Salmon season outlook full of uncertainty

Anglers can anticipate catching salmon again this summer, though the Lake Michigan alewife population remains at an all-time low. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Anglers can anticipate catching salmon again this summer, though the Lake Michigan alewife population remains at an all-time low. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

The 2015 salmon season is just getting underway and what anglers can expect remains uncertain. Lake Michigan fishing typically picks up in May but just where in the lake depends on water temperature. And so far lake waters have been uniformly very cold.

“It’s tough to pinpoint where the chinooks will be when water temperatures are the same around the lake,” said Jay Wesley, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan basin coordinator. “But, fishing for lake trout, coho salmon, steelhead and brown trout has been decent. And I know of one 17-pound (chinook) that has been caught.”

Charter anglers around St. Joseph have had intermittent luck with chinooks so far. One recently called to share that fishing was sporadic — a 30-fish-day with a boat full of clients might be followed by a three-fish-day. Cold blustery weather made for difficult fishing in April.

Anglers are likely to find this year’s catch about the same as last, according to Wesley. Michigan sport and charter anglers caught 125,000 chinooks in 2014 and in 2013. Both years were down from 2012 when anglers caught 275,000 chinooks.

Of course, there are fewer chinooks in Lake Michigan these days. Fewer are now stocked by all the Lake Michigan states, and a 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report indicates fewer wild (untagged) salmon showed up in the 2014 catch, particularly up north, where they have been plentiful. Continue reading

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Trout size limit reduced on Type 4 Michigan streams, tightened on coaster streams

This 13-inch coaster brook trout was found in one of the experimental rivers while conducting surveys. Photo: Troy Zorn, Michigan DNR.

This 13-inch coaster brook trout was found in one of the experimental rivers while conducting surveys. Photo: Troy Zorn, Michigan DNR.

By Howard Meyerson

Trout anglers headed out for the 2015 fishing season can now keep 7-inch brook trout  caught on any of Michigan’s Type 4 trout streams. The Natural Resources Commission approved a new regulation in April reducing the minimum brook trout size limit from eight inches to seven inches on those waters.

“The change was more of a housekeeping regulation for simplification,” said Troy Zorn, a research biologist at the DNR’s Marquette Fisheries Research Station. “These Type 4 streams are often the lower reaches of rivers that are too warm for trout. They are primarily streams with Great Lakes runs of fish, and brook trout and brown trout fishing is a minor component.”

The change affects 130 Type 4 streams where the brook trout MSL will now be consistent with Type 1 streams, the majority of trout waters in Michigan.

It was one of several changes approved by the commission for trout waters. The NRC also gave the nod to more restrictive brook trout regulations for nine Upper Peninsula streams where efforts are underway to restore coaster brook trout populations.  It approved establishing “adfluvial brook trout restoration areas” on these Marquette, Houghton and Baraga county rivers: Big Garlic, Big Huron, Little Huron, Pilgrim, Ravine, Silver and Slate. The Portage/Torch Lake system in Houghton County is also included. Continue reading

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State senators seek to get tougher on poachers

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan legislators want to raise fines to prevent poaching. Photo: Michigan Outdoor News.

Michigan legislators want to raise fines to prevent poaching. Photo: Michigan Outdoor News.

Grand Rapids, Mich. — Two Michigan senators want to send a tough message to poachers and wild animal traffickers in Michigan. They recently introduced legislation calling for tougher penalties and higher restitution paid to the state when a person is convicted of illegally killing, buying, selling, or possessing game or protected wildlife species.

“We looked at what we did with trophy buck legislation (in 2013) which raised fines to discourage poaching and found it was successful,” said state Sen. Phil Pavalov, R-St. Clair Township. “We want to send a message that we are serious about protecting wildlife.”

Pavalov’s bill, SB 244, calls for the following fines for each illegal animal:

  • Elk: $5,000, with additional fines for antlered elk;
  • Moose: $5,000, with additional fines for antlered moose;
  • Bears: $3,500;
  • Eagles: $1,500;
  • Waterfowl: $500;
  • Hawks: $1,500;
  • Wild turkeys: $1,000;
  • Owls: $1,000

Continue reading

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Climate Change: Shifting Climate, Shifting Birds

Blue Grosbeak's like this one are typically southern birds, but they are showing up more frequently in Michigan. Photo: Dan Pancamo

Blue Grosbeak’s like this one are typically southern birds, but they are showing up more frequently in Michigan. Photo: Dan Pancamo

By Howard Meyerson

Adam Byrne had the good fortune last year to observe a nesting pair of Blue Grosbeaks. He wasn’t in Tennessee, Florida or other southern state where they commonly sing their songs. He found them in Kalamazoo County—once a rarity, but not anymore. The stocky birds with silver beaks increasingly make appearances in Michigan, in places like Kalamazoo, Allegan County, and the Upper Peninsula.

