Catch more trout–if you can!

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Anglers fishing for brook trout in the Upper Peninsula this season can tackle portions of 36 streams where the daily bag limit has been increased to 10 fish.

The season just opened and runs until Sept. 30.

“It’s been an evolving issue,” said George Madison, a Baraga-based fisheries manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “For many years, the daily possession limit was 10 brook trout. After a while, there was concern from sport anglers and groups that the limit could be too much on streams that receive a lot of fishing pressure.”

In 2000, all of the state’s Type 1 trout streams changed to a five-fish bag limit, Madison said. However, some people felt there were a lot of streams that didn’t receive much fishing pressure, and the 10-fish limit could still be in effect in those areas.

Most streams in the state are Type 1.

“Several years ago we did some experimental streams with the 10-fish limit to evaluate if the people catching 10 fish would truly impact the populations or not,” Madison said. “The evaluation went on for four years, and every summer was different. We couldn’t really tell if populations were being impacted by the 10-fish limit.”

Phil Schneeberger, the Lake Superior Basin coordinator for the DNR, said brook trout populations have a high variability from year to year due to environmental factors, with or without an increase in the bag limit.

“There was some evidence of a decrease in population in some streams with an increase in the bag limit, but I wouldn’t call it compelling,” he said. “The population also decreased in some streams that did not have a increase in the bag limit. There are just so many other factors that can make the population fluctuate.”

However, Madison said the study did show that many remote streams in the U.P. get little to no fishing pressure,.

In 2016, the Natural Resources Commission decided to open more streams to the higher bag limit, he said. “All in all the decision was supported by the public. They recognized this would diversify fishing opportunities across the U.P. areas.”

All but one of the U.P.’s 15 counties has at least one stream on the list of those with a 10-fish bag limit. The sole exception is Menominee County.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for the anglers,” Madison said. “We’ve selected streams throughout the U.P. so that whatever county you’re in, you have an opportunity nearby to have a stream that would have a higher possession limit.”

One reason the DNR is increasing the limit is because it’s not seeing as many stream anglers.

“At one time, it was very popular. Years ago there would be anglers packed along the river. Nowadays, you don’t see that as much,” Madison said. “Anglers have become a little more sedentary where they like to fish out of boats for walleye or bass.“

One problem is that some anglers, especially those who are unfamiliar with an area or stream, may be confused because only a portion of some streams has the higher limit.

However, Madison said DNR maps try to make the boundaries clear-cut, such as a county road “so people would know that the waters upstream from this road are 10-fish possession limit and waters below the road are five-fish possession limit,” he said.

Another problem for the DNR is the difficulty of enforcing the regulation. For example, if a conservation officer comes across an angler near one of the boundaries with 10 fish in his or her cooler, the officer has no way of knowing on which side of the stream the angler caught the fish.

Schneeberger said,“We realize that with the proximity of some of the increased bag limit streams so close to the five-bag limit streams, it’s going to be almost impossible to enforce it rigorously.”

However, Madison said most anglers are pretty good at following the rules.

“Most of our regulations are based on an honor system. Ninety-nine percent of the anglers follow the letter of the law.”

Based on the DNR’s creel census studies, most people catch between three and five fish, Madison said. “Although there are people that fish hard and are good anglers. They know where to go and they can catch 10 fish.”

There’s a surge in fishing from the season opener through early summer, “and then it kind of wanes after that,” Madison said. “People move on to other activities. We see a little bit of an uptick in September because people get out for the fall colors.”

More people moving to some rural areas

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Some rural counties are seeing more people move in, Governing magazine data shows, but some experts remain skeptical of a possible trend.

The data shows some counties, such as Isabella, Wayne, Missaukee and Grand Traverse, have lost more residents than they gained while rural counties like Crawford, Lake, Antrim and Leelanau showed growth.

However, numbers in both directions in the 12 months ending in July 2017 were small.

The “net domestic migration rate” refers to the number of people moving in versus those moving out per 1,000 population, according to Governing.

