WildLife Wednesday: Conservation in Northern Michigan


Conservation is an important concept. It is the most important concept at Michigan United Conservation Clubs. It has different meanings to different people, but its most basic meaning is the wise use of natural resources (which is also how we defined it in the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which will take effect in March). In practice, conservation can mean physically improving wildlife habitat, hunting wild game to use its meat or fur, gathering at a banquet to raise funds, learn and celebrate conservation, or meeting with your legislators to share your views on how to protect natural resources from un-wise use. This past weekend, I had a front-row seat to all of those examples of conservation applied across northern Michigan.
It started on Saturday, when volunteers with MUCC's On the Ground program met near Lewiston, southeast of Gaylord, to enhance snowshoe hare habitat in the Grayling State Forest. Volunteers came from all over to help: Mike Frith from Livonia, Ralph Riley from Hanover in Jackson County, George Fenlin from Clinton Township in Oakland County, and Sam Hudnutt from Onandaga in Ingham County, for example. Locals also came out to help: Chris Engle and Denny YoungeDyke (my dad) from Gaylord. They joined DNR biologist Brian Piccolo, DNR wildlife technician Tim Riley (and Ralph's son), our new Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Sarah Topp and I to hinge-cut and fell trees in a lowland swampy area to make overhead horizontal cover for snowshoe hares.
Over about three to four hours, this hard-working volunteer crew cut over 200 trees! Smaller trees (less than six inches diameter) were hinge-cut using Nick Nation's Habitat Hooks, which were donated to MUCC by QDMA chapters last summer. Larger trees were cut using the open-face bore-cut with a backstrap method, which was taught to Sarah, Sam Hudnutt and I the previous weekend by Chuck Oslund during a Chainsaw Safety Training at MUCC. Incorporating this method into the MUCC Chainsaw Safety System, we were able to drop large trees with a controlled fall in the direction we wanted without a single wayward fall or pinched saw. We owe a huge thanks to Outdoor Life's Open Country initiative, too, for setting up a crowd-funding account which generated funds used to purchase chainsaw safety equipment for volunteers. They also arranged for the use of a Yamaha Viking ORV (an Open Country sponsor) through Extreme Powersports of Gaylord to ferry chainsaw equipment around the project site.

Immediately after the project, I drove over to my hometown of Central Lake to attend the inaugural Antrim Outdoors Cabin Fever Social with my uncle, Kenny YoungeDyke. Attendees packed the room to support this fledgling conservation organization and hear presentations from the local conservation district on invasive species management from Heidi Schafer, from outdoor writer and MUCC member David Rose on ice fishing, and from the local conservation officer, which produced some very interesting "what if" questions from the crowd that I hope were purely hypothetical! This event, and the Antrim Outdoors organization, was spearheaded by William Truscott, who's done a tremendous job of promoting conservation in this northern Michigan county.

The next day, I headed out into the Pigeon River Country northeast of Gaylord (a.k.a. The Big Wild) to hunt squirrels with my little brother Kellen. This was a follow-up to last Wednesday's Squirrel Appreciation Day. Despite hunting a likely oak ridge on a sunny afternoon, we only saw one squirrel, which I dropped with my new used 12-gauge Ithaca on a #8 shot game load before thanking him for the lunch he'll provide me. The squirrel is skinned, gutted, frozen and will be soaked in salt water overnight in the MUCC break room fridge. Tomorrow, I'm having battered and pan-fried squirrel for lunch. That's wise use of a natural resource if I ever heard of one!

On Monday, MUCC Legislative Affairs Manager Matt Evans and I joined the Anglers of the AuSable, Trout Unlimited and local business and property owners at the famed Gates AuSable Lodge to discuss their concerns about an AuSable aquaculture proposal with the state legislators who represent the area, Representative Bruce Rendon and Senator Darwin Booher. Those who depend on the river's world-class trout fishery for their business, job, real estate value and outdoor recreation want to make sure that the proper safeguards are in place for a proposed expansion of the Grayling fish hatchery for commercial production. MUCC doesn't have a formal position on the hatchery, but we wanted to help connect local anglers to their elected officials to make sure that the proposed use of the area's natural resources, like the AuSable River, is done in a wise way, and to get the conversation started on making sure that future aquaculture proposals across the state are protective of local fisheries.
From Lewiston to Central Lake, Gaylord to Grayling, I had a full weekend of seeing how individual hunters and anglers engage in conservation, from driving four hours and running a chainsaw for another three to physically improve game habitat, to paying for a delicious dinner and buying raffle tickets to support a local conservation organization, to hunting wild game and using its meat and meeting with legislators to make sure that a river's fishery is protected. All of that is conservation. And that's what MUCC is all about.

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