Fifteen sightings have been confirmed since 2010. Only eight were reported in the decade prior, according to Byrne, Michigan’s Bird Records Committee secretary. Blue Grosbeaks are among the growing list of southern species that people are seeing with some regularity in Michigan, including Chuck-will’s Widows and Summer Tanagers.

“We are seeing (southern) species in higher numbers and more frequently,” affirms Byrne. “They used to be rare, migratory overshoots. Chuck-will’s-Widows have been reported annually since 2005. There are 15 records in the past ten years. Prior to 2005 there were only three confirmed and only one since the 1980s. One shows up in Jackson County every year. It was an incredibly hard bird for anyone to hope to see in the state, and now we have them and can rely on them coming back.”

Shifting Climate, Shifting Species

Scientists studying the effects of climate change suggest Michigan’s long-established mix of breeding birds will shift over time as climate conditions change across North America, affecting what food and habitat is available in different regions. Common southern birds are expected to breed more frequently in Michigan, while some common to Michigan will move north and out of state. Continue reading

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Bill Field: Visionary Founder of Michigan’s First Paved Rail-Trail

Bill Field rode the trail regulrly with family and friends. Pictured on an early morning ride to Mears are (left to right) Marlene Schihl, Bill Field, Bob Field (brother) and Bob' wife Emma. Photo courtesy of Marjorie Peterson.

Bill Field rode the trail regularly with family and friends. Pictured on an early morning ride to Mears are (left to right) Marlene Schihl, Bill Field, Bob Field (brother) and Bob’ wife Emma. Photo courtesy of Marjorie Peterson.

Note: Bill Field was a remarkable man. I had the good fortune to work with him many years ago when I was still a cub journalist. This is the story of  his challenge to save an abandoned rail corridor so it could be developed into a public trail.  –HM–

By Howard Meyerson

Ross Field is reminded of his father almost every day. His office in the Shelby train station sits next to the William Field Memorial Hart-Montague State Park Trail – the popular 22-mile rail-trail named after his father. Hundreds of cyclists annually ride the old railroad corridor. He may see them when they roll by his office, or when they stop at the Brown Bear, a local eatery known for its burgers.

The trail wouldn’t exist if not for the late-Bill Field, who purchased the abandoned Chesapeake & Ohio rail corridor for $175,000 in 1984 so it could be preserved. He then donated it to the state in 1987 so a public recreation trail could be built. Field could have sold the land for a half-million dollars, or more, according to son, Ross. But he chose only to recoup his investment by selling off lease lands along its route.

It was an unprecedented move by a native son, a produce harvester from Shelby that many call a visionary, though others once called him a fool.

“Very few in politics here in Oceana County wanted to touch that thing,” Ross recalls of the bitter dispute that divided the community and railed on for years about the prospective trail. His father, a county commissioner, had attempted in 1982 to gain approval for its purchase by Oceana County. The county parks and recreation commission supported the idea, but it got only wavering support from the county board of commissioners who eventually rejected the notion as too costly and complicated. Farmers along the trail feared cyclists and other prospective users. They worried about vandalism, crop losses, indecent behavior – and worse. Other private individuals along the trail also hoped to buy a piece for themselves.

“Putting a bicycle trail through the countryside on the old railroad tracks was like trying to sell something to Martians, Ross explains. “Very few understood what it could become. Many were on the fence. Politicians were afraid of not getting reelected. A lot of farmers were against it.”

Continue reading

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Dexter’s Mill Creek: Trout fishers have a new place to go

Dexter angler Lauren Kingsley enjoys a day fishing Mill Creek for trout. Photo: (Dirk Fishbach.

Dexter angler Lauren Kingsley enjoys a day fishing Mill Creek for trout. Photo: Dirk Fishbach.

By Howard Meyerson

Trout fishing opened on designated trout streams Saturday and anglers were out celebrating on iconic trout waters, such as the Pere Marquette, AuSable and Big Manistee rivers. But a group of Ann Arbor area anglers plans to wait until May to celebrate the creation of the state’s newest trout-fishing stream.

