A GEM of a site

By CHRISTIE BLECK

Journal Staff Writer

GWINN – Lots of grouse and hunters are just what Bill Rollo would have wanted.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Friday dedicated its south Marquette County Grouse Enhanced Management Site to Rollo, a former DNR wildlife technician who died Jan. 21 at age 40. The 16-year veteran of the DNR worked at the Marquette DNR customer service center.

GEMS are specially managed ruffed grouse hunting areas that also provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species.

Friday’s celebration took place near the GEMS informational kiosk, which bears Rollo’s name, located along Marquette County Road 438 in Forsyth Township.

“Today we’re coming together to celebrate and pay homage, if you will, to Bill Rollo and all the work that he did on behalf of wildlife and the hunting community in the Upper Peninsula,” said Terry Minzey, U.P. regional wildlife supervisor for the DNR.

Three years ago when the GEMS were a new concept, there were skeptics when the idea was introduced, he said.

“There were folks who were concerned that the commercialization of the GEMS was going to lead to unsustainable hunting pressure, that we’d not be able to hold grouse populations at high numbers, we’d create hunter conflict and in the end that we’d create a large sense of hunter dissatisfaction,” Minzey said.

Rollo and his partner, DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell, took a different approach.

They believed that if the DNR provided an area that’s large enough and has the appropriate timber harvest schedule, plus supplemented the natural foods by hand-planting a variety of mast species and provided access at appropriate distances, a “grand system” could be created, Minzey said.

That plan was implemented.

Last year, reports were coming in of heavy hunting pressure at the Forsyth Township GEMS.

“And he was excited because it was proof that the work that he and Brian put together out here did exactly what we thought it would do,” Minzey said. “We were not only able to sustain high hunting pressure but high bird populations at the same time.

“For me, that’s the essence of Bill.”

Rollo started his DNR career as a wildlife assistant in Traverse City, and was later promoted to wildlife technician in Escanaba. He eventually transferred to Marquette, where he was responsible for wildlife management on state-managed lands in Marquette and Alger counties.

DNR upland game bird specialist Al Stewart also spoke at the Friday event.

“What’s great about this is, you know, here is the support of all the businesses,” Stewart said, pointing to the kiosk that also shows the variety of habitats. “Here are the partners that have contributed to it.”

And ruffed grouse isn’t the only species that will benefit from the GEMS. Young forests, he said, contribute to the survival of other species.

For example, according to the description of the site on the kiosk, animals like the snowshoe hare, whitetail deer and chestnut-sided warbler also benefit.

“It’s the GEMS concept, like Terry talked about, that pulls it all together, pulls in the people, the economics, the resources, all into one place,” Stewart said. “And that’s where Bill helped make things happen.”

The DNR is making walk-in GEMS across the Upper and northern Lower peninsulas to provide hunting opportunities and boost the economy, among other goals.

Grouse like aspen forests as they provide breeding habitat and protection from predators. The flower buds on the mature trees also provide food for grouse during the winter and in the spring when the snow cuts off ground feeding.

At a GEMS, aspen stands must be clear-cut to create saplings, which is part of the site’s management plan.

Reggie Durant of the Mid-Upper Peninsula Chapter of Ruffed Grouse Society said he knew Rollo on a “conservation/wildlife level” and called him a hard worker.

“Hard work, sweat equity – that’s why we have this GEMS right now, because he was totally committed to it, and we miss him and appreciate him,” Durant said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.