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Michigan Forests Magazine
Excerpts From Fall 2004 Issue

Conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men.-Gifford Pinchot

By Bill Cook MSU Extension Service Forester

Many times you can hear phrases such as; "The woods needs thinning" or "Cutting trees helps the forest stay healthy." How can this be? It would seem that cutting trees can't possibly be good for a forest.

In fact, forests don't need management. That's right. Forests grow just fine without the assistance of human beings. That shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Forests existed long before people began to tinker with them, although people have been tinkering with forests for thousands of years. On the other hand, people need forests. That's the reason for management. Wood, water, wildlife, recreation, and inspiration are some of the benefits we seek. Management provides more of all these things.

Over the last few decades, per capita consumption of wood and the use of forest lands have grown. Our population size has also risen. However, the amount of "working" forest has shrunk, although the total amount of forest land has actually increased. One does not need to be a mathematical wizard to understand the "squeeze dynamics" of this trend.

So, when a forest "needs" thinning or harvesting, that implies a design for the current and future generations of people. Management can improve both tree health and forest health. It can alter habitat conditions that benefit particular suites of wildlife and provide a balance of habitats for all species of wildlife. Well managed forests maintain or improve water quality, keep soils intact, and enhance many ecological processes. A financial value helps keep forests intact, rather than converting them into parking lots or sites for second homes. This is exciting stuff.

It's not so much a question of "if" we should manage forests, but more a question of "how" we should do so. Our long-term survival as a species may be at stake. Without management and conservation, our future generations will probably look back at us with considerable disdain, wondering how we could have been so foolish or selfish.

Forest management employs ecological knowledge to enhance the forest in ways that society demands. Defining "demands" has been contentious and goals are moving targets. Science, economics, and sociology determine the fate of forests and measure the sustainability of our impact. Management sculpts forest landscapes to meet the wide-ranging and variable requirements of society. A lack of management will also sculpt the landscape, but the outcomes will probably be disappointing.

The "natural" way that forests grow may not provide the kind of forest that people expect or need. Forests don't grow with people "in mind." Natural is not necessarily better and oftentimes leaves us with more problems than solutions. Many western states are learning this lesson in a painful way. We in Michigan also have some serious challenges. Past civilizations have fallen, partly due to their lack of forest management.

Forests are not sacred objects. They are resources needed to build our future. Forests are renewable, unlike petroleum, plastic, steel, and concrete. Replacing wood products with non-renewable materials is unwise from an environmental perspective. We should be using more wood whenever possible and abandon the "save a tree" mantra. After all, you can't "save" trees. They are biological organisms that die.

Management practices are not always pretty, which is probably why many people object to tree cutting. Sociologists have demonstrated that most people possess an innate love of trees. So, resistance to tree cutting becomes understandable and conflicts with the less romantic scientific body of knowledge. Emotions often out-trump fact and reasoning. Unfortunately, too many people use visual quality to assess ecological health. That's sort of like saying some- one is a nice person just because they're pretty.

An abandoned or unmanaged forest is not a natural forest, whatever "natural" might be. If natural means something similar to what we had 200 years ago, then the objective is impossible. People have forever changed the path of forest change and returning to what "was" cannot be done, if even we wanted to. If the goals for a particular forest are restoration of some sort, then management (including tree cutting) will reach those goals quicker than benign neglect. Besides, it is unlikely that "hands-off' management will lead to a "natural" future condition. Wishful thinking won't impact the direction of ecological change. People who own forest land have a special opportunity to help shape the future. They control the activity on about 8.5 million acres of Michigan forest. Whatever these 320,000 owners do, or don't do, will provide a legacy. Our grandchildren have no choice in depending upon the decisions that we make today. Some would argue that forest owners have a moral imperative to manage their forests wisely. Maybe so. Perhaps more important, forestry can be an intriguing and incredibly satisfying endeavor. It might also send little Susie to college or pay for a nice nursing home. Not a bad deal. Forestry is one of those few things where you can have your cake and eat it, too.

By Bill Cook MSU Extension Service Forester

Decades of outdoor education have provided an entire generation with some awareness of forests and other ecosystems. Schools, public agencies, and nature centers have offered a smorgasbord of educational programming. As a result, our mostly urban and suburban human population has been partially reconnected with natural resources.

A very low percentage of people continue to work on the land, a dramatic shift in demographics from 100 years ago. The subsequent void of wildland familiarity has been filled with many messages from a divergent assembly dedicated to environmental education. Most organizations have done a good job of raising awareness levels among our uprooted society. Many of the messages focus on preservation of threatened resources or a species group, identification of one thing or another, and on recreational activities. These are good objectives, but they are not enough.

There exists a logical progression from nature awareness to the essentials of natural resource management. Unfortunately, popular outdoor recreation and ecotourism have placed an unbalanced premium on the pretty, the cute, and the entertaining, which is usually a far cry from the ecologically stable or sustainable. As a result, some environmental programming may have contributed to an anti-management perspective.

