Michigan On-the-Ground program engages volunteers to improve habitat

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) earned Outdoor Life magazine’s first ever Open Country award, which recognizes individuals, organizations and agencies for protecting and improving public hunting access. The DNR won the agency award for its public-private partnership with Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) in the Michigan On-the-Ground program, a statewide series of volunteer fish and wildlife habitat improvement projects. The award was presented at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

“Michigan certainly isn’t alone in its budget challenges,” said Andrew McKean, editor of Outdoor Life. “Their approach to the problem, however, is unique and it’s a model we hope other states will consider. They’ll find no group more willing to help than the hunters and anglers who benefit from the work.”

In 2013, the inaugural year for the Michigan On-the-Ground program, more than 140 volunteers participated in six projects across the Lower Peninsula. Projects ranged from building brush piles for small game to clearing food plots for deer, planting crabapple trees for turkeys, cleaning wood duck boxes, and clearing hunter access canals at managed waterfowl areas, all on state-owned public land. The program was made possible by legislation signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011 to allow volunteers to use equipment on state game areas to help achieve DNR objectives.

“This was a priority of Michigan’s conservation community.” said Erin McDonough, executive director for MUCC. “It connects Michigan citizens with the outdoor resources in their communities while strategically achieving the management objectives of the department.”

“After one year, the results have been pretty amazing, and I don’t mean just with regard to the habitat work that has been completed, which is substantial,” said Douglas Reeves, assistant wildlife chief of the DNR, who accepted the award for the department. “I also mean in building relationships between DNR staff and the people we serve.”

2014 promises more and bigger projects for Michigan On-the-Ground, including multiple projects in the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan, as well as on southern Michigan state game areas.

“It’s the volunteers and DNR biologists and techs who make this program a success,” said Drew YoungeDyke, who manages the Michigan On-the-Ground program. “Our first year showed us that Michigan’s sportsmen and women want to help. This year, we want to give them every opportunity to do good work to improve publicly accessible fish and wildlife habitat.”

This year’s projects will include:

February: Placing muskie structures on Chicagon Lake in Iron County
February 22: Building brush piles for rabbits at Gratiot-Saginaw State Game Area
February: Building brush piles for rabbits at Sharonville State Game Area
March 1: Building brush piles for rabbits at Fulton State Game Area
March 8: Youth rabbit hunt at Crane Pond State Game Area (site of 2013 brush pile project)
March: Hinge-cutting trees for snowshoe hares near Oscoda
April: Planting oak trees near Cusino Research Station
April: Planting oak trees near Au Train State Wildlife Refuge
April: Planting spruce trees at Crane Pond State Game Area
May 3: Planting jack pines in Grayling region (with Huron Pines)
July 12: Removing European Frogbit (aquatic invasive species) from waterfowl refuge in Alpena
July 29: Clearing wildlife openings for food plots near whitetail wintering complexes in Delta County
August: Observing and reporting mast presence in northwest Michigan (w/ Michigan State University)
September: Placing woody debris on the Rifle River to create trout habitat

Additional projects throughout the year may include clearing debris on the Rabbit River with the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association, trash cleanups on the Belle River, Huron River and at Nayanquing Point, fish hatchery maintenance, duck banding, building brush piles for rabbits at the Danville State Game Area, and maintaining elk openings in the Pigeon River Country with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Those interested in volunteering for any of the proposed projects should email Drew YoungeDyke at dyoungedyke@mucc.org or call (517) 346-6486. Michigan On-the-Ground program sponsors include Consumers Energy and Enbridge Energy. Outdoor Life’s Open Country program sponsors include Yamaha and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Logo courtesy Michigan United Conservation Clubs

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