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Mapping Software for Habitat Improvements

By Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

Most experienced hunters know that there is no off-season if you want to make the most out of the upcoming fall. Mapping software can be an incredibly useful tool in your hunting repertoire, and it can be easier to use than most people think. If you’re looking for an app to show property boundaries, I suggest onX Hunt. If you’re looking for something to show elevation or points or interest in the field, I suggest Navionics. While those are both beneficial apps for use in the field, they don’t really provide a way to edit/draw on the maps at all to get a site plan established.

Google Earth Pro provides all the basic mapping capabilities of more complex system at the same relative ease of use as Google Maps. It’s free to download and includes instructions on how to install it, plus it works on both IOS and Windows operating systems Some of the basic functions can help you plan out work on your property as well as document movement during the season.

Polygons

Creating a site plan for your off-season improvements is as simple as drawing your boundaries. Use the polygon function in Google Earth Pro to draw out a plan for your property at whatever scale or detail you wish right on top of the map of your property.

A habitat grant site made using polygons. Green – Switchgrass, Orange – Grain Sorghum.

Polygons will also allow you to see the exact acreage or square footage of the area you’ve drawn. Right click the polygon, scroll to properties then click the measurements tab. This information is useful when figuring out how much seed you need to cover the field or fencing to close an area off. For waterfowl hunting, we use this function to help us remember what crops went into each field that we have permission on.

Pins

Google Earth Pro also allows you to drop pins when you want to mark a location on the map. We use this to mark occurrences. It can help you see patterns on your property, such as the number of times you saw a certain buck on a camera, or locations where morel mushrooms were found, for example.  

Here we have the occurrences of “Forks” a 4 point that we saw out at our spot. The red markers indicate he was seen by someone who was hunting while the orange are tail cam pics.

While we didn’t learn a ton about “Forks” in the first year watching him, if he makes it back next year we’ll be able to add that data to the same folder with the number 2 on each icon in hopes of eventually figuring out his pattern.

Add Path

The “add path” feature is useful for measuring distances. By drawing the path, this allows you find distances for objects both as if you were going to walk there or as the crow flies. We use these distance measurements to estimate safe firearm distances. A rangefinder is recommended to ground truth these distances, especially when ensuring you’re 450 feet away from an occupied dwelling.

One of my duck hunting spots. We can see that we are safe to hunt anywhere south of the lane.

Finding your hiking distance is just as easy. Draw your anticipated path, or a path you’ve already walked, and do the same as above to see your measurements. Using this feature, I was able to find out I had a mile hike to get to a duck hunting spot I wanted to try. It looked much shorter on the map, so thanks to mapping ahead of time I was able to have a friend bring his UTV.  

Using the path feature, we were able to map the distance if you were to walk around Big Clinton Lake and the Clinton Lakes Prairie.

These are just some of the basic functions, but there are a ton of resources out there to help you familiarize yourself with the app. The Google Earth website can help but I’ve found YouTube videos the most useful as they allow you to follow along.

New Pollinator Plot Looks Bad?

New Pollinator Plot Look Bad? It’s Okay, So Does Mine

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Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist

Last fall I planted a half acre pollinator plot at my house with the hopes of increasing pollinators and the aesthetics of my yard. I did a snow-seeding around Christmas with a basic Michigan-based pollinator seed mix. I wanted to broadcast the seed on the snow to get an even spread. The snow melts and works the seeds into the soil as well as cold stratifies them.

Itching for spring (between the snow showers) I have spent some time inspecting my now 5-month-old planting only to find some yard grass, plantain, and random weeds I know to be nothing interesting. My ID knowledge of emerging wildflowers is nothing special, but you would think I could see something out of the ordinary to give me reassurance that I didn’t have a failed establishment.

I bet your planting looks like this too…

A pile of dirt and grass field

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The fact of the matter is, your planting did not fail. This is completely normal. For most basic “pollinator plantings” it is a warm-season grass and wildflower mix. The first growing season, native grasses and wildflowers spend most of their energy building their root system. Most of the grasses planted (big blue stem, little blue stem, and Indiangrass) will emerge in bunches rather than a carpet.

