2014 fishing license sales lagging in Michigan

Michigan's Great Lakes and inland fisheries will be guided by new five year plan. Photo: Howard Meyersoon

Fewer anglers purchased license in 2014. Photo Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, Mich. — It may be the weather or Michigan’s new license structure, but fewer anglers have purchased fishing licenses this season compared with 2013. State officials say the license year is half over, but the decline in sales, so far, is clear.

“It’s hard to tell what it’s attributed to,” said Kristen Shuler, analyst with the Michigan DNR licensing and reservation section. “It was a cold summer and it may be more weather-related, but we don’t know yet.”

What is known is 58,401 fewer “unique customers” purchased fishing licenses as of Sept. 30, according to Shuler. Dealers had sold fishing licenses to 1,046,075 customers, compared with 1,104,476 customers by the same time last year.

Most of the decline occurred with nonresident anglers, who saw annual license fees increase from $42 to $76 for Michigan’s all-species fishing license.

Many opted to purchase $10 daily licenses instead.

“A lot of people bought five or six daily licenses rather than pay $76,” said Denise Gruben, manager for the licensing and reservation section. “The longer-term trends are that participation is declining, and we were excited to see that it went up in 2013. That was an early start year. We had a warm spring. But in 2014, people in the U.P. were afraid of hitting an iceberg with their boats.”  Continue reading

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When the greater good isn’t good enough; Muskegon sturgeon kill should sound alarm

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Thirty two juvenile lake sturgeon, about the size of this one shown, were found dead on the Muskegon River. Photo: MLive.

By Howard Meyerson

MUSKEGON, MI – Wildlife and fisheries management is full of seemingly damaging actions — those undertaken to achieve some “greater good,” meaning the betterment of a particular species. We set fires to create prairies and improve habitat for butterflies; we allow wolves to be killed for the greater good of communities affected by having too many; and we treat rivers with chemicals to kill “rough” species, such as carp, so other popular game fish can thrive.

But, what if attaining that greater good means killing a threatened species?

I was troubled by what happened on the Muskegon River in September, when 32 baby sturgeons were killed during a sea lamprey treatment conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The lampricide TFM — 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol — can kill non-target species, but lake sturgeons are a state-designated threatened species. Extraordinary measures should be undertaken to preserve them. Work to restore them in the Muskegon River has been ongoing since 2006.

Didn’t have to happen

What’s troubling is the kill could have been avoided with better communication between state and federal agencies and, perhaps, more flexible treatment scheduling. It appears the kill was the result of bad timing rather than the misapplication of TFM, the standard chemical used to treat lamprey-infested rivers.

“Thirty two is the number we found, and there are probably others we haven’t found,” said Kregg Smith, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologist who supervises the Muskegon River sturgeon restoration effort. “I don’t think it was a matter of human error. And I know the Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned about it and is working on ways to improve (TFM applications and strategy).” Continue reading

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Michigan’s snowshoe hares disappearing, could benefit from forest management amid climate changes

Snowshoe hares change colors from brown to white in winter to provide concealment.  Photo: Dr. Gary Roloff

Snowshoe hares change colors from brown to white in winter to provide concealment. Photo: Dr. Gary Roloff

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, Mich. — Researchers investigating the whereabouts of Michigan snowshoe hares confirm what hunters have said for quite some time: The big rabbits with the white winter coats have vanished from places where they once were abundant and hunted. Their disappearance is being linked, in some cases, to a warming climate and forest habitat changes.

“We looked at 134 sites statewide and found 49 percent of the historic Lower Peninsula sites, and 27 percent of the Upper Peninsula sites, do not have hares anymore,” notes Gary Roloff, assistant professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Roloff spearheaded a 21⁄2-year, Michigan DNR-funded study to assess the hare’s status and what might be done to improve conditions for the species.

“We picked up both climate and habitat effects,” Roloff said. “All of their sites at the extreme southern edge of the hare (range) were unoccupied. Those historically were areas where they had been hunted. When hunters have been asked why they stopped hunting hares, the consistent message has been there are too few hares in an area. That (void) wasn’t just on the southern edge. We found unoccupied areas all over the state.” Continue reading

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Northern Michigan fishing guide builds big boats for small rivers

Phil Croff's cedar and walnut drift boats provide a stable platform to fish from on the swift northern Michigan rivers where he guides anglers. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Phil Croff’s cedar and walnut drift boats provide a stable platform to fish from on the swift northern Michigan rivers where he guides anglers. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

INDIAN RIVER, MI — While enjoying breakfast at a north woods restaurant just after dawn, Phil Croff noticed some men in the parking lot ogling his boat. They got out of their truck and made a bee-line to his wooden drift boat and trailer.

