Michigan District Makes Difference for Wildlife Habitat

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Blue Water Conservation District (BWCD) is improving wildlife habitat through a $50,700 grant the district received from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The Michigan DNR Wildlife Habitat Grant must be used by Sept. 30, 2020, on projects including enhancing large wetland complexes, winter deer complexes, mast producing food sources, forest openings, oak savannas and small-game habitat.

BWCD, which serves St. Clair and Sanilac counties, will use the funds to convert 86 acres of row crops into native grasses, wet grass mix and wildflower mix in Sanilac County.

BWCD Farm Bill wildlife biologist Jacob Northuis said an additional 51 acres of fallow land – currently containing thistle, timothy and orchard grass – will be converted into annual food plots for wildlife, including turkey, pheasants and whitetail deer, with the future goal of transitioning those acres to grassland and woodland.

“The native grasses grow relatively quick as opposed to planting trees, which take 20 to 30 years before they are effective habitat,” Northuis said. “Part of the grant is converting those fallow areas into wildlife food plots, such as beans and wheat to help weed control so in the future when we decide to do tree planting it gives us a clean slate.”

Once the current project is implemented, Northuis plans to seek funding for forest management planning.

For now, the district is focusing on pheasant population because it’s a struggling species in this area, but the conversion will also draw other small game, such as wild turkeys and Eastern cottontail rabbits.

Michigan DNR has awarded funding through the Wildlife Habitat Grant Program since 2013. In 2014 and 2015, the Sanilac Conservation District utilized the program to redevelop 100 acres of habitat for gaming species. The project included cleaning and clearing areas to plant food plots and tree and shrub plantings. The conservation district also planted fruit trees for a food source and has started converting some of the acreage into warm season grasses. In 2016, about 20 acres were planted to warm season grasses.

The district also formed a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to improve waterfowl habitat and degraded wetlands on the property by removing invasive species.

Northuis said in previous grant efforts, district staff worked with local farmers to build up and maintain the acreage. He anticipates assistance from the group in this grant’s objectives.

“The crew we’re working with, a group of local farmers living in Flynn Township, they’re keeping an eye on it,” Northuis said. “They want it to be successful and they know what they’re doing. It’s been a really nice thing having community involvement.”

Northuis says converting the acreage to a more natural use in an area where some wildlife species are struggling provides benefits to the public. Newly graveled trails throughout the area will draw people into the plot to learn about the land and wildlife for better management and protection in the future.

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