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Article #110, August 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.

     White pine and eastern hemlock are the tree species most often considered when foresters and wildlife biologists talk about "upland conifers." These species often occur in association with other forest types, mostly northern hardwoods, but can also form their own forest types.

     Both species were once more common than they are today. Both have served valuable utilitarian roles in the history of the Lake States. Both have "recovery" or "restoration" challenges as a result of the historical logging and massive wildfire era common to the region.

     White pine and hemlock no longer have high demand from commodity markets. However, they provide critical habitat components for many species of wildlife, especially a suite of popular songbirds. They also have high visual and aesthetic appeal; a romance with the past. After all, white pine is Michigan's state tree.

     While these upland conifers frequent our forests less than in the recent past, they remain major forest components. Both are among the most common tree species in Michigan, particularly in the Upper Peninsula. In fact, the U.P. has some of the largest hemlock reserves in North America.

     Nevertheless, "upland conifer restoration" has growing popularity among public agencies and many private forest owners. A good portion of our northern hardwood forest lacks what some ecologists regard as historical levels of upland conifers.

     So, how does a forest owner increase the upland conifer component of a forest?

     For the most part, nature will take its course. Active forest management, especially timber harvest, will accelerate the natural tendency of upland conifer regeneration. Across parts of Michigan, this successional process is taking place, and has been for decades.

     These upland conifers will regenerate best under canopies opened up by timber harvest (or natural processes mimicked by timber harvest) and where mineral soil has been exposed. Astute observers will see seedlings and saplings most common along roads and skid trails. Recent research indicates that certain micro-topographical features (e.g. old logs and "tip-ups" from fallen trees) provide adequate sites in less disturbed places.

     However, where seed sources are not available, human beings can plant trees in the understory. Partial sunlight and well-drained, reasonably fertile, soils provide the best sites. These young trees will grow best without competing vegetation.

     Aside from the expense and labor involved with planting, there are several challenges to successfully regenerating or restoring upland conifers in northern hardwood forests.

     White pine is susceptible to blister rust, an exotic disease that has more impact in shadier and moister conditions, such as understories. More open-grown white pine are susceptible to our native tip weevils, which kill the leader of the tree, often rendering a mis-shapened white pine "bush."

     Hemlock across much of eastern North America has succumbed to an exotic insect called a woolly adelgid. To date, the adelgid has not gained a foothold in Michigan. The thought of this insect in our large hemlock reserves is disturbing.

     By far the leading challenge to these young upland conifers is browsing by deer, and to a lesser degree by rabbits and hares. In areas where browsing pressure is moderate to high, regeneration of white pine and hemlock is next to impossible. So, before embarking on a restoration effort, it would be worthwhile to consider local browsing pressure.

     White pine and hemlock are beautiful trees. They have played a key role in human settlement and provide important wildlife habitat. Where possible, increasing their presence in upland forest types is a worthy objective. Managing for these species requires an assessment of several related factors. As always, working with a professional forester is recommended.

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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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