Invasive Plants and Birds: Research Shows Native Plants Are Better for Nutrition

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When given a choice, the Swainson’s Thrush and other migrating bird species will pick native plants to feed on over non-native plants. Photo: Josh Haas.

By Howard Meyerson

Kay Charter isn’t shy about letting people know that native plants are preferred when it comes to providing nutrition for birds. She and her husband, Jim, restored 30 acres of prairie on their 44-acre Omena bird preserve, Charter Sanctuary. The couple created it to provide a landscape where bird conservation was a top priority.

“The most important thing is removing non-native plants,” notes Charter, executive director for Saving Birds Thru Habitat, a conservation and education nonprofit that promotes protecting, enhancing and restoring habitat for birds. “You don’t have to buy a bunch of plants. We did that here, though, spent thousands of [grant] dollars on native plants—and converted 30 acres to prairie by planting native grass and forbs [flowering plants] . . . and planted shrubs like elderberry and service berry around a wetland, and other trees and shrubs.”

Native plant species have larger insect populations, Charter said. Insects are crucial because they provide the protein young birds need to grow. Charter recognized that fact some years ago, and she ardently promotes Dr. Doug Tallamy’s work. Continue reading

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Dave Irish: A Life Spent Playing With Boats

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Dave Irish sailed into Harbor Springs as a boy and never left. Photo: Irish Boat Shop.

By Howard Meyerson

In the resort community of Harbor Springs, MI, the name Dave Irish brings nods of affirmation. Accolades often follow about the 79-year-old entrepreneur who sailed into port as a six-year-old boy with his family; who grew up working on boats in his father’s shop; and who, at 24 years old, would open a boat shop of his own.

His legacy, Irish Boat Shop, is well-known in boating circles as a high-quality, family-run boat yard and marina. It opened in 1961 on the sheltered waters of Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan. Irish built a second a decade later on Lake Charlevoix where he now offers dockage at two sites.

If asked, Irish admits to being a highly-competitive sailor, also a man who has been involved in the upper echelons of Olympic sailing governance. But those who know him say he’s not one to brag.

“I like being around boats and water and particularly enjoy the company of people who have and use boats,” declares Irish, a tall and lanky, soft-spoken man with a penchant for laughter and enjoying life. “Our customers are here because they want to play with their boats, and my job is facilitating them having a good time. I’ve never felt burdened doing the job I call ‘playing with boats.’ It’s not like a lawyer who almost never has a job that anyone wants because it’s fun. Everyone they see has a problem.”

Boats to play with and things to do

Irish is sitting in his sunny, second story marina office overlooking the waters of the bay.  He is dressed in jeans and casual attire, the look of someone who is comfortable with success but without any pretense. Thoughtful and well-spoken, he is known for being civic minded, a man concerned about bettering the community. Irish served as Harbor Springs’ Mayor for six years. Prior to that he had a seat on city council, and helped found the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, along with the Little Traverse Conservancy, a regional land trust established to protect natural areas nearby.

Despite his age and having retired as CEO in 2007, Irish still comes into the office every day. There are boats to play with and things to do. His 25-year-old grandson, Colin Texter, the company’s marketing and sales coordinator, has his routine down.

“He’s in every day from 9 to 12 and 1:30 to 5:30,” notes Texter, the youngest of 10 grandsons – and the only one employed by the company. “Professionally, he is very wise and very conservative in his business practices, but personally, he is very friendly and has a positive attitude. It’s in the way he carries himself. He’s not boastful or flashy.”

Irish laughs when he hears of his grandson’s comments. “Evil child,” he quips with a gleam in his eye.

This excerpt is taken from a profile in the August 2016 issue of Lakeland Boating. The entire story can be read online for free. See page 42 of the the magazine’s  digital edition.

 

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River Restoration: Is it Good for Birds?

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Great Blue Herons don’t disappear when rivers are restored, but they may be harder to see. Photo: Andrea Westmoreland.

By Howard Meyerson

When Doug Klein goes birdwatching along the Thornapple River near Nashville, he often is pleased about what he finds. Birds are numerous, particularly at the nearby Nashville site where a 155-year-old dam stood until 2009, when it was removed.

Wet meadows now grow upstream, an area formerly under water. Wetland birds visit marshy areas and waterfowl are plentiful in the river. For Klein, an avid birder and eBird  lister, Nashville is a very productive spot.

“It’s a pretty nice place to go,” notes Klein, a mechanical engineer and Hastings resident. “Fifty-nine species have been reported there on eBird. I’ve seen 57 of them. We see Trumpeter Swans, Rusty Blackbirds, various songbirds, and Sandhill Cranes. One good find last May was a Philadelphia Vireo. Those are getting hard to find. On some mud flats you might see Killdeer or Lesser Yellowlegs. It’s an interesting place to find a variety of birds.”

