, most lakes have established fish populations that predate heavily upon the tiny walleye. By stocking fall fingerlings, fisheries managers not only enjoy better fish survival but are also more likely to establish fishable walleye populations.

“If we can get a cool-water hatchery facility, our capacity to raise more fall fingerlings would increase,” Wesley said. “Right now, we’re kind of doing it experimentally, pond by pond, but we need a coordinated effort at one hatchery to really get it going.”

At some ponds, crews leave a percentage of the fish there after spring harvest to grow into fall fingerlings. At Belmont this year, production was so poor that fisheries managers decided to leave them all in the pond to grow until fall.

The operation at Belmont consists of three ponds—a fill pond, fed by a natural creek; the walleye pond; and a minnow pond, which is stocked early in the season with fathead minnows that will reproduce and provide forage for the walleye pond.

Members of the club tended the ponds all spring and summer. In spring, they fertilize the ponds to produce the plankton the fry need to survive.

“For six weeks, we put 500 to 600 pounds of fertilizer—a mixture of alfalfa and soy meal—into the ponds to provide the nutrients for the plankton,” said Al Davis, club director. “We started with 100 pounds of minnows in the minnow pond, and we produced more than 400 pounds of minnows this year—and we’ve still got minnows in there.

“We had more than 90 man-hours in just feeding fish and transferring the minnows from the minnow pond to the walleye pond.”

Fall harvest involves lowering the water level to congregate the fish more closely, then installing trap nets to collect them. It takes two days of water-lowering and net-setting to get the bulk of the fish.

Next, the remaining water is drained into what the guys call a “wolf trap”—a concrete and screen box below the pond’s discharge tube—where the remaining fish are entrapped and netted out.

“We’ll get 90 percent of the fish out with the nets, then we’ll seine the wolf trap,” Pearce said. “We’ll get all of those fish.”

Pond production is highly variable, depending largely on environmental factors over which no one has control. The poor production this spring led to a bonanza of fall fingerlings.

“It has been a good year this year,” Davis said, as he handled nets at the recent fingerling harvest. “In 2010, we had a bunch of fish, but a flood came through and blew the dike. The fish all wound up in the Grand River.

“But since 2009, this pond has produced more than 800,000 walleye fry.”

Raising fingerlings is costly and time-consuming. The club chipped in to help defray the cost of fertilizer and provided the bulk of the labor.

Pearce, who praised the club effusively, said the program would be nearly impossible without the club’s assistance.

“These fall fingerlings are worth their weight in gold,” Pearce said. “We use them in lakes that are full of bluegills; bluegills are good predators, so we put them in at a size that they’re not going to get eaten up.”

Fall fingerlings tend to measure 5 to 7 inches. It’ll take about two years for them to recruit into the fishery, when they become legal targets at 15 inches.

Schoolchildren from two nearby schools also attended the first day of the fall fingerling harvest.

For his part, Pearce said the fall fingerling harvest is one of his favorite tasks as a fisheries worker.

“This is enjoyable,” Pearce said. “You’re doing your job, and you’re educating kids, too. These are the days we look forward to.”

Get more information on DNR fish stocking at michigan.gov/fishing.

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DNR seeks bear den locations in northern Lower Peninsula


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While out in the field, hunters and trappers could come upon a denned black bear. The Department of Natural Resources is looking for locations of denned bears in the northern Lower Peninsula, in order to fit them with a radio collar for an ongoing bear management program.

“Information gathered from bears assists in managing the black bear population,” said Mark Boersen, wildlife biologist at the DNR Roscommon Customer Service Center. “Currently, we have four female bears being monitored from both air and ground using radio tracking equipment.”

After locating a denned bear, DNR biologists will determine if the animal is a good candidate for a radio collar. Bears that are selected will be sedated by a wildlife biologist and fitted with a collar and ear tags. A small non-functional tooth will be collected to determine the bear’s age and to provide a DNA sample. Upon completion of the short procedure, biologists will carefully return the bear to its den, where it will sleep through the remainder of the winter months.

Those who encounter bear dens are asked to record the location, with a GPS unit if possible, and contact Mark Boersen at (989) 275-5151 or boersenm@michigan.gov with specific location information. It is illegal to disturb a bear den or to disturb, harm, or molest a bear in its den.

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Be an ethical hunter: buy a license before you go 


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And don’t loan kill tags

Conservation officers with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources urge deer hunters to engage in an ethical hunt: Buy a license before going out and don’t loan kill tags.

