Little Brown Bat - WNS

Bats on the decline, but why?

Cheyanne Boucher, Conservation Technician

As winter approaches many animals start to look for a comfy home to hibernate in, bats being one of them. Bats are known for being a great pollinator species, but most of all they are known to eat millions of insects each year, mosquitos being a large majority of them. Michigan is home to nine species of bats, two threatened, one endangered, and one of special concern. Unfortunately, many more bat species are on their way to becoming a threated species due to a deadly disease called white-nose syndrome.

In 2007 white-nose syndrome (WNS) was first discovered in caves near Albany, New York. It was then discovered in Northern Michigan in 2014. Currently, four of the nine Michigan species are affected by it, one of them being the endangered Indiana bat. In the US alone it has killed over 5 million bats to date, with some sites having anywhere from 90-100 percent die offs.

Little Brown Bat; close up of nose with fungus, New York, Oct. 2008. Credit: Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental

White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that grows in cold, dark, and damp places, like caves. Infected bats look like they have white fuzzies all over their nose, hence the name. It primarily affects bats during hibernation causing frequent wake ups, thus using up the bats fat reserves faster which in return cause starvation.

There is currently no definitive treatment for bats infected with WNS, so the best thing humans can do is try to prevent the spread of it. Bats are infected by coming in contact with the fungus. This could be just bat-to-bat contact, or the fungus being on the walls in mines and caves. To help stop the spread, anyone entering a mine or a cave should clean their equipment, clothing, and shoes before and after entering. Hopefully with our help, and a little bit of science, we can help save bats from this devastating disease.

For more information on White-nose syndrome visit:

https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/static-page/bats-affected-by-wns

https://www.michigan.gov/emergingdiseases/0,4579,7-186-76711_78213—,00.html

https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79135_79218_79619_84901—,00.html

Orienteering – an environmentalist’s dream sport for all ages and activity levels

Adelyn Geissel, Conservation Program Assistant

The boring bit: Orienteering started for military training in the late 1800s in Sweden and expanded to a public sport just before 1900. As compasses improved, interest in orienteering expanded starting in Scandinavia, and eventually world-wide, arriving in the USA in the mid-1940’s.

Now that the history lesson is out of the way, you may have this question: Isn’t orienteering just following a compass and counting your paces? Yes, and no! Orienteering requires the use of a topographic (topo) map and a compass, most commonly a baseplate compass. No GPS allowed! Following a compass bearing and counting your paces is an integral part of orienteering (and some may know that part of orienteering by the names of land navigation or dead reckoning), but orienteering is much more than pace count and using a compass.

Text Box: Picturesque checkpoint (orange/white flag) during a race

Orienteering requires you to follow landmarks, contours, and other features from one checkpoint to another. The person who finds all the checkpoints in the shortest amount of time wins. Going in a straight line by following a compass bearing is not always the best route, so being the fastest runner doesn’t guarantee a win. Orienteering is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one! It doesn’t matter what level you do (they range from beginner to expert), you will be guaranteed a good mental and physical workout whether you walk, run, or stumble through the woods.
Without getting too technical, the following skills are used and improved through orienteering:

  • Using pace counts to estimate distance (in meters!)
  • Map and compass reading (rough and precise)
  • How to hold/orient the map

And some of the techniques that will improve your chances of finding those tricky checkpoints are:

  • CAR (Control, Attack point, Route – find the control on the map, figure out a good attack point, and plan your route)
  • Catching features (something that will catch you if you’ve gone too far)
  • Collecting features (looking out for easily identifiable features along your route)
  • Following handrails (linear features – trails, cliffs, and streams are some examples)

If this is starting to sound too complicated, don’t worry! I’ve seen a range of people orienteering, from families with young children to seniors and everything in between. The only requirement is that you can walk safely on trails. The beginner levels often have the checkpoints right on the trails, or at least very close to a trail. And while knowing the skills and techniques above will really help in the advanced and expert levels, they aren’t as necessary at the beginner levels – just go out, figure out a route via the trail systems, and have fun! If you like scavenger or Easter egg hunts – this is for you!

Found a checkpoint on a permanent course!

By now, you may have figured out that I’m pretty passionate about orienteering (thank you to my friend who introduced it to me a few years ago!). You may also be wondering why I’m talking about a sport in a conservation district’s blog series. One reason is that I just finished an orienteering event last week, and another reason is that orienteering as a sport has always had a big focus on being conservation conscious and environmentally friendly. While you may think that a bunch of people running off-trail through natural areas may lead to a lot of damage, there is actually very little to no damage that results from an event and most places are only used once per year in the US (1, 2). Some events even have a competition for the largest or most unusual piece of trash that you can carry back to the finish – prompting some impromptu clean-up efforts. There is also a culture of leaving the place as good as it was when you got there, or better, and can even tip off park personnel to trouble spots (new stands of invasive species, illegal dumping, areas with recent erosion, etc.). Many orienteers are avid environmentalists and enjoy getting out into nature, practicing navigating through natural areas. Orienteers need to pay attention to so much more than the trail, so you really get a rich outdoor experience through orienteering.

