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Winter in the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area

Even though it's winter, the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area still sees plenty of traffic and activity, mostly from hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts. The Saranac/Lowell State Game Area consists of 1,863 acres of untamed land in Ionia and Kent Counties.

This land is untamed, but it is maintained by human beings. The DNR maintains the grasslands, plants shrubs, constructs brush piles, maintains trees of various types and sizes and sometimes even have controlled burns and clear-cutting of trees and plants. Some of the trees on the land include beech, oak, cherry, crabapple, aspen, jack pine, white cedar, and hemlock.

Hunters are the most common visitors to the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area. It is currently legal hunting season for a long list of species - cottontail rabbit, snowshoe hare, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, red squirrel, ground squirrel, elk, opossum, porcupine, weasel, skunk, woodchuck, feral swine, feral pigeon, starling and house sparrow - and almost all of these can be found in the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area.

“People would not see snowshoe hare or feral pigeon,” said James Miller, a wildlife biologist whose work is based in the Flat River Field Office of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “A snowshoe's range does not come this far south. Feral pigeons do not frequent this area or others similar to it, and most of those populations will reside closer to larger urban spans. Feral swine are not common in Michigan and we would like to keep it that way. We have not heard of a feral swine in the area that the DNR is aware of. If anyone was to run into one, the DNR should be notified immediately. The only elk population we have in Michigan is near Atlanta, [in a place] called the Pigeon River Area. Those animals rarely leave that location and it would be incredibly unlikely that someone would ever run into one this far south. Little winter maintenance is required for these species. However, the management we do for them overall is best suited for this time of year.”

One of the most common forest management techniques they use is the timber sale.

“[Timber sales] allow us to reset the forest from a mature stand that isn't providing much for wildlife and converts it to an early successional forest,” Miller said. “Early successional forests provide more food and cover for the species listed above, as well as many other non-game species. We would also use prescribed burns to maintain our oak forests as well as our grasslands. It has been a while since the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area has seen a timber sale, prescribed burn or other management effort. In recent years we have done what we can to keep the parking lots and gun range cleaned up from trash that people dump on state land. We have recently completed a compartment review schedule that will help our office do more management across the board for all of the eight State Game Areas we manage. Saranac/Lowell State Game Area's review will begin in 2021, and we will likely be starting a timber sale that year somewhere in the State Game Area.”

None of the wildlife conservation and habitat management efforts in the state of Michigan are paid for with taxpayer funds. Instead, money generated by hunting and fishing licenses is used for this, $61 million in 2018. However, there are a wide range of activities one can pursue in the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area that do not involve blasting away anything that moves.

“Since the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area is a state game area, it is managed for wildlife use,” Miller said. “This means only activities that are compatible with wildlife management are permitted. State game areas are funded by Pittman Robertson Funds, which are provided from the purchase of hunting/fishing license sales, weapon sales and ammunition sales. Essentially, hunters fund the area and they are our most typical users. However, the area is open to anyone from the public. Anyone is welcome to hunt, fish, hike, forage, bird watch, etc. inside of the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area year-round, as long as they are abiding by hunting/fishing season rules, as well as the State Game Area rules. Motor vehicles of any type, bicycling, e-biking, snowmobiling and horseback riding, are just a few of the activities prohibited inside of the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area. What makes it unique compared to other State Game Areas is a portion of the North Country Trail goes through it. Most State Game Areas do not have trail systems built into them which, in many cases, can be a good thing. However, the hikers along this portion of the trail are respectful of the Saranac/Lowell State Game Area and are advocates for taking care of the land as a whole.”

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