Every deer hunting season, DNR conservation officers encounter individuals engaged in unethical hunting practices. These officers tackle many cases of individuals buying hunting licenses after harvesting deer or loaning kill tags to friends or relatives.

“Each year, we see cases of individuals waiting to buy licenses until after they have shot a deer,” said Dean Molnar, assistant chief of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “We remind all hunters that you must buy your license before you go out to hunt and have it in your possession when afield. Buying a license is not only the ethical and responsible thing to do; it is the law. Harvesting a deer without a license is poaching.”

Deer poaching in Michigan carries a restitution payment of $1,000 per deer, a $200 to $1,000 fine and jail time up to 90 days. In addition, a violator’s hunting privileges are suspended for three years. Under the new law that took effect in 2014, antlered deer are assessed an additional $1,000 in restitution plus the standard $1,000 for illegally killing any deer. In addition, deer with eight points but not more than 10 are $500 a point, while deer with 11 points or more are assessed a penalty of $750 per point.

Additional years of hunting privileges will be revoked for violators. This includes an additional two years of revoked hunting privileges for the first offense and an additional seven years for a second or subsequent offences. Michigan also participates in the Wildlife Violator Compact, which includes hunting revocation in participating states.

Another unethical practice encountered frequently each hunting season in Michigan is the loaning of kill tags to an unlicensed individual who has harvested a deer.

“Loaning kill tags is among the top violations we see while on patrol, and is often done for friends or relatives who are from out of state to avoid paying the nonresident license fee,” said Molnar. “Kill tags must be validated and attached immediately to your harvested deer and visible for inspection. It is unlawful to loan out or borrow kill tags.”

For more information on deer hunting in Michigan, go to www.michigan.gov/deer.

To report a natural resource violation, please call the Report All Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/rap.

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Cougars poached; DNA tests done 


 The cougar shown was poached in Schoolcraft County in 2013. This is one of two male cougars the Michigan Department of Natural Resources sampled tissue from for genetic analysis. Photo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources.


The cougar shown was poached in Schoolcraft County in 2013. This is one of two male cougars the Michigan Department of Natural Resources sampled tissue from for genetic analysis. Photo courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Genetic testing on tissue samples from two cougars poached in the Upper Peninsula shows the two animals likely came from a population found generally in South Dakota, Wyoming and northwest Nebraska.

“This genetic research lines up with what we’ve presumed previously, that cougars found in the Upper Peninsula are males dispersing from this population east of the Rocky Mountains,” said Kevin Swanson, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife management specialist with the agency’s Bear and Wolf Program. “These males dispersed from the main population are looking to establish new territories.”

Since 2008, the DNR has confirmed 35 cougar reports in the Upper Peninsula, but so far there remains no conclusive evidence of a breeding population. No reports have been confirmed from Lower Michigan.

Cougars are an endangered species in Michigan protected by law.

The U.P. cougar confirmations were derived from trail camera video, photographs, tracks, scat or in the case of the two males poached, carcasses.

On Feb. 1, a cougar, or mountain lion, was found dead in Dickinson County, about 4 miles north of Iron Mountain.

Conservation officers investigating the incident said the animal, which a medical examination determined had been in a snare, had been dumped near the intersection of Johnson Road and County Road 607 in Breitung Township.

On April 18, researchers at the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation in Missoula, Montana received a tissue sample collected Feb. 1 from the dead cougar.

The sample had been sent to the center for genetic evaluation by DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell in Marquette.

Researchers had previously received another cougar tissue sample from Roell on Aug. 28, 2015, which had been collected Nov. 20, 2013, after the poaching of a cougar in Schoolcraft County.

During the 2013 muzzle-loader deer hunting season, conservation officers received a tip that a cougar had been killed at a hunting camp near Seney.

Investigation revealed the animal was shot and wounded with a rifle when it entered a field near the camp. The following day, the cougar was tracked down and killed by a man developed later as a suspect.

Three men from Bay City were arrested and convicted for poaching the cougar. The men served jail time, paid several thousand dollars in fines, costs and restitution, and lost hunting privileges for several years.

The genetic results from analysis of the two cougar samples were reported recently to the DNR by the center.

Researchers analyzed the DNA from the two samples using mitochondrial DNA, which traces mother-line ancestry. A haplotype is a group of genes within an organism inherited together from a single parent.

