Michigan Bill Puts More Volunteer Boots on the Ground

In a state that's seen more than its fair share of controversial legislation and initiatives focused on hunting and fishing, a law that passed with overwhelming support in 2011 is being put to use.

Dubbed the "Volunteer Bill," House Bill 4111 was signed into law by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in June of 2011. Today, that bill has helped clear the way for an interesting and, thus far, highly effective partnership between the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the private sector.

Previously, volunteer labor, while welcomed by the DNR, was greatly restricted in the functions those volunteers could perform. To put it plainly, volunteers simply weren't allowed to do much of anything that a paid state employee could do.

As budgets tightened and staff size declined, however, it became clear that the Department simply couldn't keep up and Michigan's public hunting and fishing areas were suffering from the lack of maintenance.

The Volunteer Bill allows volunteers to truly get their hands dirty and the "On The Ground" initiative is putting the law to good use.

Earlier this year, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, a non-profit conservation organization, partnered with the Michigan DNR to conduct a series of projects across the state that focus on improving public access and enhancing habitat on existing public hunting and fishing areas.

The first project brought 30 volunteers to the Saginaw-Gratiot State Game Area in March where they constructed a series of brush piles for small game habitat while removing unwanted invasive species.

The On The Ground program has another half-dozen projects in the works ranging from removing access barriers to waterfowl hunters on Harsen's Island to establishing clover plots on public lands in southern Michigan.

"So far, the program has been really well received and people are showing up to help," said Drew YoungeDyke, the grassroots manager at MUCC and coordinator for the On The Ground initiative. "People are always talking about how they wish public land offered better hunting and fishing, or that they wish there was more access. This program allows them to stop talking about it and start making it happen."