Nov. 17, 2017 – CNS Budget

Nov. 17, 2017 — Week 11

To: CNS Editors

From: David Poulson and Sheila Schimpf

For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841 or

For other matters, contact Dave Poulson:

Editors note that next week we are moving our package Tuesday afternoon for your use over the long Thanksgiving weekend.


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WOOD: A construction technique that makes wood so strong it could replace steel and concrete as building materials for skyscrapers and other large buildings could bring new markets for Michigan trees, fight climate change and produce new jobs. Michigan has the trees, but the state needs a production plant and savvy architects and builders to take advantage of the fledgling industry, experts say. By Jack Nissen. ATTENTION BUSINESS EDITORS. FOR MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE, BIG RAPIDS, CADILLAC, CHEBOYGAN, GLADWIN, PETOSKEY, LAKE COUNTY, MANISTEE, LUDINGTON, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, CRAWFORD COUNTY, COEANA, ALCONA, MONTMORENCY, TRAVERSE CITY AND ALL POINTS

w/WoodPhoto: Cross-laminated timber panels. Source: Open access journal Sustainability

STATESLOGANS: You must be living in a cave if you haven’t heard of Michigan’s ubiquitous “Pure Michigan” tourism slogan by now. But how about “Honest-to-Goodness” or “Find It Here” or “Pursue Your Happiness” or “When you’re having fun, we’re having fun?” These are some of the sloganized weaponry used by states in the Great Lakes region battling for many billions of dollars of tourism revenue. By Kaley Fech. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.

DOGSLED: Michigan winters are going to the dogs as sled riding and racing climb in popularity. We talk to operators of dogsled riding operations throughout  the Upper and Northern Lower peninsulas.  By Carl Stoddard. FOR CADILLAC, MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE, CHEBOYGAN, CADILLAC, CRAWFORD COUNTY, TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY AND ALL POINTS.

W/ DOGSLEDPHOTO.  A sled dog team runs through the snow in Cadillac. Credit: Pure Michigan

FLEXROUTE: An experiment moving traffic on the shoulders of one of Michigan’s busiest highways could lead to similar uses elsewhere as the state highway agency seeks to save money, ease congestion and improve safety. By Stephen Olschanski. FOR ALL POINTS.

KESTRELS&CHERRIES: Research done in Leelanau County finds that nest boxes can boost breeding pairs of American kestrels — sparrowhawks — a raptor species that’s in decline. More kestrels would be good news for cherry growers because the birds, the smallest of North American falcons, feed on critters such as voles and robins that damage cherry crops. Michigan is the country’s top tart cherry producer and fourth-largest sweet cherry producer. Apple and grape crops may benefit from more kestrels, and similar research is underway for Western Michigan blueberries. We also talk to the Audubon Society and an MSU horticultural research expert. By Eric Freedman. FOR LEELANAU, TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, MANISTEE, LUDINGTON, GREENVILLE, HOLLAND, OCEANA, BIG RAPIDS, CADILLAC & ALL POINTS.

W/ KESTRELS&CHERRIESPHOTO: American Kestrel. Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

EYES:  Nelson Edwards decided to see the world. As a result, he helps the rest of the world see.  While studying optometry at Ferris State, Edwards joined Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity an organization with a mission to provide eye care in developing countries. From Haiti to Kenya, he’s been on more than three dozen humanitarian missions so far. We also talk to the advisor to the group’s student chapter at Ferris. By Casey Hull. FOR BIG RAPIDS, LAKE COUNTY, GREENVILLE, CADILLAC & ALL POINTS.

Shoulder test near Ann Arbor could come to a highway near you

Capital News Service

LANSING — An experiment allowing Michigan drivers for the first time to legally drive on a highway shoulder could lead to similar efforts across the state.

Advocates say that the use of advanced technology could prevent accidents, ease congestion and save millions of dollars in construction costs statewide.

Drivers were recently allowed to drive on the shoulder of a stretch of U.S. 23 during rush hour, an option labeled a flex route.

