Roger Moore RGS & AWS Chapter forged ahead with a key habitat project despite 2020 challenges and delays
By Glen Blackwood, Eastern Great Lakes Director of Regional Development
Originally published in Spring 2021 issue of Covers Magazine.
“Conservation is NOT canceled” has been the overriding mantra of RGS & AWS, our chapters and membership during the past year. While the pandemic’s impacts caused fundraising and other chapter events to be postponed, our work on young successional forest management and wildlife habitat creation continued in 2020. Through everything, RGS & AWS members and staff forged ahead, ensuring that conservation remained a priority. One such project occurred in the northern region of Michigan’s lower peninsula; an area best known as the Pigeon River Country.
The Pigeon River Country State Forest is the largest tract of non-developed land in Michigan’s lower peninsula. Spanning three counties – Cheboygan, Otsego and Montmorency, its landscape encompasses more than 107,000 acres. The forest was founded by the State of Michigan in 1919, with 6,468 acres procured by tax revision.
For the last century, the forest has grown, and this acreage has been managed for outdoor recreation and wildlife. The Pigeon River Country (PRC) is the home of Michigan’s elk herd and a variety of mammals and birds, including ruffed grouse and American woodcock; which leads us to the Roger Moore Chapter of RGS based in Flint, Michigan.
Roger Moore was a leading volunteer in this chapter and held a particular fondness for English setters, the Pigeon River Country and its young successional forests, not to mention the resident grouse and woodcock. Roger began rallying the Flint, Michigan, RGS chapter members to engage in both conservation and fundraising. His views instilled the importance of both boots-on-the-ground volunteerism and fundraising to chapter members. Upon his death in 2014, the chapter was renamed on his behalf and continued with his conservation path. In 2014, the chapter began sponsoring small-scale projects in the PRC as a legacy to Roger.
In 2019, under the leadership of Kevin Stewart and John Short, the chapter was awarded a Michigan Wildlife Habitat Grant for $151,100 for a large landscape project in the PRC. Along with these funds, the chapter collaborated with the Flint chapter of Safari Club International to add more than $9,000 to the project. Between the chapter pledge of more than $3,000 in cash and labor, nearly $3,000 from RGS & AWS, and $6,000 from the Al Stewart Drummer Fund, project’s total budget was $172,000.
With funds secured, the first step was maintaining and enhancing more than 520 acres of wildlife openings through mowing, seeding, brush and invasive species removal, and crabapple tree planting. These 520 acres within the PRC were to be treated at 21 specific sites, including three miles of hunter walking trail enhancement.
The plan called for the planting of 600 crabapple trees. These large stock, four-foot-tall, bareroot soft-mast producing trees were picked both with food production and plant pollination in mind. Due to the resident elk population, the trees needed to be fenced with 60-inch-tall galvanized steel fencing to deter browsing.
Everything was going as planned and all the project needs aligned with partners, vendors, contractors and the chapter. But an unforeseeable challenge stopped the project in its tracks as COVID-19 hit the United States.
With the project on hold, suddenly, the bareroot crabapple trees couldn’t be planted as scheduled. COVID-19 caused the State of Michigan to shut down anything deemed non-essential services, which meant that state biologists and foresters were furloughed. All projects were postponed, and funding deferred. By state order, the opportunity to complete this conservation need was negated due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.
That didn’t stop Kevin, John, and the Roger Moore chapter with their PRC project.
The first order was to arrange for the crabapple trees to be potted and cared for, allowing for a future planting date. These trees were crucial to the project’s mission, and their vitality, paramount, as the spring planting window was shuttered. The chapter quickly resolved this issue and developed a strategy to keep the project moving through the unforeseen maze the pandemic created.
From March to July 2020, the Roger Moore Chapter, RGS & AWS and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources continued to pursue the project’s completion, albeit remotely. Certainly, it wasn’t business as usual, and the process had been slowed, but it continued.
In July of 2020, the project was greenlighted on a reduced scale. The project was authorized and funded to plant 300 crabapple trees in September of 2020. Kevin and John quickly asked another long-time RGS & AWS volunteer John Paige to see this project across the goal line. And cross the goal line, they did.
During September 2020, the crabapple trees were planted and fenced and the remainder of the project is scheduled to be completed in the future. A resounding victory versus the most unpredictable opponent imagined.
The RGS & AWS mantra of “Conservation is NOT canceled” was embraced by the Roger Moore Chapter of RGS, and it became their beacon. Through the previous chapter-funded conservation projects in the PRC, their chapter has grown and learned that volunteers and private sector funding can lead and accomplish habitat work, even in the most challenging times. The chapter proved that at the core of RGS & AWS and its membership, young successional forest management and sustainable wildlife habitat is not only a goal but also an achievable mandate.
John Short proudly said, “Roger Moore is looking down and smiling, and our chapter is looking ahead.”