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Volunteers Improve Rabbitat in Southwest Michigan

August 15th, 2013

Wildlife species generally need four things for good habitat: food, waters, cover and space. When one of those factors is missing, volunteers can make a big difference in a short amount of time to provide that element and make really great habitat. On August 10, fifteen volunteers did just that and provided cover for rabbits by building brush piles at the Crane Pond State Game Area in Cass County, creating excellent rabbitat (rabbit habitat).

The volunteer workday was part of Michigan On-the-Ground, a public-private partnership between the Wildlife and Fisheries Divisions of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan United Conservation Clubs. Consumers Energy Foundation sponsors the program, which is also a part of Outdoor Life’s Open Country program to promote public hunting access.

Volunteers met at 9 a.m. at the game area headquarters for a short safety session with the DNR’s Ken Kesson, the wildlife biologist for the area. He also showed them how to construct the brush piles by criss-crossing the larger trunks on the bottom and topping them with tree tops, branches and brush.

The group then drove to a field of natural grasses surrounded by a ring of recent clover planting, which provide food for wildlife. Volunteers built the brush piles just inside the woodlot treeline surrounding the field, which provides cover for rabbits close to their food source. The volunteers split into two crews to tackle the field, each with a sawyer to cut down pre-marked trees while others dragged and stacked the trunks and tops into brush piles. When the workday was over, volunteers had constructed fifteen of the brush piles around the edges of the field and removed some of the invasive autumn olive surrounding it.

Members of the Edwardsburg Conservation Club build brush piles for rabbits.

Members of the Edwardsburg Conservation Club build brush piles for rabbits.

Afterwords, the volunteers who could stay enjoyed a BBQ of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs while Kesson talked to them about EHD, antlerless harvest recommendations, and a follow-up Youth Rabbit Hunt being planned for the field this winter that will take advantage of the brush piles built by the volunteers.

Asked why he participated, one volunteer – Steve Waksmundzki – said that he’s been saying that “the DNR should do this or do that” for years, so that when he saw an opportunity to help them do it, he didn’t want to miss it. And not only did he volunteer to build rabbitat, but he also volunteered to bring his rabbit dogs to the Youth Hunt this winter!

Steve’s just the kind of volunteer we hoped the Michigan On-the-Ground program would reveal, and since we started the program in March with a similar rabbitat project in mid-Michigan, we’ve found a lot of people like him. We started out with a goal to build a stronger stewardship ethic in Michigan, and we’re realizing that it was already there and we’re just revealing it. That’s okay with us, and we’ll keep working to provide opportunities for people to show their stewardship ethic and connect Michigan’s conservation community through on-the-ground fish and wildlife habitat improvement projects.

Thank you to everyone who helped out to build rabbitat last Saturday!

This Saturday, we’re working at the Harsen’s Island Waterfowl Unit at the St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area, cleaning out hunter access channels. Email me at dyoungedyke@mucc.org if you’d like to join us!

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