Southwest Michigan Oak Health Enhancement Project

The NWTF partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the USDA Forest Service to enhance oak forest health and savanna habitats on 255 total acres of land across southwestern Michigan. The NWTF and its partners achieved this through herbicide, cutting and planting efforts in three government land spaces. Government staff identified the Barry State and Flat River State game areas and the Baldwin-White Cloud Ranger District of the Huron-Manistee National Forests as suitable land for restoring oak forest and oak savanna habitats.

“It was really a great example of a partnership on state and federal land,” said Ryan Boyer, NWTF district biologist. “We’re seeing a decline of oak regeneration across the Midwest causing concern for wild turkeys and other wildlife. So that really puts an emphasis on the importance of the work we’re doing.”

Oak trees are important for many wildlife species – acorns provide food, their trunks provide homes and predator protection and their branches provide roosting area for wild turkeys and other birds. Restoring these habitats benefitted the endangered Karner blue butterfly, wild turkeys, eastern massauga rattlesnakes and many other wildlife.

The project first removed invasive plants and trees to make way for new oaks and created openings for wildlife to brood, nest and mate. Staff used herbicide and manual cutting methods to do this at each of the three sites. Because the Karner blue butterfly is present in the Baldwin-White Cloud Ranger District, staff scheduled herbicide regimens around times that would negatively affect the species.

The next part of the restoration process included staff seeding each of the three sites in hopes of providing more future oaks. Additionally, field staff planted wheat, oats and winter peas on 10 acres of the Flat River State Game Area as a food source for wildlife.

The NWTF and the Michigan DNR are committed to monitoring, maintaining and expanding on the positive work staff already has done on the Barry State and Flat River State game areas and Baldwin-White Cloud Ranger District sites. In the coming years, they plan to perform controlled burns on the game areas to further promote oak regeneration and reduce litter that could potentially cause unexpected fires.

— Heiler Meek

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