Old dams coming out

Aging dams around Michigan are being removed with regularity. Some are torn down to improve fish passage, or to reduce water temperatures for species like trout. The Nashville Dam was removed to improve water quality for warm water fish. Others are demolished because they outlive their purpose and may be expensive to repair and maintain.

No matter what the reason, proponents of dam removal maintain that river restoration is good ecologically. Allowing a river to resume its natural flow, depth, and width yields benefits for fish and stream organisms, for animals in the area, and for regional biodiversity. Yet some birdwatchers say they worry when dams come down, when impoundments are drained, and when the landscape is radically altered. Flooded areas provide homes for important or favored bird species. Continue reading

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Three Lake Huron parks are Michigan’s newest ‘dark sky preserves’

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The night sky is being preserved so people can enjoy seeing the cosmos. Photo: Pixabay.

By Howard Meyerson

Sitting under a dark sky full of stars can be magical, a glimpse of the sublime and a sight to behold. Yet, many never really experience it. Their communities shine too much light into the night sky.

But three Lake Huron shoreline parks now will offer that experience year-round. Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation in February designating Thompson’s Harbor, Negwegon and Rockport state parks as dark sky preserves.

“On a good night at Thompson’s Harbor, you can see 4,000 stars with the naked eye and the circumpolar constellations,” notes Blake Gingrich, Michigan Department of Natural Resources supervisor for Thompson’s Harbor and Rockport, both found between Roger’s City and Alpena.

“It’s a great way to get people out at night. We were trying to figure out how get them off the couch and out with an astronomer to learn the night sky, even the basics. We want people to experience it and have lifelong memories of (seeing) a dark sky.”  Continue reading

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Protecting wildlife in Detroit’s urban core

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More than 300 migratory bird species stop over at the refuge on the Detroit River. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Toiling daily in the urban industrial zone adjacent to the Detroit River, John Hartig’s work is never finished. There are wetlands to restore and invasive plants to control, remnant pollution issues to resolve, and fish and bird species to protect.

Hartig helped create a federal conservation program in Detroit to protect important habitat in its urban core. He manages the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, a joint-venture with Canada established by the U.S. Congress in 2001. It is the only international wildlife refuge in North America.

“The Detroit River was one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S. back in the 1960s and ’70s,” notes Hartig, author of “Bringing Conservation to Cities,” published in 2014 by Ecovision World Monograph Series. “Most (people) thought of it as a working river that supported commerce and transportation. We thought if we could give it this designation that we could do something special for it.” Continue reading

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Lake Michigan Water Trail A Mecca for Paddlers

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Paddlers  beach on sandy shores while paddling the Lake Michigan Water Trail. Photo courtesy of Dan Plath.

By Howard Meyerson

When Dan Plath and his friends set off in late July to paddle 50 miles along
the southern Lake Michigan shoreline, their journey will be one of adventure
and celebration. Plath — an environmental scientist and president and founder of
the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association (NWIPA), a non-profit with 600
members — wants to demonstrate support for the National Park Service (NPS)
as it celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The federal agency is facilitating a
multi-state effort to create a paddler’s water trail around the world’s fifth largest lake.

Lake Michigan waters are known to be unpredictable: Strong winds, storms and
waves can force paddlers ashore. But the lake’s southeast shoreline is very hospitable to
paddlers. A large segment was designated as a National Recreation Trail in 2011, a part
of America’s National Trail System, which is administered by the NPS and U.S. Forest
Service. Sandy beaches are plentiful, as are well-marked launch and take-out points.
Getting off the water in inclement weather will be no problem, according to Plath.

“Our 75-mile stretch between Chicago and New Buffalo is fully-functional and
well-used,” says Plath. “We have signs at all the public access sites in Indiana. They
show paddlers where they are, the distances between locations, and the history
of the trail and local area.”

Weather permitting, the group will spend three days touring in kayaks, enjoying
Lake Michigan’s blue waters and sandy beaches, while camping among majestic
sand dunes at the 25-mile-long Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Plath and NWIPA volunteers spearheaded much of the water trail development. The group partnered with national lakeshore staff and those at Indiana Dunes State Park. Both offer campsites where paddlers can stop for the night. There are restrooms at access points, and signed and buoyed areas, so paddlers know where to land.

This excerpt is taken from a feature story about the Lake Michigan Water Trail in the newest issue of Lakeland Boating Magazine. Read the entire story on the magazine’s free digital edition and learn more about the 1,600 mile trail for paddlers and what four Lake Michigan states are doing to develop it. Read more: Lake Michigan Water Trail A Mecca for Paddlers 

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Grand Rapids Area Trout Stream a National Conservation Priority

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The Rogue River, a popular area trout stream is getting some love from Trout Unlimited, local partners and area school kids. Photo by Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Anglers, teachers, concerned citizens and school children all are working to improve stream conditions for trout in the Rogue River, a popular Grand Rapids area trout stream that was adopted by Trout Unlimited, the national cold water conservation organization.