It is the first of its kind in the state and is essentially an initial experiment, said Kari Arend, a media representative for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

“We will be watching it closely to see how it operates and hopefully eventually adding it to other locations across the state,” Arend said.

Among them is a stretch of Interstate 96 in Oakland County and U.S. 131 near Grand Rapids, places officials say have high congestion similar to U.S. 23.

Savings from the use of the highway’s existing paved shoulder instead of building larger highways can reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, Arend said

The U.S. 23 flex route opens up the highway’s inside shoulders between M-14 and M-36. That’s  roughly north of Ann Arbor and through Whitmore Lake, one of the state’s most highly congested highway stretches.

The shoulder is open only 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Motorists are alerted of its availability by overhead signs.

Green arrows mean the shoulder is open. A red “X” marks its closure. Yellow arrows alert drivers to merge to avoid traffic accidents. Other signals alert drivers of speed limits.

The flex route also opens during traffic accidents to allow traffic to more easily bypass them.  

Virginia and Minnesota have similar systems that have been successful, Arend said. MDOT looked at these states to see what could be feasible in Michigan.

Police say they hope they improve safety.

“We’re hoping there’s going to be less crashes because traffic is going to flow better,” said State Police Lt. Mario Gonzales of the Brighton post.

Stop-and-go traffic at these times leads to more rear-end collisions, especially when it slows down quickly during rush hour, Gonzales said.

“With these flex lanes, when they’re open, traffic is not going to have those choke points and that’s going to flow better and hopefully reduce those rear end collisions,” Gonzales said.

That would be helpful.

Almost 30 percent of all Michigan crashes occur on state and federal highways, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning. And there were slightly more than 83,000 rear-end collisions in the state last year, according to the crash data.

Why not keep the shoulders open all the time?

It has to do with the definition of a shoulder, Arends said, because it’s not a “true lane.”,” Arend said.

To add a third lane, the state would have to widen the road and add a shoulder too, costing millions more.

The flex route is part of a $92-million update of roads and bridges along U.S. 23. Without it, the cost of improvements would be close to $200 million, Arend said.

The biggest concern for police is educating people on the rules of the lane.

Drivers could still drive in the flex route at all times, though Gonzales said police would be monitoring the route more heavily. Drivers who pull into the shoulder during noon rush hour times could be at risk if another driver were to use the shoulder illegally.

Illegal use of the route falls under illegal lane use and would put two points on a driver’s record and a $135 ticket if the driver is caught.

Quick! Michigan in two words! Minnesota in three!

Capital News Service

LANSING — “Pure Michigan.” “Honest-to-Goodness.” “Find It Here.”

Can you name the state that goes with each slogan?

That first one and “Only in Minnesota” are quite clear about the states they represent. Less obvious state slogans from the Great Lakes region include “Are you up for Amazing?” and “Pursue Your Happiness.”

No matter the phrase, all state slogans seek to attract tourists.

“Tourism had a $20 billion impact on our state’s economy in 2016,” said Lisa Marshall, the communications director for Travel Wisconsin

Michigan officials boast of a similar $20 billion tourist industry, second only to manufacturing.

And in Minnesota tourism was valued at $14.4 billion in 2015, according to Alyssa Hayes, a public information officer for Explore Minnesota.

State tourism officials use slogans to make their state stand out as they compete for the same tourists.

“Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota have a lot of the same tourist products,” said Marshall. “So we want to be different. Who are we compared to Michigan? Who are we compared to Minnesota?”

In Wisconsin the answer  is supper clubs, Marshall said. Supper clubs are a class of restaurants all their own in Wisconsin, widely known as the place to go for a great atmosphere, delicious prime rib and a brandy old fashioned.

“We did an ad campaign last year that was based on supper clubs,” Marshall said. “We have hundreds of them, and that’s something that’s really iconic to Wisconsin.”

Some states embrace their slogan.

When the Pure Michigan campaign was launched in 2006, the state was going through a recession, and a lot of the news coming out of the state was negative, Grinnell said. The campaign helped change people’s perception of Michigan.

“Pure Michigan became a point of pride for the state in a time when we really needed that,” Grinnell said. “The entire state has really embraced the Pure Michigan campaign.”

The campaign was a collaboration between the advertising agency McCann Detroit and the staff at Travel Michigan, Grinnell said. It was the result of research that was done to understand how people felt about Michigan.

Other states use slogans that are more transient. A recent article in State Legislatures magazine reported Wisconsin’s slogan as “When you’re having fun, we’re having fun.” But Marshall says that’s not the case.

“We don’t really do slogans,” Marshall said. “We had a lot of slogans before 2011 and we kept changing them. A new tourism secretary came in 2011, and she thought we were sloganed out.”

Instead, Wisconsin uses taglines in advertising that change from year to year, Marshall said. This year’s tagline is “When you’re having fun, we’re having fun.”

The slogan is only one piece of the the state’s overall brand.

“Our brand is the brand of fun,” Marshall said. “People come here because they want to have fun. When you come here, you’re free to be yourself and have fun.”

Pennsylvania’s brand is the pursuit of happiness.

“The slogan is simply the public moniker for our brand,” Hemming said. “Our brand says that in Pennsylvania, a vacation or getaway is an active, self-styled adventure – a pursuit. Visitors of all ages can choose from an unrivaled collection of opportunities to explore, discover and experience.”

It’s a concept that also applies to “Pure Michigan,” Grinnell said.

“It really is the overall brand for the state,” she said. “I think it has become so emblematic of Michigan and so recognizable outside of the state that it’s almost a shorthand way to talk about Michigan.”

Nearly half of visitors to Pennsylvania arrive within one week of seeing a tourism brand advertisement for the state, said Emily Hemming, account director at Tierney, the agency that does advertising for Pennsylvania tourism.

“These numbers prove that advertising the Pennsylvania tourism brand in neighboring states and in the commonwealth leads directly and immediately to increased travel to Pennsylvania,” she said.

One of the big ways states use their slogans for marketing is through social media.

“On Instagram, #puremichigan is the most used tourism marketing hashtag,” Grinnell said. “Over 4 million people have used that.”

And Minnesota has engaged in the hashtag war that enlists “scroll-stopping” images.

“Residents and visitors alike use #OnlyinMN on social media for Minnesota travel inspiration,” Hayes said. “#OnlyinMN has nearly 700,000 uses to date.”

It’s not about the words when it comes to a slogan, it’s about the feeling people get when they see them, say those in the business of marketing states.

“Our brand is not about the words ‘Pure Michigan’ as much as the emotions the campaign evokes,” Grinnell said. “We don’t have a hard sell. We don’t say plan your vacation in Michigan. It’s all about the memories, the moments, the emotions you will feel in Michigan, and that has proven to be very very powerful.”

And those other Great Lakes slogans? Here’s the key:

“Pure Michigan”

“Find it Here”

New York
“I ❤ New York”

“Pursue Your Happiness”


“Are you up for Amazing?”

“Only in Minnesota”

“When you’re having fun, we’re having fun.” (but only for 2017)

Michigan optometrist helps the world see

Capital News Service

LANSING — Thirty-one years ago, Nelson Edwards decided to see the world. Since then, he has helped the rest of the world see.

While studying optometry at Ferris State University, Edwards joined Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH), an organization with a mission to provide eye care in developing countries. Edwards is an optometrist in Fowlerville.

Edwards’ first mission was to Haiti in 1986. But that trip was cut short by a social uprising and overthrow of the Haitian government.

Upon returning to Michigan, Edwards realized he wanted to go again.

Continuing to volunteer with VOSH, Edwards has participated in 40 missions. His 41st was planned to be to Nkuru, Kenya, beginning Oct. 26. But reminiscent of that first trip to Haiti, politics and safety again disrupted his travel plans.