Text Box: Invasive species can make it hard to find checkpoints - clean up afterwards!

I am often in the middle or back of the pack, ranking wise, but love the personal challenge. I still get lost (or mis-located: there is no such thing as lost in orienteering, only being temporarily mis-located!), but I learn from my mistakes and improve the next time. I did get horribly lost on my first expert-level course for a good 45 minutes circling a checkpoint – had I known some of the techniques above, I may have fared much better! I started laughing at myself while wandering the woods while trying to figure out where in the world I was (I found it eventually once I located a nearby marsh that was on the map!).

If you want to try orienteering, there are a number of permanent courses (here and here) set up throughout lower Michigan, and there are various events (pandemic restrictions pending). I am also a member of the Southern Michigan Orienteering Club (SMOC) who holds many very low cost events in the spring and fall of each year – check them out if you are interested!

And a final note – if you decide to try orienteering: wear comfortable shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, bring the orienteering topo map (or receive at the event) and a compass, and have some general safety gear with you (whistle, water, snack, and a phone for emergencies – and pictures – only! Don’t be tempted by any of those map apps on there.). Always take out what you bring in and be respectful of other park users (humans and animals!). Most of all – have fun!

Topo map and baseplate compass

Side note: Adventure racing is a type of orienteering that has been gaining popularity recently. Often these events will require not only hiking/running, but biking, paddling, and games along the way as well. And while I love orienteering, I’ve found that adventure racing isn’t my cup of tea – I prefer my feet to be firmly planted on the ground during orienteering (although the paddling sections are a lot of fun).

Orienteering groups in Michigan:

Southern Michigan Orienteering Club

Lost Arrow Sports

Michigan Adventure Race

Orienteering Resources:

Orienteering USA

Book Discovering Orienteering: Skills, Techniques, and Activities by Charles Ferguson and Robert Turbyfill

SMOC Training

Welcome to the District, Cheyanne!

Cheyanne Boucher, Conservation Technician

Cheyanne joined the conservation district in November of 2020 as Conservation Technician supporting Farm Bill Programs in Clinton and Eaton counties. She graduated from Michigan Technological University with a Bachelors in Wildlife Ecology and Management. Before coming to the District, she worked on the Isle Royale wolf and moose study, for the Saginaw Bay CISMA, and the Michigan DNR. Cheyanne also worked for Michigan State University studying the reproduction and survival of American woodcock and on another project studying the movement and dispersal of white-tailed deer.

In her spare time, she enjoys camping, fishing, hiking, and gardening. She especially loves spending time outdoors with her horse and dogs.

What are Craneberries? How do you Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Rebekah Struck Faivor, CTAI Technician

As we all get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, there are so many things people look forward to. For my family, it is getting ready to go deer hunting in our 65 acre woodlot. My dad, siblings, and I scurry off to the woods excited and wait to see who will be the first person to see and shoot a deer.

This year is a bit different; we won’t be able to gather with all our aunts, uncles, and cousins. But, but we can celebrate memories. How you ask?

For example, Leo, my son, was telling me about craneberries this morning. I asked him what are craneberries? He told me his teacher was telling him about cranberries, and back in the day, the bushes look like crane’s long necks. My dad told Leo about my Grandma’s cranberry and apple sauce recipe. Of course, my dad only remembers the apples and cranberries and grinding it up- no other details. So, I call my Aunt Jackie and ask her if she knows the recipe. My Aunt Jackie then texts my Aunt Bev to see if she remembers. Finally, I call my sister, Rachel, who comes to the rescue with a small slip of paper from my Grandma’s old recipes.

How can you make the best of this crazy situation we are in? Call your family. Talk about the good old days and the recipes you like. You may learn about an old family recipe or just have fun catching up.

Recipe by: Grandma Eladine Struck

Fall Colors in Clinton Co

Jessica Short, Program Assistant

Bizzie demonstrates color variation among various tree species.

Forget “Why is the sky blue?” That’s a sucker’s question*. This time of year, we’re focusing on the other weird thing going on in colors overhead: Why are the leaves green? Whoa, wait, why are the leaves suddenly NOT green?

One of the best ways to begin understanding the Whys of any living thing is to think about its place in the food web. What does it eat, and what’s eating it? How does it get energy, and where does that energy go? In the animal kingdom, this eating is generally done with a mouth. Worms eat decaying material in the dirt, early birds eat worms; humans eat chicken McNuggets, mosquitos eat humans; and all of those little energy transfers are started when something opens a mouth. But outside the animal kingdom, among plants and bacteria and fungi and other things that don’t have mouths, the intake of energy and nutrients get interesting.

