Last weekend’s weather couldn’t stop volunteers with MUCC’s Wildlife Habitat Program from improving wildlife habitat on public land. A group of fifteen volunteers met at the Allegan State Game Area to remove a half mile of wire fencing between an open field and a pine-oak stand. This fencing was acting as a barrier between a grazing field and essential cover for the areas whitetail deer. There was one small opening in the half-mile stretch of fencing that was very clearly used as a passageway. Volunteers also built eight new brush piles along the field edge to provide cover for cottontail rabbits and other small game. The group worked well together and made quick work of the fencing removal portion of the project and everyone was able to make it home safely before severe winds came through the area.
This was the fifth wildlife habitat improvement project hosted at the Allegan SGA since the start of this program in 2013. Volunteer turnout for this area, in particular, is always great. It is a very unique area with 50,000 acres of public land to offer a variety of hunting opportunities; with all of that land comes endless opportunities to improve habitat. The area’s DNR Wildlife Technician, Mike Richardson, chose the project site as he knew it was a priority to get this access barrier out. There are more areas with fencing that will need to be removed, but they are along the road and much more open, whereas this area was through a pine stand about 200ft in from the edge of the field it followed. There was a different task for everyone; some volunteers walked along the fence line and cut wire every so often to make moveable lengths of fencing, some volunteers rolled the wire fencing and carried it back to the trailer, some volunteers pulled the T-posts to be carried back to the trailer. Then, all of the volunteers worked together to move and stack tree trunk sections and branches for the brush piles.
I am especially proud of this event and the volunteers that came together. For the first time with MUCC’s Wildlife Habitat Program, a volunteer with special needs attended this project. Jeremy Stephens, along with his mentor Danielle, wanted to volunteer in the Allegan State Game Area. Jeremy loves to spend time outdoors and this was the perfect way to do just that! He worked just as hard as any other person and I didn’t have to make any sort of accommodations for him to volunteer at this event. I hope to see Jeremy at future events in the area. These projects really are not limited to any type of work skill or capability; there is always a task for everybody!
There was a balance of returning volunteers and new volunteers for this project. Dedicated volunteers Steve Waksmundzki, Larry Dame, Larry Radke, and Bethy Williams have helped out with many of the rabbitat projects through this program. Steve and Larry also took the opportunity to run their dogs in nearby fields before the project started. Stewart Smith, President of the Pigeon River Country Association, volunteered for the second consecutive weekend with his son, Stewart Smith III, and even recruited his grandson, Stewart Smith IV for this event; the trio made a great team! New volunteer Jessica Lemenager took the opportunity to volunteer with this group as a way to get herself back into hunting. She moved to Michigan from Oregon and has not yet delved into the different style of hunting Michigan public land has to offer. She’s on the right track; volunteering with groups like this one will provide connections with people who have the experience and knowledge of all types of public land hunting and many are more than willing to share that with a new hunter!
Professional connections can also develop through these habitat improvement events. Bill and Denise Dawson volunteered to bring out a tractor to help pull the fencing and to move tree trunk sections for the brush piles. This was a huge help for the group and made the work much more manageable for a half-day project. Bill is also part of a volunteer organization called Team Rubicon, which “seeks to provide our veterans with three things they lose after leaving the military: a purpose, gained through disaster relief; community, built by serving with others; and self-worth, from recognizing the impact one individual can make. Coupled with leadership development and other opportunities, Team Rubicon looks to help veterans transition from military to civilian life.” The Region V team actually has a current operation to help out the areas affected by the tornado that touched down on Saturday after the workday- see more info here.
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