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Article #125, November 2007
By Bill Cook

     So, where do private forest owners find information about managing their forest? Well, in some ways information is easier to come by. However, the opportunity to talk to a live forester during an on-site visit has hit a new low.

     If you're reasonably savvy on the Internet, there are many good websites. Landowner associations, government agencies, industries, universities and extension services, and others have much to offer. Try the Michigan Forest Pathways for a clearinghouse [http://miforestpathways.net].

     In Michigan, finding a forester to walk your property with you has gone from difficult to worse. Michigan has never had a particularly good or consistent mechanism to provide forestry services. And now that the Forestry Assistance Program has been abandoned, we have lost the single largest component of the inadequate system that was in place. There are only a small handful of service providers left, most of them now from the forest industry. You may have a good opportunity, if you live in an area served by these foresters.

     On the other hand, finding a consulting forester to write a forest management plan or help with a responsible timber harvest is not too difficult. Consultants provide valuable services and commercial aspects are probably best handled by the private sector, although sometimes forest owners fail to see the value in professional assistance.

     However, there are many non-commercial services that government should consider providing.

     With Michigan at an all-time low in public service forestry, maybe now is a good time to consider what the public sector ought to provide. Oddly, there seems little hew and cry from the 350,000 to 400,000 forest owners for this sort of service.

     So, why should government agencies be prompted to respond?

     Perhaps the strongest argument would be an investment in our collective future. Forests provide an amazing range of goods and services and, yet, most people wouldn't rate forestry anywhere near the top of any priority list. Most people have not thought about forestry assistance. Most people don't think about forests. Yet, without management, these goods and services will be substantially reduced in quantity and quality.

     At the same time, serious threats to our forest resource are growing. Unfortunately, by the time issues begin to attract attention, the time to effectively address them will be long past.

     Roughly half of Michigan's 19 million acre forest is owned by individuals. The other half is owned by government agencies and corporate groups. With the private half receiving relatively little attention (and declining), what might result from this lack of stewardship?

     Michigan forest-based industry is among Michigan's largest economic drivers and fiber supply trends are growing increasingly restrictive while consumer use increases. How, then, might we expand Michigan's bioeconomy from our rich forest resource when half the acreage is largely ignored?

     As demands for recreation access grow, the increasing closure on private lands adds more pressure on public lands. Conflicts arise and pressure to decrease management activity builds. Visual quality becomes confused with aesthetic value.

     Forest health issues, such as the emerald ash borer and beech bark disease, have no respect for property lines. How can private lands become more resilient when they aren't managed?

     Much of the private forest resource increasingly supports later successional habitats as benign neglect leads them down "natural" pathways? Many of our favorite wildlife species rely on early successional forests.

     As more people build homes in these forests, the ecology is affected by fragmentation, loss of biodiversity, and a number of other dynamics. Of course, home construction is a permanent change. Will our grandchildren view this as a good?

     The best time to deal with challenges is often by addressing them before they become problems. Michigan currently ignores 8-9 million acres of forest land. If this is unwise, then what might be done?

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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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