How Wildlife Action Plan is giving conservation a boost in Michigan

Ask Michigan residents what comes to mind when hearing the word “wildlife,” and – depending on which part of the state they live in – you likely would get quick answers including deer, elk, turkey, and probably a handful of popular fish species like lake trout and muskellunge.

Ask Amy Derosier, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan DNR in Lansing, and you’re going to need a lot more time, but it would be time well spent.

Derosier coordinates the Michigan Wildlife Action Plan, a 10-year strategy that lays out how the state and its partners and volunteers can voluntarily and cooperatively work together toward shared wildlife conservation goals.

The plan approaches the management of some of the state’s rarer species in ways that ensure those species will remain part of Michigan’s landscape long-term.

“Michigan’s plan includes species that are federally listed as ‘endangered’ and some that are not,” Derosier said. “Our plan is Michigan’s rare species plan, and part of its purpose is to help animals come off the threatened and endangered species list, and part of it is working to keep others from becoming so rare that they have to be added to the list.”

Michigan’s plan currently is in its second 10-year cycle. Its initial, or baseline, plan came together in 2005, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service required every state to create its own plan to be eligible for federal wildlife grant funding. Michigan administers roughly $1.2 million in Fish and Wildlife Service funding annually.

Derosier said that each state’s plan is unique, based on that state’s particular needs, but taken together they provide a national strategy “unlike anything else in the world” for keeping wildlife wild, and for protecting what’s unique and valuable to each state.

“Our first plan (2005-2015) was really a means of getting a true status update on species, and it brought together a lot of people and sectors who care a lot about Michigan wildlife – hunting groups, land conservancies, universities, wildlife watchers and many others,” Derosier said.

Likewise, a decade later, several dozen partner organizations were represented during the effort to update Michigan’s Wildlife Action Plan, many of which consistently came to the table and helped move the process forward.

“This time around, we learned a lot about a number of key species, and we developed our priorities around them,” Derosier said. “We explored how work in one area would, in turn, help other species and habitats. For example, when we do work to support the large grasslands priority and the rare birds that rely on them, it also helps pheasants and lots of other animals and plants.

“Everything is connected in ways you just can’t imagine,” Derosier said.

The state’s current 10-year plan (2015-2025) is broken out by mini-plans, or chapters, for each priority. Michigan’s plan includes nine terrestrial (land) priorities and six aquatic (water) priorities.

Garret Johnson is the executive director of the Michigan Nature Association, a partner organization that helped develop mini-plans for several plan topics, including prairies and savannas, floodplain forests and Great Lakes marsh and emergent wetlands.

“The state’s Wildlife Action Plan is critically important to us, because it represents an opportunity to coordinate and collaborate with others to ensure our resources are being directed where they are needed most,” Johnson said. “But we also see the plan as much more than just getting the biggest bang for the buck.”

Johnson said the plan offers great opportunities for stakeholders who are interested in protecting Michigan’s natural heritage – government agencies, nonprofit organizations, universities, businesses and others – to come together and learn from one another.

“Those connections and potential partnerships could be one of the most important contributions the plan can make,” he said.

“We’re confident that we will be able to make a real difference for the future of species and natural communities in Michigan that are at risk of being lost. We know from past experience that if we work together we can accomplish wonders. The Wildlife Action Plan is a big step toward making that happen.”

Derosier said one of the things she likes most about Michigan’s plan is that it’s set up in a way that is easy for the public to understand and get involved in. If someone has a passion for grasslands or for wetlands, it’s easy to explore just that mini-plan, learn about the species that are dependent on that habitat, understand threats, see who built the mini-plan, and understand how residents at the local level can volunteer their time and energy to help.

Jim Hodgson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest Region Chief of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs, said Michigan’s approach works well on several levels.

“The state Wildlife Action Plan is a perfect example of how the Service supports partnerships with states,” Hodgson said. “The Service can see states’ priorities for fish, wildlife and habitat. We use this as a starting point for how we support Michigan’s efforts in research, surveys, monitoring and management.

“Michigan has taken an innovative approach by using mini-plans to address species and habitat across large geographies of the state.”

Scott Hanshue is a senior fisheries management biologist with the Michigan DNR in Plainwell. He described the creation and implementation of Michigan’s Wildlife Action Plan as “important work” that helps, at times, to fill a void.

“The majority of DNR fisheries management work is targeted toward game fish species, which makes sense because sportsmen and sportswomen pay for licenses to catch game fish,” Hanshue said. “The Wildlife Action Plan helps provide for the conservation of rare fish and other at-risk aquatic life.”

He cited some of the Wildlife Action Plan field survey work done at historical collection sites (some dating back to the 1930s) that led to the unexpected documentation of several fish species – silver shiner, redbelly dace, brindled madtom and others – that had not been reported in decades. Hanshue said now that managers know the species exist, the department can work with local partners to protect remaining habitats for those species.

“In many instances, conservation actions – dam removals, water quality improvements, et cetera – to protect at-risk fish species will benefit the entire fish community,” Hanshue said.

Hanshue, like many others, believes that healthy fish and wildlife resources play a big part in boosting quality of life for Michigan residents and visitors, and that proper stewardship will help to conserve those resources for future generations.

Hodgson agrees.

“State Wildlife Action Plans are a roadmap for conserving all wildlife, including game species,” Hodgson said. “We see how the plans support each other across the region and how states work together to protect our great natural resource heritage here in the Midwest.”

Learn more about Michigan’s Wildlife Action Plan and how you can get involved at www.michigan.gov/wildlifeactionplan.

— Sarah Lapshan

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