Forest stewardship heritage lives on | News, Sports, Jobs


Photo by MRN Planting seedlings grown in a nursery is one way to reforest the land; another is known as natural regeneration. Researchers at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan State University are studying different ways to allow forests to regrow naturally, including leaving wood on the ground to protect delicious seedlings from hungry deer.

By Kathleen Lavey

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

At the turn of the 20th century, some of Michigan’s greatest conservation minds focused on one very important problem: turning vast fields of logged stumps into forests.

It was not an easy sale at first.

Hillary Pine, a historian based in Crawford County in Hartwick Pines State Park – which includes ancient white pine forest and a logging museum among its 9,762 acres – said the earliest forests of ‘State had been founded in 1902.

The Higgins Lake Nursery in County Roscommon was launched a year later.

“At that time, there was a pushback from the locals”, Pin said. “They said, ‘We are cultivating, what are the trees going to do for us? It is pointless.

Cut forests are shown after a winter snowfall in this historic black and white image.

Despite opposition, environmentalists have pursued their admittedly high replant target. He came with his own set of challenges.

“They wanted to regrow forests on a monumental scale”, Pin said. “How do you plant the seeds? How deep do you plant them? How to protect them from birds and pests? It was a great experience on how to do it correctly and successfully.

There were a few hiccups. An attempt to grow eucalyptus trees didn’t work.

But there were many successes, and eventually much of Michigan was successfully planted with jack pine, red pine, and other tree species.

Current conditions

Nearly 120 years later, foresters still carefully study Michigan’s forests to determine the best ways to help them thrive into the 22nd century and beyond.

Today, 20 million acres, or half of Michigan’s land mass, is covered in forest, ranging from young aspens to old hemlock. There are nearly 4 million acres of state forest in Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas. There are also 3 million acres of federal forest land in the state.

This is all because the forests are managed to allow a wide range of activities. This includes all types of recreation, wildlife habitat for everything from small birds and butterflies to huge elk, and harvesting wood to make products people use every day, from wood to toilet paper.

“Vigorous and healthy forests would not be there with a hands-off approach”, said Jason Hartman, MNR silviculturist. Forestry is the science of caring for and cultivating trees.

“This new era with climate change is going to require a tremendous amount of stewardship”, Hartman said. “Everyone seems to want to plant more trees, which is great. We just have to be strategic.

Some important Michigan trees, such as aspen and jack pine, are found at the southern end of their current geographic range and need cool temperatures to thrive. But DNR data shows average temperatures in the state increased between 1969 and 2020.

This means Michigan’s forests could lose a few iconic tree species over the next 100 years, but at the same time, they could gain a few different tree species as southern trees expand their range to the south. North.

Coping with climate change

One of the stewardship tasks that MNR is currently considering is a process known as “Assisted migration of trees”.

“We basically select species further south to plant as tests at different latitudes in Michigan,” Hartman said. “For example, we plan to plant hickory trees in Lansing, Gaylord and Shingleton. We want to see which species work best if assisted migration becomes operational. “

Hickory currently thrives in southern Michigan, but becomes scarce as you move north. This is an important prospect because its hard-shelled nuts provide food for wildlife during the winter.

Other hardwood species under consideration for assisted migration include yellow poplar, walnut, and perhaps some of the southern species of oak or blue ash, which are resistant to the invasive and destructive emerald ash borer.

Foresters at MNR are also studying species that could potentially replace red pine and jack pine in the distant future, and further experiments are expected to include growing shortleaf and stiff pine in Michigan.

Shortleaf pine grows in southeastern Ohio, the Ozarks, and much of the south. The pine pine currently grows on the east coast and in parts of the south.

In addition to examining trees that thrive in warmer southern temperatures, the experiments will also include work to improve existing forests.

“It is also a question of selecting the genetic diversity among the species that we currently have which would be the most efficient”, Hartman said.

The DNR works closely with Michigan State University on tree genetics to improve the quality of seedlings grown for state forests.

Hartman said any species that will be planted on the trial will be carefully considered to make sure they fit well into the current forest – so the eucalyptus experiment is unlikely. early 1900s has a modern repetition.

“We are not going to move any potentially invasive species”, Hartman said.

What is natural regeneration?

During the 1930s, young men from the Civilian Conservation Corps planted 484 million trees in Michigan, twice as many as in any other state.

“We may be entering a modern era of CCC due to the amount of reforestation being promoted” Hartman said.

Sending an army of young men to turn fields into forests may not be feasible today, but there are other ways to get more and healthier trees in the landscape.

For example, researchers at DNR and MSU worked on a large-scale project to improve how valuable Michigan hardwoods, such as sugar maple, regenerate naturally.

They set up cameras in the woods to watch the deer as they search for tender seedlings to eat, and experimented with different methods of harvesting the trees.

They also investigated different ways of disturbing the soil surface to allow seeds to settle better and to process unwanted species in the understory to allow desirable trees to grow.

Act against invasive species

MNR has also worked with various other researchers to mitigate the devastating effects of disease or invasive species.

One historic success is to reduce the impacts of Lymantria dispar dispar, formerly known as gypsy moth. Although the size of the population varies from year to year, its impacts on forest health have been significantly reduced by naturalization of the population across the state.

Today, predators, parasitoids, a fungus called Entomophaga maimaiga, and nuclear polyhedrosis virus play a key role in limiting mite outbreaks and keeping populations in a regular cycle.

Another ongoing effort is aimed at restoring the state’s ash trees, which have been devastated over the past 20 years by the bright green emerald ash borer.

An orchard of insect resistant ash trees has been established. Restoration work is still a few years away, but the effort has the potential to restore resilient ash trees to Michigan’s forests.

The DNR is also working with federal and local authorities to stop the spread of the hemlock woolly aphid on the west coast of Michigan. Another destructive insect pest is the aphid.

These efforts include identifying infested trees and treating them to help prevent hemlock mortality, as well as educating people to be aware of the invading pest and help prevent it from spreading.

Michigan’s state forests have come a long way in 120 years, aided by human ingenuity. It will be even more important in the years to come.

“Stewardship will increase, it will not decrease” Hartman said. “It’s getting your hands dirty in nature. It’s about finding ways to have good effects, planting trees of the right species in the right place, cutting trees at the right time, things like that.

For more information on forest stewardship in Michigan, visit

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