Erich Podjaske, the economic development coordinator of Crawford County, said he doesn’t see a significant number of people moving in, although the county does have plans to attract more workers..

“We are holding development summits, and we have new businesses that are opening, particularly in the trucking and manufacturing area,” Podjaske said.

But the county faces a labor shortage. “We just don’t have enough employees to fill all the positions in every area. Not just engineering, but also soft skills,” he said.

One of the problems is a lack of “nice quality housing,” Podjaske said. “People are moving here and not finding the homes or rentals that they would like.”

It’s difficult to find contractors to build single-family homes, especially because homes in Crawford County aren’t increasing in value and contractors won’t make money on them, he said. To help tackle this dilemma, the county is working on things like multifamily housing, where state assistance could potentially offset some costs.

Recreation is drawing people to some rural counties, according to Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, who lives on a farm.

He said Northern Michigan, which is typically considered rural, has roughly 4.5 million acres of public land, and “it’s fantastic place to recreate.”

“People want to get away from the hustle and bustle in urban environment, and they would rather look at slowly bubbling creek,” Cole said. “It’s a huge draw to Northern Michigan.”

Northern Michigan has hundreds of lakes and streams for fishing, boating and swimming, and some of the most phenomenal lakeshore for recreation, he said — “whether just sitting in the lawn chair, enjoying the sand in the sun, or if you want to swim in the freezing cold water of Lake Superior.”

As for whether public services meet the needs of incomers, Cole said people don’t require public services to survive. “Many folks just desire to be self-sufficient.”

Teresa Bertossi, an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences at Northern Michigan University, said it’s important to be cautious when looking at large-area data in an attempt to understand movements with or between counties.

Urbanization is still a trend, according to Bertossi.

“The overall statistics support that people are still moving to more urban areas, generally speaking, on the planet than ever before,” she said. “Outmigration continues to remain a persistent challenge for many less-developed or more rural places.”

However, Bertossi said her research has demonstrated an apparent pattern of a “sort of” rural gentrification in some non-agriculture-based, rural Lake Superior coastal communities.

“So in a way that does lead to a strain on public services, whereby working class people are forced out of their communities because they can’t find affordable family starter homes,” she said.

Another example of rural gentrification is that within some rural areas with major amenities, like Lake Superior, people are moving from larger cities and building second and third homes in rural places, Bertossi said. That trend contributes minimally to the local economy, leading to higher land values that push working class and lower income people farther away from the lake.

Jeroen Wagendorp, an associate professor at the Department of Geography and Sustainable Planning at Grand Valley State University, said the positive migration rate for rural counties may be due to movement from one rural county to another and not as much from urban to rural counties.

The cost of living in rural counties can be lower than in urban counties.

“If you live in the country, your lifestyle is subsidized by taxes paid by the people living in the city,” Wagendorp said. “The taxes in the city sometimes are twice as high as living in the country.”

Boating is up, and so are accidents

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – Are Michigan waters getting less safe for boaters, with or without motors?

The number of recreational boating accidents in the state increased from 92 in 2013 to 125 in 2016, and deaths increased from 21 in 2012 to 38 in 2016, according to the latest report from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Accidents are happening on inland waters and on the Great Lakes. Last year, for example, on July 22, a 45-year-old woman was critically injured after a boat crash near Grand Haven.

On Aug. 6, a 23-year-old woman died from injuries caused by being thrown from a tube into another boat on Sand Lake in Clare County.

And on Sept. 17, a 23-year-old Holland man died in a personal watercraft accident on Lake Michigan.

One factor in the rising accident toll is the increasing popularity of paddle sports  — participation is up about 7 percent annually, experts say.

Over the last five years,  the number of powered vessels and paddle craft has grown steadily, said Dennis Nickels of Grand Haven, the chair of the state’s Waterways Commission.

There are more than 600,000 paddle sport vessels in the state, according to the Coast Guard.

“In three years, the number of paddle crafts in Michigan water will exceed the number of powered vessels,” Nickels said.

