Article #99, September, 2005
By Bill Cook
vital assets to society. Ownership and control largely resides in the hands
of private parties. In Michigan, a substantial army of at least 320,000 people
own nearly half the forest land, or about 8.5 million acres. Various governments
and forest industry own the balance.
timber, clean water, wildlife habitat, visual quality, and many other benefits.
Michigan's total population of nearly 10 million is dependent upon healthy forests.
However, only a small proportion of people are likely to recognize this dependency.
not meet the demands of society without management. Already, Michigan is a net
importer of wood. Michigan was once a national leader in supplying the nation
with lumber and other wood products. Additionally, current trends in our forests,
some subtle and some not so subtle, do not portend a bright future. Forests
are mistakenly taken for granted.
is a long term proposition, sort of like a huge ocean-going tanker. It takes
miles to alter the direction and speed of such a tanker. It takes years, even
decades, to alter the direction of our forests. Some would argue we are headed
towards the rocks. Indeed, some of the analyses are frightening.
often acknowledge their role as stewards of the land. Many do not. Some of the
finest examples of management have been developed on family forests. The American
Tree Farm Program annually recognizes some of the best. Of course, some of the
very worst forestry practices can be found on private ownerships as well. Such
is the nature of American land ownership and private property rights.
remains in the hands of the minority. Yet, we all remain dependent upon forest
outputs whether we think so or not. Each person uses the equivalent of about
4.5 pounds of wood each day. Michigan has about 850,000 hunters and many more
bird-watchers, amateur botanists, collectors, crafters, and people of related
pursuits, all largely forest-dependent. Without forests, the quality of our
surface water would rapidly degrade. Forests provide habitat for the vast majority
of our wildlife species. Tourism would all but disappear without the vast forests
of "up north".
appear to be static landscapes but appearances can be very misleading. In fact,
Lake States forests are undergoing dramatic changes. Unfortunately, most of
us will not notice these changes unless we begin to look a lot closer and learn
much more about these incredible resources. Recognizing what is missing is a
lot harder than observing something merely out of place.
have grown older with higher proportions of larger trees. Shifts to later successional
forest types, such as sugar maple-beech-basswood, have worked against earlier
successional species such as white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, and a large suite
of related critters and plants that prefer forest types such as aspen, paper
birch, and upland brushlands. It's no surprise that some of the species in these
declining types have become threatened or endangered.
across much of the Lake States have experienced tree regeneration failure for
decades due to overbrowsing by white-tailed deer. Similarly, many once common
shrubs and wildflowers have declined dramatically. Habitat quality has eroded.
Here lies a real barn-burner of a controversy. It's tough when a darling of
the wildlife world morphs into a major threat.
are being invaded by second home owners and sprawling subdivisions. Michigan
has one of the highest rates of second home ownership in the nation. More often
than not, construction occurs in sensitive and high value riparian areas . .
. lake shores and stream banks. Even the "camps" of today have become
more like primary residences than the rugged retreats of yesteryear.
been increasingly assaulted by invasive species that displace native species,
kill trees, and disrupt many ecological dynamics. Most of us remain unfamiliar
with any of these processes, but they are being altered nonetheless. High deer
populations and the urban splatter help these invasive species along. Biological
diversity is at risk. Forest recovery may take decades, if it is possible at
have changed. No longer do timber, wildlife, and water reign supreme. Today,
forests are largely regarded as playgrounds. Traditional values not only play
second fiddle, but they have actually grown to be politically incorrect. All
the public surveys support these trends. Of course, our society continues to
be just as dependent as ever on these old values. Many of us simply don't acknowledge
that dependency. We fool ourselves. However, once the massive freighter of forest
change nears the threshold where enough people feel the stirrings of concern,
it will be too late to avoid a shipwreck.
What can be done?
If you're a forest owner, then manage your property with the assistance of a
professional forester. Look to the future. Consider your great-grandchildren.
Get involved. If you're not a forest owner, advocate for social change and public
policy that favors forest management and forest health. Simple preservation
and benign neglect is not the answer. Avoid the urban myths about forestry,
logging, and resource extraction. Forestry is a lot more than a multi-billion
dollar industry, although that in itself is vital to the Lake States. Forestry
is a critical investment in our future. It's the answer, not the problem.
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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 email@example.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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