After the Kenyan presidential elections in August, accusations were made against the incumbent president of irregularities in ballot counts and interference in the election.

While protesting the election results, 33 civilians were killed as a direct result of police violence, according to a Human Rights Watch report. After an appeal, the Kenya Supreme Court nullified the election, and a new election was planned for the same date in October that the VOSH group was to arrive.

David Muiru is the director of projects for the Nairobi Utumishi Rotary Club and has worked with Nelson to plan VOSH missions to Kenya since 1998.

That inaugural mission was also met with adversity as the American Embassy in Kenya was bombed just months prior to the group’s arrival.

“When Nelson and I chose the date, we thought that the election fever would have settled down,” says Muiru.

The group now plans to arrive in Kenya on Jan. 12, 2018, and stay for 13 days. Muiru says the change was made because political disagreement would not allow the clinic to get the attention it deserves.

Muiru is responsible for ensuring that all the permits and procedures are followed.

The first step, Muiru says, is to notify local medical facilities and apply for the required licenses from the Kenyan medical board. Locally the process begins with contacting the county medical officer to request local doctors and nurses, working with government and police departments, and arranging transportation and lodging.

During the 11-day clinic each doctor will examine and prescribe glasses for about 500 patients. Most patients will receive three pairs of prescription glasses and one pair of sunglasses.

“Because we never know what kind of glasses or prescription requirements a patient might need, we bring between four and five thousand pairs of refurbished eye glasses,” says Nelson.

Any extra glasses are left with local eye care clinics.

If a required prescription is not available, VOSH and its partner Lens Crafters will fill the prescription upon returning to the U.S. and mail the glasses to the patient.

The Illinois chapter of VOSH has gone a step further. During a mission to Guatemala in 2014, the group engineered a field lab capable of completing glasses on location.

Most commonly the glasses are donated through groups such as the Lions Club, according to Daniel Wrubel. Wrubel is the faculty advisor to the Student VOSH program at Ferris State.

“We receive around a third of a million pairs of Lions Club glasses in a year,” he says.

First-year and second-year SVOSH students are responsible for assessing, tagging and verifying prescriptions to be taken on missions. Funds are raised for students in their third year to go on a VOSH trip if they’ve put in enough volunteer hours.

“We raise about $30,000 a year to cover the cost of their trip,” says Wrubel. “Last year I believe they only had to pay the deposit, so around $250.”

That is also the amount of hours that Wrubel estimates he puts in each year preparing for a mission to Dominique. Wrubel has captained the Dominique mission for 21 consecutive years.

Working with VOSH is only one of nearly 40 projects that Muiru works on in Kenya. He credits his education with instilling an understanding of community.

“I can never do enough for my community, I consider it a part of my life,” he says.

For Wrubel, the desire to help others comes from his own problems with sight.

“In school, I was held back, made fun of, because I had trouble reading,” he says. “Fortunately, there was a therapist who helped me. So I can relate to what it’s like to struggle without proper eyesight.”

For Nelson, the gift is not just a chance to see the world, but to see the world differently.

“You make friends and you hear news stories about a country you’ve been to,” he says. “You make a personal connection.”

New ways with wood open up building opportunities

Capital News Service

LANSING — Steel and concrete would be the classic choices for building a large new laboratory planned at Michigan State University.

But experts in the university’s forestry department are asking, “Why not wood?”

They’re not the only ones with that question as builders nationwide push to build high rises, college laboratories and other large buildings with a construction material typically seen in houses. It’s a trend that could bring new markets for Michigan trees, fight climate change and produce new jobs, experts say.

“We have a tremendous amount of resources here,” said Jon Fosgitt, a member of the Forest Stewards Guild in Michigan. “The challenge is understanding the construction style, but also creating the infrastructure here in the state. We’ve got the resources here and that’s a Michigan-made story.”

Building with wood isn’t new. But a hot new construction technique called cross-laminated timber—CLT, for short—makes it possible to build large buildings out of wood. It’s constructed by bonding several layers of wood panels in alternating directions. The result is a material strong enough to build skyscrapers.

