Where forest & forestry resources come together for all users!

Sponsored by the Michigan Forest Association and Michigan State University Extension

Article #86, August, 2004  
By Bill Cook

     Decades of outdoor education have provided an entire generation with some awareness of forests and other ecosystems. Schools, public agencies, and nature centers have offered a smorgasbord of educational programming. As a result, our mostly urban and suburban human population has been partially reconnected with natural resources.

     A very low percentage of people continue to work on the land, a dramatic shift in demographics from 100 years ago. The subsequent void of wildland familiarity has been filled with many messages from a divergent assembly dedicated to environmental education. Most organizations have done a good job of raising awareness levels among our uprooted society. Many of the messages focus on preservation of threatened resources or a species group, identification of one thing or another, and on recreational activities. These are good objectives, but they are not enough.

     There exists a logical progression from nature awareness to the essentials of natural resource management. Unfortunately, popular outdoor recreation and ecotourism have placed an unbalanced premium on the pretty, the cute, and the entertaining, which is usually a far cry from the ecologically stable or sustainable. As a result, some environmental programming may have contributed to an anti-management perspective.

      Too often, we forget that all of our material goods come from the Earth. Everything! Resource management is the key to maintaining an essential supply of raw materials. The techniques and practices for conservation and use of our natural resources are excellent environmental education topics (and great professions, too!). More specifically, forestry encompasses the science through which forest ownerships can be managed for a brighter future. For family forests, forestry can yield a lifetime of satisfaction.

     Environmental education needs to teach more than merely an appreciation of forests and natural beauty. More people must understand that effectively managed forests better provide benefits that we all rely upon. Professional environmental education societies have adopted these themes but much more work needs to be done.

     The challenge of forest management is not the sole responsibility of schools, public agencies, and nature centers. Those of us who own forests could use an owner's manual. In Michigan and Wisconsin, half the forest land is owned by individuals. This is a tremendous resource that benefits us all.

     Many people believe that if forests are left alone, they will flourish. This is not necessarily the case for many reasons. Most forests come with a history of human disturbance that requires human nurturing. Invasive species, both native and exotic, have become an increasingly important forest health issue. Additionally, desirable forest qualities can be increased through the application of ecological concepts, or in other words, forestry. A forest left to itself through benign neglect will seldom proceed towards a successful future. That is a message worthy of environmental education curricula. The methods to reach these goals are fascinating.

     Without a doubt, forest resources are increasingly threatened which, in turn, compromises the future of our children and grandchildren. Most of these threats have a human component that environmental education can address more often. The following trends incorporate most of our forest health challenges.

1. Urban splatter. As more people buy their little piece of heaven in the northwoods, the forest landscape becomes fragmented and ownership increasingly parcelized. Lakeshore and river property is particularly popular and especially vulnerable.

2. Invasive species. Insects and diseases have already taken a huge toll in the decline of American elm, oaks, white pine, butternut, and beech. On the ground, garlic mustard, Pennsylvania sedge, and buckthorn make forest regeneration all but impossible. More damaging agents loom on the horizon.

3. High deer densities. While deer population levels are the subject of intense and emotional debate, the fact that many areas of the northern forest have been severely damaged by deer browsing has been obvious for many years. Intense deer pressure has resulted in the loss of forest regeneration for decades in some areas. Browse preferences often encourage the harmful spread of invasive plants, further precluding tree regeneration. Trees are not the only victims of over browsing. Many understory plants, including endangered species, have lost ground. People need to expand their traditional views of deer to include the fact that they can inflict long-term damage to their habitat.

     These three challenges are certainly related in many ways. Fore example, the introduction and spread of damaging species can often be traced to people moving into the woods. Control of damaging species is greatly inhibited by multiple ownerships, especially recreational properties. In jack pine areas, threat of wildfire increases and control is more difficult. Many forest owners like to feed deer, contributing to browse damage in areas already too dense with deer.

     Most forest health threats cannot be countered by legislation or regulation, nor should they be. Public funding can often help address specific issues, but the real key is environmental education and increased levels of forest stewardship. Seek learning. For starters, try www.dsisd.k12.mi.us/mff. Advocating sound forest management is one of the environmentally friendly ways to actively promote a sustainable future. It's also a lot of fun!

-  30  -

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.

Michigan State University is an affirmative action equal opportunity institution.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital status or family status.   (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.)

This website is maintained by Bill Cook, Michigan State University Extension Forest in the Upper Peninsula.  Comments, questions, and suggestions are gratefully accepted. 
Last update of this page was 5 November, 2018




This site is hosted by School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University.

Michigan Tech