GLCC begins with tree-planting project

Great Lakes Conservation Corps crew members Breanne Wilmot, left, and Lynnae Branham, plant hemlock seedlings on land near Harlow Lake. The GLCC has just begin its summer season of conservation projects. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

By CHRISTIE BLECK

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — What’s starting out as seedlings could end up to be large trees in a few decades, or even centuries, and transform a wilderness landscape.

However, they have to start somewhere.

The Great Lakes Conservation Corps, run by the Superior Watershed Partnership, started its season last week with a tree-planting project on land near Harlow Lake off Marquette County Road 550 in Marquette Township.

The GLCC crews, which have implemented conservation and restoration projects within the Great Lakes watersheds of Superior, Michigan and Huron since 2000, have been involved in projects dealing with issues like climate change adaptation, stream restoration, erosion control, wildlife and native pollinator habitat restoration, environmental monitoring, trail building and community pollution prevention.

Crew leaders are responsible for 18- to 25-year-olds who learn to become environmental stewards.

SWP biologist Abbie Debiak was at the tree-planting site Wednesday, noting there are 32 GLCC members working throughout the Upper Peninsula. The tree project, she said, is part of a Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife habitat project.

“We’ve been working with the local forestry and recreation and wildlife staff at the DNR to plan this project,” Debiak said.

The project is in its second year.

“It’s all about enhancing wildlife habitat, so we’ve been planting trees and doing invasive work,” Debiak said. “In total, we’ll have about 15,000 hemlock in the ground by the time this year’s done.”

The GLCC has received some outside volunteer assistance as well, with Wells Fargo staff coming out Tuesday to help plant 200 swamp white oak trees, she said.

GLCC members also will inventory all the dams in the Lake Superior basin, partnering with Lakehead University in Ontario. The GLCC, Debiak said, will focus on Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota while Lakehead will focus on the Canadian side.

Closer to Marquette, the GLCC members working near Harlow Lake will be involved in “on-the-ground projects” like tree-planting and trail work, she said.

The four crew members working the Harlow Lake area Wednesday have a variety of backgrounds but a common interest: conservation.

Paul Parksmith, who is no longer a college student, is starting his first year with the GLCC.

“I just love being outside,” Parksmith said. “I’ve figured this would be a good way to jump start into a career that I would want to do the rest of my life.”

Breanne Wilmot, however, still is in school as a biology student with a year left at Northern Michigan University.

GLCC work, then, fits in with her career goals.

“I originally was doing lab work and stuff and I thought about going into engineering science, and then I realized that my entire life, literally from my childhood, I’ve loved conservation work and the environment,” Wilmot said.

So, she decided to apply for the GLCC.

“And here I am,” Wilmot said.

Lynnae Branham is studying environmental studies and sustainability at NMU. For her, the GLCC will give her the chance to immerse herself more in the Upper Peninsula.

“I love the U.P., and this will be my last summer up here, so I wanted this job as a career move but also kind of a farewell,” Branham said. “I love these lands, so to be able to help preserve and give back in a small way is really awesome.”

Henry Cullen Bothwell is taking a different college path, studying at the Young Americans College of Performing Arts in California.

However, he was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula.

“So, I applied for his job,” Bothwell said.

The crew members are young and able-bodied, but how can they plant thousands of hemlock seedlings in a relatively short time?

“We’re all near each other, but we’re probably 30, 40 feet away, and we have a map and we’re shifting through,” said Branham, who noted the trees will be planted 6 feet apart wherever there is good sunlight. “We’re just kind of moving on and figuring it out as we go.”

For Wilmot, it’s a simple matter of “carrying buckets and hiking through the woods.”

Fortunately, the project won’t involve having to go back and individually water each seedling, not that they all will make it to maturity. White-tailed deer, for example, feed on hemlock.

“With so many, it’s difficult, and a lot of these will go toward browse,” Debiak said.

Browse is defined as vegetation eaten by animals.

“I think, in these low-lying areas especially, it’s wetter, so hopefully they’re all right,” she said.

Wilmot also expressed positive thoughts for the seedlings’ survival.

“I think because we got so much snow, despite the fact that we haven’t really gotten any rain yet, what I’ve noticed is that all the soil is very rich and moist,” Wilmot said.

Debiak said the DNR’s focus for the tree project is primarily game species like white-tailed deer.

However, other species could benefit from the habitat improvement.

“I think the benefits will trickle down to all sorts of different wildlife in the area,” she said.

For more information on the SWP, visit superiorwatersheds.org.

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

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