Category Archives: Education

Land Preservation Millage Renewal on November 6 Ballot in Oakland Township

The Land Preservation Millage will be on the November 6, 2018 ballot for renewal at a rate of 0.6310 of one mill. The purpose of the millage is to continue to finance the acquisition and preservation of open green spaces within Oakland Township. The green spaces acquired with millage monies are representative of the natural and rural history of our Township and are permanently protected from residential or commercial development.

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A ‘yes’ vote will NOT increase the tax rate of Township property owners beyond its current level. A ‘yes’ vote will extend the time period of the authorized millage. The annual roll-back required by the Headlee Amendment would continue after the approval of this millage renewal.  For example, this millage was initially approved in 2001 at .75 of one mill, renewed in 2006 at .6916 of one mill and the current proposal is for .6310 of one mill.

Read on to learn more about what your Land Preservation Millage has accomplished since 2001. You can also select these links to check out the Land Preservation Millage timeline and some Frequently Asked Questions to learn more. The owner of a home with $125,000 taxable value will pay less than $7 per month for this millage. The millage will be used by Oakland Township during the 10-year millage period (2021-2030) for:

  • Acquisition of land or interests in land
  • Management of Oakland Township parks’ natural areas
  • Improvements to provide public access to park natural areas
  • Long-term care of park natural areas

Protecting our Natural Heritage and Rural Character since 2001

Oakland Township residents have always been proud of the rustic character of their township and abundant open space. Development pressure has reduced the amount of open space dramatically in recent decades, but voters have consistently supported land preservation efforts to maintain the rural character that makes our place special.

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In 1940, Oakland Township was a rural community with open, agricultural fields abundant throughout the area. Woodlots and wetlands dotted the landscape in areas that weren’t suitable for farming. Today houses and other development have replaced nearly all of the farm fields. With less demand for local wood products, forested areas are actually more common. Few large tracts of land are available for preservation.

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Bear Creek Nature Park and the surrounding areas in 1940 (left) and 2017 (right). Much of Oakland Township was an open agricultural landscape until the 1960s, when residential development pressure began to accelerate.

In 2000, Oakland Township voters overwhelmingly approved a 10 year, 0.75 mill land preservation millage, managed by the Parks & Recreation Commission. 170 additional acres were purchased using the first land preservation millage and grant funds. Those new properties included a 22 acre wooded addition to Cranberry Lake Park; the 10.5 acre Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, with many rare plants; 60 acre Lost Lake Nature Park, with its special oak-pine barrens, and 90 acre Draper Twin Lake Park.

Sunset Draper Lake
A fall sunset illuminates the splendor of changing leaves at Draper Twin Lake Park.

Several additional large parcels became available around 2006, including the 60 acre parcel we now call Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park. The existing millage had already been allocated to previous acquisition projects, so the Parks Commission asked the voters for an early renewal of the Land Preservation Millage in 2006 at a rate of 0.6916 of one mill. Again voters overwhelmingly approved the early renewal. Over 250 acres have been protected by the land preservation millage since it was renewed in 2006.

One of the parks protected through the millage renewal is Watershed Ridge Park, shown below. At 170 acres, this park protects a variety of forests, wetlands, and open fields. Watershed Ridge Park also has several active farm fields which help preserve the agricultural heritage of Oakland Township.

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Beautiful natural areas at Watershed Ridge Park.

We also added 6 acres to Lost Lake Nature Park with access to beautiful, spring-fed Green Lake. We protected 10.5 acres at O’Connor Nature Park, where the property was donated, and the millage paid for boundary survey, environmental assessment, and appraisal. We even protected a half acre fen along the Paint Creek Trail. While small, over 140 plant species have been documented from the Fen parcel, many specialists to the mineral-rich groundwater flow that define fen wetlands.

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Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) is a low shrub that is found in open, wet ground in high quality natural areas, like the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Fen.