It’s fire resistant as well, said David Neumann, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forest marketing specialist. “It has the same strength as concrete, when designed properly.”

Michigan has the trees. But there’s more to it than that to put them to work.

“Here’s the challenge with cross-laminated timber- there’s only two plants in the U.S. that construct it and they are both on the western side of the country,” Fosgitt said. It doesn’t make sense to construct the materials, then ship them across the country when we have all of those resources right here, he said.

One solution is to build a plant here, but even as interest in using cross laminated timber construction grows, it’ll take time for the industry to grow with it.

“I think it’s been taken up quite quickly, considering that there wasn’t even manufacturing in the US recently,” said Jennifer Cover, the president of WoodWorks. “We’re actually seeing it take off at an exponential rate. It’s quite incredible.”

WoodWorks is a nonprofit organization funded by the wood industry and  offers free education and design assistance related to non-residential and multi-family wood buildings.

Even so, the only large construction project considering the use of cross-laminated timber in the state is on Michigan State’s campus.

While the technique is recognized by the 2015 International Building Code, a model that addresses safety and health concerns of buildings, it’s still not the industry standard.

Fosgitt does anticipates a stronger emphasis on training people to build with wood, especially in Michigan.

In fact, one of the strongest drivers for more wood buildings is an environmental one. Wood products store atmospheric carbon, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet. Concrete and steel do not. According to the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, substituting wood could prevent 14 to 31 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.

“Obviously the environmental benefits are good because climate change is real,” Fosgitt said. “This is part of a natural solution to climate change.”

Fears of a fire hazard may make wood a less popular choice. But cross-laminated timber doesn’t burn like normal wood because it’s so dense. It also has a faster installation process than concrete or steel, Cover said.

It’s particularly popular on the West Coast due to its flexibility and ability to withstand earthquakes, Fosgitt said. The first all-wood high rise was approved in Portland, Oregon, last June.

While Michigan has no structures built from cross-laminated timber, it does have the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, the largest wooden dome in the world. Construction started in 1989 and used large laminated beams, said the university’s associate athletic director, Carl Bammert. It opened in 1991.

The DNR has teamed up with WoodWorks to help train more Michigan builders and architects.

The organization also offers assistance on other wood-building techniques that have been around for longer, like timber that’s put together with nails and glue.

It hosted training sessions for architects and engineers in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor in September. The next step is to get more cros- laminated timber for Michigan builders to work with.

“In the long run, what we’d like to get is a facility to make some of these products out of Michigan wood,” said Richard Bowman, the director of government relations at the Nature Conservancy in Michigan.

Fosquitt said that iIf the mass timber industry were to make its way to Michigan, it would put more pressure on the forest resource. But, because Michigan harvests only a fraction of its annual growth, the industry can be managed sustainably.

“And when a building is made from natural products, it smells great too.”

Meanwhile, the newest wall covered by ivy at MSU may not necessarily be brick or concrete.

“MSU has been considering using CLT and other engineered wood products for the new building that is planned,” Richard Kobe, the chair of the university’s forestry department, wrote in an email.

Dog sleddding is big again in snowy Michigan

Capital News Service

LANSING — Winter is going to the dogs in Michigan. And that’s not a bad thing.

Mushers around the state that offer dog sledding, for a couple of hours or a couple of days, report increasing business. At many places, guests can ride in the sled or drive it.

Several dog sled operators say visitors come from all over the world to mush through Michigan.

“We’ve expanded again this year,” said Tasha Stielstra, who with her husband, Ed, owns Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Racing & Adventures in McMillan, about 15 miles west of Newberry in the Upper Peninsula.

The couple started raising dogs for dog sledding 20 years ago. About five years later they began offering sled rides to visitors, she said.

Nature’s Kennel offers half-day, full-day and overnight trips. A half-day ride is $100 per person or $250 for a sled, she said. It costs more if you want to learn to drive your own team.

