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Article #79, January, 2004
By Bill Cook

     How should our forests be managed?  What expectations do we, as a society, place upon our forests?  How important are local concerns about forests?  How have demands changed over time?  What trends might be anticipated into the future?  These are some of the questions that pertain to forest planning; and are not easy to answer.

     Plans vary with ownership.  A family forest may or may not have a formal forest management plan.  Most foresters, loggers, and natural resource managers highly recommend developing such a plan.  Industry-owned forests have cutting-edge long range plans.  Fiber production has a high priority, but opportunities for many other values are incorporated into forest planning.  Publicly-owned forests are a different animal altogether. 

     Public forests are owned by one level of government or another.  National Forests are owned by the entire citizenry of the United States; and respectively for state and county forests.  In Michigan, the national forests and state forests have initiated forest management plan revisions that will guide managers for the next 10-15 years. 

     Public forests have huge impacts on local economies, things like schools, roads, taxes, jobs, recreation, hunting, etc.  Some would argue that local input should, in some way, be valued differently than input of remote forest owners.  At this point, issues of fairness and social justice weigh-in.  Consensus can be difficult to achieve. 

     Communities can have powerful voices in forest planning, especially on public forests.  Public forest managers pay particular heed to input that fairly represents visions of residents or local interest groups.  Yet, by and large, communities remain silent or nearly so. 

     Counties have unique opportunities to influence forest planning.  County residents usually have the greatest stake in how local forests are managed.  In places like the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin, forests are the backbone of our economy and lifestyle.  Oddly, most county plans barely acknowledge forest resources in their long-range vision.  Taking forests for granted is a mistake, a painful lesson learned in other regions of the United States.  We should learn from their losses. 

    Obtaining a community vision is not easy and takes persistence.  Maybe that is why county plans lack sections about forests and forestry, and why planning processes so highly value that sort of input.  However, there are examples of how this information can be assembled.  Gogebic County helped pioneer the process and has become a national model.  Some of the counties along the Michigan-Wisconsin border are considering their role in sustainable forestry. 

     Defining the importance of forests to local communities has to originate from local communities.  An outside team cannot produce quality results.  Outside expertise and grant dollars might be needed, but leadership and direction must be local.  Developing a community vision is not the exclusive role of government officials, although a County Board of Commissioners could certainly provide the leadership.  The key is a handful of dedicated individuals who ride shotgun over the process.  Cookie-cutter recipes donít exist. 

     Why should a county bother to engage in the process of developing a vision of sustainable forestry?  Pick your reasons from the following list, and add more reasons as you see them. 

     1.  Define sustainable forestry for your county. 
     2.  Contribute meaningfully to public forest planning processes.
     3.  Establish measurable baseline data.
     4.  Track changes/trends over time. 
     5.  Assesses community sentiment/values.
     6.  Set a vision that represents local values.
     7.  Prevent outside interests from having the only influence.   

     Who might use this stuff?  Certainly, federal and state governments crave this sort of information.  Forest industry will pay close attention to how residents view forest values.  Family forest owners often look for examples in developing their own vision.  Lastly, having a solid vision of the future serves as an excellent defense against those who might have alternative visions, which might not consider local values.  Somebody is going decide how forests are managed.  By and large, decisions are made by those who show up.

     Building a vision of sustainable forestry takes time, maybe a year or two.  A cross-section of community interests need to be represented.  The group must identify what information is wanted.  Another team will help supply the information, or suggest how to gather difficult-to-obtain data.  The spark needs to come from a handful of dedicated people.  They will be the fire-tenders in the process.  The outcome will clearly state what local communities want and need.  Powerful stuff. 

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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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