Wildlife Action Plan helps state make big strides in conservation

Wildlife Action Plan

By SARAH LAPSHAN
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Jan. 25, 2018

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 Department of Natural Resources 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.

a collection of freshwater mussels on river bank“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.

In addition to large grasslands, the mini-plans target areas like young forests, emerging diseases, warm-water streams and headwaters, big rivers and open dunes. Each key habitat chapter identifies targeted “species of greatest conservation need.”

Plan developers prioritized those species for inclusion using criteria, including whether:

  • The species is endemic or unique to Michigan or the Great Lakes.
  • Michigan is the stronghold for this species.
  • The species relies on habitat that is threatened.
  • There is an imminent threat to the species that could have a significant impact on their populations.

thumbnail of MSU rattlesnake research videoWatch a brief video showing field research on the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, a species for which Michigan is considered the last stronghold. (Video courtesy Michigan State University)

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.”

volunteers clear brush to help restore grassland habitatDerosier 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.  

She also stressed that Michigan offers plenty of “on the ground” stewardship opportunities at state parks, state game areas, local conservation districts and land conservancies where volunteers can quickly get involved. Current opportunities are available at www.michigan.gov/dnrvolunteers.

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.

DNR fisheries staff conducts sampling of the fish communities“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.

Even after 28 years with the DNR, Hanshue described his work on the Wildlife Action Plan as a high point in his career.

“We held one-day workshops to develop each of the mini-plans that make up the plan,” he said. “I was amazed by how many partner agencies and different organizations were willing to actively participate and provide what they could ‘bring to the table’ to support the plan.”

Now in this second, more action-oriented, 10-year phase, Michigan’s Wildlife Action Plan is yielding more outcomes that are making a real difference in management decisions.

Hanshue said that because the initial plan assessed the state’s rare and at-risk fish and wildlife resources and available habitat types, fisheries managers were able to use that information to develop targeted surveys of certain key species.

“Our fisheries management units and research and fish production managers will continue to look for opportunities to implement the plan within our division and with our partners,” he said. “For example, there are several small tributaries in the Lake Erie watershed that support focal species. We’ll be looking to partner with local conservation districts and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to use Farm Bill programs to protect at-risk fish and mussel populations. Those kinds of projects did not really happen with version one of the Wildlife Action Plan.”

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.”

From Derosier’s perspective, Michigan’s Wildlife Action Plan exists to help people get to know and better understand Michigan’s rare species, to appreciate their importance as part of Michigan’s history and natural places, and to recognize and be energized by the fact that Michigan citizens can play an active role in managing these species and habitats right where they live.

osprey in flightShe said that cellphone apps and web sites like iNaturalist, eBird, the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network and the Michigan Herp Atlas make it easier for the public to contribute wildlife observations and information that help inform conservation decisions.

She pointed to conservation comeback success stories like Kirtland’s warbler, osprey and bald eagle as examples of how concerted effort – and a lot of community interest and involvement – led to real, measurable positive change.

“Basically, Michigan has cool wildlife that we want to keep around for future generations,” Derosier said. “Conserving wildlife species and wildlife habitat gives people beautiful places to play, to relax and to find peace, but some fish and wildlife need a little extra help. Proactive management can conserve wildlife before they become rarer and more costly to protect, and that’s in everyone’s best interest.”

Derosier also pointed to the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies as a major voice in the national discussion about conservation. A recent AFWA blue-ribbon panel on sustainable wildlife funding developed two recommendations, including one specifically tied to state Wildlife Action Plans and the at-risk species identified in the plans.

Similarly, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, a bipartisan bill introduced last month, would send $1.3 billion of existing federal oil and gas revenue toward state-run efforts to protect at-risk fish and wildlife species and wildlife-related recreation. Learn more at www.ournatureusa.com.

From favorite species like monarch butterflies and peregrine falcons, to threatened and endangered fish, plants and amphibians, the Michigan Wildlife Action Plan provides a formula for conserving these important natural features for Michigan’s future generations. 

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

Check out previous Showcasing the DNR stories and subscribe to upcoming articles at www.michigan.gov/dnrstories.

Contact: Amy Derosier, 517-284-6166 or John Pepin, 906-226-1352. Accompanying photos are available below for download and media use. Suggested captions follow. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources, unless otherwise noted.

Cisco.jpg: Cisco schooling near Isle Royale National Park. Actions to help Michigan’s cisco populations are laid out in mini-plans within Michigan’s 2015-2025 Wildlife Action Plan. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Derosier.jpg: Amy Derosier, wildlife biologist and Wildlife Action Plan coordinator for the Michigan DNR.

Electro-fishing.jpg: Surveys and sampling are an important component of the Michigan DNR’s fisheries management work. Here, fisheries staff conducts sampling of the fish communities in a section of the Grand River.

Grasslands.jpg: Large grasslands, which provide a variety of habitats for ring-necked pheasants, rabbits and other small game, are the focus of one of the 2015-2025 Wildlife Action Plan’s mini-plans. Here, volunteers from the Lenawee County Chapter of Pheasants Forever work with DNR staff to remove an overgrown fence row between two grassy fields at Lake Hudson Recreation Area.

Hanshue.jpg: Scott Hanshue, a fisheries management biologist with the Michigan DNR, holds a cisco during a break from a survey on Harwood Lake (Cass County) to evaluate the status of the cisco population. Great Lake ciscoes and inland lake ciscoes are two “mini-plan” topics addressed in Michigan’s 2015-2025 Wildlife Action Plan.

Hodgson.jpg: Jim Hodgson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest Region Chief of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs. Photo courtesy Larry Dean/USFWS.

Johnson.jpg: Garret Johnson, executive director, Michigan Nature Association. Photo courtesy Garret Johnson.

Mussels.jpg: These freshwater mussels were part of a survey/relocation project below the dam at Lyons, Michigan, on the Grand River in Ionia County, prior to the dam’s removal. Snuffbox mussels are one of the focal species addressed in the 2015-2025 Wildlife Action Plan’s “big rivers” mini-plan, which recommends continued monitoring to determine distribution, abundance and trends.

Osprey.jpg: The osprey is one of Michigan’s conservation success stories. The DNR’s reintroduction program has helped boost the number of active nests, and the partnership-driven GPS telemetry program aids the DNR and the public in understanding the birds’ movement and migration patterns.

Plan.jpg: The cover page of Michigan’s 2015-2025 Wildlife Action Plan, available on the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/wildlifeactionplan.

Rattlesnake.jpg: A close-up look at the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, Michigan’s only venomous snake. This snake is a rare sight for most Michigan residents, as that snake population has declined.