Sturgeon Guarding Program

Sturgeon Guarding Program Seeks Volunteers

Calling all volunteers:
guard Michigan’s sturgeon against poachers this spring

Surgeon for Tomorrow is seeking volunteers to join in its effort, in partnership with Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ conservation officers, to help protect sturgeon from poaching.

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 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 Department of Natural Resources 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 at

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 Department of Natural Resources, 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.

Contact: Ann Feldhauser (Sturgeon for Tomorrow), 906-201-2484 or Ed Golder, 517-335-3014

Black River Sturgeon Guard – Camping on the river

By Ann Feldhauser
Volunteer Coordinator, Sturgeon Guarding Program

The evening campfire lit a small area surrounding our campsite. The whip-poor-will began his nightly vespers, calling out over the Black River valley. Far off in the distance, coyotes sang a rousing chorus.

Staring into the crackling fire, we could also hear the gurgling of the Black River as it rushed around logs and rocks below our campsite. Some evenings there would be the occasional splash, generated by an anxious sturgeon seeking its spawning ground. It was always a very sensual, relaxing time of the day, as my husband and I sat guard over the mighty sturgeon of the Black River. Mark and I were often fairly silent on those evenings, sitting side by side, letting the night sounds conduct the conversation.

Each spring, Brenda Archambo and the Black Lake sturgeon summon us from our lakeside home south of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula to Sites B and C on the banks above the Black River in northeastern Lower Peninsula, where we meet the first run of sturgeon entering the river to spawn. This usually occurs in late April, as the weather mellows, leaves begin to bud out and birds of all kinds flock back to Michigan to carry on their own spring rituals. Last year, we saw 24 bird species, and watched chickadees and nuthatches carving out tree nesting cavities within a few feet of our campfire ring.

It’s a beautiful time of the year and perfect camping weather. We may stay up to two weeks there, camping, living comfortably in proximity to the River, the sturgeon and those who come to see this amazing fish.

Our role as sturgeon guards is simple enough. Each day we greet the volunteers who have signed up to come help us patrol the river, keeping watch over the spawning fish. We also meet with the biologists, who come to the river every day, don wetsuits and waders, grab nets and computer chips, then search the river for sturgeon to capture, tag, and catalog. They update us on how many fish have been tagged or seen and what the action plan for the day might be. As the word spreads that the fish are in the river, more and more of those curious to see such an amazing thing as a sturgeon find their way into Sites B and C, where we greet and update them on the most recent sturgeon news.

Families, senior citizens, horseback riders and spring turkey hunters are among those who come to witness it for themselves. They are all keenly interested in seeing and hearing about the sturgeon, and one of our roles is to provide them with accurate information. Educating the public about sturgeon is a key element in the future survival of the species, so we ensure that each visitor is greeted individually and their questions answered to the best of our ability.

Along the way, we make new friends. Now with two years on the river behind us, we know many volunteers by name. They bring us baked goods, update us on news and events, tell stories, and graciously invite us to participate in local happenings. We share an initial common interest in protecting the sturgeon, but it soon becomes much more. Out of that bond forged by a fish, many more are made, and our lives are forever changed. Now, we look forward to seeing our friends again come spring and share in the camaraderie that comes with doing something right for the resource.

Mark and I see great benefit from being on the river for an extended period of time, so we are encouraging others to set up camp there anytime during the month of May and gain similar experiences. It is a satisfying way to give back to the resource as well as build a new element into your lives. If you have a small camper and a generator, there are lots of great places to set up camp. The same goes for tenting. It’s free, easy, and relaxing, but most important, it’s your presence on the river, 24/7, that will deter illegal activity directed at the vulnerable spawning sturgeon. Come and set up for two or three days, or longer as your schedule permits. Talk with the volunteers and sightseers, meet the biologists and MDNRE Conservation Officers who will be your frequent companions, make new friends and gain new insights.