As a paddling enthusiast for over 40 years, Nickels said he’s  “extremely excited about promoting the paddle sports in Michigan, but we’ve got to find a way to keep them safe.”

July and August are the heaviest boating months, said Jeff Pendergraff, Crawford County’s undersheriff in charge of the Marine Division.

To make sure of boaters’ safety, the Marine Division strengthens its workforce from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, Pendergraff said. “Some officers retired from other places, and they come and work here [for the Marine Division] in the summer to do marine enforcement.”

“Generally, there was an accident and alcohol was involved,” he said, adding that many people aren’t aware they cannot operate a boat well while drinking.

The general things that Crawford County’s Marine Division looks into include whether boaters wear life jackets, checking that they’re not drinking too much and making sure jet skis don’t get too close to swim areas, boats and anchors, Pendergraff said.

Chris Dekker, the chair of West Michigan Offshore, said that to improve boating safety, the Hudsonville-based powerboat club provides members with safety videos and a code of conduct to educate and regulate boaters’ behaviors.

The big factors that cause boating accidents are excess speed and alcohol, Dekker said. “Just staying on the basics and having a healthy fear of what can happen on the water is the key.”

Killing cormorants legal again

By STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Culling season is coming quickly for a controversial Great Lakes waterfowl after it received a one-year reprieve.

Control of the double-crested cormorant will return this spring when the bird returns from wintering along the Pacific, Atlantic or Gulf coasts, according to federal authorities.

Almost all culling was suspended last year after a federal judge ruled in May 2016 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to adequately assess its impact. With that study complete, the agency can again issue permits to kill cormorants to protect property, habitat, airports, fish hatcheries and other birds.

“We’re trying to balance maintaining a stable cormorant population with managing them in the place where they’re causing damage,” said Tom Cooper, a program chief for the agency’s Migratory Bird Program.

The agency will issue permits to kill up to 18,270 cormorants this year in eight Midwestern states.

Permit applicants must submit photos of cormorant damage, how many cormorants they wish to kill and how they plan to do it, Cooper said.

Cormorants moved into Michigan from neighboring states in the early 1970s, according to a Department of National Resources report. By the turn of the century, there were 30,000 nesting pairs in the state.

Their colonies are found in places like Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan, Ludington and the Les Cheneaux Islands just off of the southeastern edge of the Upper Peninsula.

Some area residents claim the birds hurt local fisheries but researchers say the cormorants’ impact on local fishing is exaggerated. In fact, scientists have discovered that cormorants are eating invasive species, especially round goby in Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay and Lake Michigan’s Beaver Archipelago.

Once threatened by chemical contamination, the birds have returned in dramatic numbers.

There were only 125 nesting pairs of Great Lakes cormorants in 1972. Today, there are 40,000  pairs, and they’re causing a big problem on many islands where colonies have degraded many habitats, forcing other animals to move on.

Anglers know them as the bird whose numbers blew up in the 1980s after tapping into a nearly bottomless supply of the invasive alewife. They’re incredible divers and can eat one-fourth of their weight in fish each day.

And they’re public enemy number one for many perch anglers, although how many perch they eat is hotly debated, Cooper said.

Many know them by a distinct calling card — acidic feces that damages cars and buildings. They also destroy vegetation, stripping trees of leaves for their nests and poisoning the ground with their guano.

But defenders think of them as a bird that’s faced persecution for centuries and continues to do so despite protections t under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Some remember them as an environmentalists’ poster child — their DDT-malformed beaks were displayed on posters. The deformities caused by that insecticide kept them from eating and reproducing, threatening the bird’s existence.

Cormorant management is contentious, Cooper said.

“There’s folks that are on both sides of the issue,” he said. “Our role is to balance those using the best available information.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service began to allow culls in 2003 after mounting complaints of damage by a booming cormorant population. Cormorants threatening fish hatcheries, vegetation and other birds were often taken without a permit.

The birds were either harassed or shot, but many prefered to coat their eggs in oil, asphyxiating the embryos. Cormorant mothers continue to sit on the dead eggs. The mothers otherwise often laid new eggs if they found theirs were smashed.  