The Ann Arbor chapter of Trout Unlimited is holding its inaugural Dexter Trout Fest from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 30 in Dexter. You might have heard of the National Trout Festival in Kalkaska, which celebrated its 79th anniversary this weekend.

The five-day event is held near many of Michigan’s best trout waters. Now, there will be a trout festival in Dexter — and with good reason.

Why Mill Creek?

Ann Arbor TU has partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in a six-year effort to build a trout fishery in Mill Creek, a tributary of the Huron River, which runs through Dexter.

It is, perhaps, a surprising location to consider a trout fishery. Most southern Michigan streams are too warm. But AATU members discovered the creek has all the right conditions for trout.

“It’s going to be our first official annual trout festival,” said Bill Phillips, the TU chapter’s lead for the Mill Creek trout project. “It’s going to be called the ‘Art and Rhythms of Trout Fishing.’ There will be games for kids and young adults and fly-tying demos and casting demonstrations.”

Better yet, there will be good-sized trout in the creek. The experimental fishery there is a remarkable development, and anglers who know of it are catching nice brown trout there.

“A lot of people are becoming aware of it and are enjoying the fishing,” said Jeff Braunscheidel, senior fisheries biologist with the DNR’s Lake Erie Management Unit. “For this initial experiment, we are not stocking to establish a population, but we are looking to establish a fishery.”

The DNR agreed, he said, to annually stock Mill Creek with Gilchrist Creek brown trout for six years beginning this spring. It will get 2,200 trout each year from 5.5 to 7 inches long. The agency also planted 1,500 trout in 2014. Ann Arbor TU also will plant 500 trout annually. That’s above and beyond the 14,800 the chapter has planted since 2011. Continue reading

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Birding trails and festivals abound for Michigan bird-watchers

Looking for spring migrants, a bird-watcher stops to see a bird singing in the forest. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Looking for spring migrants, a bird-watcher stops to see a bird singing in the forest. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Peggy Ridgway is no laggard when it comes to organizing bird-watching events. The 73-year-old retired Oscoda school teacher founded the Tawas Point Birding Festival that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The popular Lake Huron shoreline event, May 14-17, draws hundreds of bird-watchers from as far away as California.

They arrive annually in East Tawas with their binoculars and field guides, hoping to view Sunrise Coast Birding Trail 17536316-largespring migrant birds as they wing their way up Michigan’s northeast shoreline, headed for summer nesting grounds. Festival goers spotted and recorded 188 bird species in 2014.

“We’ve had people from 17 states and five countries over nine years,” said Ridgway, past president of Michigan Audubon Society and a member of the AuSable Valley Audubon chapter.

Ridgway’s Audubon chapter is one of three, including Thunder Bay Audubon Society and Straits Area Audubon Society, that have been working for 15 months to develop the Sunrise Coast Birding Trail, a 28-stop, 145-mile, bird-watching trail stretching from Oscoda north to Mackinac City.

The route incorporates the best birding spots on the Sunrise Coast and makes them readily accessible to those traveling by vehicle and bicycle.

Formal dedications for the new trail will be held at 10 a.m. May 2 at Duck Park in Alpena and at 1 p.m. May 2 at Shoreline Park in Oscoda and Mill Creek Historical Park in Mackinac City.

The Audubon chapters received financial help from Consumers Energy and the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments. The funding paid for site signs and the development of a four-color map showing the route and birding locations. A copy can be downloaded from the trail website. 

Maps also will be available at area Chamber of Commerce offices and visitor bureaus.

The Sunrise Coast and Saginaw Bay birding trails are two of five that can be found in Michigan. Others include the Beaver Island Birding Trail and Sleeping Bear Birding Trail which opened last year — and the 150-mile Superior Birding Trail in the Upper Peninsula. Details on each can be found on Michigan Audubon’s “Go Birding” page and on the Michigan DNR’s website. Continue reading

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Grand Rapids’ Nature Centers Offer Outdoorsy Fun For All Ages

Take a peaceful stroll on the trails at Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve. Photo by Howard Meyerson

Take a peaceful stroll on the trails at Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve. Photo by Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Two minutes from the traffic on East Beltline Avenue is a peaceful, natural setting full of surprises. In spring the woods fill with natural sounds – sweet bird songs by day and a chorus of frogs and toads at night.

