Volunteers make Lake Hudson Recreation Area a better home for pheasants, other wildlife

Volunteers and DNR Parks and Recreation Division employees take out an overgrown fence row.

April 4, 2013

Michigan's Pheasant Restoration Initiative got a boost recently as about a dozen volunteers from the Lake Hudson Pheasant Cooperative showed up to work with Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division employees to take out an overgrown fence row between two grassy fields at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The goal is to create a large block of habitat that will be more hospitable to pheasants and other grasslands residents as well.

The Lake Hudson area is in one of three, three-county pilot areas the DNR Wildlife Division has identified as potential pheasant restoration hubs. It is somewhat unusual in that it is not a wildlife management or game area, but part of the Parks and Recreation Division. Along with volunteers, Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Division employees take out an overgrown fence row between two grassy fields at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. (Image on the right.)

The Lake Hudson Recreation Area consists of 2,800 acres of land as well as a 500-acre lake, which is a well-known muskellunge fishery. The area boasts 50 campsites and a day-use area with a beach and is also a dark-sky preserve. Area staff has identified about 500 acres to be managed as grasslands as well as perhaps as many as 200 more that could be converted to grasslands, explained area manager Jim O'Brien.

Volunteer Nelson Evers and Hayes State Park ranger Pam Bobb roll up some pulled fencing.DNR staff recently mowed about 250 acres that had grown up into brush for conversion to quality grasslands, O'Brien said.

The work at Lake Hudson is ongoing, said Ray Fahlsing, who heads the stewardship program with the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. Fahlsing said the DNR has cobbled together a number of funding sources as well as enlisted volunteers to get the job done.

The Lenawee Chapter of Pheasants Forever donated $5,000 that the DNR is using for tractor fuel and herbicide, Fahlsing said. In addition, volunteers from the Monroe County Chapter of Pheasants Forever recently cleared 20 acres of brush.

"They pulled brush out by the roots and then mowed the entire 20 acres," Fahlsing said. "It was quite the operation, better than any contractor I've ever worked with."

Volunteers from the Washtenaw County Chapter of Pheasants Forever cleared an additional 10 acres, Fahlsing said.

Pheasants Forever member Ken Prats carrying a branch. "And we were able to obtain some grant money to pay for removal of another 6,000 feet of fence rows," Fahlsing said. "We're fitting all kinds of pieces together to get this done."

A number of fields are currently in agriculture under share-cropping operations, he added. As those leases expire they will be converted back into grasslands.

"We want to see bobolinks and short-eared owls and all kinds of species that use grasslands, not just pheasants," Fahlsing said.

Ken Prats, a retired trucker who lives on a farm near the recreation area that he has enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), was one of the volunteers who spent the day removing and piling up brush - which will be burned - as well as removing old wire fencing and pulling out fence posts.

"We've got big aspirations that this program is going to pan out," said Prats, 55. "We've always had a good bird population around here, but where the land was in crops, there were just birds here and there. Once we got it into CRP, the first couple of years we had good rains and the grass came up real well and the birds just proliferated."

Nelson Evers, a painting contractor from Tecumseh who described himself as one of the "core members" of the Lake Hudson Pheasant Cooperative, said he was encouraged by the turnout.

Rachel Oldfield (R) watches Alex Hallett (middle) and another volunteer rip out a buried wire fence."We want to clear these fences so we can take these three fields and eventually have one 90-acre parcel all in one piece," Evers said. "The members are pretty passionate about doing this.

"We started out with just a couple of guys and we had 12 or 13 people show up for this work day. There were some sons and daughters and mothers out here. It's kind of a family thing. And they're all workers - that's the important thing."

Volunteers spent about three hours on the project on a cold, wet Saturday, reducing the fence row to piles of brush and a few stumps.

"Lake Hudson is a great example of co-op partners rallying around the pheasant initiative," said Al Stewart, upland game bird program leader with the DNR. "They're actively working to get things going on the ground."

Lake Hudson, in Lenawee County, is part of the Lenawee-Monroe-Hillsdale County pilot area. The others are in Clinton, Gratiot and Saginaw counties, and in Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac counties in the Thumb.

Volunteers and DNR employees work to take out an overgrown fence row."There's a co-op developed in Barry County actively engaged in the initiative, too," Stewart said. "We're working to get local co-ops formed throughout southern Michigan, though we're concentrating on the pilot areas to really get things moving."

The DNR envisions eventually creating and preserving 200,000 acres of pheasant habitat, Stewart said.

"The focus is on working on a landscape scale, with public lands as the core of the activities, but expanding into private lands as well," he explained. "In the past, habitat improvements have centered on small areas. This is an attempt to do things on a big scale."

To learn more about the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative, visit www.michigan.gov/pheasant.