Article #53, November 2001
By Bill Cook
Forest industry is often portrayed as aggressors in the forest. Or sometimes, the industry is “tolerated” because we need the jobs and income, but life would be better without them.
Let’s think this through.
First, we need to understand that the forest resource must meet a variety of increasing demands from society. Somebody needs to figure out how to provide for these demands without sending the environment into a tailspin. This won’t happen by nature alone. Providing for the needs of society requires that the forest be managed because an unmanaged forest will not provide the outputs in quantities defined by society. Management is the role of professional forestry.
Forest industry provides the major links between forest management and the consumer, including non-timber consumables such as wildlife habitat enhancement, recreation opportunities, clean water, and healthy soils. Forest management needs to have funding. Most folks would agree that funding is better provided through commercial enterprise than by tax dollars.
Without the ability to make forest management commercial, for whatever set of purposes, management is not going to happen with any regularity. In addition to providing wood products we all use, forest industry provides a viable market that allows natural resource managers to shape a desired future forest condition. A healthy wood market increases our options and better allows us to learn how to manage more effectively.
Imagine if public agencies had to use tax dollars to pay for forest management. Management wouldn’t happen. Imagine the large corporations such as Mead, International Paper, and Shelter Bay Forests selling off their land assets. What would become of those two million acres of forest lands? Developers? No trespassing signs everywhere?
Twenty years ago, low quality hardwood dominated western U.P. forests. In fact, it still does, but to a much lesser degree. Management plans often called for thinning because stands were too dense and growth was slowing down. There was almost no thinning going on because there were few markets for the wood. In 1983, Champion built a large paper mill that would utilize low quality hardwood. Since then, there has been a flurry of thinning and forest management that have been making forest improvements that were previously impossible.
Beyond that, and sticking to this example, nearly a half million acres of land is managed with forests in mind, now by International Paper. That means we have large blocks of forest to hunt, fish, and enjoy. Management means increased diversity of wildlife habitat. It means a more productive forest that strips more greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere than without management. It means we have a better shot at maintaining our quality lifestyle, and contribute to a better global environment.
Forest industry is a whole lot more than jobs, taxes, economic multipliers, and a line in an investment portfolio. Industry provides the commercial infrastructure that makes forest management possible, on both public and private lands. Forest management provides the kinds of forests needed by society.
Having a healthy and viable forest industry is like having your cake and eating it, too. It utilizes a renewable resource, provides a wide range of non-timber benefits, and does so with the least environmental and energy cost of any natural resource.
Is the forest industry just something we tolerate because we live in the rural Upper Peninsula? Think again. Forest management and forest industry is more the lifeblood of the U.P., rather than merely a choice. We are fortunate enough to live in a resource-rich part of the world. The industry is a vital partner that helps us be who we are, as well as make a positive contribution to the rest of the world.
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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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