Urban sprawl and development destroyed much of the Upper Midwest grasslands over the last several decades. Working alongside state partners, the NWTF is digging in on several grassland restoration projects.
Jason Lupardus, the NWTF’s conservation field supervisor for the region, said the focus is on warm-season grasses in states like Michigan. The management plan involves obtaining the optimum mixture of plants, such as short- and tall-growing native, warm-season grasses. The mix also includes a diversity of forb plants.
The warm-season grasses are particularly important to the turkeys, because they give them the structure they need to hide and the food they need to survive. “The vertical and horizontal grasslands provide different seed varieties for turkeys and their poults to feed on during the warm summer months. These grasses are very important in the Upper Midwest, because summer is short and turkeys need a lot of feed to prepare for winter,” Lupardus said.
Other efforts benefit turkeys and species meriting special attention. “We have several projects in Michigan that will help turkeys and the Karner blue butterfly, which is a listed species,” Lupardus said. He explained that milkweed is planted for pollinator butterfly species, such as the Karner blue and the monarch. Milkweed also attracts many other insects turkeys find tasty.
Another Michigan grasslands restoration project is at the Gregory State Game Area. “We often work on oak savannas,” Lupardus said, “but we really want some open prairie in this area. We are removing nonnative, invasive plants, such as autumn olive, using a mulcher/grinder, followed up with selective herbicide treatments.
“After soil is disturbed and sunlight reaches the forest, it’s amazing to see how quickly dormant warm-season native grass seeds springs to life,” Lupardus said. “The awesome thing about warm-season grasses is they grow quickly. The areas where we’re working will look entirely different in 12 months.”
Projects also are under way in the Allegan County State Game Area and the Huron National Forest.