Northeast Michigan’s forests: What the future holds | News, Sports, Jobs


News File Photo Cedars grow along the Trout River in Presque Isle County in this undated photo.

ALPENA — With the changes in the world’s climate, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Forest Resources Division is envisioning the future of the state’s 20 million forest acres.

Michigan’s Lower and Upper peninsulas represent a total of nearly 62 million acres. Thus, a third of Michigan is made up of forests.

US Forest Service research reveals that, within Michigan, 54% of the forest land ownership is controlled by families and private landowners.

According to David Price, a DNR Forest Resources manager, about 4.2 million forested acres are owned and operated by the state.

For Northeast Michigan, the woodlands offer a variety of resources ranging from timber growth to manufacturing to recreation, coupled with a unique eco-balance for animals, insects, ground foliage, water control, and numerous other valued areas.

The United States and the world are experiencing measurable and dramatic climate changes, with extreme rising temperatures, lack of or massive rainfalls, droughts, fires, and related challenges.

Price stated the Forestry Division recognizes those changes and is actively looking into Michigan’s woodlands future.

Already, their research sees changes in the types of forest trees, foliage, and inhabitants that will prosper and those that will not. He added that the division is pursuing funding to develop a well-thought-out and responsive forestry strategic plan. In part, that study will be based upon suitable habitat, adaptability, capability, and migration potential modeling.

Northeast Michigan’s forests are an integral part of tourism, with general recreation as well as sports hunting and fishing. Coupled to tourism is significant employment and millions of dollars of revenue generated through lodging, varied retail sales, restaurants, and related services.

Michigan Forestry Division research noted that, in northern lower Michigan, there are nearly 31,000 employees engaged in the timber producing and manufacturing industries. The division also cites the state has about 300 sawmills, veneer mills, pulp and paper mills, and engineered board manufacturers. In addition, there are well over 1,000 more firms who produce lumber-related finished goods.

In the four-county Northeast Michigan region, Decorative Panels International, along with dozens upon dozens of other firms, are associated with timber growing and subsequent manufacturing.

Northeast Michigan’s tree growing, harvesting, milling, and manufacturing generates significant employment and revenue. Current Michigan Forestry Division research reveals that, in Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties, 925 are employed. Those professions generate over $293 million in regional revenues.

In a recent multi-year study summarized by Peter Reich, a forestry ecologist with the University of Michigan, he profiled research in several geographic areas, including that of northern Minnesota. His research focused upon mixed hardwoods and boreal plants (trees and plants that thrive in frigid temperatures), including various evergreens, paper birch, burr oak, and sugar and red maple.

Using warming and related control techniques through which temperatures were increased 2.9 degrees to 5.6 degrees, the research revealed dramatic changes. In particular, the hearty boreal trees decreased in growth, and insect infestation increased.

Northern Wisconsin research conducted by Steven Handler with the US Forest Service’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science is educating the public, timber industry, tourism leadership, private landowners, and related audiences on what climate change means to woodlands. During those presentations, he shares forestry research’s dramatic climate-related projections.

In media accounts profiling research conducted in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, and Benzie counties by Assisted Tree Range Expansion, their spokesperson, Madeline Baroli, revealed the scale wounds insect is literally sucking the sap out of beech bark trees, having them rapidly decay and die.

Rising temperatures tend to increase insect infestation and survivability.

In another media account, Reich looked into the future of Michigan’s forest in 2100.

“My hunch is, by 2100, we’ll lose most of the spruce and fir,” he said. “We might lose some of the white cedar. The forests will be scrubbier and more open. They may still have a mix of species but will be less diverse … a few areas that are sandier and drier may even convert to grasslands.”

Reich added: “Those changes will have unpredictable impacts on animal habitat, the state’s timber industry, and how people can use the forests for recreation.”

He concluded by stating forests take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Similarly, in maintaining clean waters, if you look at Michigan’s Great Lakes and inland waters history, dramatic challenges have occurred, with invasive species such as zebra mussels and lampreys, as well as with fertilizers and chemical additives such as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

Indeed, Michigan’s woodlands offer a similar challenge for which to prepare.

It is no longer, “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck?” Rather, what can humankind do to preserve our precious woodlands?

Northeastern Michigan has a vested interest in that direction and outcome.

Jeffrey D. Brasie is retired health care CEO and frequently writes op-eds and feature stories. He is a former Alpena resident and resides in suburban Detroit.

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