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Article #12, June 1998
By Bill Cook

            As time rolls by, we hear of “new” terms which are often just existing ideas woven into new packages.  Terms like “ecosystem”, “forest health”, and “biodiversity” are similar issues both the public and the resource management community must grapple with.  They engender a wholesome feeling similar to Mom and apple pie.  But get a dozen people in a room to try to slap on a definition and soon you’ve got enough words and opinions to drown in.  Some folks, under the guise of these feel-good terms, will preach self-interest agendas from their soapboxes.  This, of course, only serves to antagonize a lot of folks and throw mud on larger issues at stake.

            So, what the heck is forest sustainability anyway?  Good question.  I’ll take a stab at it.  Real simply, it’s the ability of a forest to provide all the benefits to society that the forest is capable of producing … over the long term.  Generally, sustainability discussions begin with the flow of timber products.  Is there enough wood?  But soon, the many other forest values are correctly included, such as recreation opportunities, housing and commercial development, wildlife habitat, clean water, stable soils, tax bases, solitude, etc.  On an increasing basis, however, timber harvesting has been taking a lot of heat in the public eye.  Harvest is often portrayed as the evil cousin of forest uses.  And that just ain’t so.  At least not most of the time.

            The swelling pressure from society makes forest management a requirement for the future, not an option.  Sustainability includes our timber dependent communities.  Without them, the domestic flow of timber products would cease, and the flow would come from other areas of the world with less robust and protective societies.  And try to imagine life with less wood.  We’d be using more plastics, metals, and other non-renewable and more costly resources.  Yes folks, the key to a “healthy”, “biologically diverse”, and “sustainable” forest “ecosystem” is active forest management and a good economy.  Take a look around the world for proof. 

            There exists a myth that landowners must choose between timber harvesting and all the other forest values.  Choosing between the raw greed for revenue or providing for the benign virtues of nature is a popular but fictitious scenario.  In truth, most of the other values can be enhanced by using timber harvesting as a tool.  In some cases, other values are nearly impossible to attain without timber harvesting.  For some reason, many folks have missed this point.  Timber harvest provides products, jobs, a tax base, and a better forest for the future.  What a deal!

            In discussions about forest sustainability, people must first decide what it is they wish to sustain.  Our human economies and communities must be part of the discussion.  Tough issues must be debated, such as land use, private property rights, and money.  After figuring out the “what”, the next set of debates would logically surround the “how”, followed by when, where, etc.  Consensus on these issues is difficult to reach.  However, forest sustainability is something we need to talk about here in the Upper Peninsula.  Times are a-changin’, with or without our involvement. 

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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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