Cormorant management is often done to protect shorebirds that often live alongside the colonies, but researchers at the University of Minnesota found that the culls hurt some of those same species.

The team analyzed population data from 1976 to 2010 and watched how the colonies fared when cormorants were killed.

Black-crowned night herons nest in the undergrowth, often under cormorant nests, said Francie Cuthbert, a co-author of the study in the “Journal of Wildlife Management.” Culling cormorants should save their habitat from an acidic demise and boost the heron population. Instead, those populations declined when the cormorants were killed.

Egg spraying is probably the culprit, she said. To spray cormorant eggs, managers must traverse the island, causing panicked heron chicks to fall out of their nests. The parents then no longer care for them and they die.

For two species of gulls, the opposite is true. The Great Lakes have too many gulls already, and cormorant management makes it worse, Cuthbert said. Gulls raid empty cormorant nests — an easy-access, population-boosting food source.

“When somebody goes in to spray the eggs, the cormorants are the first to take off, and boom, they’re gone,” Cuthbert said. “They’re out sitting on the lake.”

Gulls are quick to take advantage, she said. “They’re into that cormorant colony, busting open eggs as fast as they can.”

That makes for more gulls, and another possible round of eggs from the cormorant mothers, she said.

Cooper said the Fish and Wildlife Service is aware of the study. The managers he’s spoken with are open to changing tactics, even if it means hampering efficiency by limiting egg oiling.

There were close to 10,000 cormorant pairs on West Sister Island in Lake Erie before culling started in 2006, said Jason Lewis, the manager of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Ohio. The island’s colony has since been cut to 4,000 pairs.

Other nesting species on the island were struggling as the number of cormorants continued to grow, Lewis said. And West Sister Island is the only habitat of its kind in the western basin of Lake Erie.

“It’s not like these species have any place to go,” he said.

Since culling began, vegetation and co-nesters on the island have bounced back, Lewis said.

Steven Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Old UP avalanche teaches new lesson to rescuers

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Dead isn’t always dead.

That’s the lesson learned from the near-miraculous survival of a 12-year-old Upper Peninsula skier who was buried head-down and unconscious in an avalanche for at least three hours.

Although the incident took place almost 80 years ago, a newly published study in the journal “Wilderness & Environmental Medicine” says it offers an important lesson for rescuers today.

The study, based on news coverage in the Ironwood Daily Globe, recounts the 1939 experience of Henry Takala, who suffered from hypothermia, a condition with an abnormally and dangerously low body temperature.

Avalanches in Michigan are “rare but not unknown,” according to the study.

A number involving the complete burials of victims have been reported in the Upper and Lower peninsulas, including a fatal 1924 accident that killed a rabbit hunter at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Michigan’s last known avalanche fatality occurred in 1982, also at Sleeping Bear Dunes, said Dale Atkins, a past president of the American Avalanche Association and co-author of the study. The National Park Service now warns winter visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that avalanches are possible on steep dunes.

So how is an 80-year-old Michigan avalanche relevant today? And what happened to Henry Takala?

As the boy was skiing, an overhanging snowdrift broke off, totally burying him and partially burying his companion. Henry’s father and neighbors dug him out and took him home, where the father administered artificial respiration for three hours.

Snow-blocked roads kept a doctor from arriving quickly.

“Whenever the father stopped his first aid work, his son would stop breathing and the work would have to be resumed,” the Ironwood Daily Globe reported. “It looked hopeless at the time, and so the father was told by the neighbors, but he continued until the boy recovered.”

The father, a miner, had learned first aid on the job.

“Although Henry appeared dead to his father at the time of extrication (from the avalanche), he was most likely breathing spontaneously. In hypothermic subjects, breathing may be shallow and difficult to detect,” the study said.

Two days after the accident, “The boys are no worse for their experience,” the newspaper reported. “Henry feels soreness in one of his legs.”