Kristine Pilgrim, genomic laboratory’s supervisor, said the two cougars had a haplotype “M,” which is the most common North American haplotype.

Researchers investigated the potential population of origin for the two cougars using a database which includes samples from cougar populations in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oregon and Florida.

“Preliminary substructure analysis shows that these animals are most closely related to individuals from the region of the Black Hills of Wyoming and South Dakota and northwest Nebraska,” Pilgrim said.

Using the genic information from the tissue samples, matched against results from other cougars in the center’s database, probabilities are calculated for the animal’s origin.

The tissue sample from the cougar from Schoolcraft County showed a probability of 74.1 percent to have come from the Wyoming-South Dakota-Nebraska population, while the Dickinson County cougar’s probability was 99.8 percent.

Researchers caution the probability does not necessarily mean the cougars are directly from that location, because there may be other populations that have not been sampled and included in the database.

“This research adds a couple more pieces to the puzzle, helping us to learn more about the cougars found in the Upper Peninsula,” Swanson said. “We still have not found the presence of any females or cubs, which would indicate a breeding population. This analysis also adds information to the center’s data set.”

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cougars were once the most widely-distributed land animal in the Western Hemisphere, but have been eliminated from about two-thirds of their historic range.

At one time, cougars lived in every eastern state in a variety of habitats including coastal marshes, mountains and forests. They were native to Michigan, but were trapped and hunted from the state around the turn of the 20th Century.

Thirteen western states allow cougar hunting and the North American cougar is listed there as a game species.

The DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline (1-800-292-7800) offers money to tipsters. Information may be provided anonymously.

To learn more about cougars in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/cougars.

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Nongame Wildlife Fund helps aid comeback success stories


 

Most of us recognize the American robin. With its cheery song bringing a welcome sign of spring, these red-breasted birds are a common sight in Michigan; so familiar and appreciated, in fact, that the robin was named the state bird in 1931.

But there was a time after World War II when robins had become less common due to the damaging effects of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) and other pesticides.

Fortunately, robin populations bounced back after DDT use was banned in the United State in 1972. However, many other nongame species—meaning wildlife that isn’t hunted—have needed, and continue to need, help to protect them from becoming rare or even extinct. That’s where the Nongame Wildlife Fund comes in.

Mechanics and administration

The fund, which is coordinated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division, assists with the division’s goals by identifying, protecting, managing and restoring Michigan’s biological diversity.

The Nongame Wildlife Fund is responsible for initiating, developing and implementing critical projects vital to the needs of Michigan’s endangered, threatened and nongame animals, plants and their habitats.

Since its inception, the Nongame Wildlife Fund has raised nearly $24 million in support of critical projects for nongame species, which includes more than 80 percent of Michigan’s wildlife.

“The fund aims not only to restore populations of endangered and threatened species but to maintain present populations of animals and plants and to promote appreciation of Michigan’s nongame wildlife,” said Hannah Schauer, a DNR wildlife technician.

Funds have been raised for these important management efforts through voluntary check-off contributions on state income tax forms (the check-off ended when the fund reached $6 million, as dictated by state law), sales of the wildlife habitat specialty license plates and direct donations.

Another component of this approach has been the Living Resources Patch program. Proceeds from the sale of these patches also are directed to the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

For more than 40 years, the patch program has raised awareness of Michigan’s nongame wildlife species. The 2016-2017 Living Resources Patch, which will be the final one issued in the series, features the American robin.

“The state bird seemed fitting for the final patch, since 2016 is also the centennial for the Migratory Bird Treaty, which has benefited the robin, as well as many other nongame bird species,” Schauer said.

American robin patches, along with several previous years’ patches, are available for purchase on the Michigan e-store website.

Kirtland’s warbler

The effort to bolster Michigan’s nongame wildlife has yielded some notable progress over the last few decades.

One of the most significant success stories—and one that’s unique to Michigan—stars a rare songbird called the Kirtland’s warbler, one of the original species to be listed as part of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Visitors come from all over the world to see these birds, which nest in just a few counties in Michigan’s northern Lower and Upper peninsulas, a few sites in Wisconsin and Ontario, and nowhere else on Earth.

The DNR and many partners manage the specific type of jack pine habitat that the Kirtland’s warbler requires by logging, burning, seeding and replanting on a rotational basis.

Trees aren’t cut down until they’re mature and large enough to be economically valuable, which helps maintain nesting habitat for the warblers while supporting the commercial harvest of jack pine.

