HARRISON — For 20 consecutive years a Boy Scout troop from Harrison, Michigan, has spent one weekend a year volunteering to guard lake sturgeon from illegal harvest during the fish species’ annual spawning run. For its dedication to this species, and to Michigan’s natural resources, Scouts BSA Troop 645 earned the Department of Natural Resources Partners in Conservation award during the August Natural Resources Commission meeting.
“Troop 645 epitomizes the goal of involving the next generation in our state’s conservation efforts,” said Kristin Phillips, chief of the DNR’s Marketing and Outreach Division, in honoring the group with the award. “The example this group of young people is setting today will leave a lasting mark on our state’s natural resources.”
Every spring, mature lake sturgeon – a fish species that is threatened in Michigan and rare throughout the United States – become vulnerable to poaching as they briefly leave Black Lake for spawning sites upstream in the Black River.
In 1999 a group of local conservationists formed the Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow. Their efforts focused on helping the DNR protect and restore sturgeon populations in northern Michigan lakes and streams. One of the primary efforts has been to coordinate an annual “sturgeon watch,” where hundreds of volunteers stand guard along the Black River during the spawning season (mid-April through early June) to report suspicious activity and deter the unlawful take of this iconic fish.
When the troop learned about the project, it began a partnership with Sturgeon for Tomorrow, said Stan Smith, assistant scout master for Troop 645. This year has marked two decades of that partnership.
“We travel to the area and camp on state forest land each Mother’s Day weekend,” he said. “The kids had a blast that first year, and we have enjoyed the event every year since.”
In addition to the time the scouts dedicate to guarding the sturgeon, they also spend an afternoon working on a service project that protects the Black River.
DNR Partners in Conservation awards are given six times a year to individuals or organizations for exemplary contributions to conservation in Michigan. Award nominations are made by DNR staff members.