As part of a planned habitat restoration and improvement project, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is conducting a timber sale on the Gourdneck State Game Area in the City of Portage. The project location is east of Angling Road and south of West Centre Avenue. During the winter of 2019/2020, loggers who have purchased the timber are harvesting it under the supervision of the MDNR. This involves felling certain trees and the use of heavy equipment and trucks to remove the wood. Watch the change as wildlife habitat improvements progress over the next few years. For more information, read below or contact MDNR Wildlife Biologist Don Poppe at (269) 673-2430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gourdneck State Game Area (managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Division) is home to a very diverse set of plants, animals, and natural communities. The DNR Wildlife Division holds regular reviews of each defined compartment of State Game Areas to evaluate habitat and infrastructure conditions, as well as plan upcoming management of the area for wildlife and recreation. Recently, the Gourdneck State Game Area was reviewed and several habitat improvements were identified. The purpose of this letter is to inform you of the planned habitat restoration, outline some of the benefits, and help you understand what to expect in the process.
While evaluating the Gourdneck State Game Area, biologists from the DNR Wildlife Division and Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) identified several areas where it is likely that a rare natural community called Oak Barrens formerly occurred. Oak Barrens are areas where sparse oak trees grow scattered and in clumps, surrounded by prairie and woodland grasses and flowers. These communities depend on fire to remove brush and rejuvenate the grasses and flowers. Oak barrens are used extensively by many types of bees, butterflies, insects, birds, as well as game species such as wild turkey, American woodcock, and white-tailed deer.
Biologists focused on a 24-acre site located east of Angling Road and south of Hampton Creek (see attached map) as a location to begin management and restoration work to attempt to recreate an Oak Barrens community. Currently, there are plant species growing in this site that are typical of plants native to Oak Barrens, including several oak species, but much of the area consists of vegetation that does not occur in Oak Barrens. The site has been cultivated or grazed by livestock in the past which reduced native plants and introduced exotic plants.
The first step of the restoration process was completed in the spring and summer of 2019. The invasive brush was removed from the open areas and treated with herbicide. The next step will be to remove trees that are not normally found in Oak Barrens and recreate a tree canopy that is much more sparse and less shady.
Most of the trees growing in this location are red, Austrian and jack pine planted in the 1940s. These trees are reaching the end of their life and beginning to die and fall over. These trees need to be removed to create the open, sparsely populated oak trees of the oak barrens. Selling trees like these to logging companies is an excellent way to accomplish our restoration goals, make use of wood that would otherwise be dead or an obstacle, and contribute to the Michigan economy. The timber is mapped, measured and valued by a DNR forester, then bid on by interested logging companies. The winning bidder can cut and sell the timber under a contract that specifies exactly when and how they can remove the timber. The boundaries of the timber sale area are marked on trees with paint and the loggers must work within these boundaries.
The timber in our restoration site has been sold and loggers will be working this winter to remove the wood. They will be working with large equipment and chainsaws to cut the trees, remove limbs and cut the logs to size. Then the logs will be moved to a “landing area” to be loaded on trucks and hauled to mills to be cut into lumber. The loggers are required to leave all oak and hickory trees, the trees typical of Oak Barrens. DNR staff will be on-site frequently each week to monitor the work to ensure that requirements are followed, and the work goes smoothly. The site will be much more open after the timber sale. There will also be scattered piles of “tops” the branches and tree pieces the loggers cannot sell. These may look messy but are excellent homes for rabbits, songbirds, and many amphibians and reptiles. Where the timbers sale borders houses, an un-cut buffer of trees will remain for safety and aesthetics.
After the timber sale is complete, invasive species will be treated and removed. The DNR has partnered with the Kalamazoo Conservation District through a Wildlife Habitat grant to complete this work. The Kalamazoo Conservation District will hire licensed contractors to treat and remove invasive plants such as buckthorn, autumn olive, burning bush and others. This step is very important to ensure that native plants growing at the site are not overtaken by invasive species. The work will involve herbicide applications and possibly machinery. This work will be overseen by DNR and Conservation District staff and information and precautions will be posted at the parking area when herbicide applications occur.
It is important for Oak Barrens to burn occasionally (roughly every 5-10 years) to maintain openness and limit shrubs and trees from taking over. The DNR plans to use prescribed burns to maintain this site in the future. Burn plans are written by DNR Forest Fire officers to prescribe the methods to be used and specify weather conditions to ensure safety and minimize the impact of smoke. These burns are carried out by trained and certified wildland firefighters with the support of fire-fighting equipment and vehicles. Prescribed burns are planned for this site but are dependent on weather. Burns would likely take place in April or May. The goal of these fires is to burn the dead, dry grass and flowers to rejuvenate them, return nutrients to the soil and kill unwanted shrubs and trees. The trees and plants that grow in oak barrens are tolerant of fire.
After these management steps have been completed, this site should begin to fill in with native grasses and flowers. Additional native plant seeds may be sown to add to the diversity and abundance. New animal species will begin to use the site, in addition to those already present.
The planned habitat improvements and restoration will create excellent opportunities for hiking, hunting, birdwatching and more. Plans are in development to improve parking facilities, place interpretive signs, and develop trails so this site can be enjoyed by all.
View the project area map.