For Jeanette Henderson, it is a special season at the 100-acre Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve, where she is program manager. Wood-chip pathways lead visitors to more than a dozen ponds and vernal pools, all set back from the highway in the hush of a mature forest.

The preserve was established in 1985 to protect a special habitat, the temporary home for more than 140 bird species plus white-tail deer, raccoons and possums, blue-spotted salamanders and flying squirrels and mink.

The Calvin College preserve is one of four great area nature centers within 30 minutes of downtown Grand Rapids. They offer miles of hiking trail, wild animal displays and an assortment of fun, outdoorsy things to do. To learn more about where they are and what they offer check out my latest blog post on the Experience GR Blog.

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Bird-friendly Communities Coming of Age

More and more Michigan communities are working out how to be more bird-friendly.

More and more Michigan communities are working out how to be more bird-friendly.

By Howard Meyerson

Royce Ragland is proud that her village of Elk Rapids —population 1,642—is working to improve conditions for birds. The Antrim County community has the unique distinction of being the “first community in the world” to be certified by Saving Birds Thru Habitat (SBTH), the Omena-based nonprofit that promotes saving bird habitat. Elk Rapids is part of a growing movement in the U.S. to make communities friendlier for birds.

“We decided it was important to raise people’s appreciation of birds,” explains Ragland, vice-chair for the village planning commission and founder of Green Elk Rapids, a volunteer group working to raise awareness about environmental issues. “Birds are an indicator of environmental health. We are right in the middle of amazing natural attributes—beaches, woods, ponds, and streams. We’re encouraging people who live here to treasure and preserve them.”

Two Elk Rapids parks were certified in September 2014. Each is filled with native oak, cherry, and willow trees, all known to host an abundance of lepidoptera, the butterfly and moth caterpillars which neo-tropical migrant and/or resident birds often eat. Their presence, along with other native plants, made each of the parks a high-quality bird habitat, according to Kay Charter, executive director of SBTH. The organization has certified industrial and private land sites, but not municipal properties, until now.

“Our bird population is declining and the number-one reason for that is habitat loss, specifically the loss of native plants,” Charter declares. “Non-native plants don’t support the insect abundance that birds need.

“Elk Rapids took the initiative to become certified. They have native trees and bushes and committed to replace those that are not native. Some residents have (since) called and want to work with us to have their properties certified. It’s the ripple—like throwing a stone in a pond.” Continue reading

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Major work this summer coming for Hart-Montague and White Pine Trails

Cyclists and skateboarders regularly use the paved portions of the White Pine Trail. Critics suggest skateboarders and others will not be able to use the segments that will be surfaced with crushed limestone. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Cyclists and skateboarders regularly use the paved portions of the White Pine Trail. Critics suggest skateboarders and others will not be able to use the segments that will be surfaced with crushed limestone. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Two popular west Michigan rail-trails are scheduled for major work this summer. The 22.6-mile William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail will be widened and repaved while two unfinished sections of the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail, just over 40 miles, will be surfaced with crushed limestone.

“The Hart-Montague has reached its lifespan – it’s over 20 years old – and it has gotten to the point that it needs to be redone,” said Matt Lincoln, grants coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The project is expected to cost $4.45 million. “The paved portion is now eight feet wide and we plan to make it 10 feet wide with two feet of clear space on each side.”

Construction is expected to start mid-June, according to Annamarie Bauer, the agency’s development planner for state parks. It will take place in segments and portions of the trail will be closed during construction.

“Our goal is to have the work completed by November 2015,” Bauer said. “We’re going out for bids a little later than planned. They (the contractors) will have to close sections as the work is done, but our goal is for the other sections to stay open.”

The Hart-Montague Trail was dedicated in 1989. It is Michigan’s first paved rail-trail. The trails were built narrower then and to different specifications, according to Lincoln. Users now complain about its highly worn surface.

More cyclists expected

Hart City Manager, Stan Rickard, called the reconstruction “a golden opportunity.” Traffic on the trail has diminished over the years due to its condition. He anticipates a resurgence of interest once the reconstruction is complete.

“I met two people last summer who love the trail, but their friends don’t come any more. That hurts because you know it will be repeated many times,” Rickard said. “People will miss it this coming summer, but I think the Grand Opening in the spring of 2016 (after reconstruction) will be a huge success.” Continue reading

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