By RACHEL IOVAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — More Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds will be spent to improve watersheds in the Upper Peninsula.
About $290,000 is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for private landowners and Native American tribes to improve habitats for native species.
Jean Gagliardo, the district conservationist for the department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Marquette and Alger counties, said that $190,000 will go to Tacoosh and Whitefish River watershed conservation projects, and $100,000 will be used to improve the Dead River-Kelsey Creek watershed.
The funding would cover 75 percent of the cost for habitat improvement. The landowner or tribe must cover the other 25 percent.
The Tacoosh-Whitefish watershed crosses Alger, Delta and Marquette counties, and the Dead-Kelsey crosses Baraga, Houghton and Marquette counties.
Gagliardo said that both grants are continuations of successful summer programs that awarded money to U.P. private landowners and the Keweenaw Ojibwe tribe in Baraga and Keweenaw counties.
The Tacoosh-Whitefish improvement plan had money left over from the summer awards, so the agency is reopening the application process to allocate the remaining funds, said Gagliardo.
The program involves clear-cutting along rivers to plant young trees and shrubs to create habitats for more species, as well as removing river blockages so fish can reach spawning areas.
“We’re going to clear-cut to create openings scattered throughout to improve habitat diversity, which increases opportunities for wildlife,” said Gagliardo.
Alan Rebertus, professor of biology at Northern Michigan University, said diversification of habitat is crucial to keeping as many species in an ecosystem as possible.
He said small vegetation, such as young trees and shrubs, provides food and shelter for many species. For example, white-tailed deer, moose and beavers feed on small vegetation, while songbirds prefer to nest in shrubs near flowing water.
“The traditional opinion was to be hands-off in terms of logging, especially if it is heavy-handed,” Rebertus said, “but as a biologist I recognize the importance of providing small vegetation around rivers and streams.”
Rebertus said that because so much clear-cutting is being done in non-sustainable ways, many U.P. residents and scientists are wary of any logging, even if it would improve habitat.
“On a small scale it would be all right, but it would have to be done very tenderly,” said Rebertus.
He said that oxen could be used to remove logs because they’re a lot less intrusive that heavy machinery, which is important in the spring and fall when the ground is soggy and erosion is a problem.
Much of the logging would be done along rivers because that’s where small vegetation is most needed.
“In other areas in the country, there tends to be a knee-jerk reaction to clear-cutting, but in the Upper Peninsula, people have a better understanding of good, sustainable logging practices that can improve habitats,” said Carl Lindquist, the executive director of the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust, a non profit organization based in Marquette.
Lindquist said that because the Great Lakes are an interconnected system of water sources, improving the health of a watershed benefits the region as a whole.
“Far too often a lot of state and federal funding goes to larger metropolitan areas. It’s equally important to maintain water quality in the U.P.,” said Lindquist.
The deadline to apply is Oct. 29.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.