Michigan has the terrain and in some years the weak, soft layers of snow that are conducive to avalanches, Atkins said. While many people associate avalanches with the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada and Cascades, they can happen anywhere steep slopes are covered in snow.

Atkins described a 1954 incident that killed two 12-year-old boys who were sledding west of Marquette at an abandoned iron mine. Thomas Lecklin and Ernest Falo of Negaunee were buried in 10 feet of snow and a third boy was rescued.

The Michigan Snowmobile Safety Course acknowledges that they’re rare in the state, but advises snowmobilers to check with local officials if visiting a known avalanche area.

Such areas include slopes steeper than 30 degrees and where there are “overhanging masses of snow or ice, often found on a ridge,” according to the safety course. “Before crossing an unstable slope, look for possible escape routes should an avalanche occur.”

Atkins said, “Time is the enemy of the buried victim. Nature is not very kind. More people die than survive avalanche burials.”

Ken Zafren, the lead author of the study and an emergency physician in Anchorage, Alaska.

said someone with hypothermia “might look dead but might be alive. Don’t give up.”

That’s the lesson of the story of Henry Takala.

Rescuers “should attempt to resuscitate a hypothermia victim unless there is an obvious condition that is not compatible with life, such as decapitation or a completely obstructed airway,” the study said.

“Don’t give up until the victim is warm and dead or warm and alive.”

Fewer fishing, hunting licenses mean less conservation money

By HALEY GABLE
Capital News Service

LANSING –  Revenue from hunting and fishing license sales decreased from $63.2 million in 2016 to $62.1 million in 2017, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Meanwhile, the number of licensed hunters and fishers has been declining over the last 20 years, DNR said.

The funds from licenses go directly to fisheries and wildlife conservation programs and make up the most of budget for those programs. When license sales decline, it means less money to support wildlife programs.

Nine percent of the DNR’s total budget comes from general tax dollars, and only 4.5 percent of that goes towards conservation, according to the department.  

The DNR increased licenses fees in 2014, which helped generate funds. However, DNR public information officer Ed Golder said there is no current plan to ask the Legislature for another increase.

Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) Executive Director Dan Eichinger said hunting and fishing licenses are the main source of funding for state conservation efforts. Getting people to buy licenses is essential to conservation and the benefits it brings to individuals, their communities and the state as whole.

Conservation plays a substantial role in the Michigan economy. According to the DNR, hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing contribute $3 billion annually to the state’s economy. Recreation related to hunting and fishing supports 33,000 jobs.

Eichinger said that the best way for citizens to support conservation is to purchase a hunting or fishing license because these funds must be allocated for wildlife conservation.

To generate money and increase license sales, Eichinger said there must be an effort to either grow the user base or be more efficient with funds.

MUCC has several programs to educate the public on how conservation benefits themselves, wildlife habitats and the economy.

For example, Gourmet Gone Wild is a program designed to expand the hunting user base. According to its website, the program is “designed to introduce young professionals to hunting and fishing in an innovative way: tasteful and healthy cuisine.”

Participants have the opportunity to learn about the health benefits of eating wild game and how hunting promotes conservation and sustainability.

Another program is the R3 Program, which stands for recruitment, retention and reactivation. According to MUCC public information officer Nick Green, it aims to inspire parents to take their children fishing and hunting.

“R3 is about getting parents on board in order to support the next generation,” said Green.  

The program provides tools for parents, children and others to learn how to fish and hunt. The hope is that people will enjoy these activities, continue to participate and, in turn, will renew their hunting and fishing licenses, he said.

The MUCC also holds an annual summer camp for children ages 9-16.

MUCC education coordinator Shaun McKeon said the camp focuses on teaching skills such as hunting and fishing, and educates campers on conservation science.  

Local communities can also participate in and benefit from statewide conservation efforts.

For example, in 2017, the Cheboygan Conservation District  participated in the Hunting Access Program, which provides the opportunity for private landowners to benefit financially from allowing hunters access to their land.

According to the district, six landowners enrolled last year.