Being a warm season mix, most seeds will not germinate or grow until the soil is above 55 degrees and don’t really start to flourish until 73 degrees. This explains why the volunteer lawn grass, which is a cool season grass, emerged and greened up first in my plot, same with the plantain. According to weather.gov, the ground temperature recorded closest to my house on 4/30 is 49 degrees.

A tree in the middle of a field

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More than likely your plot will require maintenance for the first 3 years. Weeds will work to out compete the establishing flowers and should be mowed or weed whacked down. On smaller plots like mine, spot spraying or hand weeding may be an option keeping in mind I have bluebirds and honeybees nearby.

Our Farm Bill Biologist says it takes 3 years for the planting to really take off. “First it sleeps, next it creeps, then it leaps.” Learn more here.

So, don’t feel bad. Yes, the pollinator plot may be a weedy, ugly mess like mine is now, but hold on for warmer weather. Work to keep the weed competition down and your pollinator garden will be flourishing in no time! One of the best things about nature, is it doesn’t have to be pretty all the time to be beautiful. It just naturally is.

Check in to see how my pollinator planting is progressing on Facebook @ClintonConservation or on our website. I’ll keep you posted!       

  -Katie

2020 will be a busy one for Clinton County farmers!

Katie Hafner, NFWF Soil Conservationist

Farmers and landowners in Clinton County are very involved in all the Farm Bill programs offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with help from the Clinton Conservation District. With the wet spring and harsh fall that 2019 brought, farmers used quick thinking and innovative ways to preserve their soil and prepare fields are the nest spring. Cover crops were planted on almost 30,000 acres. The roots of those cover crops held the soil together while the rain was washing bare fields away as well as help nutrients in the root zone, so it was available to the next crop.

With the help of cost-share from the USDA program EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), every year farmers and landowners can apply for help to install practices or new management strategies that make their farm more sustainable like the cover crops planted in 2019.

2020 is shaping up to be a record year for Farm Bill programs in the county. With over 100 applications, and many becoming contracts, the NRCS and Conservation District staff are working hard to conservation plan and accommodate all interested and involved.

Gearing up the green for #plant2020 at Hafner Farms

The Environmental Quality Incentive Program, EQIP program provides technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and landowners to address soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on their lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner. Cost-share is available for applicants who were selected for funding.

Sign-up 1 for 2020 closed on March 20th, and Clinton County has 55 applications!

Projects that landowners are working on through this program include cover crops, nutrient management technologies, waste storage facilities, forest management plans, high tunnel systems, grassed waterways, and pollinator habitat. Applications are accepted year-round, and are batched a few times per year.

Many farmers in the county hold themselves to a high environmental standard. Keeping records, only applying nutrients that will be immediately used, watching for run-off, and becoming MAEAP verified are all awesome steps to becoming good stewards of the land (contact Eric Bak, Clinton Conservation District’s MAEAP Technician, to learn more eric.bak@macd.org) Farms with operations like this are great candidates for the Conservation Stewardship Program.

The Conservation Stewardship Program, CSP is a voluntary conservation program and has a unique role among USDA programs. It identifies and rewards those farmers and landowners who meet the highest standards of conservation and environmental management on their operations. It also provides incentives to “up” their level of conservation by applying new projects on their land.

The CSP 2020 sign-up is happening right now through June 1st.

The Conservation Reserve Program, CRP program reduces soil erosion, protects the Nation’s ability to produce food and fiber, reduces sedimentation in streams and lakes, improves water quality, establishes wildlife habitat, and enhances forest and wetland resources.

All three agencies in the USDA Service Center work hard to provide the Conservation Reserve Program to Clinton County! With hundreds of active contracts, this program has historically been a great success; 2020 is no different. 29 landowners will be installing conservation practices through the general CRP sign-up that closed in February. A handful more will be installing water quality projects with the help of the continuous CRP program.

The CRP program for water quality practices will remain open until mid-May. Contact Clinton County FSA to get started!

All of the Farm Bill programs offered in the county totals over 100 applications so far in 2020! This will bring hundreds of thousands federal dollars to the county in order to install projects that help create a more sustainable farm for years to come.

