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Article #17, November 1998
By Bill Cook

            Forests are not all the same.  No surprise there, I guess.  Accordingly, you canít treat all forests the same and expect the same outcome.

            Because forests can be so very different from each other, scientists have developed flexible management regimes appropriate to these differences.  These regimes fall into three general systems; 1) clearcutting, 2) selection, and 3) shelterwoods.  Each group has a variety of application methods.  All systems will regenerate the forest when properly applied.  All systems simulate the natural strategies found in the wild.

Clearcutting is designed for those stands of trees that grow fast, live hard, and die young.  Unfortunately, tree reproduction requirements translate into a drastic visual impact.  Thatís part of the reason it has a poor reputation.  However, itís mostly a matter of sunlight.  These trees, such as jack pine and aspen, just donít grow in shade.  Simple concept.  If you donít have lots of light, you wonít maintain these species in the forest landscape.  Thatís why many of these ďintolerantĒ species have been declining in our Michigan forest.

            Selection systems are often inaccurately considered the only ďgoodĒ form of forest management.  Applied to shade tolerant species on good sites, wonderful things can occur in a forest over time.  Species such as sugar maple are favored, sometimes to the point of a monoculture.  However, selection systems used in many kinds of forests can do a lot of damage.  More people should probably understand this. 

            Shelterwood systems are unknown by many folks.  Essentially, a shelterwood removes the existing canopy in two or three stages over several years.  The forest floor is scuffed up and light levels are incrementally increased.  Itís designed to reproduce tree species that do well under these sorts of conditions, such as paper birch and oak. 

In a large sense, there are three things that create future forests.  The first has to do with the current characteristics of the forest.  Secondly, nature plays a major role and there are limits to what can be done.  Lastly, a lot depends on what the landowner does. 

            If left to itself, the forest will change and become something else down the road.  Ecosystem processes may not be completely understood, but in most cases pretty good predictions can be made.  However, nature alone will not provide for the demands placed on the forest by society.  In fact, itís fairly safe to say that nature couldnít care less about the needs of human beings.  Thatís why we have forest management.

            The whole idea behind management is to provide a forest landscape that will benefit future populations of people.  I say ďfuture populations of peopleĒ because forest change is slow.  What we do today will affect our children and grandchildren.  While forest management can be reasonably financially sound, good stewardship involves a fundamental desire to leave things better than we found them.  Itís philosophical.  Keep in mind that forests donít ďneedĒ management Ö people need managed forests.  A subtle but important difference, perhaps. 

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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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