In the Field: Wildlife Cooperative Leader Workshop III

Last Monday we held our final Cooperative Leader Workshop of this initial series, in Ithaca. Don’t worry, there will be more to come in other areas of the state! This is simply the beginning of what is to come. We had a great turnout, with strong support represented from surrounding Conservation Districts, Pheasants Forever, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), and the Quality Deer Management Association. We also had about 16 landowners and interested persons to learn more about wildlife cooperatives in Michigan’s Central Lower Peninsula.
Monique Ferris, habitat biologist for Clinton, Gratiot and Saginaw Counties, shared about the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative (MPRI). The goals of this program are to increase quality grassland habitat in southern Michigan to support a resilient pheasant population. Monique emphasized the importance of banding together as landowners to accomplish organized landscape level habitat projects. There is money available to support quality habitat restoration and improvement. If you own property in Monique’s area, please feel free to contact her to find out how she can help you get habitat on the ground. She can be reached at 989-875-3900 ext. 101.
Central Michigan Cooperatives Central Michigan Cooperatives
Mike Parker, Private Lands Manager, MDNR, presented on grassland habitat and the significant benefits they provide for both deer and pheasants. The MPRI’s primary focus is to establish and restore nesting cover for pheasants, yet it also creates excellent cover for deer. A secondary focus of MPRI is to improve winter cover and food sources for pheasants - again, switchgrass and food plots also provide significant benefits for deer. Whether you want to manage deer, or pheasants, or just wildlife in general, quality grassland habitats provide fabulous cover and forage for many wildlife species.
In 2013, Tom Dodak and some of his fellow pheasant hunters took action to improve habitat in their area by starting Layton Corners Cooperative. While they see a good number of pheasants now, they want to see more, and are improving habitat to meet this goal. Layton Corners hosted a youth hunt last year, providing a great opportunity for youth to hunt wildlife pheasants, right here in Michigan. The group meets monthly to plan habitat projects, and in the summer months they meet at each other's properties to get work done on the ground. As an additional benefit, they have seen an increase in deer on their properties as a result of the habitat work they have completed.
Chad Thelen started the Stoney Creek Cooperative in 2005 with the understanding that you need 100’s of acres to properly manage deer, and to find 100’s of acres, you need help from your neighbors. Chad quoted Red Creek Cooperative’s explanation of who they are to define a cooperative: “We are landowners, hunters, and wildlife enthusiasts who have banded together for the purpose of improving the quality of our local deer herd and our own hunting experience.” Chad encouraged individuals interested in starting a cooperative, to make a brochure that clearly outlines who the cooperative is, what the goals are, and a couple contact people. There are templates I can provide to help you get started. These brochures can be used to leave with people who may be interested in joining your cooperative. Chad closed by saying “starting something is better than nothing.” It is a lot of work, but it’s well worth the effort.
Finally, Jarred Waldron, cooperative leader of Stoney Ridge Cooperative, spoke about his experience leading a his cooperative since 2009. They started out with ten landowners and 500 acres. Five years later, they had just over 1,800 acres. Jarred talked about the social implications of their cooperative. Satisfaction and camaraderie increased significantly within the cooperative. Jarred had a bad relationship with one of his neighbors prior to starting the cooperative. Because of the conversations they started within the context of the cooperative, they are now good friends. In fact, they hunt out of state together! Jarred warned that starting a cooperative takes a lot of volunteer time, but there are different ways to engage conversation, build relationships and increase trust. Biannual meetings are a great idea, however, in his cooperative, he found that by just opening up his home for people to come by, grab a beer and talk deer, has increased interactions with neighbors in a positive way.
I felt this workshop went well. We had a hard time getting people to leave, the conversations after were going so well. Ultimately, getting to know your neighbors is key to the success of a cooperative, and as reiterated in each of these workshops, increased positive neighborly interactions has been a great reward for the rigors of cooperative development. If starting a cooperative is something you would like to learn more about, please feel free to contact me at or 517-346-6454.

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