Golden Lotus Dam: Permanent draw down complete, removal to come

The dam at Song of the Morning Ranch Yoga Retreat will no longer impound water and is slated for deconstruction in 2015. Photo: Howard Meyerson

The Song of the Morning Ranch Yoga Retreat dam is slated for deconstruction in 2015. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

VANDERBILT, MI –  The Pigeon River, north of Vanderbilt, is once again flowing freely through the Pigeon River Country State Forest. The last of 23 stop logs in the Song of the Morning Ranch yoga camp dam was permanently removed Sept. 11, allowing the 47.4-mile Blue Ribbon trout stream, and state-designated “wild-scenic river,” to run unencumbered from its headwaters to Mullett Lake.

“We’re down to the bottom of the existing spillway and have removed all capacity to impound water,” said Jim Pawloski, a dam safety engineer with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “The next phase is constructing a sediment trap upstream of the old dam structure to collect the sand that was in the impoundment.”

The impoundment drawdown began in May and was overseen by DEQ. One 4-inch steel stop log was removed every three days to meter out the accompanying silt flow and let it wash through the river system. It is the first of several steps in the lengthy process ahead to completely remove the dam and restore the landscape.

A permanent drawdown was called for in a settlement negotiated between the state and Golden Lotus Inc., which operates the Song of the Morning Ranch. Golden Lotus was fined $120,000 to mitigate the effects of its most recent 2008 silt spill from the dam, a catastrophic event that killed an estimated 450,000 trout.  Continue reading

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Deer Hunter Be Safe: Hidden issues can cause problems

Bow hunters fall out of tree stands every year. Photo: Dave Kenyon, Michigan DNR

Hunters who fail to wear a safety harness or connect it fall out of tree stands every year. Photo: Dave Kenyon, Michigan DNR

By Howard Meyerson

WYOMING, MI — Michigan’s 10-week bow hunting season opens Oct. 1, and deer hunters all over the state have been getting ready.

There are bows to tune and tree stands to inspect. Shooting lanes have been identified. It’s an exciting time.

But experienced hunters also know it is a time for caution and wise choices. Climbing up into a tree or an elevated blind has its risks, as does dragging a dead deer out of the woods.

Dr. Matthew Sevensma, a specialist in cardiovascular medicine and the clinical operations director for Metro Health Hospital, in Wyoming, recently advised two deer hunters not to go out this year. They were among 45 hunters who attended a free Hunter Health 15933625-largeScreening offered by the hospital. Electrocardiograms for both men showed cardiovascular issues that presented a serious risk.

“The first was a patient who had undergone stenting to an artery in his neck and not followed up consistently with his doctors,” Sevensma said.

“The second … had very little recent medical care. He had an abnormal EKG that suggested a prior heart attack, and the patient was not aware of this.” Continue reading

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Muskegon schoolchildren put Isle Royale wolf lessons to use, build website for kids

Teacher Laura Mitchell, discusses the food web with eight year old Janae Fisher, a third grade student at Reeths Puffer Elementary.

Teacher Laura Mitchell, discusses the food web with eight year old Janae Fisher, a third grade student at Reeths Puffer Elementary. Photo: Howard Meyersn

By Howard Meyerson

MUSKEGON, MI –There is something remarkable taking place in the third- and fourth-grade classroom at Reeths-Puffer Elementary School in Muskegon. Eight-, 9- and 10-year-old children are learning about predator-prey relationships, the food chain and the wolves on Isle Royale.

If you have children, and even if you don’t, you might want to look at a link on the Isle Royale National Park website under Wolf Management, where a website about wolves “put together for kids by kids,” is highlighted. It’s called “Grey Wolf Facts for Kids.”

The elegant and informative website was written and developed by the children at Reeths-Puffer Elementary, one of Michigan’s official Green Schools. The “green” designation is conferred when schools achieve certain environmental goals.

“I was supposed to put the frame of the website together, but some of the kids had more skills than I did, and they did most of it,” admitted Laura Mitchell, their teacher, a 21-year veteran in Michigan’s public schools. “They (the students) wanted kids to know that wolves are not scary creatures but are powerful creatures.” Continue reading

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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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