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A wildlife paradise: U.P. couple improves their land for nature

Bill and Betty Perkis of Erwin Township have incorporated new techniques into their property management to help wildlife. Forest and wildlife habitat specialists have helped the couple transform their land. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

IRONWOOD — When Bill and Betty Perkis of the Upper Peninsula plan their vacations each year, an enthusiasm for the outdoors always shines through; they love to camp and tour national parks to explore the beauty of nature.

That passion led the couple to wonder — how could they bring the wonders of nature home?

Working with forestry and wildlife experts, the Perkis family incorporated new techniques into their property management to turn the 40-acre parcel around their western U.P. home, located in Erwin Township just outside Ironwood, into a wildlife paradise.

Management is key

The property originally consisted of 25 acres of cedar swamp and 15 acres of overgrown tag alder, an aggressive, shrubby tree that prevented other forest types from thriving.

Bill and Betty Perkis of Erwin Township have joined Forest Health for Wildlife to manage habitat for the golden-winged warbler. (Photo courtesy of DJ McNeil)

“The tag alder made it really hard to enjoy the property,” Bill Perkis said.

In addition to the tag alder, the property presented another challenge: a legacy of turn-of-the-century mining and logging practices that left manyU.P., including the trees on the Perkis property, at the same age.

However, a mix of tree types and age

s is key to maintaining healthy forest land. Management helps keep forests resilient to the effects of pests, diseases and wildfire.

The Perkis family decided to enlist the help of forestry and wildlife habitat specialists to take an active role in improving the quality of their forest land.

Taking action

Working with staff from the American Bird Conservancy, the Gogebic County Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Perkis family formed a plan to sustainably manage their land for improved forest health and wildlife habitat.

“The biggest step was to have 15 acres of tangled trees cut and chipped to let more light reach the forest floor,” Betty Perkis said.

They contracted with Reyco Forestry Management LLC to chip the overgrown tag alder and control invasive plants.

“This action helps spur the growth of new, young forest to help species including American woodcock, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, wild turkey and the rare golden-winged warbler,” said biologist Kayla Knoll of the American Bird Conservancy, who is advising on the project.

To meet the Perkises’ wildlife goals, the plan called for retaining mature trees that produce foods like nuts, buds and berries. Branch snags and woody debris were also left on the landscape to provide cover for dens, prime spots for grouse drumming, and homes for amphibians and insects.

A special songbird

The Perkis family also joined a regional conservation effort called Improving Forest Health for Wildlife to manage habitat for the golden-winged warbler. This rare yellow and gray songbird prefers young forests for breeding and nesting, and its presence often indicates high-quality, healthy forests.

“The focus of this effort is to create habitat for these at-risk songbirds while also encouraging sustainable forestry and diversity, which in turn benefits other wildlife species,” said Tom Berndt, NRCS district conservationist in Kingsford.

NRCS covers part of the cost for implementing practices such as early successional habitat development, forest stand improvement and brush management.

Next steps

Thanks to this broad partnership that started with one family’s passion for the outdoors, what was previously dense, overgrown brush is now diverse and thriving forest land. The Perkises plan to share their success and make their property available to school groups and others interested in learning more about sustainable forestry.

“Families, hunting clubs, and other private forest landowners managing for wildlife habitat and timber production can benefit from sustainably managed forests,” Knoll said.

Looking ahead, the Perkis family is eager to walk their property in hopes of spotting golden-winged warblers. Their plans include further development of Betty’s pollinator gardens to provide even more natural beauty and habitat.

How to begin

Want to start managing your forest land for health and habitat? Here are several resources to find information, planning and financial support. Contact Mike Smalligan, Forest Stewardship Program coordinator, at SmalliganM@michigan.gov for details.

The DNR’s Forest Stewardship Program connects landowners with foresters and assists with management plans for goals including timber production, habitat and forest health.

The American Bird Conservancy can help people find information about maintaining a bird-friendly landscape and learn about programs that support bird habitat on forest lands.

They also can check with their Natural Resources Conservation Service local offices to learn about programs supporting sustainable forestry, conservation and wildlife, and to find funding information.

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