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Article #107, May 2006
By Bill Cook

     Forest management practices vary considerably across forest types, site conditions, market availability, and many other factors. There simply is not any single way or best way to manage all forests, or even a particular kind of forest. While nature is a dynamic system that defies simple categorization, there remains a body of knowledge and experience that can be very effectively applied.

     Northern white cedar, a very typical swamp type in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and less common elsewhere in the Lake States, deserves some very careful consideration when planning any management activities. More than any other forest type, management will be driven by a single factor . . . the population density of whitetailed deer.

     In areas of reasonable site quality, site characteristics, and low deer densities, just about any harvest strategy will result in successful cedar regeneration. Almost nothing will work when deer pressure is high. The impact of deer browsing will eclipse all other limiting forest regeneration factors combined.

     Forest owners interested in maintaining cedar in the landscape with significant browse pressure have a few alternatives to consider. First, accept the fact that new cedar will be nearly impossible to achieve without fencing. Given that, on better sites cedar can be thinned and the remaining trees will respond well with increased growth. In nearly pure stands of cedar, creating openings will increase the number of tree species and habitat diversity. On poorer sites, the response to thinning may be restricted by site limitations.

     It may be possible to secure cedar regeneration by leaving logging slash high but not overly dense. However, the visual impact is undesirable for many forest owners. The slash serves as a physical barrier to deer, allowing cedar an opportunity to outgrow the deer before the slash decomposes. However, there is no research to demonstrate this practice works.

     Of course, doing nothing may actually be a viable alternative with cedar. Cedar can live a long time, hundreds of years. Most of the cedar in the Lake States is less than 100 years old. So, one way to perpetuate cedar in the landscape, at least in the shorter run, is to simply maintain current stands. However, this only postpones the inevitable.

     Eventually, the challenges of high deer impacts will need to be resolved. Hopefully, this can be done before long-term damage occurs, where it hasn't already.

     Beyond deer, cedar regeneration on wet sites requires a considerable amount of microtopography; or small patches of ground that rise above the normal water levels of the swamp. Cedar seedlings need these high spots. Sometimes, old logs and stumps serve this purpose. Certainly, old "tip-ups" from long-ago windthrown trees serve as important regeneration spots.

     Stands that have been heavily logged in the past, and have not developed good microtopography, may not readily regenerate to cedar. Microtopography can be artificially created, but it's expensive. Sites with good drainage are usually better than sites with standing water.

     Roads and other linear structures often alter hydrological (water) patterns, especially those where culverts are no longer maintained. Old railroad grades are classic examples. A slight rise in the water table may not kill the current cedar stand, but might prevent regeneration from becoming established. Many of our swamplands have experienced altered hydrology over the past 100 years. Some of these areas may no longer be suitable for cedar.

     Wetlands are not the only places where cedar grows. Upland sites on limestone-origin (calcareous) soils readily support cedar. Most of that cedar has long-since been harvested and most of the area is now covered by other forest types.

     Ecologically productive cedar can support some of our highest stand densities and timber volumes in the Lake States. High quality cedar has many merchantable options. Cedar, as a species, has some uncommon growth and physiological qualities. Cedar, as a forest type, provides some critical habitat functions, especially in riparian areas and as wintering areas for whitetails.

     Many variables suggest how cedar may or may not be managed. There is no single "best" way to manage cedar. An owner must creatively consider the role of deer, site quality, current stand characteristics, and desired future conditions. Many times, unconventional techniques might work with cedar. The good thing is that decisions don't have to be made right away. Our long-lived cedar can afford to wait, at least for awhile.

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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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