In Michigan, Baltimore Township Pheasant Cooperative landowners give grasslands a boost

Members of the Baltimore Township Pheasant Cooperative received the “Conservationist of the Year” award in 2015 from Barry County Pheasants Forever.

Throughout Michigan, neighbors are working together to improve habitat for pheasants, white-tailed deer and many other species by forming wildlife cooperatives.

Two dedicated individuals established one of these cooperatives, the Baltimore Township Pheasant Cooperative. George Cullers and Jake Ypma give of their time and resources and work with neighbors to accomplish a common goal – establishing quality grassland habitat so they can see more pheasants in Baltimore Township.

The Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative is working to improve and enhance Michigan’s grasslands on private and public lands in southern Michigan. Much of this work is accomplished through wildlife cooperatives, which consist of private and public landowners and generally are situated around a state-managed land hub.

The Baltimore Township Cooperative encompasses land in and around Barry State Game Area. This cooperative and 10 other pheasant cooperatives around the southern part of the state collaborate to improve grasslands for pheasants, deer and other grassland wildlife.

Cullers and Ypma went to one of the early Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative cooperative meetings and decided to see what they could accomplish for pheasants in Barry County. They called some neighbors together and began the Baltimore Township Pheasant Cooperative. Since the cooperative members came together, they have planted a few hundred acres of grassland habitat – native grasses with a mix of beautiful wildflowers.

While the work done by the Baltimore Township Pheasant Cooperative has helped pheasants, it also benefits many threatened and endangered songbird and butterfly species that inhabit grassland complexes. The wildflower mixes within these grasslands attract a diverse set of insects that feed birds and pollinate essential crops.

In addition, the deep root structures of the native grasses help to hold the soil and keep it from blowing away. Grasses also purify water by trapping it in their root systems and filtering the water deep in the ground. This keeps water from running off into a local ditch or stream, making our water cleaner.

The habitat Cullers, Ypma and the rest of the Baltimore Township Pheasant Cooperative members have created and enhanced helps to improve environmental quality in Barry County. The cooperative has received awards for “Partners in Conservation” from the Barry Conservation District and “Conservationists of the Year” from Pheasants Forever Barry County.

“The members of the Baltimore Co-op have been working hard for the past several years to develop and enhance wildlife habitat in their area,” said Michigan DNR wildlife biologist Ken Kesson. “I encourage anyone interested in participating to contact the co-op and work with them to get involved.”

The DNR has resources, including seed and herbicide, and may be able to provide technical and financial assistance to those who live in the co-op boundaries and are interested in further developing and enhancing habitat in this area. Residents in the co-op area who are interested in working with the DNR to develop habitat may call Kesson at 517-243-8907.

Wildlife cooperative participation offers increased social engagement with neighbors and fellow hunters, enables important conversations and helps facilitate discussions about how to improve hunting conditions in the area.

Cooperatives also offer landscape-level management for wildlife. While it certainly helps when one landowner improves the wildlife habitat on his or her property, most wildlife wanders over a home range that is larger than one parcel size. Having neighbors group together and improve habitat on a larger scale makes the landscape more appealing to wildlife within a broader context.

Wildlife cooperatives have access to shared resources, too. Working together, landowners in a cooperative can share equipment or split the cost of seeds for wildlife plantings. Working collaboratively also makes the work more enjoyable.

Participating in a wildlife cooperative does not open private land to hunting; the property rights remain fully in the hands of the land owners. The cooperative partnership does provide opportunities for networking with individuals who can help provide guidance, and potentially labor or funding, to see grassland habitats installed or maintained within the cooperative area.

If you are interested in more information about wildlife cooperatives, contact Anna Mitterling at amitterling@mucc.org or visit www.mucc.org/cooperatives.

Made up of many partners, the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative is a conservation initiative to restore and enhance Michigan pheasant habitat (grasslands), populations and hunting opportunities on private and public lands via pheasant cooperatives. It works by acquiring state and federal resources to assist landowners in the cooperatives to improve wildlife habitat on their properties and by improving grassland habitat on selected state game areas, recreation areas or other public lands. Learn more at www.mi.gov./pheasant.

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