As the second millage cycle ends, the parks commission is working to close on a 208 acre addition to Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park. This beautiful parcel includes streams, hills, wetlands, and beautiful old trees.

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Aerial view of the 200+ acre expansion of Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park that we hope to add in late 2018 or 2019.

Active Restoration Brings Back Birds, Blooms, and Butterflies!

The land preservation millage also helps us care for and restore the properties that we’ve protected. This allows us to preserve the natural heritage of Oakland Township for future generations. This work includes installing native prairie habitat plantings, including over 70 acres at Charles Ilsley Park, Draper Twin Lake Park, and Gallagher Creek Park.

Eastern Prairie Ilsley July
Prairie planting in the east field at Charles Ilsley Park. This area was restored using Land Preservation Millage funds and a $15,000 grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

We are also restoring fire-dependent ecosystems such as prairie, oak savanna, and some wetlands by re-introducing prescribed fire. We do regular monitoring and research, like our vernal pool surveys and photo monitoring. This helps us track how the natural areas are changing over time, and if our land management work is successful.

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Spring prescribed burn at Bear Creek Nature Park, 2018.

We want you to enjoy nature in our parks! Our education and outreach includes Wednesday morning bird walks, guest speakers, volunteer opportunities, workdays, and much more. Check out the Stewardship Events page on this website to learn more!

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Birders admire warblers in tree in early May, 2018. Photo by Tom Korb.
The Land Preservation Millage Renewal  is on the ballot for the November 6, 2018 general election with this wording: 


“Shall the Charter Township of Oakland be authorized to renew a levy of up to 0.6310 of one mill for a period of ten (10) years starting with the December 2021 levy for the purpose of continuing to provide funds and financing for the timely acquisition of land, the protection of natural habitat, and the preservation of green spaces within the Township? Approval of this proposal would renew the previously authorized tax limitation increase of approximately 63 cents per $1,000.00 of taxable value on all taxable property in the Township. Revenue from the levy renewal shall be disbursed to the Charter Township of Oakland. Based upon the projected 2021 Township wide taxable value, it is estimated that this proposal would result in authorization to collect up to $924,318 of revenue in the first year (2021) if this millage renewal is authorized and levied.”

Hunters of the Sky: Program with Live Raptors November 2!

You’ve probably seen red-tailed hawks riding thermals on sunny afternoons. Or you’ve heard owls hooting  mysteriously from the woods. These birds of prey are even more amazing up close, and we have an opportunity for you to see a live hawk, owl, and falcon on November 2! You’ll also get hands-on learning with feathers, skulls, and other bird parts in the Hunters of the Sky program. Sign up today to get in on this family-friendly program at Lost Lake Nature Park, led by Leslie Science and Nature Center!

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Lannis Smith, Wildlife Program Manager at Leslie Science and Nature Center, teaches with a beautiful barred owl.
  • Hunters of the Sky – Families (Ages 4 to Adult)
  • Friday, November 2, 2018 7:00 – 8:00pm Lost Lake Nature Park Warming Shelter, 846 Lost Lake Trail, Oakland, MI 48363
  • It’s all about survival! Three engaging raptors (such as a hawk, owl, falcon) will visit Lost Lake Nature Park to demonstrate and model their amazing survival characteristics and techniques. Hand-on explorations of feathers, skulls, and other bird parts provide a stimulating introduction to the Hunters of the Sky. Presented by Leslie Science & Nature Center.
  • Residents: $5 Non-residents: $7 Register by: October 26

Natural Areas Stewardship 2017 Annual Report

After three years of consistent stewardship work in key project areas, we are beginning to see good results. New wildflower species were found at the Wet Prairie along the Paint Creek Trail. Invasive shrubs were cleared from over 20 acres at Watershed Ridge Park and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park. Prairie species planted a few years ago at Draper Twin Lake Park and Charles Ilsley Park began to flower. And more people like you got involved in the adventure through bird walks, volunteer workdays, nest boxes, potlucks, and stewardship talks. What fun! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2017 Annual Stewardship Report (click link to view).

