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Article #35, May 2000
By Bill Cook

   Owners of forest land have a very special opportunity to contribute to society.  Some might even say a responsibility.  Forests provide a multitude of benefits, including timber, wildlife habitat, clean water, healthy soils, and an incredible range of recreation activities.  Forests are special places, even the most seemingly average woodland. 

   The level and proportion of products and services a forest will provide depends upon how owners view their role in society.  Management will almost always increase the outputs the owner wishes for their forest and within the landscape.  This article, naturally, is a case for the management of forests.

   A common misconception is that nature will provide everything we need if we would just let things be.  Yet, a hundred years of science and experience teaches us differently.  On its own, nature will not provide the kinds of things we need and use.  However, forestry uses natural processes in management systems. 

   It is true that forests do not ďneedĒ management.  Itís the people that need managed forests.

   We will not see the forests of 200 years ago, nor do we need to.  Today, there are different sets of ecological and societal dynamics.  Our focus might be better placed on understanding what the land can produce and work towards those future goals, rather than simply taking a romantic journey into the past.

   Of course, some would argue that forests were not made to serve humanity, which may be true.  But when each of us uses four pounds of wood every day and, collectively, we benefit from the myriad of other forest attributes, some thought to forest management ought to be given. 

   Timber is usually the most controversial of forest outputs because it involves the harvest of trees.  Nevertheless, wood is a remarkable raw material.  It is used in over 5000 products.  We can recycle it, reuse it, and reduce consumption of it.  But more importantly, it is a renewable resource.  Wood substitutes can not make that claim, nor are there any cheaper or more energy friendly materials.  Because of these qualities, I would argue that we should be using more wood.  Not less.

   Keep in mind, though, that an increased wood supply is only one of the many benefits derived from a managed forest.

   The early conservationists had a clear vision about forest management, but lacked much of the science and know-how that we have today.  A frightening trend among many Michigan forest owners is the loss of that vision.  Michigan can increase the level of benefits from the forest through management.  In a time of net timber imports and record increases in domestic forest growth, we should be using more of our own wood.

   Private owners play a critical role in the conservation vision.  Statewide, they own 45 percent of the forest, less in the U.P. and more in the L.P.  There are over 350,000 individual forest owners in Michigan, 55,000 in the U.P.  Getting the good news about forest management, and good advice, to all these people is a huge task. 

   The list of reasons to manage a forest is long, from jobs to wildlife to ecosystem diversity.  But the bottom line is that good management improves the lifestyle of everybody.  Itís a good thing to do.  Consider consulting with a professional forester.  Michigan is a great place to grow forests!

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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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