Several million jack pine seedlings are planted each year. The birds have specific nesting requirements which include reliance on young jack pine trees.

“The population of the rarest warbler in North America has increased dramatically through management and protection of more than 150,000 acres of jack pine habitat in Michigan,” said Dan Kennedy, DNR threatened and endangered species specialist.

The annual Kirtland’s warbler census, which tallies the number of singing males, has shown a significant increase in the species’ population over the last 40 years, from approximately 200 singing males in 1972 to 2,300 this year.

“The recovery of the Kirtland’s warbler is a real success story for endangered species management,” Kennedy said. “This conservation effort has benefited Michigan’s economy, including jobs associated with tourism and timber products, and helped conserve our biological legacy.”

Michigan’s osprey population, once threatened, is making a comeback with support from the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

Michigan’s osprey population, once threatened, is making a comeback with support from the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

Osprey

Many of Michigan’s nongame wildlife conservation victories involve birds, more specifically birds of prey. One notable example is the osprey.

Once nearly absent from much of Michigan due to the effects of DDT, other pesticides and habitat loss, Michigan’s osprey population is making a comeback thanks in part to the DNR’s osprey reintroduction program.

Started in 2008 and supported by the Nongame Wildlife Fund, this reintroduction program removed chicks from active nests in northern Michigan and reared them in man-made towers in southern Michigan, a process called “hacking.”

In 2015, at least 60 active nests were identified in southern Michigan – a substantial increase from the single active nest reported in 2002.

“Each year we have new nests, and we have already exceeded our original goal of 30 active nests by 2020,” said Julie Oakes, a DNR wildlife biologist. “We have been able to remove ospreys from the threatened species list to a species of special concern and restore their numbers in Michigan.”

The DNR and several partner organizations monitor the revitalization of this species by outfitting osprey chicks with “backpack” GPS telemetry units and tracking their movements and migration patterns.

Anyone can follow along and find out where the birds have been by looking at the Michigan Osprey website, www.michiganosprey.org.

Falcons and eagles

Peregrine falcons, which had been virtually eradicated from eastern North America at one time, today are successfully nesting atop places like urban buildings and bridges.

Peregrine falcons, which had been virtually eradicated from eastern North America at one time, today are successfully nesting atop places like urban buildings and bridges.

Peregrine falcons and bald eagles—two other birds of prey whose populations were decimated by pesticides—also are on the upswing as a result of similar conservation efforts.

Peregrines, virtually eradicated from eastern North America by the middle of the 20th century, today are successfully nesting in urban centers of southern Michigan, on the most iconic bridges across the state and along the Upper Peninsula’s rocky Lake Superior shoreline.

In 2015, biologists recorded 33 active peregrine nests, which produced 73 wild chicks.

The bald eagle’s numbers declined dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s until there were fewer than 1,000 nesting eagles remaining in the U.S. by 1963. Today, the species has recovered to a point where its existence is no longer imperiled.

With over 800 active eagle nests in Michigan, eagles can be found in almost all of the state’s 83 counties.

Moose

 In an operation known as the “moose lift” in the mid-1980s, the DNR translocated 59 moose via helicopter from Ontario, Canada, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

In an operation known as the “moose lift” in the mid-1980s, the DNR translocated 59 moose via helicopter from Ontario, Canada, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“Most of the mammal successes have been so successful that we have seasons on them: marten, fisher, deer and elk,” said Chris Hoving, adaptation specialist with the DNR Wildlife Division. “At one time, they were nongame, or at least not hunted.”

Although moose are not an example of a species that has rebounded to the point where it can be hunted, one memorable nongame endeavor was the reintroduction of the species to Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.

Native to Michigan, moose disappeared from the Lower Peninsula in the 1890s and only a few scattered individuals remained in the Upper Peninsula.

In the mid-1980s, the DNR translocated 59 moose—using helicopters, in an operation remembered as the “moose lift”—from Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, and released them in Marquette County.

A 2016 moose population survey estimates a population of 323 moose in the western U.P.

Reptiles and amphibians

As for reptiles and amphibians, collectively known as herpetofauna or “herps,” ongoing projects include the Michigan Herp Atlas, which aims to collect data about Michigan’s native amphibians and reptiles in order to document their distribution and changes in their populations statewide, and the annual spring volunteer frog and toad survey.

