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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
SO, WHAT'S SO GOOD ABOUT CUTTING TREES?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
www.dsisd.k12.mi.us/mff . Advocating sound forest management is
one of the environmentally friendly ways to actively promote a
sustainable future. It's also a lot of fun!
TREE FARMERS - CONSERVATION'S OPTIMISTS
By Don Ingle The
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
"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
"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
MSU RESEARCHERS HELP IN FIRST
DECODING OF TREE GENOME
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Chalk up another species - Populus
trichocarpa, a poplar tree - that's had its DNA laid bare for all to
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
www.jgi.doe.gov/poplar 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
"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: