Grouse Enhanced Management Systems, Northern Michigan

GEMS Shine Bright in Northern Michigan

When people think of gems, they envision bright, multifaceted objects with great value. That’s an apt description of the Grouse Enhanced Management Systems (GEMS) that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is developing across the northern part of the state.

GEMS are bright – lush green with new growth of aspen and other plants in spring and summer, gold in autumn when thousands of acres of young forest light up with fall colors. GEMS are multifaceted, used by hunters, birdwatchers, and recreationalists, and inhabited by a wide range of wildlife including ruffed grouse and American woodcock, two popular game birds in Michigan.

Hunters seek grouse in young forest habitat

GEMS will be great places to introduce young grouse hunters to the sport./D.Kenyon, Michigan DNR

And GEMS are valuable, to local communities that profit from hunters’ stays and purchases, and to national forests and private companies managing lands where GEMS are located and who will conduct timber harvests on the 1,500- to 10,000-acre tracts.

Seven GEMS units are spread across the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula. On GEMS units, aspen harvest rotations are being shortened from the normal 60 years to 40 years. All of the timber on the units will be harvested at different intervals over that 40-year span, with cutting taking place generally every 3 to 5 years somewhere on a unit so there’s always fresh habitat coming along. Says Al Stewart, DNR’s Upland Game Bird Specialist and Program Leader, “Cutting has already taken place on all seven of our current GEMS areas. DNR is committed to developing a total of 13 GEMS sites statewide by 2016. The idea is to move these harvest areas from being good habitat for grouse, woodcock, and other young forest wildlife, to being excellent habitat.”

Easy, Safe Access for Hunters and Birders

Two-track logging roads crisscross each unit. The roads are gated off at entry points to provide walking trails through the intensively managed habitat. Grouse and woodcock hunters can let their dogs range on either side of the trails without worrying about danger from passing vehicles. Well-mapped and marked, the trails should attract youth, senior, and inexperienced hunters as well as veterans.

GEMS will likely become destination points for hardcore bird hunters – including many from other states – who want to hunt their way across Michigan. “The GEMS initiative promotes hunter recruitment and also bridges that important gap between hunters, local communities and businesses,” Stewart says. Although the lands are managed specifically for grouse, other hunters will also enjoy success in finding snowshoe hares, deer, and bear.

Habitat Helps Other Wildlife

White-throated sparrow

Visitors to GEMS will hear the "Old Sam Peabody" call of the white-throated sparrow./Tom Berriman

GEMS will be great places for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, to hike and view wildlife, and to enjoy the long views and scenery of these productive natural settings.

“Birders will find early successional species that they don’t get to view very often in older, more-mature forested habitats across much of northern Michigan,” Stewart says. “Whip-poor-wills, towhees, golden-winged warblers, white-throated sparrows – those are just a few of the many birds that need young forest. They’ll thrive right along with the woodcock and grouse.”

At present, Michigan is the top-ranked state for American woodcock harvest and is an important production state for this game bird. In 2012, Michigan woodcock hunters harvested approximately 106,900 birds (some 35 percent of the nationwide total) during 213,000 days afield. Michigan is one of the top three states in the nation for ruffed grouse hunting, with grouse hunters spending 615,628 days afield. The GEMS program should help keep Michigan at or near the top in these categories into the future.

Michigan DNR continues to look for partners with large landholdings to create additional GEMS sites, and local businesses that can help in promoting the trails system. Some businesses offer discounts when hunters come in with a photo of themselves standing by a GEMS sign.


Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Ruffed Grouse Society/American Woodcock Society; U.P Habitat Fund; Plum Creek Timberlands; Hiawatha, Ottawa, and Huron-Manistee National Forests; the City of Marquette; and the Wildlife Management Institute.

How to Visit

Michigan DNR offers a fact sheet and maps for GEMS units. For general information, visit

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