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Wildlife Unlimited earns raves

February 26, 2010
Daily Press

ESCANABA - Too often I'll be sitting by and listening to a conversation that relates to natural resources management where mis-information is exchanged.

Again, it has been the perception of some that becomes the facts for other to draw conclusions on issues.

The future of some outdoors recreational opportunities is at risk of closure do to lack of money. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality is unique from similar agencies in many other states that all but about 4 percent of their general fund comes from the sale of licenses, permits and renewable and non-renewable natural resources.

That is a subsidy from the Michigan Legislature and only about half is put toward operations of the MDNRE. The rest of the money goes to fund payment in lieu of taxes for state owned land that lies within the boundaries of local municipalities.

It is their subsidy from the state, assuming the occupancy of public land restricts each small government entity from being able to expand their respective tax base.

There is one other revenue source the MDNRE does receive and is very important, even though you don't often here about it.

I would say there are over 200 non-profit conservation organizations throughout the Upper Peninsula. Many of them work each year, raising funds from events to provide seed money to special projects of their interest.

Most of these projects, working in cooperation with agencies like the MDNRE, US Forest Service and Conservation Districts, would not take place if this money was not available.

One prime example is Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County.

Established in 1982, WU is within $36,000 of one million in annual fundraising efforts. They have banked over $964,000, most of which has been returned to projects.

In 2009, WU invested $37,132 in wildlife and habitat projects involving both game and non-game species.

They put dollars in mentoring projects for the young and assistance projects to help the disabled get outdoors. They have built and maintained nature walking paths and viewing sites, especially the ongoing construction of the Gladstone Nature Preserve.

Given the hard economic times, you'd think there would be a down trend in the support received by clubs like WU. The fact is just the opposite seems to be occurring and revenue from the 2009 banquet was the third highest in their 29 years of existence.

The business end of WU is made up of 25 Board of Directors, and 10 Associate Board members, all of whom are volunteers and many who have been there since the beginning. WU also has a 16 member Advisory Board given the charge of prioritizing submitted projects.

WU did lose long standing Board member and respected conservationist Cliff D'Arcy, who died recently.

Recognizing we are in an unstable economy, like any other solid business, WU has worked to curb costs wherever possible, last year trimming the expense side of their annual banquet by more than $5,000.

It also helped them reach the second highest profit year on record behind 1991, when 40 acres of land had been donated for raffle.

WU projects scheduled for 2010 total $43,196, up $6,000 from last year and many of which are low profile, known only to some specific users or resources historians like senior member and WU Advisory Committee Chairman Robert Schmeling.

During his tenure, Schmeling has seen projects that were initiated back as far as 1985, like the fish spawning habitat project along the Whitefish River, now seeing an upgrade with a participating grant of $5,000 from WU to the USFS and Hiawatha National Forest, for tout and salmon.

Last year marked the 100th year of the Hiawatha National Forest, and Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County was recognized as one of the recipients of their prestigious Centennial Awards.

WU has partnered on other natural resources projects with similar organizations such as UP Whitetails, National Wild Turkey Federation, Escanaba River Association, Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen, UP Raptor Rehab Center, 4H, and various schools, just to name a few.

What's most amazing to me, is most of the people I see every year putting money across the table as patrons of the banquet, or as volunteers doing field projects, are made up of hunters, trappers and fishermen.

The same individuals who often walk around with several recreational licenses in their wallet contribute annually to conservation projects they will never enjoy.

The passion shared by these collective individuals is exemplified by their dedication to the outdoors and passion to do good in conservation. They want to be assured that the quality of life they have learned to enjoy remains available for generations to come.

Even more, these same people will be seen contributing at other club functions and fund raisers, some of which are coming up this spring, such as NWTF Bay de Noc Gobblers, Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sports Fishermen, Hiawatha Chapter of Ducks Unlimited and Northwoods Chapter of Safari Club International.

For those of you who do not contribute, for those who admonish those who do, let WU serve as an example of all these fine organizations.

The next time you are touched by the beauty of wildlife and the other natural resources, thank these people. If not for them, there's a good chance it wouldn't be there in the first place.


Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.



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