Shifts in wildlife distributions and densities have been remarkable in the last three decades. High deer numbers around the fringes of urban areas, expanding coyote, bear and turkey populations, and declining numbers of pheasants and quail characterize the period.
There has been a shift southward by several species that is likely linked to re-growth of the forests of Southern Michigan. Bears, bobcats, pileated woodpeckers, and most recently porcupines are among forest wildlife gradually moving into Southern Michigan after being nearly eliminated for more than a century. And Michigan has exploding populations of deer, coyotes, raccoons and other species that cause problems in many locales. Population control of native species – not just exotics – is now a more serious problem than it was 30 years ago. And the related threat of wildlife diseases is now gaining in importance.
Other Michigan wildlife species are expanding their ranges northward. A recent study by University of Michigan researchers found that four species – the white-footed mouse, southern flying squirrel, eastern chipmunk and opossum – are on the increase in Northern Michigan.
These kinds of “quiet changes” have been overshadowed by some highly successful wildlife restorations. The MWC played a major role in bringing back the wild turkey to Southern Michigan, and other trap-and-transfer successes included the stockings of moose (to the Upper Peninsula), pine martens, and fishers. Wolves came back on their own in the Upper Peninsula, and are now present in the northern parts of the Lower Peninsula as well. Other rare species on the comeback trail in Michigan include the bald eagle and osprey. Private-sector groups – the Michigan Nature Association in particular – have quietly purchased and protected habitats for both rare plants and animals.
Many Michigan sportsmen decry the loss of pheasants from peaks in the 1950’s and 60’s. In 1982, pheasant numbers had already dropped significantly. Despite a variety of schemes, no solution has been found.
On the fisheries front, there has been a renewed interest in restoring spawning habitats for native species like the lake sturgeon and brook trout. Significant progress has been made during the past three decades, but the widening of streams during the logging era has left Michigan with a never-ending need for fish habitat restoration.The next article will appear on October 22, 2012