Volunteer Program

Volunteers contributed 637 hours in 2017! Weekly bird walks were well attended. For the first time we hosted a summer stewardship potluck to help build our conservation community. Volunteer workdays focused on garlic mustard (May), invasive shrub control (July to November), and seed collecting (October). Volunteers also helped with maintenance of native plant gardens, prescribed fire, vernal pool monitoring, and building nest boxes.

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Students from Eagle Creek Academy helped us install native trees and shrubs at Gallagher Creek Park.

Volunteer Tom Korb led the effort to revitalize nest boxes in our parks. Tom built nearly 30 nest boxes for installation at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park. We hope to see more breeding bluebirds, kestrels, and other cavity-nesting birds in our parks in the future!

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Volunteer Tom Korb led the design, construction of nest boxes for Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park. Nest boxes will be installed and monitored in 2018.

Prairie Restoration with USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grants

Using our second Partners grant we prepared sites for planting 15 acres of native prairie plants at Charles Ilsley Park and 3 acres at Gallagher Creek Park. Planting was delayed until spring 2018 due to seed shortages, but that will give us a little more time to get the site in good shape. We continued maintenance of areas planted in 2015 and 2016, working to give native plants the upper hand during the critical establishment phase.

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Native plants in newly planted fields at Charles Ilsley Park provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

Prescribed Burns

We contracted with Plantwise LLC for spring burns at Cranberry Lake Park, Lost Lake Nature Park, and Marsh View Park. We also worked with private landowners to burn habitat adjacent to the Paint Creek Trail right-of-way, including high quality oak savanna, prairie remnants, and fen wetland. We held volunteer prescribed burn crew training again in February. The volunteer crew completed burns at Marsh View Park, Paint Creek Heritage Area—Wet Prairie, and the Art Project prairie north of Gallagher Road along the Paint Creek Trail.

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The volunteer prescribed fire crew is all smiles after a successful burn at the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, Spring 2017. Photo by Sue Greenlee.

Stewardship Blog

The stewardship blog continued to thrive with regular posts from Cam Mannino. The blog also continued to serve as an up-to-date source of information about stewardship volunteer opportunities and events. We published 52 posts and had 5324 visitors, with 8797 page views. Natural Areas Notebook, oaklandnaturalareas.com

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Education Events

Stewardship hosted education events in early 2017. Topics included the importance of protecting public land in Michigan, reptiles and amphibians of Michigan, and prescribed fire in Oakland Township parks.

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David Mifsud leads a presentation about Michigan reptiles and amphibians, including the eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

Phragmites Outreach Program

We continued the Phragmites Outreach Program to help township residents get Phragmites treated on their property. We received about 33 requests for no-obligation cost estimates, and treated about 21 properties with a contractor, PLM Lake and Land Management.

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Photo monitoring is used to track the success of Phragmites treatment. This photo point at Gallagher Creek Park shows Phragmites growing thick on the edge of Silver Bell Road before the treatment program began. Photo point GCP03. August 28, 2014.

Seasonal Technicians

We had one technician return for 2017, Zach Peklo. Zach came to us from Grand Valley State University studying natural resources management with an emphasis on Geographic Information Systems. New to our crew as seasonal land stewardship technicians in 2017 were Josh Auyer and Billy Gibala. Josh graduated from Calvin College in May 2017 with a degree in Biology. Billy graduated from University of Michigan – Flint in spring 2017 with a degree in wildlife biology and a minor in regional and urban planning. Alex Kriebel also returned to our crew as a Stewardship Specialist, bringing additional experience in natural areas management from his work with Oakland County Parks and Recreation.

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(L-R) Ben, Zach, Alex, Josh, and Billy, our 2017 natural areas stewardship team.

All of our annual reports can be found on the About page.