Trees are plants. (I know, getting technical. Stick with me here.) Plants get their energy several ways –through the roots, through leaves, and through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis! That’s right, the plant-specific trick to turn sunlight into energy. Photosynthesis is a process that happens at the cellular level of leaves, turning the solar energy of sunlight into glucose, a form of sugar, which trees use for metabolic energy.

Green colored pigments fade first allowing other colors to shine through!

Photosynthesis only happens in chlorophyll, and chlorophyll are always green. Every leaf on a plant is a tiny solar power collector, jam-packed with bright green chlorophyll that soak up sunlight and turn it into tree nutrients – and make the leaves vivid shades of green while doing so.

In climates like Michigan, trees go dormant in the winter. This energy-saving strategy helps plants survive months of freezing temperatures which would damage delicate plant tissue like leaves. It also allows trees to minimize their energy needs in months where daylight hours are few, skies are overcast, and light-blocking snow frequently blankets every surface.

When it’s time to settle in for the winter, trees cut off the nutrient exchange between the leaves and the rest of the plant, and the chlorophyll gradually fades out. But there are other types of pigmented cells** in every leaf, cells that contain marvelous oranges and yellows – just very low concentrations of these colors that are usually drowned out by overwhelming summertime greens. These other pigments take longer to fade than chlorophyll does, so while the green disappears relatively quickly, the oranges and yellows linger until the leaves drop off the tree.

Red pigments add additional variation. Reds aren’t present in all tree species, and where they are found, some trees don’t produce them until autumn, while some have red-tinged foliage all summer. Fall production of red pigments is heavily influenced by the weather. Brighter, bolder reds are often the result of warm sunny days and near-freezing nights, drought, or trees that are stressed by low nutrient levels.

One other thing to note is that the timing of when trees change color and drop their leaves varies based on several climate and environmental factors that can vary from year to year. Daylight length, how sunny the weather is, daytime highs and nighttime low temperatures, whether it’s more or less rainy than average, and whether trees have been stressed by poor growing conditions all contribute to how early the color change happens, and how late the leaves hold on. In a stressful year, some trees such as sugar maples and sumac may start to change color as soon as early August.

It also depends on species. The wooded areas of Clinton County contain many oak, hickory, beech, maples, and conifers. In general, oaks are the last to show their fall colors, and will often stubbornly cling to their brown leaves well into the winter, while conifers remain green.

Do these leave look like the carrots waning away in your crisper drawer? (See below for why!)

Between the oranges, yellows, and reds left behind, there’s plenty of color variation to create the glowing, flame-like foliage of a bold fall morning. Eventually, each leaf falls. Eventually, each pigment fades, leaving behind only browns. Eventually, it will snow.

But we don’t have to talk about that quite yet. Enjoy kicking up some fall leaves, in every hue except green.

*Rayleigh scattering (link)

** Red pigment is called anthocyanin, yellow pigment is xanthophyll, and orange is carotenoid. Yes, carotenoid is named after carrots. There will not be a quiz on this, but this footnote is included for all those who love the poetry of science words.

Clinton County NRCS Welcomes Norlando Veals!

Norlando has recently joined the St. Johns office as the NRCS soil conservation technician. He will be working with NRCS and District staff to assist landowners and operators in implementing conservation practices on their land. Working on Farm Bill programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or EQIP, the Conservation Stewardship Program or CSP, and the Conservation Reserve Program or CRP, Norlando will work to help producers apply for, contract, and implement different practices to conserve the natural resources we all use.

Norlando will surely bring new knowledge to not only our office but our county. Let’s give him a warm welcome!

Before moving to Michigan, Norlando worked for Indiana NRCS and also the Forest Service. Originally from Mississippi, he graduated from Alcorn State University where he played college football. He graduated with a degree in Ag Economics. At home, he enjoys hunting, fishing, coaching football, and mentoring.

*While our office remains closed to the public, both NRCS and District staff haven’t stopped providing technical and program assistance to producers. If you are interested in a Farm Bill program or would like a technical site visit on your farm, please call our office to get in touch with one of our technicians.*

Agriculture doesn’t stop, and we are here for you!

Duck Blind Cover to Stay Away From

Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

One of the most important factors in whether a waterfowler has a success hunt or not is the hide. As the season goes on, the birds get more pressure and the need to blend into your surroundings becomes crucial if you want to fool those late season migrators. Most duck hunters understand how important the hide is, but how many of us understand the impact that the hide can have on the sport? Just as it’s important to get hid, it’s important to know what you’re covering your blind in to help prevent the spread of invasive species. Here are a few species you should be on the lookout for when covering your blind.

