Twenty-six volunteers joined staff from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division and Michigan United Conservation Clubs to improve wildlife habitat at the Allegan State Game Area on December 13. Many of the volunteers came from Boy Scout Troop 147, who joined hunters and trappers to cut down aging aspen stands so that young aspen trees could grow, then piled them into brush piles. This will provide food and cover for a range of wildlife species like grouse, white-tailed deer, turkeys, rabbits and pheasants.
The volunteer workday was organized as part of Michigan United Conservation Clubs' On the Ground (OTG) program, which received funding from the Michigan DNR's Wildlife Habitat Grant program to organize volunteer projects on publicly accessible hunting lands across the state. This project is the first of over 25 projects MUCC will be organizing under their 2015 Wildlife Habitat Grant. The grant program is funded by last year's restructuring of the license fee package, which means that the increased revenue is directly improving wildlife habitat for game animals on public land.
"I just started hunting a couple years ago," said Ryan Bentele, a Marine veteran who volunteered on Saturday. "So when I heard about the project, I thought I should do something to give back to nature."
Five of the volunteers used chainsaws to clear-cut a little over an acre of aging aspen stands spread across about five acres adjacent to a pheasant field. Dave Solburg, a professional forester for Consumers Energy, provided volunteers with a chainsaw safety reminder demonstration before the project. Five more volunteers cut the felled trees into sections, which Boy scouts and scout leaders from Troop 147 then stacked into about 10 large brush piles.
"I’m glad the scouts came," said Mark Mills, area biologist for the DNR. "They had a good time and got to participate."
This wasn't the first project for many of the participants, either. Steve Waksmunski has attended an OTG project every year; this was his third. Jack and Judy VanRhee and Kelvin and Tracy Bross, MUCC and Hamilton Rod & Gun Club members, have attended multiple projects, too. Their son Levi Bross is also helping Mills and MUCC Field Manager Drew YoungeDyke plan a future wildlife habitat workday for his Eagle Scout project.
It wasn't just scouts who volunteered on Saturday, though. Everyday hunters and trappers showed up to improve wildlife habitat, too. Steve VanDyke of Holland, who hunts snowshoe hares and coyotes, volunteered, as did John Caretti and his daughter Emily. John is the past president of the Michigan Trappers and Predator Callers Association and Emily is a 2014 All-American 3-D archer on the Michigan State University Archery Club.
This diverse mix of volunteers showed that hunters, anglers and trappers don't just pay for conservation efforts through their license fees and excise taxes on their equipment, but they volunteer their time and effort to improve wildlife habitat, too.
"The goal is to get people out there engaged with wildlife, habitat, and conservation, so the day was a huge success," said Mills. "Plus, we got some good work done!"
The next OTG event will be a chainsaw safety training taught by instructor Chuck Oslund at the Michigan United Conservation Clubs headquarters on January 17, 2015. Volunteers interested in operating a chainsaw on future projects are encouraged to attend the free seminar by signing up here. The next project will be one week later on January 24, 2015, where volunteers will cut pines to provide horizontal cover and food for snowshoe hare habitat in the Grayling State Forest.
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