State cranks up testing deer for chronic wasting disease

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — The past deer hunting season witnessed a significant increase in the number of deer confirmed or suspected with chronic wasting disease (CWD), according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

More deer tests are needed, especially in counties that have not been sufficiently sampled, to identify the presence of the disease as well as to help develop an overall management plan, the department said.

CWD is a contagious neurological disease that affects deer and elk. It causes a spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals and could result in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and, ultimately, death, according to the DNR.

Scientists believe CWD affects only members of the deer family, including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose, said John Niewoonder, a biologist and field operations manager for Montcalm and Ionia counties in DNR’s Wildlife Division.

Surveillance for the disease is ongoing, and DNR added a new nine-township Core CWD Area in Montcalm and Kent counties in late 2017.

Also, the confirmation of CWD in a free-ranging deer from Montcalm County last September led to the mandatory testing of heads for all deer harvested by hunters within 72 hours and within 5 miles of the core area.

“We continue to test deer from portions of Montcalm and Ionia counties that were harvested during the special January deer season,”  Niewoonder said. “There are at least 34 deer from Montcalm County that are either confirmed or suspected CWD-positive from this past deer season.”

So far, the source of the disease is unknown, and there is no treatment for CWD-positive deer.

The biggest challenge for treatment is that “there’s so much about the disease we don’t know,” said Dan Eichinger, the executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

“Since you can only test CWD once a deer is dead, with more deer samples from hunters, we’ll have a much better understanding of the extent of the disease, what direction the disease might be travelling in,” Eichinger said. “And that will help inform what the overall management is to be.”

In the past three years, the state spent more than $1 million annually on CWD testing, according to Stewart.

“The level of detail and the amount of effort that we are putting forward is certainly enough to detect the area where we are intensively looking, but that same level of effort probably can’t be applied to everywhere in the state,” Stewart said.

Niewoonder said surveillance is far from complete for the entire state.

“There are many counties that have not been sufficiently sampled to identify whether the disease is present or not. Since the disease likely occurs at very low levels, it is difficult to detect unless many deer are sampled,” he said.

The state has 75 deer check stations, Stewart said, including several new ones in Montcalm and Mecosta counties.

The workload for DNR staff is determined by various factors, such as deer densities in an area, as well as the geographic range where DNR wants to identify the disease. Additional staff was brought into the testing lab in the past hunting season, according to Stewart.

Though the current testing method is “highly effective,” it is still impossible to identify every CWD-positive deer, said Stewart. “People can’t look at a deer and say it has CWD.  Otherwise they would be very easy to target and remove those animals from the landscape.”

Niewoonder said there is no reliable live animal test for CWD, so tests are conducted on dead deer. “The difficulty lies in getting enough samples to detect a disease that exists at very low levels in the deer herd.”

Most of the test samples come from hunters, mostly from October through December.

“That’s when most of our samples are submitted and that’s when most of the identifications of any positive animals come to be,” said Stewart. But in certain surveillance areas, DNR also collects roadkill for testing.

As for deer raised on privately owned farms, testing is done when animals die. Samples must be submitted for testing within one month of death.

“Samples from deer farms in Michigan are sent to the laboratory for testing nearly every week,” said James Averill, the state veterinarian and director of the Animal Industry Division in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Survey: dune supporters include stormwatchers, ecologists, campers, economists

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s not just their beauty that people love about dunes. Some value Michigan’s sandy knolls for storm-watching.

“It was a really popular activity that we didn’t have on our radar,” said Brad Garmon, director of conservation at the Michigan Environmental Council. “Some parks, specifically in Southwest Michigan, had a pretty high percentage of people rank storm-watching as the primary purpose of their visit to the dunes.”

Those storm clouds and lightning bolts are among many reasons why Michigan’s residents value the state’s dunes, a new survey is telling researchers.

“About 93 percent of people that took the survey valued dunes for their scenic value,” Garmon said. “I think that’s not surprising if you think about Sleeping Bear and some of these high-profile dunes, but that’s still a really high number.”

As one of the first of its kind, the online “How You Dune” survey administered by Michigan State University  pinpointed where and how people spend time when they visit dunes. Popular uses included beach-going and camping.

