The Baldwin-Luther Swamp is a large swamp complex in Lake County and is part of the Pere Marquette State Forest. It is a major winter deer yarding area. Sometime around the 1960s and 1970s area Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) wildlife biologists created a series of openings on the edge of the swamp using deer hunting license dollars. Through the years they were maintained using Deer Range Improvement (DRIP) money.
The openings are impressive in size and are designed so that deer using them are not far from cover. They were planted in crops that provided a food source at the end of winter. Not only were they excellent habitat for deer, but other wildlife species as well, including Wild Turkeys.
Fellow MWTHA member Bill Shinn owns hunting property on the eastern edge of the swamp. Several years ago he observed that DNR wildlife openings on the edge of the swamp were no longer being managed and were falling into disrepair.
This past summer I was accompanied by a retired DNR employee who knows the area very well. We checked a series of those wildlife openings and found nothing but weeds and encroachment of new vegetation. I contacted the local DNR wildlife biologist and asked why they were no longer managing these openings. He replied that the endangered species biologist in Lansing wanted them set aside for Rattle Snakes. If they were allowed to be plowed, tilled and planted any Rattle Snakes present would be killed. Of course, they had no idea how many Rattle Snakes were living there. The guy was just following orders from Lansing so I did not press the issue forward.
A dollar fifty of each deer hunting license sold is designated to the restricted DRIP fund. As it implies it is to be used to enhance deer habitat. A few years ago it was found that the DNR was using DRIP funds to plant Jackpine for the Kirtland Warbler. There was a big to do about this by the hunting community. Jackpine, as it turns out, is deer habitat also. This can not be said for converting critical deer habitat to Rattle Snake habitat.
This is just one case but how many DRIP funded openings and habitat projects have been converted or abandoned? As we noted on the last issue of Turkey Tracks about the diversion of the restricted Turkey Fund how much of the DRIP fund is actually used for deer range improvement? As in the case of the restricted Turkey Fund and the DRIP fund the DNR in establishing these types of funds, there is a promise to the hunters and fishermen that if they are willing to pay more then that money will be used exactly as promised. Given a few years down the line and that is no longer the case.
What has happened to those wildlife openings on the Baldwin-Luther swamp is not acceptable. They must be returned to their original intended use and actively managed as such. If the DNR wants Rattle Snake habitat then create it Back in my working days I remember a state statute called Larceny By Conversion and the penalties for those violating it.