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Friday, December 7, 2012

2012...Project Complete.

Since it was founded in 1982, the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy has served as a fiduciary, contractor, supporter, educator, and trainer of volunteers.  On occasion, the non-profit organization has even been involved in political and legal battles.  In 2012, the Conservancy served in all those roles while celebrating three decades of conservation efforts.

Working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy played a key role in the St. Clair Reef construction, administering a $75,000 construction grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Grant Program.  The cost of constructing the reef was more than $335,000, with most of it covered by other federal grants.  The Conservancy’s effort allowed for the reef to be larger and more effective, and in spring of 2012 came the “proof in the pudding.”  Numerous sturgeon used the reef for spawning and divers were able to film the remarkable event.  To view some of the footage go to and click on “Sturgeon Reef Video” under Community Events.

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. 

The new reef is located at the head of the Middle Channel in the St. Clair River delta, where the water currents and bottom type are well-suited for reef construction.  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.  The St. Clair River reef will likely help walleyes, whitefish, the endangered northern madtom and other fishes in addition to sturgeon, and its success will be a catalyst for similar projects in the future. 

In August of 2012, the Conservancy received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to educate landowners about wild boars and the problems caused by this invasive exotic species.  At least 22 meetings plus small-group informational sessions will be conducted by MWC over the next twelve months in many parts of Michigan.  The Conservancy has already conducted work sessions at multiple sites in the central Lower Peninsula.  The effort is part of a push for early detection and removal of Eurasian wild boars. 

The Conservancy has long been a leader in battling the species, which destroys crops, lawns, wildlife and a host of related resources.  In 2010, the organization launched the Michigan Wild Hog Removal Program, a partnership between the MWC and USDA’s Wildlife Services branch.  Private-sector groups that have contributed financially to the Program include the Michigan Pork Producers Association, the Michigan Corn Grower’s Association, and the Michigan Forest Association.

The aim is to increase the number of wild hogs killed annually, and thereby reduce damage to property and resources and/or slow the invasion of wild hogs into new areas.  A secondary objective is to obtain samples from free-ranging wild hogs to test for pseudorabies and other diseases.  The important features of the program include the purchase and lending of hog traps to landowners and other citizens, dissemination of information on wild hogs and trapping options, and training volunteers to work with biologists on monitoring and reducing wild hog numbers.

The Conservancy has teamed with USDA to conduct several group training sessions for volunteer hog trappers, and produced web-site training materials.  Wildlife Services has the traps made and delivers them to landowners and other volunteers.  The Michigan Department of Agriculture occasionally provides veterinarians to sample caught hogs for diseases, and recently provide funds for traps and two USDA employees directly involved in the effort.  In addition, a grant through USDA’s NRCS provides financial incentives for certain landowners to trap hogs in Arenac, Bay, Gladwin, and Midland Counties.  One (near Midland) has now trapped more than 25 wild hogs in an area of less than one square mile.

The new effort by MWC will boost landowner awareness and skills.  Given Michigan’s mix of private and public land, citizen involvement in hog control is critical.  Unless landowners can be quickly educated about the importance of rapid responses to wild hogs, private properties will continue to serve as “refuges” where hog numbers will build and then expand onto adjacent properties.

The Conservancy started to develop another citizen/landowner effort in 2012, one focusing on getting people to actively participate in the collection of information about wildlife.  The organization is emphasizing use of trail cameras to detect not only nuisance species like wild boars, but rare species such as cougars, and wolves in the Lower Peninsula.  For a good example of the kind of information citizens can collect see the MWC website and click on the “Training for Volunteers – Michigan Wild Hog Removal Program” under Community Events.

Conservancy staff were also very active in 2012 in political/legal arenas supporting Michigan’s ban on possession of live wild hogs, calling for the permanent separation of Lake Michigan from the Illinois River to stop the entry of Asian carp into the Great Lakes, and supporting measures to improve Great Lakes Water Quality.

“This has been a very busy year for the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy,” said President Bill Taylor of Duck Lake in Calhoun County.  “We are facing some of the most serious challenges in our state’s history, and citizen involvement in resource management has never been more needed.”

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