Restoring oak savannas with traditional and nontraditional partners

The USDA Forest Service is one of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s strongest conservation partners. But to affect landscape level habitat work, such as the enhancement, restoration and protection of 1,457 acres of oak savannas in Michigan, the NWTF is also working to bring non-traditional habitat partners to the table.  Since 2010, the shared stewardship between the NWTF and the USFS in the Baldwin/ White Cloud Ranger District has raised and leveraged over $1 million for the protection and enhancement of oak savanna habitat.

Once one of the most abundant ecosystems in the Midwest, oak savannah habitat has dwindled drastically since European settlement and is now one of the rarest plant communities on Earth.

Oak savannas are large expanses of grasses and forbs interspersed with oaks. These grasses provide excellent brooding and foraging while oaks offer shade and habitat for many bird species.

“Oak savannas are a rare but important habitat type for a wide range of wildlife species including the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly and popular game species such as the wild turkey and white-tailed deer,” said Ryan Boyer, NWTF district biologist for Michigan and Indiana.

NWTF efforts to restore oak savanna habitat included revitalizing areas with native grasses and forbs, which included removal of invasive species and installing barrier posts and signs to protect the unique habitat.

Seeing the project’s potential to interest nontraditional partners such as Founders Brewing Company and Wolverine Power, Boyer reached out to the companies and illustrated how oak savanna restoration could benefit them.

“I sold them on the work that we were doing as it pertained to their focus and priorities,” said Boyer. “The breweries for example, really care about clean water and clean air, and our project improves habitat, which, in turn, improves overall watershed health and air quality too.”

For Wolverine Energy, the partnership and work reduces their maintenance costs along their rights of way.

Nontraditional partners included Wolverine Power, ITC, Short’s Brewing Company, Founders Brewing Company, Pinnacle Truck Driver Training and private donors.

In addition to the nontraditional partners, many organizations known for conservation efforts also collaborated including Whitetails Unlimited, Michigan Nature Association, Michigan DNR, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Ruffed Grouse Society/ American Woodcock Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Land Conservancy of West Michigan and Pierce Cedar Creek Institute.

“This project is a great example of how a broad array of partners that each have a specific focus can partner together for a landscape level impact, improving habitat for wildlife and the people that enjoy these areas. All of this work has a direct economic impact from timber sales, to contracted workers, to improved wildlife habitat and likely increased use of the public lands for recreation,” said Boyer. “All of these great things while expanding the range of a federally endangered species like the Karner blue butterfly. In my opinion, this is a true conservation success story and we look forward to building upon it moving forward!”

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