Sound like something that would be a good fit on your farm? We remain open through the COVID-19 outbreak and are working remotely. We know that #plant2020 must go on, and we are here for you!

Contact Katie Hafner at katie.hafner@macd.org to talk about a conservation program.

Right Tree, Right Place

Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

With spring right around the corner, now is the perfect time to start thinking about the right place to plant trees. If you want to plant a tree to serve a specific purpose it is important that you choose the right tree for the job, like making sure your wildlife tree will attract wildlife. While almost any tree is a good tree, it is important to keep in mind that different trees have different requirements for them to flourish. Trees, like animals, will not be successful if you put them in unsuitable habitat. Local conservation districts and MSU Extension are great for information to help you put the right tree in the right place.  Conservation districts also often provide low-cost trees and shrubs at annual sales.

There are many resources out there about how to pick the right tree. There are three important things to focus on when researching the right tree and right place:  which hardiness zone you’re in, the amount of sunlight the location will receive, and soil type and moisture.

Hardiness Zone

These zones are based on the average extreme minimum temperature of an area. Most nurseries can provide which zones the plants thrive in and some will even post it on the packaging or web advertisement if you’re ordering online. If you’re unsure which zone your land falls in, a quick google search will be able to provide with a map of your area and the corresponding zones. Michigan ranges from zone 3-7 depending on which part of the state you are in.

Sunlight

This is usually expressed as full sun, partial sun, partial shade, or full shade. Full sun refers to an area that gets at least 6 hours of unobstructed sunlight on a normal day. Partial sun usually refers to a place that receives 3-6 hours of sunlight on a typical day. Similarly, partial shade refers to place that receives between 2-4 hours of sunlight on a typical day. Full shade refers to an area that receives less than 2 hours of direct sunlight. Most nurseries provide the sunlight requirements for plants that they sell.

Soil Properties

Soil itself is comprised of tiny pieces of rock, minerals, and biological matter. The soil requirements you consider can be simple or complex, possible depending on how much you’re willing to spend. For someone looking to establish a nursery, it may be worth doing some testing to look at soil chemistry. For someone looking to establish a few trees in their yard, they would most likely find themselves successful just considering the basic soil type (loam, sand, or clay) and how well the soil is drained. A good place to find soil information is on the web soil survey website (https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/). This will be able to tell you basic soil type and provide some guidance on the overall moisture level. Although, your observations are going to be the most helpful when it comes to how wet is your planting site.

Genotype

When you have a specific purpose in mind, it’s important to make sure that your location matches up with your desired species and that you pick the right tree for the job. When you choose a tree, it is helpful to try to be specific, right down to the genotype of the species. For example, a white pine provides a multitude of habitat benefits and grows quickly making it a nice wildlife tree. However, if you were operating on the assumption that all coniferous species make great wind buffer trees and tried to capitalize on the white pine’s growth rate, you may find yourself disappointed when the bottom branches eventually start dying back and no longer blocking the wind. Another example could be if someone wanted to plant a tree near their house to attract deer to watch. A white cedar may help deer stick around a little longer to browse on the branches, while they would more than likely just ignore a red cedar.

Trees ready to be packed by conservation district staff.

Whether you’re planting your tree for a specific purpose or just looking to add some diversity to your property, it is important to ensure that you’ve picked the right spot for the tree or the right tree for the spot. There are many resources out there and starting locally helps ensure that you get the most accurate information for your area. Conservation districts are a great source of information, and they may offer a tree variety that you’re interested in at an upcoming tree sale. They say that the best time to plant a tree was 40 years ago and second-best time is today, in our opinion, there is no bad time to plant a tree.

Collembola

Eric Bak, MAEAP Technician

During these shorter days of cold and sometimes nasty weather, we tend to get a little restless. We are in the middle of winter and hardly a creature is stirring, not even an insect. So, when the sun does come out and shine, it is nice to take advantage and take a walk in the woods. A little more is moving in the forest than we sometimes notice. If you can find a nice place to get some woodsy fresh air, make sure you take the time to look around and see what else is moving. If you are lucky enough, you may be able to witness a little-known winter insect emergence.

