By LAUREN GENTILE
Capital News Service
LANSING – Nobody’s talking about designating the small Thumb village of Pigeon as Michigan’s birding capital. Or Eagle Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Or Hawks, northwest of Alpena. Or even Eagle, located west of Lansing.
But Iosco County would become the state’s birding capital under a legislative proposal that’s a dead duck – at least for this year.
The bill stems from work that an Oscoda woman did with the sponsor, Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, to make Iosco County a destination for bird watching tourism.
“I initiated this idea to make people aware that birding can be an asset to our economy,” said Peggy Ridgway, local coordinator for the Tawas Point Birding Festival. “Birders have a lot to spend and I think this is an underplayed opportunity.”
Moolenaar and Ridgway developed a bill that is pending in the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee, but no action is expected this fall.
Mike Telliga, chief of staff for Moolenaar, said it was introduced to start discussion.
“This is an important thing for Michigan to work on,” Telliga said. “With this proposal they could attract more business and avid bird watchers.”
Travel Michigan, the state’s official tourism promotion agency, said it doesn’t have any statistics on birding tourism spending.
Telliga said the bill will continue to be discussed in committee and could be proposed again next year.
“We are committed to finding a way to recognize and promote birding in Michigan,” he said.
“Iosco County deserves the recognition,” Telliga said. “With the business that the festival brings in and all of the great birding opportunities they have, they deserve something special.”
The bill notes that Iosco County contains the largest nesting population of the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, the only identified nesting of the endangered piping plover and three areas the Audubon Society identifies as important birding areas.
The Michigan Audubon Society’s executive director, Jonathan Lutz, said his organization had no idea about the legislation until a week before the proposal was introduced.
“We were surprised that this was going to be introduced,” he said.
The Audubon Society plans to team up with Moolenaar to reach an agreement, he said.
“As much work has gone into this legislation, we are against it,” Lutz said. “There are many great birding destinations in Michigan and we would like to honor all of them, instead of just promoting one.”
Currently, Lutz and the Audubon Society are planning a program that will recognize multiple “Audubon-endorsed” communities throughout Michigan.
“It isn’t that Iosco County isn’t a great place for birding, but there are multiple places that also have great locations for bird watching in the state,” Lutz said.
No criteria are decided, but a draft should be available in early January, Lutz said.
Ridgway said she hopes that the Audubon and Moolenaar can work together to create something “truly special” for birdwatchers.
“I think that Michigan tourism always promotes fishing and hunting, and bird watching is always left out. With a possible new program, we can have an edge on the market,” she said.