Grassroots efforts for grassland conservation taking flight in Michigan

Pheasants Forever enters the homestretch of 650 acres of prairie restoration on 10 properties

Picture a to-do list that stretches out over three years—but instead of groceries and dry cleaning, it’s restoring grasslands, preserving habitat, and improving water quality.

In Michigan, Pheasants Forever has undertaken such a list of 17 projects through its Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative (MPRI). The most recent three-year initiative, called the Enbridge Habitat Fund, will reach completion this fall.

“Historically, there was a lot of grassland in southern Michigan,” says Ben Beaman, Michigan Coordinating Biologist for Pheasants Forever.

“We’ve lost almost all of our native grasslands—due to a number of factors—which is why the MPRI focuses on establishing new native grassland habitat, and enhancing existing habitat that has been degraded.”

Once finished, the Enbridge Habitat Fund will have enhanced or restored roughly 650 acres of land across 10 properties.

The year 2017 saw mostly projects that involved removal of invasive trees and shrubs in order to prepare for new grassland habitat. Subsequent projects in 2018 and 2019 focus on establishing grasslands by removing invasive and undesirable vegetation, and planting native grasses and wildflowers.

Pheasants Forever doesn’t work alone, however.

The organization worked closely with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on projects involved with the Enbridge Habitat Fund, and regularly engages with Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect a wide range of species.

“Pheasants are obviously one of our priority species, but there are a whole slew of birds and mammals that depend on grasslands,” says Beaman.

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The list is extensive: Turkey, ducks, butterflies, white-tailed deer, songbirds, rabbits, and many more.

In 2016, Enbridge donated $500,000 towards the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative, which was managed by the DNR and Pheasants Forever. Enbridge was also recently recognized as Corporate Partner of the Year at the 2019 Michigan Pheasants Forever Convention.

In April, Enbridge will be building two public educational kiosks in St. Clair County, on properties where projects have been completed in support of the MI Adopt-A-Game program.

Apart from the clear benefits of restoring habitat that is native to the state, Beaman says his role is particularly rewarding in seeing the tangible improvements in the landscape of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

“I’m privileged to be able to witness the drastic ecological changes that take place when you transform a harvested bean field or a thicket of invasive brush to a diverse native prairie—sometimes only two years after planting,” he says.

New grassland landscapes will also foster recreational activities including hunting, dog training and bird watching, another mandate outlined in the MRPI.

“Getting to see these grasslands species, which are pretty sparse on today’s landscape, start to reappear as soon as they are given suitable habitat is pretty amazing.”