The last few years have been pretty rough on the budgets of the DNR's resource management divisions. From wildlife and fisheries to forestry, recreation and everything in between, the entire department - just like businesses and individuals in the private sector - has felt the squeeze of the economic downturn in one way or another.
Facing reality and aligning priorities with available resources has become par for the course. But one bright spot that has come from cutbacks and downsizing at the DNR is the development of valuable partnerships with community and conservation organizations.
These partnerships have served to not only fill the gaps where work needed to be done, but have instilled a sense of ownership in those who will benefit most from the sound long-term management of the resources and facilities they enjoy close to home.
One prime example: A recent tree planting project with the Keweenaw Bay Cutters chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation that put 100 crab apple trees into the ground on the Baraga Plains.
The KBC chapter provided both funding and volunteer manpower, along with their privately-owned equipment, to accomplish this project, while the DNR provided additional heavy equipment and guidance in choosing ideal planting sites on state land.
In the end, ruffed grouse, deer, bear, turkeys and more will benefit from the planting, while hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts will have an improved resource to enjoy, all at minimal cost to the state's shrinking game and fish fund.
According to DNR wildlife biologist Bill Scullon, who helped oversee the project with wildlife technician Brad Johnson in Baraga, the KBC partnership is exactly the type of collaboration DNR field staff hope to see more of.
"As hunting license revenues continue to decline, so does our budget for habitat improvement projects, making partnerships like this increasingly valuable in managing our natural resources," Scullon said. "This is a great example of the key role our partners play in working towards the common goal of successful wildlife management in Michigan."
Other examples of successful local partnerships with the DNR include:
A long-term partnership with the Upper Peninsula Sports Fisherman's Association and Ontonagon Valley Sportsmen's Club to help tend the Amber Lake walleye rearing ponds. Volunteers visit the ponds weekly to apply torula yeast - a substance that encourages growth of zooplankton, an important food source for the walleye fry - and assist in netting the walleye fingerlings when it is time for stocking activity. Thanks to these efforts, in 2012, Duck, Otter and Teal lakes received 10,000 walleye each; Portage Lake received 50,000 fish; and the Ontonagon River received 2,000 - improving future walleye fishing prospects on those waters.
A joint partnership with the organizations and counties that are part of the Keweenaw Invasive Species Management Area to remove spotted knapweed from McLain State Park and help educate the public about this invasive species. The group sends volunteers to the state park to pull and dispose of spotted knapweed; park managers welcome additional volunteers to join in on this long-term project.
A multi-year partnership with Jeffers High School students, who designed and built an interpretive trail around Lake Perrault and are continuing to maintain the trail and surrounding natural area - providing an invaluable service to the community and the DNR, in addition to a unique learning experience.
These are just a few examples of the successful partnerships flourishing between the DNR and stakeholders in the northwestern corner of the Upper Peninsula, and ample opportunities remain to develop countless more.
So what can you or your organization do to get involved and join forces with the DNR? The first step is to contact your local DNR office and get in touch with a program manager in one of the DNR's four resource divisions: Wildlife, Fisheries, Forest Resources or Parks and Recreation.
Based on the division's needs and what type of assistance is being offered, there are many types of partnerships that may take shape, including opportunities to apply for grants, assist with event planning, conduct fundraising, or provide onsite labor or volunteer hours.
Whatever type of partnership forms whether a single-day volunteer event, or an ongoing, long-term role - one thing is certain: The creative solutions born from these partnerships will play a critical part in continuing the legacy of Michigan's natural resource management now and into the future.
Debbie Munson Badini is the DNR's Deputy Public Information Officer. Have a question about natural resource management in Michigan? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, call 906-226-1352, or get in touch on Twitter @MichiganDNR_UP.