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Article #19, January 1999
By Bill Cook

            If you follow the news about natural resource issues, forests consume an increasingly prominent part.  That might seem a bit odd to us in the Upper Peninsula because we are particularly endowed with an abundance of not only forest, but quality forest with a great future.  Folks are concerned about sustainability, or in other words, how much timber can you harvest without wrecking the current and future forest.  Folks are also concerned about diversity, bird populations, frog mutations, and a long list of other topics.  These concerns are important, and fully valid. As a side note, keep in mind that forestry is not the same thing as logging.  Logging is an outstanding and tough occupation, but itís not forestry. 

            Some people argue that the forest needs to be more intensively managed.  Others say let the forest alone, that nature knows best and doesnít need most of our meddling.  In a sense, both camps are right Ö and wrong.  It is true that forests do not need management.  They will, indeed, develop along their own course perfectly well without any human intervention.  Thatís not the point.  The point is that we need the forests.  We need wood.  We need wildlife, recreation, and the many other benefits derived from the forest.  And we need these things in an ever-increasing supply.  The ďnaturalĒ course of forests will not meet these demands.

            Wouldnít it be nice if we could tap into the forests for what we need without bankrupting the resource?  Well, the whole point of forestry is to do just that.  Not only that, but we have been doing it for decades.  Foresters and other resource managers are the people who are trained to extract and develop the things we need from forests.  No other group of people know more about forests than those professionally trained in forest ecology and management.  You donít need to be a rocket scientist to understand that.  Nevertheless, itís a point we need to be periodically reminded of.  Forestry is a quiet science.

            Forest management is designed to manipulate the forest in ways that will benefit society.  Forestry practices have been developed to work in harmony with natural processes to nudge nature in a direction that will serve us better.  Forestry is a nurturing science, although some practices appear harsh on the surface.  But then, nature is not exactly a gentle giant either, despite some of the mythology that exists in our culture.  Foresters are the people who understand how the forest works and how to best apply the wide array of practices available, and to invent new practices as needed.  If you want to know more about forests, consider asking a forester.

            Do foresters understand everything about the forest?  Of course not.  There are many facets of the forest yet to be explored.  And some folks may be more knowledgeable about a particular aspect of the forest.  But we know a lot.  Collectively, there is enough knowledge that no single forester could possibly know it all.  But we know more about forests than non-foresters.  We certainly know enough to be confident in our practice.  And we are constantly learning.  More importantly, we need to act now to provide for both current and future generations.  Waiting until everything is fully understood is not a practical option.

            The forests of the Upper Peninsula successfully produce a myriad of products and benefits.  Without forestry, the region would not exist as we know it.  Economically, itís the powerhouse that drives almost everything.  Yet, there exists an under-tapped potential to provide even greater benefits.  Our forests have an abundance of natural resilience and flexibility.  The application of science is world class.  What better place to practice forestry than in the UP?

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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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