Sandhill Crane’s Rebound in Michigan Opens Hunt Possibilities

Cranes feeding in a fallow field. Photo: Tom Hodgson

Cranes feeding in a fallow field. Photo: Tom Hodgson

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan’s iconic Sandhill Cranes, majestic and standing three to four feet tall, are by all accounts an example of conservation success. Once nearly extirpated by market hunting and wetland loss, they thrive today in marshes all around the state. Nearly 24,000 were counted across Michigan last spring. Only 27 Lower Peninsula pairs could be found in 1944.

“Sandhill Crane populations have grown exponentially over the past few decades,” reports Dave Luukkonen, avian research specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). “From 1966 to 2013, the growth rate has been 10.5 percent a year. At one point they were endangered here.”

Michigan’s cranes make up a growing percentage of the U.S. eastern population which totaled 87,796 in 2012, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). That growing presence on the Michigan landscape is viewed with pleasure and concern in different communities. Birdwatchers enjoy seeing more of them. Farmers increasingly complain about them eating crops. Hunters have asked whether Michigan will open a season for them, and three Michigan Indian tribes have proposed hunting seasons for this fall.

“The tribal take is marginal,” notes Russ Mason, MDNR wildlife division chief. “They have seasons already. It won’t make a difference (to the population).”

A 2012 harvest report by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission reported two Wisconsin cranes were killed during Great Lakes tribal seasons that year. Subsistence harvests are far smaller than non-tribal sport harvests according to Luukkonen, who has compared waterfowl harvests for both groups. The bigger question, he says, is whether Michigan is ready for a Sandhill Crane hunting season. He thinks not. Continue reading

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Best Places To See Fall Colors Around Grand Rapids

Rivers in the area are a great place to see fall color. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Autumn color is always a spectacle in Kent County. The countryside – with its hills and valleys – becomes a living canvas splashed with color. It’s a great time to get out on area roads, rivers and trails and enjoy the view from a bike, kayak, or on foot.  If you are looking for good places to see fall color in the area, check out my latest story on the City of Grand Rapids Blog called Experience GR Blog.

Read more:  Best Places To See Fall Colors Around Grand Rapids.

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Study: Asian carp in Lake Erie wouldn’t hurt perch, walleyes

At Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, an invasive Asian carp leaps high out of the water to escape biologists’ nets. (Steve Hillebrand/USFWS)

At Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, an invasive Asian carp leaps high out of the water to escape biologists’ nets. (Steve Hillebrand/USFWS)

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, MI – A new study published in the Journal of Conservation Biology reports the combined conclusions of a panel of U.S. and Canadian fisheries experts that bighead and silver carp would have little negative effect on Lake Erie perch and walleye populations if they got into Lake Erie and became established.

The study authors say it is also possible that the presence of Asian carp could boost perch and walleye populations.

“One reason yellow perch populations might increase is they might use the bighead and silver carp as a food resource when they (the carp) are still small,” reports Marion Wittmann, the study’s lead author and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Notre Dame “Some experts say they would eat the carp eggs and fry.

“Walleyes might also feed on them if the carp are in the same place at the same time – and you have big enough walleyes and small enough carp – but the chance of that overlap is pretty small.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative-funded study aggregated the opinions of 11 scientists, all fisheries or aquatic ecology experts. They are affiliated with institutions like the U.S. Geological Survey, Purdue University, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, University of Guelph, University of Toronto and Committee of Advisors for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, among others. Continue reading

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Regulations proposed to bring back Michigan’s coaster brook trout

Restrictive fishing regulations designed to protect coaster brook trout are expected to allow them to reach trophy size in time. Photo: Troy Zorn, Michigan DNR.

By Howard Meyerson

It will take a while, but in a decade or so, anglers once again may be able to fish for coaster brook trout along Michigan’s Lake Superior shoreline and tributaries.
State fisheries managers are embarking on a long-term experiment to see if the big lake-run brookies can be restored.

“Coasters are part of our natural heritage. They are a native species and a beautiful fish,” said Troy Zorn, a fisheries research biologist at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Marquette Fisheries Research Station. He is the author of a proposal that will go before the Natural Resources Commission in October.