“We have collected a large, valuable data set to help us evaluate Michigan’s frog and toad populations,” said DNR nongame wildlife biologist Lori Sargent. “We’re now able to start watching trends and thinking about how to slow down some of the species’ declines and, hopefully, increase awareness of their plight so that conservation efforts will be enacted in the future.”

Distinctions

Schauer said it’s important to remember that not all nongame animals are threatened or endangered species, or even species of special concern.

“Nongame also includes animals that aren’t harvested but aren’t necessarily listed as special concern, threatened or endangered—a good example of that would be the American robin,” she said. “One of the primary goals of the Nongame Wildlife Fund is to keep these common species common.”

Pitch in

Want to help Michigan’s nongame wildlife? There are several ways to contribute: by purchasing a wildlife habitat license plate or Living Resources patch or by making a tax-deductible donation.

Learn more about the Nongame Wildlife Fund at www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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Construction impacting White Pine Trail use


 

From Friends of the White Pine Trail

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In the southern area of the tail, in Plainfield Township, there will be trail disruptions during this summer and fall.

In Comstock Park there will be equipment in and adjacent to the trail due to sewer line work for the next few weeks, and possibly into the fall. Please be very careful in this area and do not interfere with the construction activity. If you encounter someone directing you around construction, please follow their directions.

Between Belmont and Rockford there will be some equipment on the trail for the next month or longer.  There will be persons directing traffic whenever there is equipment on the trail – please cooperate with these folks that are doing their best to keep the trail open, you safe, and get the project done. The Trail Will Not Be Closed For Extended Periods in this area unless there are unforseen circumstances.

If you have questions regarding trail conditions please contact us. We will do our best to keep everyone informed.

Check our FaceBook page for up-to-date information.

If you see any problems that you feel needs attention please contact us as soon as possible—we need your help!

In Howard City Area, Montcalm County

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials announced that construction of the Rice and Tamarack Creek bridges on the White Pine Trail in Howard City will begin Monday Aug. 8.

The White Pine Trail is actively utilized by non-motorized users throughout the year and snowmobile users in the winter months. Bridge construction will include abutment replacement and pier removal, as well as the placement of a 60-foot-prefabricated bridge over Rice Creek and a 84-foot-prefabricated bridge over Tamarack Creek.

The White Pine Trail has been temporarily re-routed to Federal Road bypassing both bridges. The detour is posted. Construction is anticipated to be completed in November.

Questions about the trail closure may be directed to Scott Slavin, DNR unit supervisor of White Pine Trail State Park, at 231-775-7911 or slavins@michigan.gov

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


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

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

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

For more information, visit Michigan.gov/hooklineandsinker.

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New regulations affect personal collection of bait in Michigan


New regulations affect personal collection of bait in Michigan

The Natural Resources Commission recently approved new baitfish regulations that affect personally caught bait in Michigan waters. Any personally caught bait now must be used within the same body of water, or connecting bodies of water, where it was captured.

What that means for anglers is that bait can be caught within a tributary of a lake and used within the lake that is connected to the tributary. This principle also applies to chains of lakes that are void of barriers. However, if a man-made dam exists on a tributary that prevents free movement of baitfish between the lake and other connected waters, baitfish may not be moved or used within those nonconnected waters.

For example, if bait is captured in a small stream that is connected to a lake or network of other rivers and lakes, it can be used in any of those bodies of water. The general rule of thumb is if the baitfish can swim freely from the capture location to the location of use, the angler is in compliance.

The DNR has heard from anglers across the state who are concerned with this regulation. Fisheries Order 245 was put in place in 2007 to protect Michigan’s waters from the movement of fish diseases and aquatic invasive species. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia is one of many diseases that can be moved from one body of water to another through the movement of baitfish. To protect the state’s fisheries from this threat, the DNR requires commercial baitfish catchers to test their baitfish for diseases prior to sale.

Further, aquatic invasive species significantly affect Michigan’s fisheries and there are many invasive species that easily can be introduced to new waters through baitfish collection. Species like rusty crayfish and round goby have been spread by anglers collecting their own bait for use in a different location.

“The ecological and economic impact of diseases and aquatic invasive species is very significant in Michigan and across the Great Lakes Region,” said Todd Grischke, assistant chief of the DNR Fisheries Division. “These updated regulations provide our fisheries with further protection.”

For more information on Michigan’s baitfish regulations, visit Michigan.gov/fishingguide.

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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.

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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.

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