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Friday, August 31, 2012

“The Nature of Wild”

This article is from the September-October issue of our newsletter "The Wildlife Volunteer".

Helping wildlife to thrive has become much more complex over the years.  As originally conceived by the Conservancy wildlife restoration meant restoring water levels in drained wetlands, removing excess sand from trout streams and replanting prairies.  However, time and human behavior has forced us to broaden our focus as so frequently happens on important endeavors.   

We started life doing what everyone in wildlife restoration was doing – habitat restoration and enhancement projects.  But before the 1980’s were over we found ourselves restoring wild turkeys to Southern Michigan and moose to the Upper Peninsula.  Why, because the opportunities to restore these important native animals became obvious. 

In the late 90’s the same thing happened again – this time with cougars in the Upper Peninsula.  Three men, MWC founding President Dan Robbins, MWC member Mike Zuidema and DNR Deputy Director Frank Opolka provided credible evidence of Michigan’s apex predator, the cougar, surviving north of the Straits.  We were harassed and cajoled until we agreed to look into the cougar issue.  Our readers know the “rest of the story.”  Indeed, we have a cougar population in both peninsulas that are probably descended from native Michigan animals. 

By 2000 it became obvious to us that the invasion of harmful aliens by sea and on foot were a serious threat to Michigan’s wildlife.  The conservancy started getting involved politically in protecting what may be Michigan’s greatest asset – our Great Lakes resources.  Today our freshwater seas are being threatened by saltwater shipping from the east and Asian carp from the Mississippi River system.  The value of the Great Lakes is incalculable, and these waters define us.  We must protect them. 

At the same time, an extremely destructive and dangerous threat came to us from Eurasia– the wild boar.  The boar has now spread to 70 counties and is establishing itself in our state.  The Conservancy is leading an effort to rid the landscape of boars but the task is formidable.  We will continue to help mobilize Michigan’s resources against the wild boar. 

While the Conservancy has continued to perform habitat restoration projects current conditions also require us to focus on controlling invasive and exotic species.  We will continue to strive to provide Michigan an abundant and diverse wildlife legacy.  The Conservancy must succeed because like Russell Bengel and our supporters, the Conservancy leadership chooses to follow the words of Aldo Leopold – “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot – for those who cannot the choice is clear.”

Friday, August 24, 2012

Citizen Science! Fun For The Whole Family

This article is from our September-October issue of our newsletter "The Wildlife Volunteer".

The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy (MWC) recently confirmed the presence of a cougar in Southern Marquette County.  The cougar was photographed by a cased and padlocked trail camera on private property on June 1, 2012.  The property owners do not wish to be publicly identified, but are members of the MWC.    

Dr. Patrick Rusz, Director of Wildlife Programs for the Conservancy, and Michael Zuidema, a retired DNR forester, verified the trail camera’s location on a well-worn wildlife trail atop a wooded ridge.  The camera has also photographed wolves, coyotes, fishers and numerous other species at the same site over a four-year period.  In late June, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources also confirmed the authenticity of the cougar photo.

The MWC publicized this photograph because it may be the best, clearest photograph of a wild Michigan cougar ever taken.  It is also unusually interesting because Mr. Zuidema has recorded over 20 credible cougar sightings in the same vicinity since the 1970s.  These include several sightings within a few miles of the trail camera location.

Dr. Rusz stated that “the long history of sighting reports in the area indicates the cougar photographed on June 1 may be part of a resident population rather than a wandering cat from a western state.”  Dr. Rusz has studied cougars for the Conservancy for 14 years and is co-author of a peer-reviewed study that confirmed cougars in both peninsulas of Michigan by analyses of DNA in droppings.  He has also compiled a long list of additional physical evidence dating back to 1966, and notes that Michigan State College zoologist Richard Manville documented several cougar sightings or incidents when he inventoried the fauna of Marquette County’s Huron Mountains from 1939 to 1942. 
The large volume of recent Michigan evidence includes 17 MDNR confirmations since the agency formed a cougar team of specially trained biologists in 2008.   These confirmations include one last May when a cougar was photographed with a hand-held camera near Skanee in Baraga County.  That photograph was taken about 50 miles north of the Marquette County trail camera location.  