“Any passengers ride with one of our guides,” Tasha Stielstra said. Visitors who want to drive their own team don’t take passengers along, she said.

Some visitors stay overnight at Nature’s Kennel’s “Musher’s Village,” which has a yurt, cabin, cook shack and sauna, she said.

The business has 140 dogs available for winter tours and another 40 for competitive dog sled racing, she said.

All dogs on the tours have raced or will race in the future, she said.

“We’re growing a lot. We’re booked or nearly booked for the year,” Stielstra said. Visitors come from all over the Midwest, and she recently booked a couple from Australia.

Dog sled rides are available from mid-December until the end of March.

Jackie and Jim Winkowski, owners of Snowy Plains Kennel in Gwinn, a few miles south of Marquette, became involved in dog sled racing more than 20 years ago. Within a year or so, they began offering sled rides to others.

“Really quickly, it became fun to share it with other people,” Jackie Winkowski said.

They turned the rides into a business about seven or eight years ago but opted to keep the operation small, she said. They have about a dozen dogs and typically can accommodate groups of one to four people at a time.

“We’re about as busy as we want to be,” Jackie Winkowski said.

Most rides at Snowy Plains are one to six miles long. A 6-mile ride for one person is $120, while shorter rides for a family of four total $160.

She has had visitors from as far away as South America, she said.

“It keeps everything new to see other people experience it for the first time,” she said. People come from across the nation to do this.

Treetops Resort offers dog sled rides along trails on its Masterpiece golf course on designated weekends, said Kevin McKinley, director of golf and ski operations at the resort, a few miles east of downtown Gaylord.

The resort began offering the dog sled rides six years ago, and the rides have become increasingly popular, McKinley said.

“If people have an inkling they want to do it, they should make reservations in advance,” he said. Reservations are available online or by phone. A 2-mile ride is $50 for one rider or $70 for two..

“It’s really a cool experience,” McKinley said of his own ride on a dog sled. “What surprised me is the power of the dogs. The power is just unbelievable.”

Kim Darst, owner of Husky Haven Kennels, has offered sled dog experiences for the past four years in Shingleton, a few miles east of Munising.

She offers half-day trips, mornings and afternoons, along a 10-mile course. Husky Haven has 43 dogs and five sleds.

“We get a lot of families,” Darst said. “That’s normally what we do.”

For $125 per adult, visitors can ride in a sled or drive one, Darst said.

Shemhadar Kennels, about 10 miles west of Cadillac, has seen a big jump in dog sled rides in the past few years, said Gina Dewey, who owns the business with her husband, Tim.

“We get people from all over the world — China, Germany, Japan,” Gina Dewey said.

Shemhadar takes one adult at a time on a 3- or 4-mile ride. That person can ride or can drive the team with help from someone at the kennel, she said. The cost is $150 for one person, she said. A second rider is $50 additional.

Gina Dewey said they take part in dog sled races all over Michigan, and the snow can be spotty.

“We probably haven’t had a good racing year in three years,” she said.

But she predicted the snowier weather would return this year.

“I think it’ll swing back around,” she said.

At most dog sled operations in Michigan, visitors meet the dogs, learn how sled teams operate and maybe warm up with some hot chocolate.

People interested in dog sledding but prefer to keep their feet on the ground might want to check out the sport of dog sled racing.

Three races will start from the Marquette area in mid-February:

  • The 230-mile UP200 dog sled race kicks off Feb. 16 in Marquette.

“It is one of the top 12-dog, mid-distance races in the Midwest, as well as being an Iditarod qualifier,” according to the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association.

The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, which is run in March, is about 1,000 miles long.

  • In Marquette, the 90-mile Midnight Run also will start Feb. 16, according to the U.P. association’s website.
  • The 26-mile Jack Pine 30 race will begin Feb. 17 in Gwinn.

“We’re seeing a resurgence in interest” in dog sledding, said Anna Dravland, director of community relations and event marketing at Travel Marquette, which is part of the Marquette County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Dravland said 8,000 to 10,000 visitors typically show up to watch the sled dog teams race.

