My Year in Conservation
It's been a while since the last post, with good reason. I started a new job with the largest statewide conservation organization in the nation, which brought my conservation year full circle.
January 2012 found me attending a town hall meeting on the Land Cap Bill in Alpena, where dozens of Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) members had shown up "in force, in camo and informed." Little did I know that I'd be on staff at MUCC by the end of the year. The Huron River Watershed Council also gave me an opportunity to get my waders wet during their annual Winter Stonefly Survey.
It was a good thing that there were contentious town hall meetings about terrible anti-conservation bills to attend last winter, because with a complete lack of snow, there wasn't much outdoor recreation going on. My frustration with being unable to cross-country ski or snow-shoe resulted in another blog highlighting the increasingly obvious effects of climate change. I was able to ski to work only one day all winter, but the snow had melted by the end of the day and I had to carry my skis over my shoulder on my walk home.
Trout season renewed my spirits like it always does, and this year my fishing finally hit its stride. A big part of that was going fishing with an outdoor writer I'd met at the Land Cap town hall meeting, and by watching him cast I realized that I'd formed some bad habits, probably as a result of teaching myself to fly-fish mostly by reading books and winging it on the stream. After that afternoon, I started catching fish with more consistency.
Around the same time, the organization I was working for at the time - the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) - launched a project I'd been working on since I started there the previous October. The Green Gavels program was a collaboration between the University of Michigan Law School Environmental Law & Policy Program and Michigan LCV that summarized in plain English and rated 30 years of Michigan Supreme Court environmental decisions. Included was the Anglers of the AuSable case in which the court vacated a decision that would have protected the AuSable River and restored key Michigan Environmental Protection Act caselaw. My role was to coordinate Michigan LCV's end of the project, including writing the initial case analyses and convening an all-star cast of legal minds to review the analyses and ratings.
The summer saw a slew of anti-conservation bills passed in the Michigan legislature, and I'm thankful that Michigan LCV allowed me the opportunity to testify against many of them in state Senate committee meetings. Unfortunately, bills weakening environmental protections for sand dunes and shorelines passed anyway.
The summer of 2012 also taught me that the best antidote to frustration over conservation politics is to get your hands dirty and your waders wet doing actual on-the-ground conservation work. Huron Pines offered the opportunity to volunteer improving my favorite water - the Pigeon River - by anchoring large woody debris into streambanks eroded by the hungry water flowing downstream from a certain troublesome dam. The small gods rewarded me with a decent brown trout the next day on the Black River a few miles east. Around the same time I was offered the opportunity to help the Pigeon River Country Association out with a new website; they do incredible work funding a summer intern to maintain trails in the Pigeon River Country and ensuring that the "Big Wild" is kept wild.
October means bow season, but it also means full-bore election season during even years. I bowhunted the Pigeon River Country the first weekend of October, seeing at least 25 deer, though most were out of bow range. I did reach a couple personal still-hunting milestones that weekend, though: I stalked to within 40 yards of two bedded does, but lacked the cover to close the distance another ten yards to get into my range. I also had a mature 6-point come within ten yards of me while I was crouched under cover, but a doe with him spooked when I tried to get in a position to draw on him. He never saw me, but followed the doe when she ran off.
That was it for hunting until after the election. Michigan LCV led the charge for Proposal 3 to increase Michigan's ratio of renewable energy in its electricity mix. While many thought that Prop 3 didn't belong in the Michigan Constitution - and they probably have a point - I supported it because renewable energy means less coal-fired mercury in the waters I fish and a reduced contribution to climate change, the effects of which we've seen heavily in Michigan's outdoors this year through a lack of ice cover, low water levels and EHD in the deer herd. Ultimately, Michigan voters decided they didn't want any changes to the Constitution and Prop 3 went down. I'm encouraged by our collective reverence for our state constitution, though, because the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund is protected in it and I fully expect a similar wave of public opposition to any legislative attacks on it, which were proposed too often over the last legislative session.
After the election, I accepted a position as Grassroots Manager with MUCC. As a hunter and angler who cares more about conservation than any other issue, there's no better place for me to be. My first direct contact with MUCC was at the Land Cap town hall, and it's exciting and ironic that I'm now tasked with organizing similar grassroots efforts in support of conservation in Michigan.
I was able to get out deer hunting twice more before the new year, once during firearm season and once during late archery season. Both times I combined my hunts with winter backpacking excursions into the Pigeon River Country, and while I didn't shoot any deer I saw a few and even got to spend and afternoon hunting with my dad.
So that was my year in conservation. It was hectic, frustrating, exhilerating and wonderful, but it was just a prelude to what I'll be working on in 2013.
Drew YoungeDyke is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer and a Director of Conservation Partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation, a board member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and a member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association.
All posts at Michigan Outside are independent and do not necessarily reflect the views of NWF, Surfrider, OWAA, AGLOW, MOWA, the or any other entity.