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Forest Ownership
Article #124, October 2007
By Bill Cook

     Who owns the forest? Of course, the owner of the property gets to decide what happens on the property. So, many predictions might be made by knowing something about the mix of forest ownership.

     In the Upper Peninsula, there is about nine million acres of forest, covering over 80 percent of our landscape. Activities on the forest affect not only the owner, but all the people who live here, visit here, and benefit from such a spectacular region as the U.P.

     Our forests are more than just a pretty face. For many reasons, the forest has a wide variety of conditions and opportunities. It is far from the same thing across the region.

     The ownership patterns are unique, and important.

     Roughly half is public and roughly half private. The public sector is dominated by national forests and state forests. The private sector is dominated by corporate forest and non-industrial forest. These four sectors represent different management styles and recreational opportunities.

     The Ottawa and Hiawatha National Forests are owned by 300 million U.S. citizens. They are managed for a variety of purposes with a considerable amount of forest set aside for purposes other than timber harvest. They are managed under a set of guidelines established by the U.S. Congress and interpreted by a set of rules created by the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, D.C.

     National Parks occupy about 575,000 acres in the U.P., mostly in Isle Royale and the Pictured Rocks. Recreation and research are the main purposes, with virtually no timber harvest. They contain land with extraordinary characteristics.

     The term “state forest” means forest land administered through the DNR for multi-purposes. Most of the state-owned 1.8 million acres in the U.P. fall under state forest jurisdiction. Other state-owned forest is managed as parks and special areas, generally off-limits to timber harvest. The difference is important, in that the lands are managed quite differently.

     Of course, all state lands are owned by about 10 million people; the citizens of Michigan. Management planning has far less bureaucracy than the national forests, but the difference grows smaller each year.

     On the private side, about two million acres are managed by timber investment corporations. A few years back, most of these lands were owned by forest industry, such as Mead Papers and International Paper. Ownership re-organization has separated ownership of the paper mills from the land base, a national trend.

     Names of new forest owners include Plum Creek, GMO, and The Forestland Group. For the most part, these corporate forests are managed with timber production as the main emphasis and most of the land is enrolled in the Commercial Forest Program (CFP). The CFP opens the forest to hunting, fishing, and trapping. Corporate owners also allow other recreational uses across most of their forest land.

     The second sector of private ownership in the U.P. involves about 55,000 parcels owned by individuals or small groups. Most of the roughly three million acres are managed with a mix of timber, wildlife, and recreation objectives. These are the hunting camps and recreational properties for which the U.P. is so famous. Acreages range from a few acres to many thousands of acres.

     Management assistance comes from a number of sources, such as forestry consultants, Tree Farm Program, Michigan Forest Association, state tax programs, and conservation districts. However, many forest owners have yet to engage professional natural resource management.

     Forest management is one thread that ties all these ownerships together. Regardless of ownership objectives or future vision of the forest condition, management provides the greatest opportunity for success. The forests of the U.P. not only hold the promise of our future, but will affect people throughout the Midwest and across the USA. They are too valuable of a resource to leave unattended. We fail to manage them at our own peril.

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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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