Minutes later, upon entering the eatery, they saw Croff in his waders and inquired if it was his. Ever-friendly and with a smile, Croff affirmed it was and accepted their praise. Returning to his potatoes and eggs, he looked up a moment later, smiled, and said, “It happens everywhere I go.”

For Croff, a 45-year-old drift boat builder and fishing guide from Alanson, it was a fine way to start the day, almost as good as what would follow, fishing one of his favorite tip-of-the-mitt streams, the shallow and swift waters his boats were designed to float.

“I grew up fishing small streams. I am pretty fond of them,” explained Croff, owner of Croff-Craft Custom Driftboats. “One thing is they are easier to read than big rivers like the Manistee. But, I also like rowing on smaller, quick-turning streams. It’s more exciting than bigger rivers.” Continue reading

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Lake Michigan salmon runs proving slower, smaller than average

A chinook salmon attempts to jump the raceway divider  at the Little Manistee River egg-collection facility.  Photo: Howard Meyerson

A chinook salmon attempts to jump the raceway divider at the Little Manistee River egg-collection station operated by the Michigan DNR. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

BEULAH, MI — Fall is the time of year when Lake Michigan salmon start nosing their way up natal streams to spawn and die. State fish managers, however, are uncertain about what to expect this season. Many of the salmon runs on the lake shoreline are slower than average.

“I wish we had more fish,” said Aaron Switzer, the Platte River State Fish Hatchery biologist. “The past two years have been really good for coho (on the Platte River). We had 30,000 come in. At this time last year, we passed over 20,000. So far this year, we’ve passed 9,500 cohos. The run isn’t turning out as well as I’d hoped.”

Switzer is in charge of raising 1.57 million coho salmon at the Platte River hatchery, which produces the young fish that are stocked every April in rivers such as the Platte, Boardman, Grand, Rogue, St. Joseph and Manistee, among others. Switzer relies on returning cohos to provide eggs for the stocking program.

“At this point, we have no worries about completing the egg-take for Michigan,” Switzer said. “We usually collect about 5 million coho eggs. Michigan gets 3 million and Illinois and Indiana get a million each. We can do that with about 5,000 fish.” Continue reading

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Is the U.S. Forest Service Hoping to Cash in on Wilderness Areas?

Dark Canyon Wilderness in Utah. Photo: U.S. Forest Service.

Dark Canyon Wilderness in Utah. Photo: U.S. Forest Service.

As someone who has made a living writing about and photographing wilderness areas, among many topics having to do with Michigan’s national forests, and others, it’s troubling to see the U.S. Forest Service attempt to move in the direction of requiring a special permit to produce “commercial work” in  those areas.

This piece, found on Midcurrent, a great fly fishing blog, describes the changes that may in store for journalists.

Fortunately, it appears the U.S. outdoor writing community has roundly criticized the decision. And, it appears in the Midcurrent piece, that the forest service is backtracking, clarifying that no permit will be required to produce news stories, documentaries or features in those locales.  But another piece by  Idaho Public Television suggests the reality may be less clear.

The move isn’t without precedent.  Special permits are already required to film or photograph in national parks but those requirements appear to apply mostly to large or complex commercial productions, of one sort or another.  Breaking news stories are exempt. Hiking a trail and writing a story about it or shooting photographs of the trip does not appear to require a permit.

As is pointed out in both pieces, outdoor writers have for years gone in to write stories and features about all sorts of topics, from the plight of spotted owls and the conflict with timber cutters to features about great travel destinations and/or analysis of prospective wilderness designations. Many of those stories would not be considered breaking news, but they could be considered commercial works because they are sold to publications, or are produced by staff of those publications or for television.

Should a special permit (and fee) be required each time a journalist sets foot in a wilderness area? I think not. Outdoor journalists may make a living selling their stories and photographs, but most of their works serve to inform the public,  and, as such, provide a service to federal forest management agencies.

Read more: Is the U.S. Forest Service Hoping to Cash in on Wilderness Areas?

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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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