“It’s the most amazing experience watching them go,” she said.

Kestrels thrive in cherry orchards, and return favor

Capital News Service

LANSING — New homes may help save a declining bird species and, at the same time, protect economically vital cherry crops from orchard-damaging enemies.

That’s the conclusion of scientists who placed nest boxes in Leelanau County cherry orchards in an effort to support more breeding populations of the American kestrel.

The kestrel — or sparrowhawk — is the smallest, most colorful and most common falcon in North America but faces “significant and widespread population declines,” according to the researchers. They describe it as “a species of conservation concern.”

The population of kestrels is declining about 1 percent a year nationally and in Michigan, said Rachelle Roake, the conservation science coordinator for the Michigan Audubon Society.

“They’re not doing that great,” although they’re not listed as a threatened or endangered species, Roake said.

Major factors in that decline include development that removes natural nesting cavities and snags, as well as climate change-related habitat loss on migration routes and in wintering grounds, according to researchers Catherine Lindell and Megan Shave of Michigan State University’s Department of Integrative Biology. They published their nest box findings in two new studies.

The shrinking number of kestrels is bad news for Michigan tart and sweet cherry growers whose crops are vulnerable to the grasshoppers, meadow voles and robins that kestrels like to chow down on. They also scare away robins, cedar waxwings and other fruit-loving birds, Lindell said.

Other crops, including apples, benefit as well from the presence of kestrels, she said. For example, voles eat the bark of young cherry and other fruit trees, killing them.

Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of MSU’s Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Station near Traverse City, said it’s tough for cherry and grape growers to keep fruit-eating birds out. They’ve tried a variety of measures including balloons, sprays, nets and squawk boxes, all of which have major weaknesses.

The nest box project was “pretty neat” research,” Rothwell said. “It offers growers something they can do, something proactive.”

Lindell said sweet cherries are kestrels’ prime beneficiaries because they ripen at the same time as kestrels are nesting. Kestrels in Northern Michigan later migrate, usually to the southern United States.

Cherries are big business in Michigan, which leads the country in producing Montmorency tart cherries and ranks 4th in sweet cherry production, according to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Overall, the state accounts for 70-75 percent of Montmorency tart cherries and 20 percent of sweet cherries production nationally.

As for filling the birds’ menu, the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology says, “Hunting for insects and other small prey in open territory, kestrels perch on wires or poles, or hover facing into the wind, flapping and adjusting their long tails to stay in place.”

The MSU scientists installed 23 nest boxes in 2012-2015 next to or within cherry orchards on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas. Many were placed near the pastures, open fields and row crops where kestrels like to hunt.

The entrances faded southeastward to encourage kestrel occupancy and the survival of hatchlings.

The researchers monitored the boxes with pole-mounted cameras and opened the boxes to count eggs, hatchlings and fledglings.

Lindell said a similar nest box study is underway at blueberry farms in Western Michigan.

In Leelanau County, kestrels laid eggs in all 23 boxes and had “consistently high reproductive rates, indicating that the orchards and surrounding areas provide suitable habitat for successful kestrel breeding and fledgling production,” one of their new studies said.

“The results suggest that orchard nest boxes have the potential to sustain or increase the breeding kestrel population in the region while increasing kestrel predation of crop-damaging prey in and around cherry orchards,” the study in the Journal of Raptor Research said.

Their other study, published in the journal PLOS One, said, “Our results could encourage additional farmers to install and maintain nest boxes in fruit-growing regions where agricultural practices create open hunting habitat for kestrels.”

There were a few failures as well. Eggs in several boxes were abandoned because of competition from European starlings or another reason, and nestlings in a fourth box were killed by unknown assailants in a nighttime attack.

Meanwhile, cherry growers face other problems that kestrels can’t solve, according to Rothwell. For example, deer browse on trees, and bucks can kill trees by rubbing up against them. A fungal pathogen called cherry leaf spot can be devastating as well.