We ask those who might be interested to contact us directly so we can answer any questions about camping on the Black River as part of the Sturgeon Patrol. We have found that staying on the river for an extended time is a rewarding experience, one that we would like to share with others.

So, please, come and camp along the Black River. Relax by your campfire, listen to the night sounds and witness the spectacular run of sturgeon in the Black River first hand. There is no experience like it anywhere else in Michigan, and it’s something that will benefit you and the sturgeon forever.

For more information and a camping chat, contact Mark and Ann Feldhauser at 906-346-9511 or 906-201-2484.

Volunteers Sought For
Annual Sturgeon Guarding Program

Cheboygan - Each Spring, hundreds of volunteers guard sturgeon at their spawning sites on the Black River to protect the fish from poaching. This rich tradition in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement staff and the public is directed and funded by Sturgeon For Tomorrow, a local sturgeon conservation organization.

When sturgeon spawn along the rocky shorelines of Cheboygan County’s Black River they pay little attention to people and are very susceptible to illegal harvest. To protect them, "Sturgeon Guard" volunteers maintain a presence at the spawning sites throughout the spawning season, which usually begins in late April and lasts through the month of May.

When spawning begins, sturgeon guards are assigned to sites along the river in shifts. Prior to assignment, guards register with Sturgeon Guard Coordinator then check in at "Base Camp" on the river, where they are issued an identification hat (that they keep), a rules of engagement binder, and directed to their site. Groups are welcome, and camping is encouraged.

Fisheries researchers from the Michigan DNR, Michigan State University and other collaborators are also on the river collecting biological data on the adults to better understand reproductive ecology and early life history of lake sturgeon.

If you would like to help to save the sturgeon, please contact Sturgeon Guard Coordinator, Ann Feldhauser at 906-201-2484 or register online.

While it is impossible to predict the exact dates that spawning will occur each year, guards are routinely scheduled somewhere within a window from April 25 through May 30. Several spawning events generally occur for five to seven day periods. Schedulers do their best to get all scheduled guards out on the riverbank to see this majestic fish.


Ann Feldhauser 906-201-2484
Brenda Archambo 231-625-2776

Protecting Our Sturgeon

Each spring, sturgeon head up the rivers to spawn at known spawning sites. At this time a large percentage of the adult sturgeon in the system are concentrated in a small area. When the sturgeon are spawning along the rocky riverbanks they are fairly oblivious to nearby human activity and are susceptible to illegal harvest. Accordingly, conservation officers, volunteer off duty national guardsmen and other volunteer groups are also concentrated in these areas 24 hours a day.

Guards - Protecting Our Sturgeon.

We devote much time and effort to sturgeon protection due to poaching. If this were left unchecked, it would reduce the sturgeon population and destroy the sport fishery.

While we do our best to get all volunteers out on the riverbank to see fish, invariably we must cancel some scheduled shifts if the fish are simply not active. We try in these cases to reschedule volunteers into an active period.

The bottom dwelling lake sturgeon is a living fossil. This ancient species made its first appearance about 136 million years ago, just about the time dinosaurs made their abrupt exit from earth's ever changing stage. The lake sturgeon grows to be great in size and is a challenging trophy for the spear fishermen. It's also a rare fish. Sturgeon can live be over 100 years old and weigh over 200 pounds. Female sturgeon first spawn between ages 17 and 30, once mature they spawn every 4 to 7 years. Male sturgeon do not spawn until they are 12 to 20 years old, then spawn every 2 to 4 years.

Lake sturgeon in Michigan are a threatened species and a rare species throughout the United States.


When you volunteer your time to help with the Black River Sturgeon Guarding Program, here is a list of the recommended items you have on hand during your stay. (please note that some items are provided by SFT)

  • Patrol hat for identification (provided)
  • Map and compass
  • Cell phone (provided), ink pen
  • Sturgeon Observation and Data Sheets (3 ring binder provided)
  • Binoculars / Camera / Camcorder
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Flashlight
  • Warm clothing, layered so it can be removed or added throughout your shift as temperatures change
  • Lawn chair / umbrella
  • Insect repellent / Sun screen
  • Cooler / water / food
  • Toilet tissue / Port-a-John on site

When arriving at the Black River to volunteer for the Sturgeon Guarding Program, please sign in / out at base camp. Also note that there is Lodging nearby.

