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July 24, 2013     Montmorency County Tribune
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July 24, 2013
 

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12B Wednesday, July 24, 2013 The Montmorency County Tribune THE DNR RECENTLY confirmed a fisher in Presque Isle County. Photo courtesy of Mike O'Meara. that hi Although there have been regular reports of fishers in the Lower Peninsula, the Department of Natural Re- sources had not been able to confirm fishers south of the Mackinac Bridge...until now. Recently Melissa and Nate Sayers of Onaway were out for walk in North Allis Township, located in Presque Isle County, when they saw something odd. "We heard the neighbor's dog barking at a base of a tree, and we saw a ball of fur up in the tree; we initially thought it was a bear cub," said Melissa Sayers. "Then it moved, and we realized it wasn't a cubl" The DNRwas notified of the sighting and was provided pictures. Local DNR wildlife biologist Jennifer Kleitch investigated the location where the pictures were taken and confirmed the photos were legitimate. "This is very exciting, but we always want to be sure," stated Kleitch. "We treat every rare animal ighting very seriously, and we must have evidence we can follow up on and investigate to make a definite identification." Historically fishers were found throughout both the Upper and Lower peninsulas, although by 1936 defores- tation and tmlimited harvest resulted in the species van- ishing from Michigan. Beginning in 1961, fishers were reintroduced to the Upper Peninsula, and by 1989 the U.P. fisher population had recovered enough to estab- lish a limited trapping season in the western U.P. "It's great to see another native species return to parts of its former range," said DNR furbearer specialist Adam Bump. "Fishers are another species in Michigan that benefit from habitat management and science-based harvest regulations." Now that fishers have been confirmed in the Lower Peninsula, the DNR would like to gather additional in- formation. Those who believe they have seen a fisher in the northern Lower Peninsula, and have physical docu- mentation (pictures, locations of tracks, etc.), are asked call 989-732-3541, ext. 5901. Fishers are typically found in large forests, with a pref- erence for areas dominated by coniferous trees. They have a very diverse diet, mostly comprised of small- to medium-sized mammals such as mice and rabbits, along with dead deer. Fishers also will consume a fair amount of fruits and nuts, and often are noted for being one of the few species that successfully prey upon porcupines, al- though porcupines typically make up a small portion of their diet. Walk-ln's welcome! Monday, Tuesday, Thursday &Friday per person Humans have used dogs as help, ers in innumerable pursuits for cen- turies, and that relationship seems to expand daily. John Rucker, a life- long bird hunting enthusiast, has always kept dogs to help him pursue upland game, but he's also trained his Boykin spaniels to perform an unusual task. Rucker's dogs have been trained to find and retrieve turtles. The 65-year-old Tennessee resi- dent was in Michigan recently to help members of the Department of Natural Resources' Parks and Rec- reation Division find Eastern box turtles at Fort Custer State Recre- ation Area, near Battle Creek. The box turtles, a species of concern in Michigan, inhabit the woodlands EASTERN BOX TURTLES, like this one, inhabit woodlands in southern and adjacent fields of Fort Custer. Michigan. Parks and Recreation staffers are attempting to understand the turtles' seasonal habi- tat usage to make sure ecological restoration efforts, prescribed bums, mowing and the use of herbicides, do not negatively impact the reptiles. Alicia Selden, a DNR stewardship analyst, has been working on the turtle project for two years now. She says Rucker's help has been invaluable. "He finds as many turtles in a few days as it takes us a month to find," Selden said. Employing the services of an army of volunteers, many of them Michigan State University (MSU) fish and wildlife students, Selden and her helpers survey the agricultural field and prairies adjoining the woods on Fort Custer, finding turtles as they nest in the spring. The critters are typically homebodies, Selden said, but will travel a fair distance, maybe ahalfmile, from their woodland homes to find appropriate nest- ing habitat or a place to burrow and overwinter. What they've learned so far has already resulted in changes to their land-management practices, she said. "We've pretty much put a hold on spring bums until we have a better understanding of the impact on box turtles," Selden said "We're shifting over to bums in the summer and fall." Rucker, who travels the country with his dogs to work on turtle conservation projects, said he "just sort of fell" into turtle-hunting more than a decade ago. He was walking with his dogs one day, found a turtle, and showed it to one of his dogs. A short time later, the dog came up to him with a turtle in its mouth. He's been training his dogs to do the same since. This spring, with Rucker's assistance, the crew found close to 30 box turtles, often in the grass near JOHN RUCKER, who uses Boykin spaniels to find and the woods, where Michigan's only terrestrial turtles retrieve turtles, recently found box turtles at Fort Custer State Recreation Area. spend most of their time, and the sandy agricultural and prairie grass fields. It was a pleat surprise. "Last yearwe found 13," Selden said. 'It reallyscared Some of the long-lived boxturtles, which have been us. We had more than 600 hours ofvolunteer time on captured, have been fitted with radio transmitters, the ground for that. It scared us." epoxied to their shells, so they can be located year- Tracy Swem, a graduate student at MSU who will round. The knowledge gained about their habitat us- spend the summer monitoring the turtles, said mak- age will help land managers better refine their man- ing sure the park staff does nbt impact the turtle agement techniques. In addition the turtles are population withits land-use practices is important to marked with a series of notches filed into the outer protect the viability of the population as the Fort edge of their shells, so researchers who find a turtle Custer crew works to restore the prairie habitat that can compare locations to where it was last seen. once dominated the area. The shell-notching is a standard practice among "Thereasonthismattersistheycanenterintoaslow turtle researchers. The crew at the recreation area extinction cycle if theylose just a bit of the breed- found two turtles this year that had been marked by a ing population, about two percent, she said. "They Purdue University researcher in 2006 on the nearby aren't sexually mature until they're about 10 years military training grounds. old, and you lose about 98 percent ofthe hatchlings." The Parks and Recreation crew made several impor- Ittakesseveralyearsforthemrtlestoformtheirhard tant discoveries this year. They caught a 3-year-old, protective shells, tg, r Eooares%er abl l O turdes canbe aged by'counting'therings on theplates predation, particularly q , on their shells, like growth rings on a tree - the first heavilypredate nests by digging them up and eating juvenile found in the two years of the project. Simi- the eggs. larly, when a park staffer picked up a young turtle (7 Box turtles are unique among Michigan turtles, yea rs old) crossing the road the other dayand brought Though they are terrestrial, they are true turtles, not it to Swem, she deemed it "an important find" be- tortoises, theyhave claws on their feet, and they have cause "we hadn't found any between 4 and 10 years a unique evolutionary trait, a hinged underside of the old." carapace, which allows them to fully retract and pro- Parks and Recreation Division staffers and volun- tect their head, tail and legs. teers will continue to monitor the box turtles into the Some of the turtles the crew has found this year future. Ideally, the changes in land-management show damage on their shells from previous bums. practices brought about by this research will ensure Some biologists argue that these turtles have evolved that they'll be able find many more box turtles in the with natural fires and can live with them, though years ahead, while restoring southern Michigan's others contend that naturalfires do not occur as often prairie habitat. as prescribed burns and repeated exposure to the For more information on Rucker's exploits, visit fires over time could damage the population, www.turtledogs,org.