“The MDNR cougar team should now look at the very good evidence of a remnant cougar population collected before 2008,” said Bill Taylor, President of the Conservancy.  “They could still easily verify cougar photos taken in the 1990’s in Alcona and Oscoda Counties in the Lower Peninsula and some others.  The vegetation and other landmarks needed to confirm the photos are still there.”
Citizen science is a phrase often used to describe the active participation of our citizens in the collection of information about wildlife.  Citizen-science projects can involve observing, censusing or documenting certain species, or the actual collection of specimens for study.  As state and federal wildlife budgets become more strained the need for “citizen science” collected information will become a necessity.

On the next page is an excellent example of citizen science in action.  Here an outdoor oriented couple, and MWC members, with land in Southern Marquette County decided to document the wildlife on their property.  Using stationary trail cameras they have photographed more than a dozen animal species, some of Michigan’s rarest, in less than four years. 

Please enjoy this amazing citizen science project, and ask yourself if you too could help us by photo-documenting Michigan’s wildlife where you live or recreate.
           (Left:  Wolf and Right:  Bear)

(Below:  Coyote) 


                                                                      (Below:  Bobcat)
                          (Above:  Porcupine)
                 (Below:  Raccoon)

 (Above:  White-tailed Deer)              
                      (Below:  Fisher)

(Below:  Gray Fox)

(Below:  Otters)


                   (Below:  Red Fox)

  (Left: Snowshoe Hare)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

New Sturgeon Reef with VIDEO

Participants in one of the boat tours of the St. Clair River Stugeon Spawning Reef

Lake sturgeon wasted no time moving onto a newly constructed spawning reef in the St. Clair River near Algonac.  By mid-May fisheries biologists verified sturgeon on the first sets of rock placed in 30 feet of water near Dickinson and Harsen’s Islands.  The findings came just two weeks after the project was celebrated on May 1, 2012 with a public reception on the shoreline and boat tours of the reef area.

The reef was constructed of limestone and other types of rock and was modeled after a reef installed three years ago at the head of Fighting Island in the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.  The Fighting Island reef was the 2008-2009 Featured Project of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy and the first Canada-U.S. jointly funded fish restoration project in the Great Lakes.  The Conservancy was the only U.S. non-profit organization to make a substantial financial contribution to the Fighting Island reef and also provided valuable technical assistance during the design and cost analysis phases of that unique project.

The Conservancy also played a key role in the St. Clair River reef construction, administering a $75,000 construction grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Grant Program.  The Conservancy worked with University of Michigan Sea Grant Program personnel as well as the Fish and Wildlife Service.  The total cost of constructing the reef was more than $335,000.  Most of the cost was covered by other federal grants which will also fund a long-term research project to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of reef-building in the Great Lakes.

Once common and widespread, the lake sturgeon dramatically declined around 1900; it now has a limited distribution in the Great Lakes region, and is a threatened species in Michigan waters.  Inland populations in Michigan are sparse and restricted primarily to the Manistique, Menominee, Sturgeon, and Indian Rivers in the Upper Peninsula, and the Cheboygan River watershed (including Burt, Mullet, and Black Lakes) in the Lower Peninsula.  Occasionally, sturgeon show up in other rivers such as the Kalamazoo, Grand, Muskegon and Saginaw.

The St. Clair River historically served as an important spawning grounds for many other native species as well as sturgeon.  But channelization, loss of coastal wetlands, filling/armoring shorelines, water pollution, and dredging limestone bedrock and gravel caused the sturgeon population to drop to less than one percent of its former abundance.  Many conservationists doubted whether the area’s once famed lake sturgeon fishery could ever bounce back.  However, with improvements to water quality over the past 40 years, federal scientists have begun to test whether small, strategically-placed spawning reefs can benefit the unique species.  The Fighting Island reef’s success helped pave the way for the St. Clair River reef and this new effort may be a catalyst for a series of reef projects in the future.  Young sturgeon are already coming off the reef at Fighting Island and planners expect the St. Clair reef to also be successful.

“Sturgeon are amazing,” said Jim Felgenauer, President of the St. Clair-Detroit River Sturgeon for Tomorrow organization.  “Catching a sturgeon is an unique experience, because after I release it, my grandson might catch the same fish 20 to 40 years from now.”  Some individual sturgeon have lived 150 years. 

Lake Sturgeon on the new spawning reef

The Conservancy wants to thank Chuck and Kathy Whitley of Grand Rapids, for their important financial support of the sturgeon spawning reef.