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      Volunteers needed to stand guard during sturgeon spawning season

      Hundreds of volunteers are needed to stand guard along the Black River during the sturgeon spawning season.

      It's a group effort to protect sturgeon from poaching in Cheboygan County.

      Sturgeon for Tomorrow is teaming up with the Department of Natural Resources and volunteers to help protect sturgeon in Black Lake.

      Each 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 in Cheboygan County for spawning sites in the Black River.

      Hundreds of volunteers are needed to stand guard along the Black River during the spawning season, from mid-April through early June, to report any suspicious activity and deter the unlawful take of this prized fish.

      "For over a decade, the annual Sturgeon Guarding Program has proven that citizens who watch over the river have greatly reduced poaching while helping to ensure the protection and proliferation of the species," said Ann Feldhauser, a DNR retiree and the program's volunteer coordinator. "It's a unique and rewarding experience to witness the sight of these majestic fish, which can live up to 100 years and weigh over 200 pounds, swimming up the Black River and to take part in safeguarding one of Michigan's most valuable natural resources."

      When spawning begins, sturgeon guards are assigned in shifts to sites along the river. The volunteers stand watch and, if necessary, use cellular phones provided by Sturgeon for Tomorrow, to contact DNR conservation officers who are actively patrolling the area in support of the guarding effort. Aerial surveillance is also deployed to secure the area and deter illegal activity.

      Many opportunities are available for those who wish to help. Coordinators will be on-site to assist and answer questions. In addition to guarding the fish, volunteers can also play a key role by recording the number and activity of fish they see.

      Individuals or groups interested in volunteering should contact Ann Feldhauser at 906-201-2484 or register online .

      For those traveling from outside the local area, several hotels, restaurants and Onaway State Park (located on Black Lake) are very close to the critical guarding locations. Volunteers are also encouraged to set up their rustic camps along the banks of the Black River. There is no charge for camping on the state land adjacent to the Black River.

      Lake sturgeon rehabilitation in the Cheboygan River watershed is a cooperative effort involving the Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow, the DNR, Michigan State University and Tower-Kleber Limited Partnership. In addition to the guarding program, this effort includes activities such as tagging sturgeon adults and raising young fish for stocking.

      To learn more about sturgeon population and management in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/sturgeon .