Too often, we forget that all of our material goods come from the Earth. Everything! Resource management is the key to maintaining an essential supply of raw materials. The techniques and practices for conservation and use of our natural resources are excellent environmental education topics (and great professions, too!). More specifically, forestry encompasses the science through which forest ownerships can be managed for a brighter future. For family forests, forestry can yield a lifetime of satisfaction.

Environmental education needs to teach more than merely an appreciation of forests and natural beauty. More people must understand that effectively managed forests better provide benefits that we all rely upon. Professional environmental education societies have adopted these themes but much more work needs to be done.

The challenge of forest management is not the sole responsibility of schools, public agencies, and nature centers. Those of us who own forests could use an owner's manual. In Michigan and Wisconsin, half the forest land is owned by individuals. This is a tremendous resource that benefits us all. Many people believe that if forests are left alone, they will flourish. This is not necessarily the case for many reasons.

Most forests come with a history of human disturbance that requires human nurturing. Invasive species, both native and exotic, have become an increasingly important forest health issue. Additionally, desirable forest qualities can be increased through the application of ecological concepts, or in other words, forestry. A forest left to itself through benign neglect will seldom proceed towards a successful future. That is a message worthy of environmental education curricula. The methods to reach these goals are fascinating.

Without a doubt, forest resources are increasingly threatened which, in turn, compromises the future of our children and grandchildren. Most of these threats have a human component that environmental education can address more often. The following trends incorporate most of our forest health challenges.

1. Urban splatter. As more people buy their little piece of heaven in the northwoods, the forest landscape becomes fragmented and ownership increasingly parcelized. Lakeshore and river property is s particularly popular and especially vulnerable.

2. Invasive species. Insects and diseases have already taken a huge toll in the decline of American elm, oaks, white pine, butternut, and beech. On the ground, garlic mustard, Pennsylvania sedge, and buckthorn make forest regeneration all but impossible. More damaging agents loom on the horizon.

3. High deer densities. While deer population levels are the subject of intense and emotional debate, the fact that many areas of the northern forest have been severely damaged by deer browsing has been obvious for many years. Intense deer pressure has resulted in the loss of forest regeneration for decades in some areas. Browse preferences often encourage the harmful spread of invasive plants, further precluding tree regeneration. Trees are not the only victims of over browsing. Many understory plants, including endangered species, have lost ground. People need to expand their traditional views of deer to include the fact that they can inflict long-term damage to their habitat.

These three challenges are certainly related in many ways. For example, the introduction and spread of damaging species can often be traced to people moving into the woods. Control of damaging species is greatly inhibited by multiple ownerships, especially recreational properties. In jack pine areas, threat of wildfire increases and control is more difficult. Many forest owners like to feed deer, contributing to browse damage in areas already too dense with deer.

Most forest health threats cannot be countered by legislation or regulation, nor should they be. Public funding can often help address specific issues, but the real key is environmental education and increased levels of forest stewardship. Seek learning. For starters, try . Advocating sound forest management is one of the environmentally friendly ways to actively promote a sustainable future. It's also a lot of fun!

By Don Ingle The Northcountry Sportsman

OSCEOLA COUNTY-You'll know them by the diamond-shaped white and green signs that mark their properties. The signs read "Tree Farm," and the tree farmers are "conservation's optimists." For good reason. Many tree farmers may begin forest management processes that they themselves may never live long enough to see completed - depending on the life span of the species they are growing for the future. There are varieties of reasons a person manages his or her lands for forests - wildlife, income, aesthetics or tranquility. A few dozen residents of the Lake-Osecola and Mecosta Soil Conservation Districts toured the Osceola County tree farm of Rick Lucas on Saturday, August 15 to see what Lucas has been able to do on his forested acres to reach his goals for the forest property.

His management efforts have ranged from growing trees for eventual harvest, for wetland protection, managing openings as food plots for wildlife, and creating a visual mix that is a pleasing setting for his homestead within the tree farm.

Adding to the tree farm tour were several stops where specialists added interesting presentations to explain the things a forest owner needs to understand about woodlands, from soil testing to potential insect threats to the forest.

At a site where Lucas has been managing an opening as a food plot for wildlife, Eric Johnson of the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDOA) gave a demonstration on soil testing to help a landowner select the right types of forest or vegetative cover that is suited to the site. "Site indexes are a part of soil inventories made by the MDOA. Many of the earlier ones were more for agricultural rather than forest use - an emphasis in the older inventories. The newer ones being made now match sites and soils to what grows on there and that includes forests as well as (farm) crops," Johnson said. He noted that many of the inventories are now scanned and available on line or on CD's, depending on the counties.

He demonstrated taking a soil sample for testing, and also used a visual display showing the horizon layers of the soil and what the limitations or potential the site index would show.

Growing trees is a maor part of the tree farm and there are old and new threats to the forest health that come from insects and fungal infections. The latest threat is the Emerald Ash Beetle, a foreign invader that has already created major damage to ash trees in the SE of the state, and threatens to spread northward if not constantly monitored. Tracking the green pest is the job of Andrea Firman, exotic insect pest coordinator for the Ingham County Conservation District.