More than 89 percent of the respondents valued protection of dunes, while 80 percent valued them as a unique ecosystem.

“The idea of generational importance that ‘the dunes I enjoy today I want my kids and grandkids to have the opportunity to have and see and experience these dunes too,’ was really significant,” Garmon said.

Found mostly on the state’s west coast, the 275,000 acres of Michigan dunes comprise the world’s largest freshwater dune system. They house an ecosystem of animals and vegetation distinct to the region.

Many of these organisms rely on how the dunes migrate, a nuisance to many homeowners.

“From a coastal homeowner’s perspective, you’re always trying to keep the dunes in place,” said Shaun Howard, a Nature Conservancy project manager. “You’ve got your home and you’re worried about erosion. But they are dynamic and they are supposed to move.

“Dunes are really important as a component of the ecosystem food-chain because they have these really specific plants which have really specific insects that feed on them which in turn feed birds and other wildlife,” Howard said.

Some species, like the federally endangered Pitcher’s thistle, indicate the health of the dunes.

The plant needs the dunes to scour its seeds so they can continue to reproduce, Howard said. “Without the sand movement, you don’t get that scouring effect, and in return you get reduced germination rates of that particular plant. So we use Pitcher’s thistle success and growth as an indicator for whether the dunes are healthy.”

Coupled with understanding how individuals use dunes, researchers also sought how to galvanize dune supporters.

“We wanted to catalyze a group of dune stakeholders,” said Robert Richardson, an ecological economist with Michigan State who helped develop the survey that 3,610 people answered. “So given that we don’t know who cares about dunes, people who took the survey were invited to give us their contact information so that we could follow up. So now we can build upon this dune stakeholder community.”

Survey respondents were fairly homogeneous, Richardson said. About 87 percent are white.

“We feel like that’s also an opportunity for the Department of Natural Resources to do some targeted outreach to reach more diverse communities who may not have visited dunes or who may not be aware of the uniqueness of dunes,” Richardson said.

To reach minorities, there needs to be a reframing of the discussion about promoting the environment, said Sandra Turner-Handy, the community engagement director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

It’s not that people of color don’t enjoy nature, because they do, she said. The priorities for many people of color in the environment are about survival.

“We are long-term lovers of nature. But when we have our hands in the dirt or we’re fishing or hunting, we’re supplying our food system,” she said. “Reframing how we can enjoy the environment is happening and it will take a while. But we have to invite more people of color into the conversation about the environment so we can begin to understand how it plays a natural role in our everyday lives.”

It’s not easy to calculate the economic value of dunes. Park officials say Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore brought in 1.68 million people in 2016 who spent $183 million in nearby communities. Silver Lake Sand Dunes officials say that state park generates about $2 million a year from the 1 million people who visit. Arcadia dunes near Traverse City collects close to $1.45 million a year in direct economic impact, according to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

Howard said, “They offer Michigan a unique opportunity to develop an ecotourism economy. We know people traveling from all over the country and all around the world come to see these dunes.”

As dynamic as they are, dunes are also sensitive to outside influences. When people pick them as a tourist spot, it can harm them.

“In a large dune area, there are places where people run wild,” said David Foote, the director of stewardship for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “It denudes the face of the dune, moving vegetation from an entire system.”

As a solution, the conservancy uses a tactic called controlled trampling. That makes it more inconvenient for individuals to walk on dunes by making the trails between them and parking lots longer. Fewer people walking on the dunes loosens up the sand, without destabilizing the mound.

“If you have just a trickle of people, it can free up sand that will be blown up the dune on the backside,” Foote said. “That way rare plants like Pitcher’s thistle can thrive. It’s sustainable in the long run and a way we handle public use on some of the larger properties.”

Dog sleddding is big again in snowy Michigan

By CARL STODDARD
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.

Bill would let some counties veto state land purchases

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Counties with lots of public land are looking to take some control over state land purchases.