Collembola (or snow fleas) on the snow.

Every so often, Collembola can be seen on the snow. Collembola are commonly known as springtails in the summer and snow fleas in the winter. Collembola are a very small insect usually only 1-2mm in length and look like pepper on top of the snow. They are called snow fleas because they resemble a true flea and jump, however they do not bite. On warm sunny winter days, they emerge looking for food sources. They live in the soil and leaf litter and eat fungi, plant material, algae, and bacteria. So, if you should happen to see these tiny bugs this winter, it is a good indication that the ecosystem you are walking through is healthy and fertile.

Collembola

Brightening Your Yard with Fruit Trees

Katie Hafner, NFWF Soil Conservationist

Every year at the Clinton Conservation District’s annual tree sale, there are a variety of options of fruit trees that can bring color, habitat, and aesthetics to your backyard. The fruit trees offered this year are all semi-dwarf meaning they will be 12-15 feet tall and wide at maturity. Like all fruit trees, they may require pruning.

Cedar waxwings enjoying Manchurian crabapples in the winter.

Habitat Trees: Habitat trees can be planted on large acreage or in a backyard set up. They provide 2 of the 4 basic needs for wildlife: shelter and food. Crabapple and persimmon fruits are prime food for white-tailed deer; and the fruit holds to the tree into the winter so food is available later into the season. Common apple (Malus domestica), is a domesticated wild apple tree. It adapts well to a variety of sites in the Michigan weather and landscape. If planted in a backyard and tended to, it will produce fruit closer to a cultivated apple. The fruit can be picked and enjoyed. If this tree is planted in a field, fencerow, or somewhere where it will be forgotten, it will grow like a crabapple tree. The fruit will be smaller, and the tree will bush out (making it better for wildlife but less aesthetically pleasing to someone who keeps a tidy yard.)

  • Common Apple
  • Common Persimmon
  • Manchurian Crabapple

Fruit Bearing Trees: Fruit bearing trees are essential to any homestead. There is also nothing better than fresh, in-season fruit picked in your own backyard. Fruit can be sold, given away, as well as frozen or canned. Make sure to be aware if your tree will need another tree to pollinate with. In general, apples need another apple to pollinate with (or crabapple). Generally, cherries pollinate themselves, and sweet and tart cherries will not pollinate each other. Peach and pear trees will self-pollinate but will bear more fruit with others nearby.

A fresh cherry pie.
  • Honeycrisp Apple
  • Fuji Aztec Apple
  • Dabinett Cider Apple
  • Montmorency Cherry
  • Bartlett Pear
  • Coralstar Peach
  • Early Redhaven Peach

Find more information at Clinton Conservation District’s website.  Tree sale orders will be accepted through March 23rd. Extra fruit and habitat trees will be available on pick-up days, April 24-25 at Smith Hall at the Clinton County Fairgrounds.

Tips for a well-rounded native pollinator planting

Kurt Wolf, Farm Bill Biologist

Native pollinators are all the buzz with bees and butterflies, but they also benefit a large abundance of wildlife. Using a mixture of native grasses and wildflowers (forbs) can be a fun and enjoyable conservation effort. You can have a positive effect on pollinators by planting a small wildflower garden. If you’re more ambitious, go all out with a habitat restoration project on a landscape level.

When considering a pollinator planting diversity is king. Wildflowers are not the only component in a great seed mix. Native grasses are a very important ingredient when creating structural diversity. The mix should include a minimum of six wildflower species (10-12 is best) with two species per bloom period (spring, summer, and fall), two milkweed species, and four native grass species. This will insure adequate foraging for nectar loving insects during the growing season and structural integrity within the planting. Milkweed is the limiting factor when managing for monarch butterflies. The milkweed plant is the only host species a monarch butterfly can lay its eggs on. Although milkweed provides the monarch butterfly with a host plant it is not enough to fulfill the monarch’s need for nectar.