While it is impossible to predict the exact dates that spawning will occur each year, guards are routinely scheduled from mid April through Mid May. For many this has become a family tradition.

Guards - Protecting Our Sturgeon.

Because we are guests on the river, our assignment is to watch the spawning areas and be visible but as low key as possible. Setting up of camping equipment, cooking, etc. is welcomed. You may obtain a DNR camping permit from the Sturgeon General. There are some general rules to keep in mind.

  • Please no loud radios
  • No littering will be tolerated. Take all trash with you.
  • We do not expect you to get involved in trying to physically stop any illegal activity.
  • Use your cell phone and call the DNR Report All Poaching Center at 1-800-292-7800.
  • Use your RAP card (provided) to document such things as: make, model, type of vehicle, license number, description of suspects, hair color, height, weight, age, clothing, date, time, and type of violation.
  • Please record when, and how many fish are visible on the spawning site.
  • If you find yourself at a spawning site with no fish visible, DO NOT LEAVE! Sturgeon stage in the deep water off the site and are just as vulnerable to those persons bent on taking them.

If you would like more information on the Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon For Tomorrow's Sturgeon Guarding Program, please feel free to contact Brenda Archambo, the Sturgeon General.

We hope you enjoy watching spring come to life on the Black River.

Please know your efforts are appreciated!

Sturgeon Guarding Program Welcomes New Coordinators & Returning Ambassadors

Mark and Ann Wilson Feldhauser retired September 1, 2008, following a combined 55 years of service to the State of Michigan's natural resources.

Mark worked with the Department of Environmental Quality, primarily in the Land and Water Management Program, which oversees wetlands and watershed protection.

Ann retired from the Department of Natural Resources after a career as a communications specialist, working with the Press Secretary and the Office of Communications. Both have worked closely in the area of science, policy development and public involvement.

Together, they can offer the Sturgeon for Tomorrow Program a wealth of oversight experience, a deep and dedicated love for Michigan's natural resources, and imbedded communications and organizational skills. They are excited to become involved in the effort to restore and protect the immensely valuable sturgeon species and have always admired the long-standing program that exists to accomplish that mission.

Mark and Ann married September 1, 2007 at their home in Skandia, 15 miles south of Marquette, and are dedicated to anything that is an element of the outdoors.

Needing no introduction, Dick and Sylvia Sanford of Cheboygan will again be taking up camp on the river. The Sanford’s have volunteered well over 2,000 hours as Sturgeon Guards and have acted as base camp “Sturgeon Ambassadors” for several years.

Mark and Ann will be scheduling volunteers. They will also be at base camp (site B) as our "Sturgeon Ambassadors" for the first half of the Sturgeon Guarding Program (SGP). Dick and Sylvia will be at base camp as our “Sturgeon Ambassadors for the second half of the SGP.

The 2009 SGP is tentatively scheduled to start April 26 and run through May 30. Click here to register.

We SALUTE Mark and Ann and Dick and Sylvia for their leadership and volunteer stewardship! Please be sure to stop by base camp and say hello.

Sondra Shephard Named Sturgeon Guarding Program Volunteer Coordinator

Sondra Shephard

Sondra Shephard of Black Lake graciously volunteered for coordinating volunteers for SFT's Sturgeon Guarding Program (SGP). “Sondra is friendly, outgoing, dependable, responsible, and organized”, said Brenda Archambo. “Sondra has does a fantastic job of recruiting, scheduling and training sturgeon guards to stand watch over the spawning sturgeon”, Archambo said. Look for Sondra on the river in 2008. THANK YOU SONDRA!

~ Guarding Program Volunteer Online Form ~

~ Previous Guarding Programs ~