A pending bill would grant local governments more power when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) buys land, while also making sure the state pays its tax bill on time.

The proposed change is in response to the local governments that are upset the state has too much control over northern Michigan land, said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, a cosponsor of the bill.

“I always hear the reason the state wants to own the land is so you and I can enjoy the land,” he said. “Yet in my area, far too often, land was gated up or fenced off and access was cut off.”

Critics say the bill restricts statewide land management decisions.

Casperson worries it’s too difficult for people to buy land from the state. The Michigan Association of Counties, which supports the bill, wants counties to be able to veto state purchases. And groups like the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance take issue with how the DNR allocates land.

“If conservation is the wise use of resources that benefits the most people for the longest time, then that’s not what is happening,” said Dale McNamee, the former president of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Parts of the bill guarantee sportsmen they will have land where to hunt.”

McNamee says the DNR often doesn’t take advantage of public land by prohibiting mining, fishing and hunting. The alliance promotes recreational experiences and encourages conservation of natural resources in the area, he said.

Under the bill, counties with more than 40 percent of their land owned by the state would have approval power over any additional state land purchase in their county. As of 2016, six counties fit that description: Cheboygan, Crawford, Dickinson, Kalkaska, Luce and Roscommon. Of the almost 4.6 million acres the DNR owns, 85 percent is north of the Mason-Arenac line, an invisible line that stretches across counties north of the Thumb.  

The Michigan Environmental Council opposes several parts of the bill.

“Our issue with that is these are statewide land management decisions that are supported by a lot of people,” said Sean Hammond, the council’s deputy policy director. “This would allow a single county to hold up a statewide land management decision. We think that’s not the appropriate way to make these decisions.”

The council disagrees with restricting the DNR’s purchasing power if the state isn’t current on payments it makes in lieu of taxes. When the state buys land, not only is the county getting money for the initial purchase, but to offset the property taxes it isn’t receiving, the state pays what are called Payments In Lieu of Taxes or PILT.

If the state fell behind on these payments, the bill would allow a cap on how much land the DNR could purchase would go into effect. The council disagrees with this because, while the DNR purchases land, the payments are appropriated by the Legislature, not the department itself.

“We’re questioning why we need to tie those together when they are completely separate entities,” Hammond said.

While payments have been late in the past, the DNR says the state doesn’t usually miss PILT payments.

Both the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs oppose the bill.

Sponsors hope to improve local business opportunities impeded by public land ownership, Casperson said. In 2014, Oswald’s Bear Ranch, a big money-maker for Luce County, was looking to purchase land held by the DNR.

Instead, the business had to buy 160 acres the state wanted, then swap it for the land it preferred, which took years, Casperson said. More than half the county is owned by the state.

“When we can’t even help little businesses like this and there is so much economic turmoil in the region, it’s really unfortunate,” Casperson said. “There may be benefits to the state owning public land, but not through the local economy.”

That’s where the environmental council sees it differently.

The philosophy behind these bills is the state has too much public land and that doesn’t help the economy, Hammond said.

“Well, we see it the other way. We see tourism and recreation growing at huge rates. Trail running, mountain biking, birding, these are all industries that are growing, and where’s the best place to do them? On the state’s public land.”

The DNR says the  legislationl wouldn’t have much effect on the way it does business, because it  already uses many of the practices the bill mandates.

“We recognize there was justifiable concern that the DNR was making decisions about local land ownership without fully considering the interests or needs of local government officials,” said Ed Golder, the DNR’s public information officer. “So we’ve changed that engagement model.”

When a new land strategy was developed in 2013, DNR director Keith Creagh met with many northern county officials to gauge how they felt about how the government uses public land.

Since then, it’s become standard practice to seek approval from local governments and to seek agreement on the footprint of state-managed public land, Golder said.

It’s a practice that officials with the Michigan Association of Counties say they appreciate.

“We support the bill and we support the DNR working with counties,” said Deena Bosworth, the director of governmental affairs at the association.  “This bill codifies the relationship they have been working on for years now.”

The bill passed the Senate in mid-October and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.