Showcasing the Michigan DNR: Upper Peninsula habitat improvements ramp up

Michigan DNR wildlife technician Bill Rollo
receives some assistance from his 2-year-old
daughter Elizabeth while planting and
wrapping oak trees at an On-the-Ground
volunteer event in June. (DNR photos)

Efforts made possible by new hunting license revenue and volunteers

By the Michigan DNR

On state-managed land in southern Marquette County, there stands a grove of nearly 500 mature Siberian crabapple trees that are thriving – branches heavy with fruit, ready to feed a variety of wildlife this fall, including deer, bear, ruffed grouse, turkeys and songbirds.

The trees will provide a critical food source for wildlife still recovering from a tough, long winter and late spring – a time when the presence of abundant mast (fruit and nut)-producing trees and shrubs can make or break the game of survival in the Upper Peninsula.

While the crabapple trees today look like a natural part of the state forest’s landscape, they actually were hand-planted by Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division staff in 1983 as part of an effort to enhance habitat in forest openings – a goal that remains a priority for the Wildlife Division today.

In fact, in 2014 Wildlife Division staffers in the Upper Peninsula were able to greatly ramp up tree and shrub planting efforts for the first time in years due to recent increases in hunting license fees and the addition of the $11 base license required of all hunters, which specifically funds improvement of habitat and hunting opportunities.

“While planning for this year’s planting activities, I visited the Siberian crabapple stand after hearing about it from a DNR forester,” said wildlife technician Bill Rollo. “The Wildlife Division is committed to improving habitat and food sources; we know the value of this work. But seeing the success of these crabapples gave me an inspiring, tangible example of what we are accomplishing not just in the short term but in the long run.

“Our current planting projects are a legacy that we can leave for the next generation, but doing so couldn’t happen without the support of Michigan’s hunters.”

A grove of more than 500 mature Siberian crabapple trees can
be found on state forest land in southern Marquette County
-- a testament to the lasting impact strategic planting projects
have on wildlife habitat.
And Rollo isn’t referring solely to financial support in the form of crucial hunting license dollars. Rather, hunter support for habitat improvement also manifested itself through some serious sweat equity during the 2014 planting season.

In May and June, volunteers from the Ruffed Grouse Society and the On-the-Ground program – an award-winning partnership between the DNR and Michigan United Conservation Clubs – spent several weekend days planting approximately 150 trees and shrubs to improve wildlife habitat.

During the volunteer events, more than a dozen plum trees, serviceberries and dogwood shrubs were planted along a hunter walking trail in Marquette County; 85 red oak were planted in Alger County; and 50 oak were planted in Schoolcraft County.

With recognition for the diligent work of DNR staff and contractors throughout the summer months to plant upwards of 22,000 mast-producing trees and shrubs across the Upper Peninsula, Rollo said he feels the efforts of the volunteers were especially valuable.

“What would take a team of two DNR staff all day to accomplish can be finished in less than three hours by a dozen volunteers,” Rollo said. “One of our goals is to work with partner groups to connect them to their own investment in habitat improvement, but it is also satisfying to see them complete a project in short order that will still be here decades from now.”

George Lindquist, Statewide Vice President
of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, helps
plant oak trees at a volunteer event in June.
The oak trees will replace large stands of
beech trees dying from beech bark disease.
While improving habitat through the use of strategic plantings is nothing new to the Wildlife Division, having an increased, rather than steadily decreasing, habitat budget available this year certainly was a change from the recent status quo.

As an example of what the additional hunting license revenue meant in on-the-ground work, the Shingleton Management Unit – where planting oak trees to combat the loss of beech trees to beech-bark disease is an ongoing priority – was able to more than triple the number of oak trees planted in 2014 compared to the previous year.

“The license increase has definitely enabled us to continue and expand a robust habitat program in the Shingleton Unit,” said habitat biologist Kevin Swanson.

More than 16,000 trees and shrubs were planted in Swanson's management unit, which includes Alger and Schoolcraft counties: 8,900 red oak saplings, 470 burr oak saplings, 1,650 apple and crabapple saplings, and 5,000 red osier dogwoods.

“These trees and shrubs will not only provide an immediate source of mast and browse for wildlife, but will also help to fill in the places where large stands of beech trees have already been lost,” said Swanson.

In addition to the increased tree and shrub plantings in the Shingleton Unit, wildlife staff members from Crystal Falls, Baraga, Marquette, Escanaba, Newberry and Sault Ste. Marie reported the completed planting of thousands of trees and shrubs to improve habitat and bump up the mast crop in coming years.

Examples included the planting 235 trees and shrubs in cooperation with the Ruffed Grouse Society at a hunter walking trail in Iron County, and the addition of 20 crabapple trees at the Hancock Creek Flooding in Dickinson County with the help of the Eastern Dickinson Sportsmen’s Club and the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

All of the projects fell in line with the Wildlife Division’s strategic plan and the More Bang for Your Buck management priorities promised to hunters as part of the new license package.

“We have a number of priorities that are clearly articulated in our strategic management plan and More Bang for Your Buck. Two big ones are to invest in wildlife habitat work on the ground, and to improve the hunting experience,” said Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason.

“In the U.P., we can make a big difference by focusing on replacing lost beech trees with other mast-producing trees, and planting more nut and berry trees and shrubs near prime hunting areas,” he said. “Based on what I’ve seen so far in 2014, it’s clear we’re doing exactly what we promised hunters we would do when the new license package went into effect.”

Dozens of volunteers helped the DNR plant 150
mast-bearing trees and shrubs on public land in
Alger and Schoolcraft counties in May and June,
providing an immediate and lasting benefit for wildlife.
With Wildlife Division wrapping up the first planting season since the license package became effective, it is evident that much was accomplished in the Upper Peninsula, but that doesn’t mean staff members are fully satisfied.

“In coming years, we will continue to aggressively pursue opportunities to improve wildlife habitat using both license revenue and partnership opportunities with the many organizations that are interested in contributing time and energy to wildlife and habitat management in the U.P.,” said Craig Albright, the Wildlife Division’s Upper Peninsula field operations manager.

And as these concerted efforts continue, wildlife technician Rollo encourages hunters and others interested in wildlife management to consider getting involved.

“Like the crabapples that were planted in 1983, what we are able to achieve with the help of our conservation partners today will leave a lasting legacy in the forest that will be recognized and remembered 30 years from now. That is just one of the many goals we can meet by working together.”

To learn more about efforts to improve habitat and hunting opportunities, visit