Sign up for Volunteer Burn Crew Training – February 24

If you are interested in joining our volunteer burn crew, join us for our training workshop on Saturday, February 24, 9 am – 2:30 pm at the Paint Creek Cider Mill (4480 Orion Road, Rochester, MI 48306). We will cover reasons for using prescribed fire, preparations for conducting a fire, necessary tools, roles of each burn crew member, and ignition patterns. Training is required for new crew members, and a great refresher if you’re returning. Weather permitting we will do a small demonstration or mock burn after lunch. Snacks will be provided, but please bring your own lunch.

RSVP required to bvanderweide@oaklandtownship.org or 248-651-7810 ext. 401 by Thursday, February 22 or sooner.

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Recapping a Great Presentation on Pollinators: Exploring Michigan Bees, Wasps, and Bee-wannabes!

In late January, the Oakland Township Natural Areas Stewardship program hosted an overflow crowd for an evening presentation by Caleb Wilson of Oakland University on protecting our backyard pollinators.  Throughout the presentation, I heard voices around me (including mine) whispering “Really?  I never knew that!” So I thought I’d share a few of those “Really!” moments with all of you.

Blog and photos by Cam Mannino

Here’s a gallery of photos.  See if you can spot the differences between  bees, wasps and hoverflies (the “bee-wannabes” of the title.)  Then, read on to learn more about these important little insects! (Use the pause button if you need time for captions or a closer look.)

[Edit:  Please note that, at our request,  Caleb was kind enough to “fine tune” this piece for me shortly after it was published.  My thanks to him for that help and for a great presentation!]

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Caleb Wilson’s First Cool Facts about Bees

  • Approximately 4,000 species of bees inhabit North America (as compared to about 3000 species of vertebrates). Michigan hosts more than 465 bee species!
  • Western or European Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are not native to the U.S.  They were brought here by settlers who wanted a sweetener when sugar was still a luxury .
  • Bees are strict vegetarians. They eat sweet nectar and protein-rich pollen.  Wasps (suborder Apocrita that aren’t ants and bees), however, are omnivorous.  They primarily feed on nectar – but not pollen – and young wasps feed only on invertebrates –  like other insects, insect larvae (caterpillars) or spiders –  brought back to the nest by their mothers.
  • Bees are excellent pollinators since their “furry” bodies distribute a lot of pollen as they move from one flower to another.
  • Hover Flies (family Syrphidae) – the bee-wannabes –  are the second most common pollinator after bees. They imitate bee colors and patterns for protection from predators, but actually have no stingers. Neat trick!
  • Wasps  are less effective as pollinators because they have much less hair on their generally thin, smooth bodies so pollen does not stick to them.  Wasps benefit our gardens and other agriculture, though,  by controlling insect pests.

Checking the ID of Bees, Wasps and Hover Flies

  • Bees have wings which cover their petiole or “waists” (connection between their thorax and abdomen) when feeding,  so their waists can be difficult to see. Wasps have tiny waists and hoverflies have thick ones.
  • Bees and wasps have four wings – though the second set are hard to see since they are hooked together when flying and so they appear to have only two. Hoverflies only have two wings.
  • Bees are fuzzy, whereas wasps and hoverflies generally have very little hair or none on their bodies. Most bees have a hairy back leg, though European honey bees don’t.
  • Bees and wasps have eyes on the sides of their heads and longer antennae. Hoverflies have eyes on the tops of their heads (often touching) and short antennae.
  • If it’s visibly carrying  pollen on its legs or body, it’s some kind of bee.

