Restoration of rare ecosystems underway

The hunter-driven grant provides critical funding for the restoration of barren pine trees in the NWTF’s Huron-Manistee focal landscape.

Pine wastelands and pine-oak wastelands are found throughout the East and Midwest and are what they sound like, landscapes filled with pine and oak species that are barren for agricultural production. They are characterized by acidic, sandy soils that barely retain moisture: terrible for growing most food crops, but a haven for wildlife, including wild turkeys, and are one of the rarest ecosystems in the regions. of the Great Lakes of Michigan.

With their low-growing herbaceous species interspersed with mature mast-producing species such as oak, arid ecosystems provide a diversity of habitat for wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and even non-game species such as the endangered Kirtland warbler. recently delisted extinction species that is highly dependent on barren pine ecosystems. However, the presence of these rare communities in the landscape is no longer what it used to be.

“Due to increased human development, natural wildfire suppression and landscape fragmentation, we have seen a decline in the abundance and quality of these habitats,” said Ryan Boyer, NWTF district biologist for Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. . “We are also losing many of the wooded openings of wildlife once found within northern Michigan forests due to successional changes linked to lack of disturbance, as well as an influx of invasive species that outnumber the previous ones. native plants. Ultimately, these factors reduce the quality of these habitat types for many species of wildlife.”

While these essential landscapes are becoming rarer, the NWTF is currently working to revitalize barren oak and pine ecosystems back to their former glory throughout Michigan, thanks to a generous $277,000 grant from the MDNR through its Wildlife Habitat Grants.

“MDNR’s Wildlife Habitat Grant Program has been a game changer for us by helping to restore imperiled ecosystems as well as critical habitat for the state’s most popular game species,” Boyer said. “Since 2014, the NWTF has received more than $1.45 million to help conserve more than 5,000 acres of critical wild turkey habitat throughout Michigan, including ongoing barren pine restoration projects.”

The new grant is providing funding to continue the efforts of the NWTF’s Improving Pine Barrens and Wildlife Openings Project in Northern Michigan, focusing on project locations on the Huron-Manistee National Forest, Huron-Manistee State Forest, Grayling and the Michigan National Guard Camp Grayling.

Removal of invasive species, planting of native seed mixes, mechanical removal of small diameter trees, and other forest management practices will conserve and restore 631 acres of critical barren habitat over the next year.

Each management practice has its unique benefit in restoring the ecosystem. For example, Boyer pointed out the importance of establishing herbaceous vegetation.

“Part of this project focuses on maintaining these wooded wildlife openings through annual herbaceous plantings, which helps improve soil health while also providing fodder for wildlife species,” he said. “Certain flower mixes also provide a nectar source for pollinators. These plantings will also help prevent the spread and establishment of non-native and invasive species, such as spotted weed, which is commonly found in wildlife clearings in northern Michigan forests.

“Another great aspect of maintaining these openings at National Guard Camp Grayling is that it reduces the risk of incidental fires during training activities conducted by our US military. Our job is to enhance the value of wildlife in these openings while ensuring our military heroes can focus their efforts on training.”

Northern Michigan is subject to harsh winters and large amounts of snow. Projects like this drastically improve wildlife habitat and the condition in which species enter the winter months, offering a better chance for survival, reproduction, and continuation of their essential role in the arid ecosystem.

“This work would not be possible without our incredible partnerships,” Boyer said. “Together, we are working to keep Michigan and its natural resources the natural wonder that they are.”