"I've passed out some samples of ash wood to show the damage the beetle causes," she told the tree farm tourists. "They lay their eggs on the surface of the ash tree - small and hard to see, unlike the egg masses of the gypsy moth. Often the only time you know the tree has been damaged is when you begin to noticed some die off -often the upper limbs and foliage. By then it is too late.

"The eggs hatch and the larvae bore into the cambium layer-that is what carries the water and nutrients in the tree. They eventually girdle the tree and it begins to die. Then the larvae pupates and emerges, leaving the telltale D-shaped hole in the bark.." Since the adult beetle can fly up to a half mile, all ash trees within that range may have to be cut and removed.

"The threat to Michigan ash trees is real - there are five ash species at risk."

At another stop, Gib King of the US Fish & Wildlife Service explained the Partners for Wildlife program for private lands, including tree farms. King explained the several programs available for some funding or technical assistance available to forest land owners.

"We have worked with groups like Ducks Unlimited in restoring wetlands, and have assisted private landowners in creating enhanced wetlands within their forest lands. We assist in writing the plans and helping to get the needed permits from the MDEQ - which can be a complicated process. But the programs we have can offer landowners some other options for managing their wood- lands."

A forest can also be a source of income or product for the landowner. A demonstration of a portable sawmill showed how lumber could be created from trees harvested on the landowner's property for sale or for personal use. Big Rapids' Malcomson Company's mill turned pine logs into dimension lumber as the guests watched.

The tour showed several management options a tree farmer might select for a property. Mainly it made the point quite clear that tree farmers - for whatever future goal they have - are conservation's optimists. With good management of woodlands today there will be a tomorrow.

Editor's Notebook By Don Ingle

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Chalk up another species - Populus trichocarpa, a poplar tree - that's had its DNA laid bare for all to see online.

An international team of scientists, including Michigan State University's Kyung- Hwan Han, made the announcement last week. It's the first time a tree's genome has been decoded, an accomplishment that may help wean the United States from imported oil, better predict the possible effects of global warming and perhaps even help remove carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.

"It's exciting to have the entire gene set available," said Dr. Han, MSU forestry professor and Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station researcher. "We can use the information to pinpoint which genes cause the tree to go dormant in winter and become active in the spring, and to explore how global warming might affect this process." Sequencing the genome is like creating a dictionary full of words without definitions. Han's lab has identified functions for several thousand of the tree's genes, in effect writing in definitions for entries in the poplar's DNA dictionary.

Scientists published the genome's raw information online at http:// and will update the free Web-based poplar database as Han's and other researchers' work continues. The first draft of the human genome was published in 2001 to much fanfare. But, in fact, several species, including yeast, a nematode, the mouse and dozens of kinds of bacteria have given up their ancient genetic secrets to the tools of modern microbiology. Scientists are interested in learning more about the fast-growing poplar tree partly because of the promise of alternative energy production, including swapping biomass for oil. By 2050, improvements to plant productivity and conversion efficiency could allow the United States to replace 25 percent of its oil imports with energy from plantation-grown trees, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates.

This poplar tree, which grows over a dozen feet per year until reaching its maximum height of 200 feet, might be a good candidate for these plantations. Learning the function of the tens of thousands of genes in the poplar genome might help foresters breed trees for better yield, quality and pest resistance.

"Michigan has a dynamic, $9 billion per year forest products industry that provides high-paying manufacturing jobs through out the state," said Daniel Keathley, chairperson of the MSU Department of Forestry, who collaborated with Han on the poplar research. "This project provides fundamental knowledge needed to enable a better understanding of tree growth, which is critical to maintaining the broad array of goods provided by our forests, ranging from wild- life habitat and recreational areas to watershed protection, and including the wood products, housing materials, furniture and paper needed by our citizens."

The particular poplar species studied by the international team is native to Washington state. However, several of the tree's cousins, including the eastern cottonwood and trembling aspen, are found in Michigan.

In addition to boosting trees' economic benefits, altering genes of poplars and other trees might make it possible to remove more climate-altering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere longer stretches of time. Forests account for 90 percent of the biomass on Earth's dry land and naturally consume carbon dioxide, storing it in leaves, branches, stems and roots. This carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere when forests are harvested and burned. However, tweaking the genes so that trees store increased amounts of the gas below ground in their roots might scrub carbon dioxide from the skies.

"How difficult that would be is hard to say," said Gerald Tuskan, a plant geneticist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who was part of the international poplar sequencing team. "But it is certainly a testable hypothesis with high probability of success."

For all the potential practical applications of the research, it's questions of basic science that most interest Han and Keathley.

With lifespans stretching into the hundreds or thousands of years, trees have traditionally been difficult study subjects. It might take generations of researchers to learn how a particular stand of trees responds to environmental change over time.

Han and his MSU colleagues are now making month-by-month measurements of poplar gene expression, a task made vastly easier by having a complete picture of the tree's DNA.

"This opens up a whole new field of biology that's little understood," Keathley said. For more information on Han's research, visit his lab's Web site at: