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Lamier’s hillside deer blind provides a vantage point to overlook wetlands and adjacent grasslands.

Restoring wetlands, like this one on Lamiers property, remains a focus of the Partners Program in southern Michigan. Photo by USFWS.

Lasting relationships bring lasting results
through Partners for Fish and Wildlife

What do you get when you combine two landowners, three biologists, 120 acres of land, a 19-year timespan, and a passion for wildlife? Answer – a series of successful Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program projects that has spanned nearly two decades and restored more than 80 acres of wildlife habitat. In 2017, our Partners Program is marking its 30th anniversary of working with landowners to restore wildlife habitat on private lands. This story exemplifies the very best of the Partners Program – our expert field staff getting habitat on the ground and building long-term relationships at the same time.

In 1999, when Hillsdale County, Michigan, landowner Bill Prince approached our biologist Steve Dushane with a vision for his 120-acre farm, Prince saw potential for the property, which consisted mostly of highly-erodible cropland, drained wetlands and a 17-acre woodlot. A portion of the land was enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program and Prince turned to us for assistance with wetland restoration. Prince’s first project through the Partners Program was to restore a 14-acre wetland that remains in place today, nearly eighteen years after the project's completion, and eight years after our program agreement expired. Additional projects followed in 2002, 2007 and 2011. Our biologist Jim Hazelman helped Prince restore two wetlands in the woodlot and plant nine acres of trees, all with the goal of improving and connecting habitat for the federally-listed copperbelly water snake. Another biologist of ours, Meri Bryant, assisted Prince in establishing 53 acres of grassland, focusing on a diverse stand of native warm-season grasses and wildflowers. This stand benefits migratory grassland birds like bobolinks, whose populations are in decline, as well as native pollinators including the monarch butterfly.

Grassland habitat restoration is ultimately about helping to increase wildlife species, like bobolinks, whose numbers have decreased due to habitat loss.
Grassland habitat restoration is ultimately about helping to increase wildlife species, like bobolinks, whose numbers have decreased due to habitat loss. Photo by USFWS.

Our decision to work on these projects to restore habitat was easy. While the property lies in the center of the Partners Program’s Glacial Wetland and Grassland Focus Area, as defined in the 2017-2021 Strategic Work Plan, this part of Michigan has been a focus since the program started in 1987. Given the significant loss of wetlands in this county, and across southern Michigan, restoration of this habitat type has been a priority since the program’s beginning. As the Partners Program grew and evidence mounted about grassland declines, those habitats became a priority as well. Essentially, restoring lost habitats, like wetlands and grasslands, is a way to help restore declining populations of wildlife that depend on these habitats.

For Prince and his wife Mary, the goals were broader than ours, but the end target was similar.  Prince bought the farm from family members and remembers when the “land washed and was eroding badly.” “I enjoy hunting, fishing, and the outdoors but my goal was bigger than that,” says Prince. “Basically, I wanted to make the land right again.” Looking over the land he’s known for fifty years, Prince breaks into a big smile, beaming “I’m really proud of what it has become!”  “Working with Steve, Jim, and Meri through the Partners Program really helped me along the way.” Prince and his wife lived off-site, and faced a difficult decision when deciding to sell the property in 2012. They were relieved when a like-minded friend of many years, Steve Lamier, purchased the land.

Lamier, with his wife Rebecca, notes, “We fell in love with this gorgeous piece of ground; the wetlands, fields and trees.” They took over where Prince left off, continued to work with the Partners Program to restore wetlands, and managed the land with new energy and excitement. Hazelman provided technical and financial assistance to restore two more wetlands, but more importantly, provided Lamier with advice on how to manage their land for wildlife. “I’m a city boy,” says Lamier. “We try to do whatever we can to enhance the land.” With guidance from Hazelman and Prince, and his own passion to improve the land, Lamier has drawn down a wetland to recharge the vegetation, repaired berms, controlled invasive species like autumn olive, pruned the trees, and maintained the grasslands. He hopes to continue his efforts for many years to come.

Other changes on the property reflect the Lamiers’ passion for hunting. Both Steve and Rebecca are avid hunters of waterfowl, turkey and deer. Bill has added several deer blinds at key spots on the property. And he has developed some food plots, to make the land even more attractive to wildlife.

But as Lamier describes his goals, he notes they are working to provide good habitat for all animals, and looking at a bigger picture, just like Prince. “It’s truly amazing in spring waterfowl migration to see the diving ducks we don’t see in the fall; and the songbirds and sandhill cranes.” He continues, noting that they derive great pleasure in giving back; and recognizing that maintaining habitat on this highly erodible land helps to filter water that eventually flows to Lake Erie, and absorbs carbon through the trees and grasses, which improves air quality. “Ultimately this is about good stewardship – leave it better than you found it. We’ve taken Bill’s vision and tried to improve it.”

Throughout the Partners Program’s history, our private lands biologists have found and built relationships with motivated landowners, like the Princes and Lamiers, and worked with them to voluntarily restore wildlife habitat. With little fanfare the Partner’s Program has moved forward, an acre at a time, to improve habitat for a wide-range of declining species.  For 30 years our private lands biologists have truly delivered on the line: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” In helping, those biologists have found while each landowner has had his/her own interest in and vision for a piece of property ultimately, as Steve Lamier said, most want to be good stewards of their land for future generations. In essence they share the Service’s mission by working with others to conserve fish and wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit of generations to come.

By Jim Hudgins
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program - Michigan Private Lands Office

Last updated: June 8, 2020