By CATHERINE BYRNE
Capital News Service
LANSING — After a wildlife refuge was drained at Nayanquing Point Wildlife Area in Bay County for the second year in a row, employees at state parks are relieved not to have the same misfortune at their locations.
In late March, Don Avers, Nayanquing’s manager, noticed that someone had cut security locks on a water control gate and drained all the water out of a 180-acre wildlife refuge at the point.
Avers, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician, thought last year’s act was random, but said “two years is a little suspicious.”
“It’s getting a little bit out of control,” he said.
Ben Stapish, park manager at Yankee Springs Recreational Area in Middleville of Barry County, asks, “What would make someone do that?”
“A flooded marsh is kind of a docile area; it doesn’t seem too intrusive,” Stapish said. “It’s not as if the refuge would prohibit someone from doing something.
“It just seems so strange.”
The DNR leaves the gate closed to build up a few feet of water through the spring so migrating birds will have a place to stop and eat on their way north. The refuge unit is popular for bird watching near the observation tower.
“It’s critical waterfowl have good places like (Nayanquing) to stop over,” Avers said.
According to Avers, the gate was opened just enough so the water would drain slowly, but steadily. He believes the incident took place between March 9 and 12 and the refuge was drained within a few days.
“People come from all over Michigan, actually from all over the Midwest,” Avers said. “It’s quite a sight.
“There have been a couple of thousand ducks here this year so far, but not nearly the number and variety of birds there would be.
“In a typical year, most of the unit is drained after migration and a portion is planted with crops that can be flooded for waterfowl again in the fall, Avers said. The DNR also keeps water in a smaller sub-unit for the later migrating shorebirds.
As a result of the vandalism, Avers said migratory bird use in the area this spring will be greatly limited. Also, it will be difficult to get water at the wildlife area’s pump stations when needed because of the low water conditions at Saginaw Bay.
Although that is a devastating act for Nayanquing, state park employees don’t see it as a trend across the state.
David Marsh, lead worker at Southwest Michigan’s Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, described vandalism at his park as “minor.”
“We have the occasional tree cut down or graffiti on the bathroom walls,” Marsh said. “I guess we’ve been pretty fortunate.”
Yankee Springs Recreational Area has had light vandalism, according to Stapish.
“We certainly have vandalism at Yankee Springs, but not nearly to the degree of that draining,” Stapish said. “We’ve never had a level of vandalism where we’ve had to close for renovations or anything.”
Bill Kosmider, park manager at Fort Custer Recreational Area in Augusta in Calhoun County, calls vandalism “a part of doing business.”
Avers said before the last two years, the area had only experienced “your basic, random vandalism.”
All agree that any vandalism has an effect on employees and visitors alike.
“Vandalism affects employees’ time, which in turn takes away from normal operation,” Marsh said. “You have to report the incident, then document it, then repair it, and this is all time-consuming.
“It deters from regular operation.”
Stapish contends money put toward fixing destroyed property is money taken away from the park’s operations.
“When someone wrecks something that costs $125, that’s $125 we can’t put into other improvements,” he said. “Anytime someone smashes a picnic table, that’s one less picnic table we have to use on busy days.”
Kosmider said people will frequently fill the spillway of DNR dams with rocks, which plug the outlet.
“Occasionally, a picnic area is flooded, which takes that area from our visitors,” Kosmider said.
Although vandalism is an important issue at state parks, DNR officials have had more encounters with poaching across the state.
A man who was sentenced on several wildlife charges in Colorado was apprehended by Michigan conservation officers early last week in Berrien County.
The DNR received an anonymous tip to the Report All Poaching (RAP) hotline on Saturday, April 13 that Wendell Cook, the suspected poacher, was in Michigan. Cook evaded capture in several states despite an outstanding warrant with nationwide extradition and a $50,000 bond.
DNR Law Enforcement Chief Richard Asher encourages all Michigan citizens to report any poaching leads.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to report poachers,” Asher said. “When people take animals illegally, they’re stealing from everybody.”
John Wynalda, lieutenant with the DNR law enforcement division, said there were 2,400 wildlife-related cases in 2000. Not all were “poaching” incidents, but Wynalda said “Everybody defines poaching differently.”
Avers said he doesn’t have any direct leads on who drained the refuge, but he has some ideas.
“There are a few local people that don’t agree with the way we run things,” Avers said. “So maybe they decided to take things into their own hands.”
It’s not likely anyone saw the vandals because it is a remote area, Avers said.
He asks anyone with information on the incident to call the DNR at the RAP hotline, 1-800-292-7800, the DNR office at (989) 684-9141, or the Nayanquing Point Wildlife Area at (989) 697-5101.
“Maybe somebody heard something, you never know,” he said.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By CATHERINE BYRNE