What do the zebra mussel, Asian carp and the red swamp crayfish all have in common? They are all non-native invasive species that could pose some serious threats to Michigan’s natural resources if they ever get out of control.
Though most Michiganders don’t have a lot of time to wade in the muck and waters of our Great Lakes in search of crayfish and clams, the Department of Natural Resources depends on volunteers to help keep these species out. And luckily, there are plenty of people that can and do take the time out of their busy lives to help weed out these unwelcome visitors.
Take Linda and Caryn Murray, for example.
This mother-daughter duo from Dearborn Heights have been romping around Michigan’s prairies and wooded areas on and off since 2012, hunting down and weeding out invasive plant life, like garlic mustard or sweet clover, and collecting and planting the seeds of vegetation that are supposed to call Michigan home.
It all started with the pair’s annual camping trip in 2012 when Caryn was still in high school.
They were at Cheboygan State Park when they ran across a brochure that detailed the DNR’s Steward Program – a volunteer-based program that aims to help restore the state’s parks and recreation areas – and decided that they needed to step up and help the parks that they loved so much.
“It started off as a way to get some volunteer hours,” Caryn says. “It was a lot of fun working with different people and it was a really great way for us to feel like we’re preserving the state parks that we like to go to.”
How to help
“Basically whenever I want to work, I contact Laurel (Malvitz-Draper), the National Resource Steward for southeast Michigan. Then, I take a look at the steward calendar and find work days that fit in,” Linda says. “It’s really that easy.”
After they find an event, they are paired up with other like-minded and dedicated individuals in groups of five to 10.
“There’s about three (people) that come every time and then there are people that come and go,” Caryn explains.
These groups then work alongside natural resource professionals, learning about Michigan’s plants and animals and helping to survey the wildlife. In addition, they learn how to identify the species that shouldn’t be there, map the extent of their damage and then remove them.
“We go out in the spring and get down as close to the root as possible before it can seed,” Linda explains.
Getting the plant out before it seeds is of vital importance because, according to the Department of Agriculture, many invasive plants make a lot of seeds and can be spread by birds, winds and even humans.
Once the plant is removed, native seeds are placed where they once grew.
“It’s important to preserve the natural indigenous environment, and a lot of the work that we do is eliminate invasive species or collect seeds to help native prairies regrow from damage,” Caryn says.
After graduating high school, the work that Caryn had done with her mom resonated so much that it influenced a major life decision.
“I knew I wanted to do something environmental in college,” she says.
These days, the senior at Michigan Technological University in Houghton is studying environmental engineering and has traded in her gloves for goggles.
“I have gotten into research while here, but I still do a little invasive species work,” she explains.
Her recent work involves water projects and electronically monitoring invasive species, though she does hope to eventually get back out into the field.
“It’s a lot more technical work than the DNR program. The program has me spending more time in a computer lab and less time doing field work,” she says. “Being in the field is something that I’d like to get back to. I like being in nature and seeing what I’m working with.”
Linda has also found the program very rewarding and plans to continue with her past work.
“I want to stick with weeding,” she says. “It’s the season for Spotted Knapweed right now, so I’m going to train with them and learn how to pull them.”
Signing up for Stewardship
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Steward Program is always looking for passionate volunteers that want to get their hands dirty in its local parks.
You can sign up for an individual activity, like invasive plant removal or bird surveying, throughout the year or check the monthly calendar of volunteer stewardship workdays, which lists all the dates and locations of upcoming activities, at michigan.gov/dnrvolunteers.
“We are truly fortunate that so many citizens volunteer their time and resources every day to help protect and preserve our forests, waters and wildlife,” says Matt Pedigo, chair of the Michigan Wildlife Council, which was created to increase the public’s understanding about how Michigan’s outdoors and wildlife are managed and funded.
There are all levels of time commitments and an endless amount of gratitude and satisfaction, according to the Murrays.
“It’s really important to keep nature around for future generations, so that we can continue to appreciate our state parks,” Caryn says.
“We have such great natural resources in Michigan with our state park system, and we need to protect them,” Linda adds. “We need everyone’s help and it’s something that anyone can do.”
About the Michigan Wildlife Council
The Michigan Wildlife Council is entrusted with educating the public about the importance of wildlife conservation and its role in preserving Michigan’s great outdoor heritage for future generations. The council is dedicated to increasing public knowledge about how wildlife and Michigan’s outdoors are managed and funded so that we can continue to enjoy them as we do today. Find out more at hereformioutdoors.org.