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Article #4, October 1997
By Bill Cook

     Sometimes I am really amazed at how unusual the collection of natural resources on the Upper Peninsula are.  We, of course, generally take them for granted.  Or in the case of winter snows along the Lake Superior shore, we occasionally grumble about them.  Nevertheless, this marvelous piece of real estate lies in a truly wonderful part of the world with the promise of even a better tomorrow.  Many of us, perhaps, donít recognize just how different the UP is.

     Think a moment about our location between two of the largest freshwater bodies in the world, especially in the heart of the huge North American continent.  Most of the shoreline remains in fairly pristine condition and the hues of clean water go on in unending blends of green and blue.  Most of the landscape is forested with a diverse mantle of green that has been growing steadily for 50 years.  On top of all that, we have a successful economy based largely on the natural resources we commonly donít even think twice about.  I canít think of a similar physical arrangement anywhere else in the world.

     A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of driving to southern Minnesota.  The northern hardwoods were in near peak color condition.  I like to train my kids to watch the landscape, although I get stiff competition from books, electronic games, and naps.  In their minds, I conjure up images of great ice sheets dumping tons of rock and soil, then reworking the landscape as the massive sheets slowly melt.  Lakes and rivers emerge from the ravaged earth, and soon vegetation starts migrating from points south to the freshly opened land.  Itís a new world.  I point out different moraines and outwash plains, the ridges and wetlands.  The gravel pits and road cuts reveal tidbits of glacial history that otherwise lie secreted away a few inches under the forest floor.  I relay stories of lumberjack days, of million-acre wildfires, and the influence of people in the landscape.  The forest cover reflects all of these conditions.  It is a dynamic thing that has many tales to tell, for those who know how to listen.

     During the last couple of hours of the journey, we emerge from the great sand plains of western Wisconsin into the ancient, unglaciated coulee country that foretells the coming of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers.  Crossing those great ribbons of history is always exciting.  Although, sometimes I think the only reason the kids perk up is for the fun of crossing the long bridges.  Beyond that lies the old prairie.  Itís almost like weíre on a different planet.  Even after decades of fire suppression that allowed trees to survive and towns to grow, the hint of open space and big sky remain.  A branch of my family helped pioneer southern Minnesota.  Their bones lie in what once was the country of the Sioux and buffalo.  The old prairie has a rich character that has all but disappeared today.  Despite the draw of such past glory, we are always anxious to return to the great forest of the Great Lakes.

     A journey to other parts of the country, or other countries of world, never ceases to convince me of the rarely heralded qualities of the Upper Peninsula.  Here, we have an abundance of healthy forest, nearly 11 million acres, about a fifth of the forest of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  The UP forest is bigger, older, and covers more acres than anytime since the turn of the century.  All this is in cooperation with a forest-based economy worth over a billion dollars each year and supplying about 18,000 jobs.  And things are getting better.  They should continue to get better as long as we actively manage our forest for the future.  The UP is one of the few places in the world where we have a huge forest resource, a healthy forest industry, and the technological and management knowledge to provide for an even better future. 

     The key, of course, is sound management of public and private forests.  We need to continue producing forest products and amenities.  Society needs them, we need to grow them, and our forest can easily accommodate an increase in demand.  Natural and human ecology provide for a productive and healthy mix that occurs in few other places of the world.  The UP has been protected and enhanced by a forgiving landscape, decades of forest management, and reasonably good forest policy.  This is forest country.  It is what we do and we do it well.  Letís hope we can all work to advance the good work and continue to do our part for both our local and global welfare. 

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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