May 21, 2019
The following news release was issued today by Michigan United Conservation Clubs:
|A habitat improvement program focused on Michigan wildlife and fostering stewardship between volunteers and their public lands celebrated its 2,500th volunteer over the weekend.
Started as a way to connect people with the often under-utilized public land around them, OTG has now grown into one of the most successful volunteer-based habitat programs in the country. From picking up rocks to make fields tillable to building rabittat, a term OTG coined, the program has traveled to all corners of the state and taken on a whole gamut of habitat projects.
Ricky Eckloff, of Skandia, joined OTG and the Michigan Ruffed Grouse Society Saturday for a tree-planting event at a Grouse Enhanced Management Site (GEMS) in the Gwinn State Forest and was the program’s 2,500th volunteer.
|“As a scoutmaster and outdoorsman, I understand the importance of volunteers and the positive impact they can have,” Eckloff said. “OTG events like this give like-minded people the opportunity to work together in the name of conservation, and I’m happy to be a part of that.”
“OTG gives volunteers the opportunity to actively engage with their resources beyond traditional consumptive uses like hunting or angling,” LaButte said. “Our program engages everyone from dedicated sportsmen and women to leisurely recreationists and gives Michigan citizens the opportunity to give back to their natural resources.”
Although project scopes often have an immediate impact on game species, non-game species and pollinators also benefit from OTG projects. Past projects include building hunter-access boardwalks, planting mast-producing trees, cleaning up parking lots and rivers, building wood duck boxes, planting native grasses and removing invasive species like garlic mustard and autumn olive.
|In 2016, OTG expanded to include OTG Jr. — a field-trip-based program where teachers and coordinators try to incorporate their classroom curriculum into hands-on learning. After each habitat project, students are then able to fish, shoot a bow or participate in waterfowl or mammal identification to try and marry what they learned about habitat improvement to the species that benefit from OTG projects.
“On The Ground is a nationally recognized program that strengthens ties between the public and DNR’s Wildlife Division. It provides a real cadre of citizen volunteers that accomplish projects that might otherwise not get done,” Mason said. “At the same time, OTG educates adults and kids about the importance of managed habitats as the foundation of Michigan’s wildlife conservation efforts.”
OTG’s success also rests heavily on the outdoor heritage all Michiganders share, said MUCC Executive Director Amy Trotter.
|“We all have hunting and angling in our blood, and hunters and anglers are at the forefront of conservation throughout the United States,” Trotter said. “OTG provides a unique opportunity for those not involved in the outdoor world to engage with the gatekeepers of it.”
“A lot of people talk about what should be done; MUCC is out there getting it done,” Minzey said. “[This] is work that wouldn’t have gotten done otherwise … that’s 10 years of one employee’s time.”
Looking ahead, OTG has at least nine more projects planned throughout the summer months ranging from river clean-ups to tree plantings. For a complete list of projects near you and how to get involved, visit mucc.org/on-the-ground/.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization who is committed to uniting citizens to conserve, protect and enhance Michigan's natural resources and outdoor heritage.
/Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows.
Autumn and volunteer: Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Autumn Christensen poses with 2,500th OTG volunteer Ricky Eckloff in Gwinn, Michigan.
Nyberg and kids: Michigan Natural Resources Commissioner David Nyberg planting crab apple trees at the OTG event in the Gwinn State Forest with his two daughters.
Planting trees: OTG volunteers team up with the DNR and RGS to improve habitat in the Gwinn State Forest.
Planting trees 2: OTG volunteers Jesse (left) and Charles (right) planting crab apple trees in the Gwinn State Forest.
Volunteer: MUCC Habitat Volunteer Coordinator Makhayla LaButte shakes hand of 2,500th OTG volunteer Ricky Eckloff. Eckloff was given a free one-year membership to MUCC and other MUCC gear to commemorate the program’s milestone./