Volunteers boosting DNR efforts
LANSING – Some 30 volunteers met up with Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division employees recently at Gratiot- Saginaw State Game Area for a first-ever work day, building brush piles to provide habitat for rabbit and other wildlife species.
Recent changes in state law allow for volunteers to work alongside DNR staffers on habitat improvement projects on statemanaged land. The “rabbitat” project – as it’s come to be known -- was a follow-up effort to similar work done a few years back by DNR employees.
“Wildlife Division employees built some brush piles in this area about three years ago. It worked out so well, we decided to try it with volunteers this time because we really wanted it done but our personnel have too many other priority projects right now,” said Doug Reeves, assistant chief of the DNR Wildlife Division.
Beyond the mounting duties and responsibilities facing Wildlife staff, Reeves said the number of staff in the division has decreased in the last 10 years due to attrition, budget cuts and rising costs; so this new option allowing volunteers is a great help.
In his 2013-14 budget proposal, Gov. Rick Snyder outlined a restructured package of hunting and fishing licenses that would generate additional revenue to better support Michigan’s fish and wildlife habitat programs.
Right now, volunteers partnering with the Wildlife Division are making a significant difference that translates into increased onthe ground improvements for the state’s woods and water.
“I live nearby, so I’ve come out here to check and there are always rabbits here,” Reeves said. “I’ve seen pheasant tracks going into these piles, robins, catbirds, all kinds of birds. I’ve even seen a chipmunk sitting on one of these piles.
“The brush piles are doing what we intended them to do – attract wildlife.”
The volunteers heeded a call from Michigan United Conservation Clubs to participate in the work day. MUCC’s Drew YoungeDyke, grassroots manager for the organization, said he spread the word through the group’s magazine and email lists, as well as at various sports shows and sporting goods stores.
“We’re going to be doing this all around the state for both fisheries and wildlife,” YoungeDyke said. “It’s about building a statewide stewardship ethic as well as improving the habitat.
“We had about 30 people say they’d come and that’s how many showed up,” said YoungeDyke, who is working with DNR staff to identify appropriate volunteer projects. “Hunters, anglers and outdoorsmen keep their word; they said they’d show up and they did.”
The volunteers were divided into work groups with a handful of chain-sawyers who dropped appropriate trees to make the brush piles. Reeves spent a previous evening marking the trees to be cut – dead or dying ash trees, aspens that were encroaching on open fields, and other trees that aren’t especially valuable wildlife habitat – in places in or near openings that attract wildlife.
Jason Webb, 30, a disabled veteran, brought his girlfriend and drove 100 miles from his home in Westland after reading about the work day in Michigan Out-of- Doors magazine.
“We thought we’d come give a hand,” said Webb. “I try to stay outside as much as possible; it’s better than sitting in front of the darn TV.”
For anyone who wants to make a positive difference for wildlife, there are plenty of ways to volunteer. As MUCC’s volunteer program grows, the DNR fully anticipates more opportunities for volunteers to boost the number of boots on the ground at habitat improvement projects.