Myths about Bees that Needed Correction

  • “All bees make honey.”  Uh, No… Most bees don’t make honey. Honey bees do, of course. And native Bumblebee queens store “nectar pots” to be eaten by their larvae as they develop – but no honey.
  • “All bees sting.”  Well, No, Actually. All female bees can sting; males can’t.  Honey bees can only sting once because their stinger is barbed to stay in your skin (ouch!) and as the honey bee pulls away, the lower part of her abdomen tears away and she dies.  Other female bees in our part of the world (for example, the bumblebee) and female wasps (the Yellow Jacket, for instance) have stingers without barbs and can sting repeatedly.
  • “Bees are aggressive.”  Wrong again.  Bees generally sting only to protect their hive. They will generally ignore humans otherwise. Wasps, however, can be more aggressive.
  • “Bees live in hives.”  Mmmm…some do, some don’t.  Honey bees are very social and do, of course, live in hives.   Bumblebees are social, too but they nest in the ground. Sweat bees form colonies with a queen and workers, but they don’t make honey and don’t have large numbers like a honey hive.  But most bees are solitary.  They live in burrows that they dig in the ground, or in cavities like logs, reeds, stems of dead plants, snail shells and such. Occasionally solitary bees lay their eggs in group areas for protection, but they each care for their own young rather than having communal hives. Social wasps, like Yellow Jackets (genus Vespula or Dolichovespula),  build elaborate nests but many wasps are solitary, too.

Why are Bees in Decline?

It turns out there are multiple factors:

  • A significant cause is that there are just fewer flowering plants! Urbanization has brought concrete and large areas of green lawn monocultures with fewer flowers. Agriculture has replaced fields full of diverse wildflowers with huge fields of soybeans and corn which are pollinated by wind, not by bees or other pollinators.
  • Insecticides like neonicotinoids and fungicides are in many treated seeds and seedlings or are sprayed on crops, killing bees as well as predatory pests and fungi.
  • Parasites and pathogens that used to attack other bees have now switched to honeybees.
  • Transportation throughout the year to various crops and other uses of agricultural bees can stress them. Bumblebees, for example,  are often kept in large greenhouses to pollinate tomatoes. In such settings,  they can develop viruses and parasites like Nosema bombi, which can then be spread to wild bees.

So Here’s How We Can Help Our Bees

  • Plant more flowers – native ones, preferably!  Find a native plant nursery here.
  • Leave those dandelions in your yard a little longer!  It’s often the only flower around in early spring and bees LOVE them!
  • Plant flowers of different species that will bloom at different times of the year so that nectar and pollen are present in spring, summer and fall.
  • Reduce the frequency of mowing  and raise the height of your mower if you can.
  • If you plant from seeds or seedlings, make an effort to determine if they have been treated with chemicals. This is not always easy to determine, especially when buying from large chain stores.
  • Some bees need bare patches of ground or rotten wood.  If you have an out-of-the-way bare spot on your property, bees will appreciate it.
  • You might build a bee hotel to host wild bees but be careful about its design, so it cannot host mold or attract parasites.  Here’s a site Caleb trusts for info on them.  They also need periodic cleaning.
  • Don’t buy a honey bee hive if you want to save native wild bees.  Honey bees are non-native and very important to agriculture, but studies show that they can have a negative impact on wild bees.  If you do decide to start bee-keeping, be sure you are fully educated by a trained professional and that you are prepared for a lot of work!  Giving up on a hive can be seriously detrimental to both the honey bees and the wild bees that live near them.
  • Leave wild plants somewhere on your property if possible, especially if you already have good habitat with native plants. If you have mostly non-native invasive plants or lawn, explore replacing some of these areas with native plants.
A native bumblebee and a non-native honey bee compete over a thistle

So consider befriending your helpful neighborhood pollinators and pest predators.  They spend their short lives in service to the flowers, fruits and vegetables that we all enjoy.  For lots more great identification photos and tips on helping bees, check out the Michigan bee website of Jason Gibbs from the Entomology Department at Michigan State University.  He offers three big take-aways about bees:  1) Feed them by planting untreated flowers and seeds; 2) House them by saving their habitat, leaving some bare soil, or building bee hotels; 3) Don’t kill them – limit or avoid use of insecticides. Pretty do-able suggestions, I’d say.

Click here to view the slides from Caleb’s talk for wonderful photos, useful charts and more info!