IN THE FIELD: CO-OP LEADER WORKSHOP II

By Anna Mitterling, Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator, MUCC
Last week Michigan Wildlife Cooperatives hosted it’s second Cooperative Leader Workshop in Adrian. We had a great turnout! It is exciting to see the dedication some have to take time out of their evening to talk about cooperatives. We had a habitat biologist and three cooperative leaders out to talk about getting habitat work done on the ground and social aspects of managing a cooperative.
Dennis Tison, Habitat Biologist for Hillsdale, Lenawee, and Monroe counties took some time to share on the different financial incentives there are for habitat improvements on private land. There is lots of money out there, its just a matter of figuring out what programs best fit the need of the property. If you have property in one of these counties, feel free to contact Dennis for more information on getting some habitat improvement on your property at 517-263-7400 ext. 119.
From Lake Hudson Pheasant Cooperative, Dave Ames and Ken Prats shared about their struggle to bring in private land owners into their Pheasant Restoration Initiative cooperative. They started out by enhancing the Lake Hudson Recreation Area grasslands for pheasants, and then sought to work with the neighboring private lands to create some quality grasslands on their properties. In an effort to overcome this challenge, they are going to seek out hunter access properties and promote that improving habitat on these parcels will also increase the money per acre value the landowners can receive as part of the Hunting Access Program compensation.
SE_Michigan_Cooperatives Wildlife Cooperatives in Southeastern Michigan
 
Despite Lake Hudson Pheasant Cooperative’s struggle to expand the pheasant restoration area beyond the recreation area, they have done a phenomenal job increasing awareness and activity for pheasant restoration and hunting in their area. They have hosted youth events, shooting events, habitat days, and much more.
Doug Weeks, the cooperative leader for Lost Lowlands talked about his motivation for starting up his cooperative back in 2010. He knew it would be a great opportunity because the habitat around him was great, and the changes would mostly need to be in the mindset of his neighbors. He sent out a letter the the surrounding property owners, and was surprised by a good response. He made sure to keep the letter simple, and not have many rules to avoid offending people, and increase his chances of drawing a good crowd. By about their 5th year, they had over 5,000 acres participating in their cooperative.
Shortly after that, Lost Lowlands began to taper. They now have about 3,000 acres of actively participating members, but the victory Doug sees, is that he now knows and trusts many of his neighbors. They meet once a year at his house, and focus more on the social aspects of things. Doug noted that he knew he couldn't get everyone on board, but if he could get the right people, they could make a difference in their hunting. This year, his son was able to harvest a 169 inch buck during the muzzleloading season. This is the biggest buck the cooperative has grown so far, and the collective group is able to take pride in what they grew on their combined properties.
Jim Brauker, cooperative leader for Bean Creek talked about the importance of starting small. He and Jake Ehlinger started by knocking on over 70 doors. They had a great response and a lot of acres of committed properties, but after a few years, they were not seeing much of a change in the harvest. However, a shift occurred about 4 years after the cooperative’s formation.
Jim started focusing on building trust with his direct neighbors, a plot of less than 500 acres. In the summer of 2013 the group began watching the trail cameras and came across a 4.5 year old buck. After each harvested a trophy buck in 2014, Jim and his neighbor Luke decided to pass on three other shooter bucks in the neighborhood. They came to realize that if their neighbors shot one of those bucks, it would strengthen the cooperative. They had a heart shift and came to understand that this sacrifice will make a future benefit. They also started a neat tradition where when a buck is harvested, all members who had pictures of the buck on trail camera, print off the pictures, and as a tribute to the buck and the hunter, present those images to the successful hunter. This action really captures the heart of cooperative success and celebration.
The common theme all four cooperative leaders spoke to was the challenge and time commitment of starting up a cooperative. My hope is that a few of you will be willing to take on that challenge and spark a change for better habitat and harvest management in your area. My position grants me the ability to support you as you take those next steps. If starting a cooperative is something you would like to learn more about, please feel free to contact me at amitterling@mucc.org or 517-346-6454.
 

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