Phragmites (Phragmites australis)

Non-native phragmites

This is probably the most common invasive species duck hunters unknowingly cover their boat in. It is a dense growing semi-aquatic grass variety that can be up to 13 ft tall and grows along waterways. The concern associated with brushing your blind in with phragmites is that any piece of phragmites that falls off your boat later on has a chance of sprouting roots and establishing a new stand. This will rapidly degrade the quality of habitat. Various organizations put tons of money into the treatment of phragmites. It has even been listed as a restricted species under Michigan law, so be on the lookout the next time you need some cover for your blind. Click on the link to learn more about phragmites and the impact it can have on the environment. MISIN – Invasive phragmites

Black Swallowwort (Vincetoxicum nigrum)

BSW Seeds and Pods

Black Swallowwort or BSW, is a herbaceous vine that tolerates a broad range of soil types and light conditions. It is commonly found wrapped about other herbaceous plants and shrubs, allowing it to be easily tucked into the grasses that you may grab for your blind. New plants can sprout from an existing root crown, and, during hunting season, the plant has fluffy seeds which can attach to you or your blind traveling to every spot you visit. The concern associated with black swallowwort is that monarch butterflies mistake it for milkweed and lay their eggs on it. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars end up dying due to BSWs natural toxins. This one may not mess up future duck hunts if it becomes established, but it’s a good one to keep an eye out for.  You can get more info on BSW at the link below. MISIN – BSW

Narrow Leaf Cattail (Typha augustifolia)

If you’re like me, you’re probably surprised to learn that we have an invasive species of cattail in Michigan. The narrow leaf cattail or a hybrid between our native cattails and the narrow leaf, makes up a majority of what we see in the marsh nowadays. Using these to brush in your blind seems perfect, they’re sturdy and are usually green or brown at the same time as the rest of the foliage. The issue associated with them is that they can reproduce through seeds and fragmentation meaning that any piece of cattail left in a new area can sprout roots and spread rapidly through rhizomes. Narrow leaf cattail can very quickly take over an area, pushing out the native species, reducing its benefit for wildlife and making it difficult to hunt. Click on the link below to learn more about narrow leaf cattail. MISIN – Narrow Leaf Cattail

Most of the time it’s impossible to know every plant that you’re brushing in your blind with, but familiarizing yourself with several species to stay away from will help you be a better steward of the land and help maintain the quality of hunting habitat that you utilize. Good luck this season everyone!

2020 Conservationist of the Year – Kyle Graham

Every year, the Clinton Conservation District Staff & Board select a Conservationist that has outstood the others in their commitment to conservation. The board & staff recognize these great people each year at our Annual Meetings.

The Clinton Conservation District Board & Staff want to take a moment out of 2020 to recognize Kyle and his accomplishments, even though the Annual Meeting was cancelled. He’s probably okay with the fact that he didn’t have to accept his award in public. We want to recognize and promote his efforts to enhance conservation on his farm and through his continued dedication to establishing quality wildlife habitat. Kyle has planted acres of native grasses and wildflowers and thousands of trees for wildlife on his and his family’s properties and at the Muskrat Lake and Maple River State Game Areas. He volunteers on the board of the local chapter of Pheasants Forever and serves the local community as a trustee for Greenbush Township.

Thanks for all your efforts for conservation and the community, Kyle!

2020 Free Well Water Screening Events

Bring your private well water sample to be screened for nitrites and nitrates and receive more information to keep your well water safe!

  • Thursday, August 27th 5:30-7pm @ Victor Township Hall (6843 E, Alward Rd, Laingsburg, MI 48848)  
  • Thursday, October 1st 1-6pm & Friday, October 2nd 9am-12noon @ Clinton Lakes Park (4665 N Dewitt Rd, St Johns, MI 48879)  

Who can participate?  Anyone who uses a personal well for drinking water

* Please do not bring samples from public water supplies or non-drinking water sources.

Directions for water sample collection:

Samples must be less than 48 hours old for a valid nitrate result. You do not have to use a special bottle for this screening; any small clean container will work.

1. Pick a tap that supplies water that has not run through any treatment devices (water softener, carbon filter, etc.). An outdoor faucet often works well.

2. Run the water for 20-30 minutes before collecting the sample to flush the water pressure tank so you can collect a valid sample. Disconnect any hoses before collecting the sample; do not sample through a hose. Fill sample bottle with at least 1 ounce of water.

3. Label bottle clearly with your name, sampling date, and well name (cottage well, Mom’s well, etc.).

4. Keep the sample dark and cold (on ice or refrigerated) until it is dropped off.

All results are confidential.  On-site screening will indicate nitrate and nitrite levels. You will be mailed a final copy of your results in 8 to 10 weeks, with information about what to do if the concentration of nitrate or nitrite is too high.

This program is sponsored by the Clinton Conservation District, the MAEAP Water Stewardship Program, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It is funded through the Michigan Groundwater and Freshwater Protection Act, the MDARD, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.