By Joe Goergen, SCIF Conservation Manager
SCI leaders and other interested conservation stakeholders from across Michigan met on Saturday, August 21st, at the amazing Legends Ranch in Bitely, MI, to celebrate the culmination of a decade of the Michigan Predator-Prey Project.
The day’s agenda was emceed by Jim Hammill, SCIF’s past Conservation Committee Chair, retired MDNR biologist, wolf expert, and forester. Highlighted presentations were given by Drs. Dean Beyer, retired MDNR biologist, and Jerry Belant, now at SUNY-ESF, covering the scope of this massive three-phased study and its major research findings over 10-plus years of field work.
The project ultimately found that winter habitat quality rather than wolf predation is the driving factor of white-tailed deer population declines in the Upper Peninsula. Since then, we’ve initiated a winter habitat improvement program with willing landowners led by forester Stu Boren–a perfect example of SCIF investments leading to on-the-ground management. These implications are applicable to deer range across the upper Midwest and Northeast in areas with heavy snowfall and a full suite of predators.
Funding for this flagship project came from all different levels of Safari Club International and SCI Foundation including large grants from the Foundation and contributions from local SCI Chapters via the Michigan Involvement Committee. A total of some $750,000 was used to leverage a 3 to 1 match from PR funds through the Michigan DNR.
While the team is still analyzing millions of data points and making recommendations, the project has been the MDNR’s most productive ever in terms of scientific publications. Several M.S. and Ph.D. students and hundreds of wildlife technicians gained invaluable training and experience. This project, which lives on through these biologists and the ongoing habitat work, has given SCI a high profile in the state of Michigan.
The event also included an introduction to SCIF’s new strategic approach to its conservation mission and an overview of our new CWD risk modeling effort by Dr. Aniruddha Belsare from Emory University. We hope this new project will be a useful tool to state agencies in evaluating the effectiveness of policy decisions related to baiting, carcass transportation, and other hunting activities.
The group in attendance shared stories from time spent in the field around the campfire, raised a glass to such a successful project, and enjoyed the incredible Legends Ranch’s Wildlife Center.