Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge - Lake Harding Association

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

By Micah Moen 0 Comment December 4, 2019

This is Judy Mintel for Family Radio today my guest is Steven Kahl Refuge Manager for Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Welcome to community issue, Steve. Thank you. Thank you very much for having me. Shiawassee is a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. What is that system and what is it
designed for? The National Wildlife Refuge System is comprised of about 580 refuges across the country, administered by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the general mission can be summed up: wildlife first. We’re actually the only federal
land whose primary mission is about the wildlife. We do have a lot
of public use on the refuge but everything done here has to be compatible with that wildlife first mission. We’re all about the
wildlife. Tell us where Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge is located. Yes, we’re directly adjacent to the City of Saginaw and Saginaw County. We’re mainly situated in Spaulding Township, but we’re also located in James, Thomas, Bridgeport and Saginaw Township as well. But we’re immediately adjacent to the southern side of Saginaw. A major part of the Shiawassee Refuge is wetlands. Describe this geographic
feature and why is it important to maintain it? Yeah, the refuge is located in a general area known as the Shiawassee Flats. And this area at one time was under a vast Lake – an extension of what is now Saginaw Bay, so as the they receded, it left a large flat area where four rivers also converge – the Flint, the Cass, Shiawassee, and Tittabawassee Rivers. As a result there’s this vast area of very diverse wetlands, and these wetlands attract a great diversity and
abundance of wildlife. In particular, we’re probably most for migratory birds from a continental perspective. But, we also provide excellent habitat for a wide, wide range of other wetland forms of wildlife, including the Blanding’s turtle. Well, I want to talk about the birds in a
little bit, but let’s talk about the turtles first because I
know you’ve just made some major news with some
releases of Blanding turtles. Tell us about that
project that you’ve been working on at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Yeah, the Blanding’s turtle is a rare and declining species. In Michigan they’re ranked as a special concern species, but in every other state or province where
they occur, they’re as a threatened or endangered species. The diverse wetland complex that we have
here at the refuge provides excellent habitat for Blanding’s turtles, however we have a problem with raccoons. Just as Blanding’s turtles have throughout their
range. There’s a super abundance of raccoons on the landscape now, so it is close to impossible for Blanding’s turtles to lay their eggs and not have them dug up by raccoons. So, what we have here is an effort with the Detroit Zoo, where we capture female Blanding’s turtles, bring them to the zoo where they lay their eggs. The zoo incubates those eggs and raises the hatchlings up to about two years old, where we then release those hatchlings back on the refuge. We released 147 hatchling turtles so far which has to be probably the greatest input of new Blanding’s turtles in the Shiawassee Refuge and adjacent area in probably several decades at least, but you know we have Blanding’s turtles, we have excellent habitat for Blanding’s turtles, if it weren’t for the layer of raccoon predation we’d continue to have a long term, sustainable, healthy population of Blanding’s turtles, but they have really almost no natural reproduction going on, so this headstart effort will really help
their population here for a long time. Almost really be a stronghold for Blanding’s turtles in their range. Now, you said you’ve released 147 young turtles back into the Shiawassee Refuge, is this within the last couple of years or how long have you been working on this project to get that many turtles back into the wild? Yeah, that’s been a period 5 years that we started this project, so first year was 2009 that we release turtles. And you’ve been
working with some students as well as the the U.S.
government employees working at the the refuge. The University of
Michigan-Flint has really been an excellent partner in this to help us verify that our efforts are actually worthwhile. They have been following these turtles through radio telemetry to; number one, get a better understanding just general life history of young Blanding’s turtles
because, interestingly, in this day and age, we – it’s a bit surprising that we know so little about an animal like that – it’s been a real mystery what Blanding’s turtles do for their first 5 to 10 years. So we’re learning a lot just about general Blanding’s turtle life history, but it’s also
helping us to determine if these turtles are actually
surviving out there, and we have a lot of conservation challenges and we need to verify that all this time, effort and resources that we’re putting into this
is actually being successful. How is it
looking now? Are the turtle surviving do you know? Yes, it’s looking very good you know, least an eighty percent survival
rate of these turtles over the first 3 to 4 years and then want to get to that point,
you know, and we’ll continue to learn more, but the older they get by year, the odds that they that they’re gonna live long term
increase exponentially. You know, it’s those first few years that are really the tough years for these turtles. I’ve heard a rumor that you actually incubated some of these Blanding turtles on your desk. Yeah, the first-year of this project was a learning year, and we were able to find two females as they were laying their eggs and interestingly there were raccoons right there ready to eat those eggs as soon as the female was done. We actually had to keep shooing way
those raccoons, but we were really in the infancy of this project and learning a lot about it. So we wound up buying some chicken egg incubators and had these two bunches of eggs on my desk plugged into the outlet and after, I knew we really had to get
some other partners involved in this project with a lot more expertise and capacity. That’s when the Detroit Zoo came into play? Right, because you know, when these turtles are on my desk we have to always monitor the temperature and add water to the substrate every now and then and I knew I couldn’t constantly be asking “has anybody watered the turtle eggs this week?” So that’s where the Detroit Zoo came in. Well that sounds like a very successful
project. Let’s turn now to the birds in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. That refuge was originally created because it’s such an important migratory
stop over why don’t you talk about some of the birds
that that you have at your wildlife refuge and how people can see them if they’re
interested. Yeah, we’ve documented over 280 species of birds on the refuge, but what really makes us significant, again, on the flyway
scale – the continental scale, is the value of our wetlands as a stopover location during spring and fall migration for ducks, geese and swans. We’ve had peak daily counts of 25,000 Canada geese during the spring and fall and 40,000 mallards during the spring and fall and we essentially serve as something like, an analogy would be an interstate rest area. You know, these birds have a long distance to travel and they need to stop and refuel and rest. And Shiawassee is a very important location for these birds to stop. And a great way to enjoy the wildlife at the refuge, including the birds, is our auto tour route. We have a 6.5 mile drive-through for vehicles on the refuge. We’re actually about to close for a month it will be opened back up on October 5 (2014) but when we opened back up it’ll be
really into the peak of migration so folks can see ducks, geese and swans by the thousands, but also it’s an excellent place to see bald eagles, great blue herons, great egrets, white-tailed deer – a great diversity of birds can be seen here. We also have three nature trails as well. This is one period in the year where the entire refuge is open to the public to walk or bike where ever they want. In general, our access is limited to our trails this is the time of year when people if they just want to go walking out to fields or to woods or to marshes, you know, they can do that. It’s particularly important for our deer hunters because they’ll be preparing for our hunt that comes up from October through December. So, this gives our deer hunters a real opportunity to scout out the areas for their upcoming hunts. If any of our listeners would like to get some more information about the Shiawassee National
Wildlife Refuge… why don’t you give us your contact information and where people can go to find out more about
your open house, and also seeing the refuge? The two best locations for information on the refuge include our website – I’d actually have to tell you to Google the address – I don’t know if off the top of my head. But, also, if you really wanna keep up
to date on the most recent happenings that refuge, you can go to our Facebook page. And that’s a Shiawassee National
Wildlife Refuge and it’s spelled S-H-I-A-W-A-S-S-E-E. Correct. Steve, thank you so much for
joining us today to talk about the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, we really appreciate it. It was a pleasure, I appreciate the opportunity to help educate the public about what the refuge is all about. My guest today has been Steve Kahl,
Refuge Manager at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. This is Judy Mintel for Family Radio. This has been community issues, a program designed to help you stay informed about matters affecting your community. The
views expressed on this program are those of the participants and not
necessarily those of Family Stations Incorporated. Thanks for listening today, and join us next week at the same time for another edition of community

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