“This is an opportunity to try to restore a unique trophy fishery to anglers in the state,” Zorn said. “We’re proposing restrictive regulations for eight (Upper Peninsula) streams. It will affect about 35 miles of river; about 23 of those miles have brook trout.” Continue reading

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New waters: Austin Lake has the fish for anglers with the right lures

Miles Hanley holds up a 2.5 pound largemouth bass that he landed soon after getting out. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Miles Hanley holds up a 2.5 pound largemouth bass that he landed soon after getting out. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

PORTAGE, MI — Black clouds darkened the early morning sky, giving the lake an ominous glow, but Miles Hanley and I continued to cast. We had just left the launch.

“There’s one,” I hollered and set the hook on a nice largemouth, only to lose it seconds later.

“I’ve got a better one,” Hanley responded almost immediately. Moments later, he held up a nice 2.5-pound largemouth bass; a yellow Hawg Caller lure hung from its lip.

Hanley, a tournament bass angler and boat salesman for D&R Sports in Kalamazoo, was introducing me to one of his favorite waters, Austin Lake, in Portage. It is shallow and weedy, averaging 5 feet deep, but it has a healthy, diverse fish population, and the fishing there can be spectacular.

Austin Lake was known for bluegill and crappie in the 1990s. The bass population was only average, according to Department of Natural Resources fisheries managers. That since has changed.

“It’s got great numbers and a lot of big fish, too,” Hanley said when he called and invited

Austin Lake in Kalamazoo County. Graphic: MLive.

Austin Lake in Kalamazoo County. Graphic: MLive.

me to go fishing. We planned to spend the day throwing top-water lures made by one of his tournament sponsors, Jerry Hoke, owner of Milk Run Lures, in Lawrence. Hoke is making a name for himself with his custom basswood lures and color-shifting paint.

“I’ve fished it (Austin Lake) for 20 years, and it’s a regular bass factory,” Hanley said, casting again. “Back in the day (during a fishing tournament), you’d get nine- to 12-pound sack (of bass), but 15 pounds are average now, and we had a 20-pound sack during a three-hour tournament.”

Hanley and I wouldn’t have time for a 15-pound sack. Distant thunder had given way to approaching lightning, and it was moving steadily closer. Hanley and I got in a few more casts, and then we high-tailed it back to the boat launch, where we sat out the immediate storm in the comfort of his truck. Continue reading

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Out on the canoe trail: It’s good to stop and enjoy nature

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Platforms at each scenic portage on the Ludington State Park canoe trail allow paddlers to get out of canoes and kayaks without getting wet. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

LUDINGTON, MI — It’s rare these days that I get a chance to just sit. Deadlines beckon and emails stack up. If not emails then other online demands, or family and home matters. Quiet moments, it seems, are hard to come by.

So, I relished the opportunity I had recently to just sit quietly on a bed of pine needles in the forest, more precisely in the middle of a portage during a solo canoe outing.

I’d set off from Grand Rapids planning to paddle the four-mile canoe-trail at Ludington State Park. It’s a delightful trip that follows the sandy and forested shoreline of Hamlin Lake, before heading inland through cattail marshes and landlocked ponds, returning eventually to the lake for the return trip.

The trail is easy and well-marked. Portages are short, meaning 100 feet or less. Just watch for northerly and easterly winds as the lake shoreline portion is exposed.

I’d stopped on the portage for quick cup of coffee, thinking to move on right away – just a minute or two sitting. Then it struck me: I didn’t have to be anywhere. I could sit for hours if I wanted. And, I was tempted to do just that.

I had come prepared for contingencies. I had two fishing rods, just in case; a dry change of clothes and plenty of snacks. Campers at the park were still fixing breakfast when I launched. I’d come thinking I could get back to town by mid-afternoon and finish other work still sitting on my desk.

But as I sat sipping coffee in the silence, I was taken by how pleasant it was sitting in the woods all by myself. A kingfisher chattered on the next pond over. The breeze rustled leaves now and then creating a soft whisper in the trees. Any tension from the work week had melted away. Continue reading

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Wanted: State’s Feral Swine

Two feral swine captured by a trail camera feed at a Midland County baited site set for their capture by federal officials. Photo: U.S.D.A Wildlife Services.

This photo of two feral swine feeding at a Midland County baited site was captured with a trail camera. They are among the many that roam free in Michigan. Photo: U.S.D.A Wildlife Services.

By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Federal wildlife officials are ramping up efforts to locate, test, and kill feral swine in Michigan. Hunters and private landowners also are being encouraged to participate in the $20 million, U.S. Department of Agriculture program that was launched nationwide in April and in Michigan in late July.