“It’s amazing how much we have accomplished and how many volunteers and partners we have,” says Nichol DeMol, TU’s Rogue River Home River Initiative program manager. “Last week we worked with 450 students from Sparta schools on Nash Creek (a tributary of the Rogue). The creek runs through Sparta where we’ve done water monitoring with the kids and planted more than 2,000 native plants.”

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Area students help with stream monitoring efforts by collecting and tallying stream insects that trout eat. Photo by Howard Meyerson

National TU, based in Arlington, VA., selected the Rogue River in 2010 as one of its conservation priorities. The stream suffers from warm, summer water temperatures and sedimentation from construction on its banks. TU’s Home River Initiative seeks to bring attention to significant trout streams across the country. Other projects include the Blackfoot River and South Fork of the Snake River, both in Idaho, the Upper James River in Virginia and New York’s Beaverkill River.

To learn more about what’s being done as part of Trout Unlimited’s work on the Rogue River read this newest post on: Experience GR Blog.

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Plenty of Places to Launch a Boat in Grand Rapids

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An angler readies his boat and gear after launching at John Collins Park on Reeds Lake. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Summer days and boating go hand-in-hand. When temperatures climb and days get longer the urge to hit the water often grows strong. But where can you launch that runabout, sailboat, kayak or rowboat? Fortunately, Grand Rapids area boaters have many public launches to choose from. Most provide lake access where summer revelers can relax. Others provide access to scenic portions of the Grand River.  Finding  them takes just a few computer keystrokes.

“One of the best ways to figure out where you can launch is by using Michigan’s Recreational Boating System (MIRBS),” explains K.C. Fahrni, who administers several Kent County boating access sites for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  “I like to get out a county map, find a lake and then look it up online.”

To learn more about the DNR’s online launch finder, the 1,300 state-managed launch sites around Michigan and more than a dozen in Kent County, take a look at this story on the Experience GR Blog.

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U.S. House measure supports shippers on ballast water dumping

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A plan gaining support in Congress and backed by the cargo shipping industry would establish a nationwide policy for dumping ballast water into U.S. waterways that environmental groups say would open the door to more invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels, which have wreaked economic havoc from the Great Lakes to the West Coast. Read more:  House supports shippers on ballast water dumping

Note: This is how Congress does business – adding provisions to a defense spending bill  that exempt ballast water discharges from being regulated by the U.S. EPA, under the Clean Water Act. Pardon me?  

Proponents say they want a single federal regulation. That by itself is not a bad thing. But ask yourself this: Will the anti-regulatory factions in Congress agree to a strict federal guideline – one which prevents zebra mussels, sea lamprey and other invasive species  from coming into the Great Lakes?  I doubt it. They will fight and argue for years with no will to solve the problem while each freighter that comes through will dump its ballast unchallenged.

Have a great holiday weekend.

–HM

 

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Lonnie Kester: A farmer with a vision builds a public trail

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Lonnie Kester bought an abandoned rail corridor and made a public recreation trail. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Lonnie Kester grew up on a Michigan farm and farming is his life. But the 58-year-old family man from Millington – a rural village northeast of Flint – is known for more than his agri-business interests. Though he farms 3,900 acres and sits on the boards of the Tuscola County Farm Bureau and Genesee County Fair, he is as likely to strike up a conversation about rail-trails, his passion.

Kester loves to talk with cyclists on the Southern Links Trailway, the 10.2-mile abandoned Penn Central Railroad corridor he bought and later developed for public use with the help of the Michigan Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources. The rural bike path runs through farm country. Its scenic route is enjoyed by thousands annually. It is part of U.S. Bike Route 20, which extends from Marine City, Michigan to the Oregon coastline, and it is a link in the 774-mile Iron Belle cycling trail, proposed by Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder.

“I never dreamed of making it a trail,” notes Kester, who lives with his wife, Carol, outside of Millington, the trailway’s northern trailhead. “We bought it in 1998 because we needed 1,000 feet to get to another farm we bought. Tessenderlo Kearly, the company that owned it, didn’t want to sell 1,000 feet. They wanted to sell 7.42 miles of it. Fifteen thousand dollars seemed like a good deal.”

Such a good deal

A good deal, indeed, but Kester would invest far more once he committed to developing a public trail. The remaining 2.74 available miles would cost him $110,000 in 2004. Disputes about other parcels would cost more yet. There were legal challenges too and other complications. But, Kester is known to be determined once he sets a goal. He borrowed money, with interest, to clear the financial hurdles and spent more than $500,000 with no guarantee he would see a return.

“When I bought it I didn’t know if I would recoup any of the money,” Kester explains. “I bought it with faith that this corridor would, one way or another, become a trail. I had several offers to sell it off, and I turned them down and those folks got mad, but I didn’t want to break it up. I told everyone here, ‘This is bigger than any of us.’ It’s a wonderful thing. Rich men and poor men are equal on the trail.” Continue reading

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