Article #37, July 2000
By Bill Cook
One of the reasons the Upper Peninsula forests are so important has to do with the kinds of forest that grow here. Northeastern forests are very different from those in other regions of the United States and are not found in such concentration anywhere else in the world. Many of these forest types are best expressed in the U.P.
Rebounding from the farming attempts, logging, mining, and wildfires of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the forests have begun to resemble what they might have been before that time.
The premier forest type is northern hardwoods, which features species such as sugar maple, red maple, basswood, beech, and yellow birch. These five species make up 43 percent of the wood volume in the U.P., although the northern hardwood type has the highest tree species diversity. The type covers about 44 percent of the U.P. forest area.
Northern hardwood management requires skill, flexibility, and time in order to achieve the high potential for quality. Many of our forests have been managed toward these objectives for decades. Management has been so successful that some areas have been reclassified as old growth and removed from timber production!
A key component of northern hardwood management is repeated removal of lower quality and less desirable material until the forest stand has reached a relatively steady state with all ages of trees. This can only be done with a market for these lower quality hardwoods, such as we have in the U.P.
The forests of the U.P. have two other major type classes.
The swamp conifer group makes up about 24 percent of the forest area of the U.P. The northern white cedar forest type is about half that acreage, followed by the balsam fir, black spruce, and tamarack types. These forests present challenges due to their typically wet soils and special wildlife habitat characteristics. For example, moving cedar regeneration beyond the sapling stages can be difficult.
Aspen covers about 14 percent of the forest, dominated by quaking aspen and bigtooth aspen. Balsam fir, red maple, and paper birch are significant secondary components. Without active aspen management, the fir and maple will take over the site.
As a result of our forest history, the U.P. forest probably has more aspen than it did 200 years ago, which is a good thing because aspen types provide many benefits enjoyed by people, especially excellent habitat for game species such as white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse. However, the proportion of aspen type has been steadily declining.
Tree species occurrence within forest types are quite variable. Some species grow almost exclusively within a single forest type, such as sugar maple, beech, and basswood. Other species are found across a wide range of forest types, such as balsam fir, white pine, and aspen.
The characteristics of Upper Peninsula forests are diverse, even within the same forest type. Management requires recognition of these sometimes subtle biological differences, as well as consideration for landowner objectives and markets for forest products. A long-term perspective with a focus on the future forest condition is what forestry is all about, but is often difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, if our forests are to continue to provide the many benefits demanded by society, we must persist in our efforts to manage the forest resources of the Upper Peninsula.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 906-786-1575.
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: email@example.com
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