“The feral swine issue caught the attention of Congress and they have given us quite a bit of money,” said Pete Butchko, state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program in Michigan, part of the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “Some states, like Texas and Florida, have a huge problem that is really irreversible. They have no hope of eradicating the pigs. Michigan seems to have a small, entrenched population, but people are concerned that it won’t stay small.”

Feral swine are wild pigs that roam the landscape. They cause damage to the environment, prey on animals, and are known to carry diseases and parasites that can affect commercial livestock. USDA officials report the pigs now roam freely in 39 states.

Michigan’s eradication effort will focus on Russian boars, a non-native species that was introduced. Butchko’s office was appropriated $300,000 for fiscal year 2014, which ends in October. The same is expected in 2015, he said.

Wildlife Services staffers plan to identify feral swine populations using reports from landowners and hunters to pinpoint locations. Most of the pigs will be trapped and tested for disease, then killed. Some will be fitted with GPS collars and studied. Butchko said participating landowners will be provided with bait, traps, and trail cameras.

“This will be sort of a demonstration program,” Butchko said. “For most of this we will need the cooperation of landowners. Most pigs are on private land. We don’t have enough staff to be out there every day, baiting and looking.” Continue reading

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Profiling pedaler’s by their pant legs

Howard Meyerson:

This is a hoot!

Originally posted on Bicycle Trax:

Another great cartoon by our friend Andy Singer.  With the start of a new school year, be careful out there. Cheers!

The way different types of cyclists deal with their pant legs

Reprinted with permission from Andy Singer. Source: andysinger.com

View original

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Bear feeding problems on Grand Island National Recreation Area force temporary camping closure

Black bears on Grand Island were approaching campers and raiding tents looking for food. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Black bears on Grand Island began approaching campers and raiding tents. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

By Howard Meyerson

One mark of a savvy back country camper is how they come prepared for bear country. For instance, do they take precaution and keep food or snacks out of tents, or come equipped with throw-lines to hang food bags at night, or carry in a bear-proof canister for storing food.

All of those practices make a difference. They keep bears from becoming habituated to human food. They also reduce the likelihood of bears associating campers with an easy meal.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case on Grand Island National Recreation Area in Lake Superior, near Munising where tourists or campers have been feeding bears.

A HUMAN PROBLEM

Camping on the island had to be suspended for several days last week because of escalating problem encounters between campers and bears. The end result was that eight black bears were trapped and removed last weekend and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife staff said more might need to go.

“We closed the island to camping temporarily,” said Janel Crooks, the acting ranger for the forest’s Munising Ranger District which manages Grand Island.

“We had reports from folks that a bear had ripped their tent and we also heard of bear coming up to them during the day. No one was attacked, but we acted on the side of caution. It’s still safe to ride bikes there and hike or take the bus tour, but visitors do have a role to play in not training the bears to have bad habits.” Continue reading

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Michigan to hold first teal hunting season in nearly 50 years

The experimental teal season can be a good time to get youth out hunting while the weather is still warm. Photo: Dave Kenyon | Michigan DNR

The experimental teal season can be a good time to get youth out hunting while the weather is still warm and when they are readily supervised. . Photo: Dave Kenyon | Michigan DNR

By Howard Meyerson

Waterfowl hunters have a unique opportunity for some fast-action shooting come September when Michigan holds its first early teal season after nearly 50 years.

The seven-day, experimental season runs September 1-7. It was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as a three-year trial after agency staff completed a teal “harvest assessment” that showed the population could withstand additional hunting pressure. FWS is the federal agency that establishes the legal framework for hunting waterfowl each year.

“Teal populations have been going up continentally” said Barb Avers, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources waterfowl program specialist. “It’s taken a long time to get this to happen. It’s something that has been discussed at the (Mississippi) flyway level for many years. Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are going ahead with it. Minnesota opted not to this year. Our decision to go ahead is in response to hunters on the Citizens Waterfowl Advisory Committee who have asked why we can’t have one.”

Teal are one of nation’s more abundant waterfowl species, according to the FWS. Its 2014 survey of blue-winged teal breeding across North American prairies estimates the continental population at 8.5 million, similar to 2013 and 75 percent higher than the long-term average. Green-winged teal numbered 3.4 million, similar to last year and 69 percent above the long-term average.

But the success of Michigan’s experimental season will depend on hunters shooting the right ducks. Only teal can be harvested – along with Canada geese. The early season for Canada geese also opens statewide on September 1. Continue reading

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