In the Field: Co-op Leader Workshop

By Anna Mitterling, Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator, MUCC
This past weekend kicked off the Michigan Wildlife Cooperative series of Cooperative Leader Workshops in the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative core areas. Our first event was located near Cass City, MI and the Evergreen Township Hall. I would say the meeting was a success!
Jason Myers, a habitat biologist servicing the Thumb area, was able to talk about the different programs available to assist landowners in improving habitat on their properties. Jason grew up in the Thumb and planted his roots there after college. He uses this knowledge to connect with landowners on a personal level to create and improve quality wildlife habitat in Michigan’s Thumb.  He is an excellent (and free) resource to the Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac counties, and can be reached at 989-673-8174 ext. 3.
Thumb Area Cooperatives Thumb Area Cooperatives
We had three key cooperative leaders from the area come and talk about their experiences starting and leading wildlife cooperatives. Doug Graham, leader of Mayville Pheasant Cooperative, shared some of the events and goals of Mayville Cooperative. They began in the Fall of 2013. While there have been pheasants in the area for a long time, they had seen the populations start to decline a while back. Over the last 5-6 years they have noticed an increase in pheasant numbers, and hope to escalate their growth by enhancing and creating more grassland habitat in their cooperative area. Starting with 500 to 600 acres of grass, they are already reaping the benefits with increased numbers, as documented in their annual crow counts.
Mayville Pheasant Cooperative holds meetings most months out of the year. In the nicer months, they take turns meeting at each other's properties to tour the work that has been accomplished, and to brainstorm ideas for habitat improvement on their own properties. They typically have about 20 individuals showing up at these events. This cooperative is a prime example on what it can look like to improve habitat and watch the pheasant population grow around the surrounding properties. “Build it, and they will come” has proven successful for this group of pheasant enthusiasts!
Randy ​Rutkowski, QDMA Thumb Area Branch member, and Rub Line Cooperative leader, did a fabulous job explaining the challenges and rewards he has experiences since starting up his cooperative 15 years ago. He strongly encouraged individuals thinking of starting a cooperative to disregard the naysayers. There will be a lot of negativity, but it is important to stick to your convictions, and push to promote the cooperative and develop trust based relationships with members.
In the long run, overcoming the challenges and the negativity are worthwhile, because the personal and collaborative wins are worth the journey. Focus on and celebrate the small victories. As a result of the cooperative efforts, the wildlife and habitat diversity within Rub Line has drastically increased. There are more turkey, pheasants, and good quality deer. Habitat is key, building trust is essential, and patience is required.
Finally, Phil Nichols, Evergreen Cooperative founder, spoke on the wins and challenges of the cooperative he helped start in 1998. His cooperative grew to earn the status as the largest cooperative in Michigan, several years back, and became a model and motivation to many cooperative leaders in the following years. Phil talked about the importance of a cooperative leader being local; someone who has a long standing history with the neighborhood. It helps to build on existing credibility, trust, and knowledge.
It didn’t long for Phil to see more mature deer on their landscape. Within a few years, the cooperative was known for the big bucks being harvested on the properties. Along with promoting the passing of the younger bucks, he also promoted an increased doe harvest, as the population density was very high. A wildlife biologist came out and helped them come up with a recommended number of does to harvest. Initially, this number was too high for the comfort of many of the neighbors, but Phil found that by breaking down the harvest goals to number of doe(s) per square acre that needed to be harvested, the numbers became more agreeable to the cooperative membership.
These three leaders brought a wealth of knowledge. I am thankful they were willing to come out and share the challenges and successes with a couple of up and coming cooperatives. At the end of this event, two individuals approached me showing great interest in starting up cooperatives of their own. They are now connected with the Michigan Wildlife Cooperative program, their local habitat biologist, and a couple cooperative leaders who can help guide them. I am excited for more events like this to come!! To see about scheduling an event in your area, please contact me at amitterling@mucc.org or 517-346-6454.

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