Monarch butterflies need an abundance of forage to produce enough energy to complete reproduction. The young monarch butterflies that hatch in summer are dependent on nectar to fuel their long migratory flight as they leave Michigan in route to Mexico. There are several milkweed species available. Milkweed provides a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors to pollinator plantings, but most importantly they provide the monarch butterfly with a host plant for reproduction. Native grasses should be used sparingly as to not overcrowd the wildflowers. When choosing grasses for a pollinator planting it is a good idea to include several species that grow from spring to fall. A mixture of Canada or Virginia wild rye, Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, and prairie June grass will provide a good starting point. Native grasses provide structural stability to the wildflowers and offer great escape cover for small animals and insects.

When purchasing your conservation seed mixture make sure to have a list of soils found on your property. To ensure that the seed mix is compatible with the climate and soils found in Michigan, shop local or ask seed vendors for Great Lakes genotypes. For more information stop into the conservation district or give us a call.

Kurt Wolf, Farm Bill Biologist serving Saginaw, Gratiot & Clinton

What is a CSA?

Rebekah Faivor, CTAI Soil Conservationist

What is a CSA? By definition it is “community supported agriculture”, but those three words can mean so many different things to so many different people.

To a farmer, it is a great way to market produce on a weekly basis to a local customer. Farmers can connect directly with customers in person, via text, or email to talk about what is in season, trendy recipes, and farm updates. New vegetable varieties can be introduced in CSA vegetable boxes to receive direct feedback from the customer. Farmers looking to learn more about starting a CSA can visit the Michigan Farmers Market Website at http://mifma.org/farmbaseded/ and choose the “Birch Point Farm’s Labor Considerations for CSA Models Resource Guide”.

To an average person, it means a box of vegetables that arrives on a weekly or biweekly basis from one farmer or a group of local farmers. There are multiple ways for these boxes of vegetables to get to the customer: they can be delivered to their door, picked up at the farmers market or local meeting location, or picked up directly at their local farm. Vegetables in the box can be chosen by the farmer, ahead of time by the customer, or at the farmers market stand based on what is seasonally available. Prices can range from $10 per week to $50 per week depending on the amount of vegetables (full or half shares) and how they are grown (organic, natural, or conventional). Customers looking for a local Michigan reference to CSA can check out Taste the Local Difference’s website.

To a vegetable enthusiast, it is a way to get a weekly subscription of vegetables from a local farm to try new and trendy vegetables that may not be at the grocery store.  This weekly interaction is a great way to get to know their local farmer and growing practices. Some farms even let enthusiastic CSA subscribers help at the farm as part of their CSA responsibilities.

Upcoming CSA events:

National CSA Day is February 28th, 2020

2020 Greater Lansing CSA Fair: Sunday, March 22, 12:00 – 3:00 pm — People’s Church in East Lansing

Local CSA’s in Clinton County:

CBI‘s Giving Tree Farm  https://www.facebook.com/givingtreefarmlansing/

FireFly Ridge https://www.facebook.com/CSAFarmers/

Faivor Fresh Produce https://faivor-fresh-produce.square.site/

Ten Hens Farm https://www.tenhensfarm.com/

Goldenrod Gall Fly

Eric Bak, MAEAP Technician

Back in August we learned about ragweed and goldenrod producing pollen and what it does to our allergies.  Let’s take a closer look at the lesser problematic plant, goldenrod. 

Goldenrod with gall

How many times have we really looked at a goldenrod plant?  Have you ever noticed a round ball or growth in the top one-third of the plant stem?  This is called a gall.  This gall is produced by a goldenrod gall fly, which is related to the fruit fly, and is in the same family.  The fly’s eggs are inserted near the developing buds of the plant.  After hatching, the larvae migrate to an area below the plant’s developing buds.  Then they cause the plant’s tissues to form into the hardened, bulbous chamber around them, called a gall.  These galls serve as a food source for the larvae and shelter from rain, wind, ice and predators.  This time of year, the black-capped chickadee and downy woodpecker will target these galls and eat the nutritious larvae inside.  The larvae are also host to a few different parasitic insects.  If the larvae survive through the winter, they emerge to repeat the process all over again. 

So, the next time you see children picking these round galls to use in their sling-shots, remember how Mother Nature had a hand in making them. 

Inside of a gall