This originally appeared in the Winter 2022/23 Edition of Michigan Out-of-Doors. In February of 2022, On the Ground, Michigan United Conservation Clubs habitat stewardship program, turned 10. The program is funded through a memorandum of agreement wth the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
A Note from the Coordinator
February 2022 marked the 10-year anniversary for MUCC’s award-winning volunteer stewardship program On the Ground (OTG). Over the past decade, OTG has expanded to host more than 20 habitat improvement projects annually throughout the state. We are proud to have had more than 3,800 volunteer stewards join us in improving and enhancing nearly 3,500 acres of Michigan’s public lands.
To celebrate this milestone and the evolution of the OTG program, we revamped the program’s logo to reflect our volunteers’ commitment to conserving habitat, enhancing wildlife populations and their continued stewardship for Michigan’s public lands. Featured in the center of the design is a pair of wood ducks perched on a wooden nest box. Once listed as a federally endangered species, wood duck populations are now rising thanks to collaborative efforts among hunters, private landowners, state and federal agencies, and conservation groups. With proper management and the installation of artificial nesting structures to augment their natural habitat, wood duck populations can once again be hunted in Michigan. The history of the wood duck serves as a reminder that we must continue to play an active, collaborative role in conservation to ensure the future well-being of our natural resources.
As we look to the future of the OTG program, we will continue to welcome volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, consumptive and non-consumptive users of the land and anyone who wants to be an active steward for Michigan’s public lands to join us in improving wildlife habitat in our great state.
Autumn is a great time to get trees and potted plants in the ground before the winter freeze-up. The combination of cool air and warm soil temps trigger root growth in trees, allowing them to establish their root system before heading into the next growing season. Volunteers put their boots to the ground and helped plant over 1,100 potted trees and wildflowers during three OTG projects in fall of 2021. From planting over 900 native blazing star plants in oak openings in Petersburg State Game Area with The Nature Conservancy to establishing over 50 mast-producing trees in Kalkaska County, volunteers helped enhance habitat for wildlife on public lands. This native vegetation produces nuts, seeds, fruits and buds that will provide foraging wildlife with sustenance year-round.
On the Ground volunteers grabbed their power drills and pole saws and showed up to help enhance wildlife habitat and improve hunter access on public land this past winter. Multiple families participated in a wood duck nest box-building event hosted at Marion Springs Conservation Club in Brant, MI. This event was designed with the purpose of engaging local families in conservation efforts by providing each family with a duck box to place on their own properties near the Gratiot-Saginaw State Game Area.
Wardens TV Show (click video to watch)
Later in winter 2021, volunteers assisted the Michigan DNR in clearing shooting lanes at a new accessible hunting blind in Gladwin State Game Area. Through this project, we enjoyed continuing our partnership with DNR Wildlife Biologist Bruce Barlow and Technician Coree Brooks, who were recognized as MUCC’s Conservation Partner of the Year at our 2022 Annual Convention in Lansing!
Wardens came out and shot a segment for their show at the event. Attendees learned about the value of public land volunteerism, wildlife and hunters.
This fiscal year, six out of 22 OTG projects were completed with grade schools, making students a large part of our volunteer base! Student volunteers were hard at work completing various habitat improvement projects on public land. In 2022, we recognized grade school instructor Justin Lazar from Grand Traverse Academy for his continued partnership with the OTG Jr. program and in appreciation for his students’ work improving wildlife habitat in the Northern Lower Peninsula.
We built upon past projects and partnerships and created some new ones in the summer of 2022. The Manistee River Clean-Up with Steelhead Manifesto was a success, engaging over 50 volunteers from the community in the river clean-up event. Later in the summer, we partnered with Kellogg Community College to host a clean-up of the wetland area on campus. The partnership between MUCC and KCC was sparked after each organization received generous donations from the estate of late KCC professor and conservationist Dean Barnum.